There are bartenders, and then there are mixologists. John Fox and Kevin Williams fall into the latter category.
They are employed by Greg Newman, president and CEO of the Baja Sharkeez restaurant group, which includes Esperanza Cocina de la Playa, Palmilla Cocina y Tequila, Tower 12, Baja Sharkeez, Sandbar, Panama Joe’s and Killarney’s Irish Pub. Before they came on board at Esperanza, John focused his attentions on Tower 12, Sandbar and Palmilla, while Kevin traveled from Newport Beach to Santa Barbara to help with cocktail menus and train staff members.
With an educated and historic knowledge of mixed drinks, mixologists have a true appreciation of the ingredients and techniques used to create new and innovative mixed drinks. The duo brings to the table different yet complementary approaches.
“For Esperanza, they gave us free rein to express ourselves, and what is on the menu itself is a reflection of us too.”
As part of his research and development, John visits some of the nicest beach hotels in Mexico to explore what is new in the high-end drink market. Kevin, on the other hand, stays with friends in more rural areas of Mexico, exploring and sipping drink recipes in underground local bars. He also traveled to Oaxaca, visiting distilleries to learn the science of making mezcal—the smoky spirit made from agave.
While Kevin specializes in mezcals, John’s expertise lies in tequila. Although tequila and mezcal share the agave plant as their main source, tequila must be from the Tequila region of Mexico to be labeled as such. Tequila should also be made from the blue agave plant exclusively, while mezcal can come from any kind of maguey.
The cooking process also distinguishes the spirits. “Tequila is roasted in a brick oven much like a pizza oven,” notes Kevin. “Mezcal is buried in a pit with a fire built over the top of it. It rests for seven days while it’s cooking, then they dig it up, mash it and ferment it for a week.”
John and Kevin were tasked with creating the drink menu for Esperanza in Manhattan Beach. With the extra time afforded them at the beginning of the pandemic, they met every Monday and Tuesday to try new concepts and recipes.
“For Esperanza, they gave us free rein to express ourselves, and what is on the menu itself is a reflection of us too,” explains John. But the one drink they didn’t touch was the classic margarita inherited from Palmilla in Hermosa Beach—a local favorite.
They also have created a one-of-a-kind sustainable drink menu that has contributed to the restaurant’s success. They thrive on incorporating unusual ingredients and methods. “A regular lime or lemon will get you four to six cuts,” says Kevin. “But dehydrated gets you 13 to 15.”
“We used to bring in the top mixologists in the country from each of our partner liquor brands to create new drink menus,” shares Greg. “Then I would have John and Kevin remake the drinks and add some of their own creations. After a few years, I stopped using these outside mixologists because I realized John’s and Kevin’s drinks were way better! They are a team, and both have intimate knowledge of the best liquors, the most exciting new cordials, custom handmade mixes, bitters, etc., and how to use them in concert to create the most balanced and delicious cocktails in the business.”
- 1½ ounces Sombra mezcal
- ½ ounce St. George pear brandy
- ¾ ounce Liquid Alchemist ginger syrup
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- 1 ounce egg white
Shake and strain into martini glass over large-format ice cube. Garnish with a clipped candied ginger.