Maine, United States

Making No. 2 / FAUNA Contributor Feature: Trey Hughes
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Making No. 2 / FAUNA Contributor Feature: Trey Hughes

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Enjoy an interview with Trey Hughes of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, creator of the Milk Punch recipe in Making / FAUNA!  

Please note: the recipe as printed contained an error.  It reads .5 ounces of milk, it should read 1.5 ounces.

How did you get started?

I turned 21 a while ago. Well before the resurgence of interest in cocktails began to impact bars and liquor stores across the country. Eventually, I started going out less and began making drinks at home for my wife, friends, neighbors, etc. Those drinks were probably either Whiskey Sours, Gin & Tonics or Mint Juleps. It's funny that the Mint Julep is on that list - it's not a hard drink to make but it does take a little more time than I usually applied to drinks back then.

Fast forward a couple of years. Two things happened, within maybe a month or two of each other, that had a pretty huge effect on me.

1). My wife brought home one of the first issues of Imbibe which she thought I'd be into. Imbibe is a magazine all about drinks. And not just alcohol but also coffee, wine, tea, etc. I worked for a coffee roaster at the time so that magazine hit a couple of notes for me. But, looking back, I think what was most relevant was the light it cast on things that were happening in bars around the country. This was about 10 years ago, I think. It's probably hard to imagine now but the internet then wasn't what it is now, for me at least, and that magazine was a new window on an exciting world.

2). A friend gave me a copy of Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails which is a fantastic book full of amazing drinks that over the years had fallen out of favor. It wasn't just the drinks though that made that book something I devoured - it was the stories that accompanied them. Reading that book really was a lot of fun. Cocktails had a history! And it was colorful, full of interesting characters and inextricably linked to our own country's troubled history with alcohol. And if that wasn't enough, the book is full of all sorts of cocktail ephemera: old books, shakers, glassware, dusty bottles, posters and pamphlets,etc. My inability to drive past a flea market or yard sale without stopping is the source of much moaning among my family and the pictures in that book definitely spoke to that part me.

So all of a sudden, drinks…they had this wonderful dimension to them. Exploring it further was, and continues to be, a source of much enjoyment.

Why are you excited about this drink?

New drinks are fun. I love kicking around ideas and seeing what does and doesn't work in the glass. But I also think it's important to look around and see what others are doing and have done in the past. There are so many drinks worth making and a lot of them have been around for a while. The Brandy Milk Punch featured in Making is not a new drink. It goes back to at least the 1860s when it showed up in the first book published about making cocktails. So, it's an old one but it's also simple, flexible and delicious.

Tell us a funny story about a drink.

A funny story about a drink? Where to start!

Ok, this one happened years ago and concerns the Mint Julep mentioned above. If you've had a good Mint Julep you know two truths about the drink - it is a thing of beauty and it is deceivingly strong. It gets served over crushed ice so an overproof bourbon is really what you want so that it can stand up to the dilution as the ice melts. This is one of those drinks where the sum is absolutely greater than the parts. You can say it's just bourbon, some sugar and mint but, with any luck, that's unlikely to be your opinion once you pick it up and take a sip.

Anyway, when my wife and I got married we wanted to have Mint Juleps as an option along with beer and wine. Purists would say that a Mint Julep should be made on the spot because the drink takes time and there's an appeal to the ritual involved in its manufacture. That's fine, and I don't disagree. But I still wanted to have them at my wedding and we weren't hiring a bartender just to make that drink. So I made a giant batch of basically sweetened, mint infused whiskey and we set up a station where people could add the ice to a cup, pour in the bourbon and garnish with some fresh mint.

At some point the cups disappeared and Mint Juleps were being consumed out of the 16 oz red plastic cups that had been beside the kegs of beer. It was a fun night and led to one of the most amazing croquet games I think anyone there had ever seen.

What's your favorite color?

This one's easy - Chartreuse! If there's another color as delicious (and herbal and rich and warming) I haven't found it yet!

Tell us about a challenge involved in making drinks.

There are a lot of things I love about my job. At its core its talking to people and doing what I can to help them have a good time. When we're busy, really busy, it can be tough to get that one on one time. People seem to know that though and at those times what really becomes important is efficiency. When drink orders are piling up and there's another ten things in your head that need to be kept straight you kind of have to figure out a way to prioritize and navigate what needs to be done.

When we're getting absolutely crushed, I try and find ways to gather a few seconds here and there. I could put an empty bottle behind me to get it out of the way but the recycling bin is just 10 feet away. Walking it over is a brainless activity which gives me a little bit of time to think about building the next round of drinks. I may not need to rinse off my tins and jiggers at a particular moment but doing so enables me to look around the bar and notice things like water levels, empty glasses and dishes, whether or not someone has put a credit card down to pay or how many people are about to walk in the door.

What's great is that during those times, everyone else that's working has their own technique for handling a busy bar. When we're all in sync there's a rhythm, people are getting their drinks, they're having a good time and things fall into place.

Thank you, Trey!