Notable Native Dan Rook

By Metro Reporter

SOUTH WATER KITCHEN’S Dan Rook was named RedEye Chicago’s best bartender of 2015 in February. He recently worked with Ale Syndicate Brewers, a local Chicago brewery, to create his own custom brew, which he said was like a Belgian specialty ale. Rook said he got to try out their pilot program to make his own small batch of beer, which was gone after being on tap for five days at South Water. Rook said the beer was a hit and that he will continue to make more custom beer as part of a series for his collaboration with Ale Syndicate. He hopes to have a new batch on tap for the Chicago Craft Beer Week in May.

The Chronicle spoke with Rook about being named RedEye’s best bartender of 2015, his bartend- ing beginnings and his work with Ale Syndicate.

THE CHRONICLE: Did you go to school for bartending?

DAN ROOK: No, absolutely not. When I started working at South Water, I trained under Mike Ryan, who at the time was the head bartender at Sable, which is a pretty well-rounded craft cocktail bar. That’s where I really started to learn that I can do this sort of thing professionally. I trained under Mike every Monday for six weeks. I shadowed him and his team, which was top notch at the time and it still is—Sable is fantastic. I shadowed him, he put me on the server for a couple shifts and then he let me bartend the last couple shifts. I sort of just took that experience and ran with it and started experimenting on my own.

What are some of the drinks that you make?

The drink I won the contest with is called the “Starting Gun.” It is a gin- based cocktail with fresh thyme, fresh lime juice and Cynar. It is sort of a light, easy-on-the-palate cock- tail, it’s very refreshing. We try to keep it as homemade and fresh as possible. My favorite is called the “Old Arm Chair,” and that’s sort of a slow sipper—it’s all spirit, no citrus or syrups added. It’s cognac-based, with a little bit of rye whiskey and dry Curacao with a little bit of fer- net. I have one called the “East Side Story,” which is Sapphire gin, egg whites, hum liqueur—which is [from] a local Chicago distiller—a little bit of simple [syrup] and a sparkling wine floats on the top.

How do you come up with new ingredients to put in your drinks?

I have a bunch of recipe books. Sometimes I check out the chef’s cooler and see what kinds of fresh herbs he has and see what I can play with and turn into something we can use in a cocktail. I also have recipe books on shrubs, which has a lot of standard-based recipes that I sort of blow up and make my own. None of this is anything new; it’s just sort of a refocusing on things that were done classically.

What made you want to collaborate with Ale Syndicate?

[South Water Kitchen] supports all local craft breweries. Everything we put on draft—we have nine draft lines—are local brews. We’re really into local beer at South Water any- way. [My buddy] and I have always brewed at home together. It’s sort of a happy circumstance that they had asked us if we wanted to come over there and do something on their small system—it was a no-brainer. There was no way I was going to pass that up.