The freaks and geeks of the Masters of Brewtality crypt have been fiending to get together with our favorite mixologist Alex Velez for some time, and this month we pulled it off in the most epic fashion possible. The idea was simple: take one of the most talented tongues in town for cocktails and pump him full of Flagstaff’s most potent craft beers for an afternoon and get his take. See, Velez is the guy to see for liquor, having honed his palate in high-end bars from his native Puerto Rico to Las Vegas to San Francisco, but, by his own admission, he’s just not really a beer guy. Nobody's perfect. But we wanted to take him on a little tour and just pick his brain anyways because folks out of their comfort zone are always hilarious.
We got the day started at the downtown Historic and were joined by a rogue’s gallery of local brewers over the course of a marathon eight hours of hard drinking. This was way too much to fit into one column, so here’s part one of Masters of Brewtality Most Drunkest Day Ever This Month. Our only woe is that his rich accent doesn’t come through on paper—hanging with this guy is like getting an ear massage every time.
Round 1: Historic Brewing’s Unprecedented Double IPA and Undercover Cucumber
Alex Velez: This is not what I expected. It’s flat at the end and the finish is not that strong. To be an 11 percent ABV IPA, that punch needs to be felt. The structure of the flavor though… It has a good nose and the initial palete is nice and hoppy.
MOB: How old were you when you got your first bartending gig?
I was 14 and it was in Puerto Rico. I wasn’t really an official bartender, but more like, “Hey kid, I need four rum and cokes and a Piña Colada, hurry up, and when you’re finished with that, clean tables four and 15.” Ha!
And you’re still ranked in the top 10 for the nation’s bartenders, right?
Yeah. I just got back from the Bardi Legacy Tournament and wound up the state’s first champion and got fifth in the preliminaries for the world championships. They’re pretty cool. You get to travel and eat and drink for free, but you do have to give up your recipes.
When did you decide that this was going to be a full-on career?
When they told me to do what I loved, I’d have to spend 15 years being a cop. Ha! My A plan—this is actually my B Plan, which is why I’m not pregnant—was an embalmer and forensic psychologist. I was an embalmer in San Juan and took on serving and bartending to pay bills. I got kicked out of my house at 13 and got my first apartment at 15. I was the only kid in my school with his own place, which was pretty cool. But, 15 years as a cop, it was like, nah… I wanted to skip all that and go straight to Hannibal and Forensic Files.
Any suggestions on complementary cocktails?
A double rye from High West. Beer and whiskey are good cousins. I’m not bashing on the beer, but I expected an 11 percent to put me out.
Give this one a shot. It’s the Undercover Cucumber.
Oh! The nose, this is the one, definitely! You have to be careful when you’re doing stuff with cucumbers… If you don’t know to pull back, you end up with a dishwashing soap. The flavor structure in this is perfect. There’s no flat lines, there’s no loopholes. You just get a straight up cucumber all day. That’s a good beer.
Round 2: Flag Brew’s Blackbird Porter
We’ve got dark, bitter and lots of cocoa. Some faint toffee and coffee. But more on the fresh-brewed side, not really like an espresso. Like a morning Americano. But, I’m also more of a sour beer and lambic fan. If you’re a porter fan, though, you’ll love this.
How’d you start training your palate for some of these distinctions?
I just drank and ate a lot. Like, a lot... If gluttony wasn’t already a sin, I would probably be glorified for it. You have to picture your brain as a library and each time you process a flavor, it goes in the shelves. It’s all about tasting and experiencing and, sometimes, you throw up. Ha!
This would definitely go well with a cognac or a nice brandy. Like an 8-year-old Brandy. Applications of beer and cocktails pairings are all over the place, you can do them successfully or not. But this is a solid, well-made beer and the flavor lingers with velvety malt would go great with the brandy.
That’s all for part one, kiddies. MOB will return with the thrilling conclusion next month. And, if you’re in need of one of the finest cocktails in town, head on over and give Velez a visit at La Vetta. Cheers!