“I like to think I’m the matchmaker!” says Amy Chalker, owner of Isabella Gourmet Foods, with a big smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eye. She’s talking about a specific bit of matchmaking mischief in particular, one worthy of the twinkle: It involves cocktails.
As part of epicure.sb month, Chalker’s bodega, which specializes in artisan goodies of every stripe, will be transformed into a ’20s-style speakeasy and play host to two pop-up events, dubbed The Great Gatsby Goes Gourmet. And, as anyone who knows anything about Gatsby (man of mystery though he was) — or F. Scott Fitzgerald — would expect, the drinks are going to be serious. And they’ll feature the coming-together of several standouts of Santa Barbara’s epicurean scene.
The star of the show will be, not to put too fine a point on it, the booze. For this, Chalker tapped Ian Cutler of S.B.’s only distillery, Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, way back in July when he was still in the midst of the madness that opening his Funk Zone storefront entailed. She’d heard about him and tagged along with a friend who was visiting him one day — a mouthwatering selection of Jar Art syrups and Alchemy vinegars in tow. She was already plotting the Great Gatsby events to be timed with October’s epicure.sb celebration and “wanted to put the bug in his ear early because I knew everybody would want him!”
In other words, she called dibs.
Cutler loved the syrups and came in to try various other Jar Art products carried at Isabella — all of which had him equally enamored. Chalker passed this bit of “I think he likes you” intel along to David Libby, the artist behind Jar Art, who in turn got excited about working with Cutler. And a match was made. In addition to putting their heads — and concoctions — together to create the drinks that will be featured at the Gatsby events (I’ve heard rumors of something involving Cutler’s can’t-keep-it-on-the-shelves apple-cider bourbon mixed with a bit of Libby’s equally popular ginger syrup), the two are currently cooking up a plan to start making artisan bitters. (That sound you hear? That is the sound of Santa Barbara cocktail hounds’ collective head exploding.)
But, for now, Cutler is deeply focused on what he’ll be mixing up for the speakeasy nights. For, despite the fact that he is of generations of distilling stock, he does not look down on mixers. Au contraire: “I’ve always had an interest [in mixing drinks],” he says. “My family’s been in the liquor business for quite a while, and I’ve been kind of a bartender since I was a little kid — at every party my grandparents had, I was always the one mixing the cocktails.”
He’ll craft three drinks for the events, using his own bourbons and vodkas; guests will get to try all three, each of which will be paired with an hors d’oeuvre. And all of it — the cocktails and the bites — will star the stuffs found on Isabella’s shelves. (In addition to Jar Art syrups, Cutler’s been playing with Noble maple syrups, Lori’s lemonades, Sweet Lady Cook jams and Alchemy vinegars.)
Once guests have reserved their spot, they’ll be given a password and a time to arrive — the event will be slow-paced but staggered to keep groups on the more intimate side so that everyone will get to watch Cutler work his magic — and to give him time to keep up with demand, which is sure to be as hot as Gatsby’s love for the beautiful Daisy.
The Great Gatsby Goes Gourmet will take place at Isabella Gourmet Foods (5 E. Figueroa St.) on Monday, October 7 and 21, 6 p.m. Tickets are $65. For info, call (805) 585-5257 or visit isabellagourmetfoods.com. Cutler’s Artisan Spirits is located at 137 Anacapa Street, Suite D. Call (805) 680-4009.