The Craft of Cocktail Making: Meet our Mixologist

If you haven't heard, we recently announced the opening of Level2, our all-new bar located on the second level of George’s at the Cove. At Level2, we’re elevating the craft of cocktails in La Jolla, from proprietary recipes and our twist on the classics, to punches, sours and coolers. We have more housemade ingredients on hand than we know what to do with and we're serving cocktails over handcut ice (yes, handcut), We even have a revamped wine list, a lineup of exclusively local breweries on tap and a completely reimagined space with expanded seating and a fresh new perspective on George's famous ocean view.

So, how did we come up with all of this? A good chunk of the credit goes to our resident mixologist Stephen Kurpinsky, the man behind our cocktail program. We recently sat down with Stephen to learn more. Here's what he had to say:

Tell us a little about yourself.

I started working in bars as a way to pay for music equipment and college. I grew up aspiring to be a famous musician, but as we all know, the music industry can be a hard thing to break into. As time went on, I found myself applying the same creativity to the craft of bartending as I do to songwriting. Once I embraced this passion, the rest was delicious history.

What are you most excited about with the launch of Level 2?

I’ve been doing some really exciting things at the California Modern Bar since joining the team two years ago. But, our focus has always been on the food coming from our incredible kitchen with the cocktails meant to be complementary. With Level2, it’s a chance for me to showcase what I do and the flavors I want to convey. It’s an open book waiting to be written, and I’m inspired and humbled to be afforded the opportunity.

How did you come up with the new cocktail menu?

I saw the challenge of a new cocktail program as one that would be best broken up into stages. As much as we'll be educating our staff to a new style of bartending, we'll also have the opportunity to bring the art of high level craft cocktails to our guests. I felt it wise to start at the beginning, with the reinvigorated classics.

Our launch menu features timeless cocktails such as the original "Whiskey Cocktail" (whiskey, sugar, bitters), which was in a sad state by the end of the 20th century, and the time forgotten "Last Word" (gin, lemon, maraschino liqueur, Green Chartreuse). I chose a few lesser known classics as well, including the "Jack Rose" (Applejack brandy, house grenadine, citrus) and "South Side" (gin, lemon, sugar, expressed mint). Simple delicious cocktails with short ingredient lists, well balanced and approachable to all...that was the idea for the first cocktail menu on Level2.

The next step is to apply that classical base in a totally new direction, making variations that appear more complex than they really are. Our hope is to give guests a cocktail menu that is really thoughtful and innovative, while still being clean and elegant.

Can you give us an example of such a cocktail?

Sure, we have a cocktail on the menu right now that shows off this approach of gentle changes to a classic recipe that offers a wow factor to our guests. Our Sea3 cocktail is really just a jazzed up margarita. We start by dehydrating mango and lime peels, then infuse them into blanco tequila along with dried Mexican chilies. Once infused, the tequila is shaken with lime and agave and the drink is served on a large, saline ice cube which has an added bonus of suspended seaweed for visual depth. The ice cube delivers salt as it slowly melts, giving the cocktail an added layer of flavor as it is enjoyed.

What would you tell a local who has not been to Level2 yet?

Come see what we’ve done with the place, the changes are striking. The interior space is beautiful, and really one of a kind. From the fallen Torrey Pines wood pieces and the use of brushed copper and warm lighting, to the tile work around the bar, it's simply stunning.

Our Beverage Director, Joshua Kasumovic, and I are working hard to offer some of the finest spirits available, from hard to find Japanese whiskey, to local small batch gin. In every category, we're now offering craft expressions such as a more esoteric by the glass wine selection and a locally-focused craft beer program. And, of course, all of our spirits pair well with our incredible ocean view.

What’s your favorite cocktail?

I’m expected to pick just one? That's tough! My favorites would have to be old fashioned variants, egg white sours of all types, "Paper Plane" which is an amaro cocktail and the herbaceous Manhattan variation, the “Green Point.” And I rarely turn down a well-made daiquiri.

What ingredient, garnish, etc. could you never work without?

Wherever I tend bar, I have a mysterious little blue bottle with me. Its contents are odorless, colorless, mostly flavorless and it has the same PH as lime juice. Any guesses?

Acid Phosphate was used in old soda fountains to add acid to soda when citric acid couldn’t be used due to it’s reaction in carbonation. It’s made from nontoxic metals, and is completely safe for consumption despite its name being dangerously close to phosphoric acid. When used correctly it can add a subtle acid balance that doesn’t resemble the usual lime/lemon sour flavor, as well as add minerality to a cocktail.

I also can’t work without quality ice, as water is the main ingredient of any cocktail. Proper dilution is the key to a properly balanced cocktail.

When you're not in the bar, what do you like to do for fun?

I still enjoy music as a hobby, playing a gig here and there with the band I'm in with friends. I’m also an avid yoga practitioner and I’ve recently taken to sailing. When I'm not doing those things, I read, learn and talk shop with industry friends.

Want to learn more about our cocktails and the stories behind them? Come visit Stephen and our staff at George's Level2, La Jolla's favorite new drinking destination.