A chemistry whiz behind the bar, Christiaan Rollich heads the cocktail program for The Lucques Group in Los Angeles (Lucques, AOC and Tavern), creating next-level handcrafted cocktails. He makes his own tinctures, forages the farmer’s market for seasonal produce and creates amazingly complex but perfectly balanced cocktails that you won’t want to stop drinking. We tracked him down at his pop-up bar at The Taste to talk inspiration, advice and pistachio syrup.

“Everything you do has to have a purpose. You only have four ounces to play with and half of that is spirit, so the other two ounces have to be interesting.”

Congratulations! You’ve had a busy year, winning awards and getting recognition. Thank you! Yes, AOC was voted the “Best Restaurant in LA” and some of the credit may be from the new bar program. They got a full liquor license, went all out and let me do what I do. We also won the #1 Mocktail from Los Angeles Magazine and #1 Cocktail from LA Weekly for a Passion Colada with pistachio syrup.

So is passion fruit in season now?
Yes, they’re coming in season right now. I love passion fruit. I’m working on a cocktail right now with genever, passion fruit, champagne syrup and a little cilantro thrown in there. It’s really tasty.

You’re known for your craft cocktails. Do you see a shift in more people doing that?
Yes. Absolutely. I always use fresh ingredients, always. Some restaurants use organic lime juice, but it comes in a bottle and it’s not fresh. It doesn’t taste the same. Instead, cut a lime and squeeze it. I make most of the cocktail ingredients myself, including liquers, tinctures, sodas, bitters and even spiced whipped cream.

What inspires you?
The Farmer’s Market. I love to see what’s out there. I’m always influenced by my chef, [5-time James Beard nominee] Suzanne Goin and try to complement her dishes with a well-balanced drink with unexpected flavors.

What fall fruits are you looking forward to working with soon?
Passion fruits and pears. We’re working with pears in a really cool cocktail, using a prickly pear spirit from Ventura County, which is kind of like a tequila since it’s made with cacti. I poach the pears and juice them to get a lot of flavor. I make a velvet falernum [Caribbean-ish syrup] with rum and an almond base, plus ginger, cloves, vanilla and house-made bitters, poured over crushed ice. Everything is made from scratch.

What spirit is trending right now?
Mezcal is definitely making its way. It’s funny because bartenders deal with spirits every day. Guys will come in and say, “I’ve got this new spirit, you should try it.” The general public doesn’t get to try it until much later and by that time you’re kind of moving on to the next thing. I’ve been drinking mezcal for two to three years and now it’s becoming popular.

pistachio-cocktailIn his element: Rollich behing the bar at AOC; the famed Passion Colada with pistachio syrup.

Do you have a favorite spirit?
I drink tequila. Well, I don’t discriminate. I like mezcal, whiskey, genever and gin. Some really pretty gins are coming out this year.

Any tips for the beginning home bartender?
Enjoy the process and experiment. Citrus and sweeteners are the salt and pepper of cocktails. If you put something sour in your drink, then you have to put in something sweet to balance it. Then you put in extra layers. Let’s say you start with a spirit like rum, then you add a fruit , and add a third acidic layer to open it up, such as fresh lemon/lime juice or vinegar. Reduced balsamic works too, as long as it’s an acid. Now you need a sweetener, but you don’t just want to add sugar. Everything you do has to have a purpose. You only have four ounces to play with and half of that is spirit, so the other two ounces have to be interesting. If you put simple syrup in there it’s fine but you lose an ounce that doesn’t have any flavor. Add an herb or even nuts to the syrup, whatever you think goes well. Pistachio syrup, for example, goes great with passion fruit.

How do you make pistachio syrup?
I was making an orgeat [almond syrup] and thought it shouldn’t be a big leap to make pistachio syrup instead. We were working with horchata [made with black rice, vanilla, cloves, star anise] and let it sit overnight in water and added vodka to get the flavor out. I thought if that process worked with rice, then it should work with pistachios, pecans or any nut. It was really interesting. It takes two days, but it’s easy. On the first day you put the pistachios, water and vodka in the blender and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next day you strain it, and you’ve got pistachio milk – add sugar and you’ve got pistachio syrup. It’s not that hard.

Lead photo: Kiana Laing