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We Ask Bar Owner Joe Lamonica the Story Behind Vuolo’s Cocktail Menu

Vuolo’s a popular Italian restaurant and bar located in Winthrop, Massachusetts offers a detailed cocktail menu featuring between 15-17 cocktails every three months and rotates a specials menu with their most exciting three-four ideas every month.

“This month we tried to push ourselves to expand the flavor of spirits through fat washing,” says Joe. “My favorite offering this month was a drink called “Laughing over Chocolate and Cigars” which features a wash of Nutella butter, espresso beans, and dried Shiitake mushrooms. All these elements work independently to not only smooth out the “smoky” elements of the Mezcal but add a depth of flavor that widens through your whole palette. These are ideas we are approaching on our every menu moving forward. We ask Joe to talk more about Vuolo’s unique menu.

Talk to us a bit about the latest menu.

The upcoming menu for the winter months is going to be different from our menus the previous seasons. The menu will be more refined and feature all the most intricate and technical items we have perfected over the last year. We are also putting a higher focus on curating wine varietals that are unique in both story, rarity, and flavor. My philosophy on this menu is to expose my customers to more interesting flavors and broaden their horizons. We need to understand there is a world out there other than Napa Cabernet.

Tell us more about the inspiration behind your cocktails.

The “Agony and the Ecstasy” was a cocktail I developed on a trip to Florence, Italy. Chloe and I were on a tour to the statue of David by Michelangelo when the guide mentioned the book about Michelangelo’s life entitled The Agony and the Ecstasy. I motioned over to Chloe and said, “That’s it”. So, we worked backwards and had the name of the cocktail prior to the idea for what its contents would be. We essentially worked to encompass both soothing ingredients Brown-butter washed Suntory whisky and orange peel syrup as well as ingredients that are harsher on your palette (lemon juice and Demon Seed). Lastly, we float wine on the top of the drink (reminiscent of a NY sour) and place a piece of rosemary as garnish for an aromatic feel. It is a very technical drink that is designed to be a roller coaster ride for the customer’s senses.

Tell us about the techniques used to create your cocktails.

I pride myself on using multiple techniques at Vuolo’s such as milk punching, handheld frothers to add air to egg whites in sours, fat washing to add greater depth of flavors to spirits and crafting each syrup for unique flavor combinations. Our philosophy on the cocktail menu at Vuolo’s is consistency and effort. Each cocktail from a Manhattan to a specialty cocktail requires care and should be produced to the best of our abilities. We also take a newer approach to naming cocktails where we shy away from the conventional way of naming based solely on their appearance but instead on songs, phrases, or pure nostalgia that connect to us.

Talk to us more about fat washing.

Fat washing is a technique of using butter as a conduit to extract flavors from different spices or foods and infuse them into the spirit of your choice. We have two on the menu we are most proud of now which are “Laughing over Chocolate and Cigars”, our mezcal infused with Nutella, dried shiitake mushrooms, and espresso beans. The second is “Real Peanut Butter” our peanut butter infused whiskey. The drink is inspired by peanuts at a baseball game with a rich round flavor and a half salt rim which we encourage our customers to “salt to taste”.

Laughing over Chocolate and Cigars 


2 oz of infused mezcal
2 bar spoons of cinnamon syrup
2 dashes of Turkish tobacco bitters


Stir and serve over a large rock with an orange peel.


A slow infusion over 3-5 days of Nutella, espresso beans, and dried mushrooms washed mezcal. Strain through the coffee filter after 3-5 days.

Any tips and tricks you can share?

Some techniques for doing it are first to choose ingredients that make sense or ideas that seem like they could make sense. We got ambitious at Vuolo’s recently with a lemon butter pisco sour riff and though it made sense to taste, it is outlandish for a beginner.

Next place unsalted butter in a saucepan on medium heat when you see that butter melt and begin to simmer add your ingredients to the pan and continue to simmer for several minutes. When the butter looks like it is taking on the color of the ingredients you can remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Next, we like to have spirits placed in a container and to pour in while still hot thus “shocking” the liquor and expediting the infusion process. Next let sit in a refrigerated place for 2-5 days and double strain thru a coffee filter. You may have to do this process a few times, but patience is key. These methods up the quality and excitement of house spirits and will deepen the flavor profile of your cocktails.

Tell us more about using homemade syrups and ingredients at Vuolo’s.

We have departed from using store bought ingredients and now produce most of our ingredients on premise. I believe this adds to the complexity of flavor but also puts the guest’s worries of synthetic products at ease. It is much more compelling to use a cinnamon syrup made from sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks than one including a mess of gums and artificial ingredients. These methods make your drinks taste better and add to the pride of our service staff in the cocktails they produce.

What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?

Ingredients are inspired by anything from the great meals we have had to flavors that remind me of my childhood. I recently have been exploring chocolate and brown butter and have made them staple washes at the restaurant. Both have very rich and savory flavors that mix wonderfully with both summer and winter ingredients. We have a brown butter whiskey drink we call “Japanese Campfire Song” which contains, brown butter Suntory, lemon juice, burrata foam and the final ingredient of a fruit syrup that rotates with the seasons. In the summer we have used strawberry and mint and in winter months we rotate to black currant.

Bartenders should be encouraged to do what they feel and add ingredients to their menus that inspire them. All ingredients though need to make sense. Always do multiple samples of the ingredients and change the quantity of your ingredients accordingly to perfect the cocktails. Look at past successful cocktails and understand more deeply why these flavors work with each other. It is important for a drink to be balanced. It should accent all the functions of your palate when tasting it and be an equal amount of sweet, tart, bitter, salty, and savory. To me that is a perfect drink.

Talk to us about the guest’s experience at Vuolo’s.

I have recently had a deeper thought on consumption and the industry. Over the last 15 years in the restaurant industry, I have seen and even in the past participated in America’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It is one that we should look to mend not eliminate all together. We need to educate and explain the importance of moderation. The easy way out is to eliminate consumption altogether, instead we should look inward to ourselves and understand the need for this over consumption. One way we attempt to do this is overstating what is in the glass.

If you get a well-crafted cocktail that is flavorful and cared for by your bartender, you should be more inclined to savor it slowly and let that experience of taste and flavor be the thing that takes you away from the perils of your daily lives. There is more excitement in the journey than the immediate satisfaction and headache of a cheap drinking experience. We educate the guests on the lineage and flavor profiles of the drinks as well as the stories behind the cocktails to enhance their experiences and give them a deeper understanding of what we are all about.

Where do you see cocktail culture headed?

I believe cocktail culture is headed towards more infusions and what I call “chef driven” concepts. I think that America has gotten tired of stir-ups and twisty mustaches. Though the excitement of speakeasies sound enticing, this isn’t 1920s prohibition and with restaurants and bars struggling, why would you want to hide your business with a secret passcode? I personally think that we will see the industry move away from these concepts and into less pretentious new frontiers. We should be eliminating the barriers between customers and staff. I like to teach my customers at eye level and allow them to experience what we are putting in their drink as a way to eliminate the stuffiness and hard to approach cocktails bars of the past.

Talk to us about your team.

I think of myself as a “working class” bartender. I always have. There is a photo of my grandfather hanging at the front of the restaurant. He was a shoemaker and did that profession for 50 years and owned his own business throughout his life. I spend most of my days within those four walls preserving this and passing it along to my staff. Think of me as a ‘Drinkmaker” not a “mixologist”. I am providing a service for my guests. The most memorable thing I have heard as of late is when the Chef Grant Achatz of the famous Alinea met Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. This was in the mid 90s and at the time the French Laundry was top 10 in the country. They still hold this title but at that time they were a lesser-known restaurant.

Grant’s first-time meeting Chef Keller was seeing him mopping the floors of his own restaurant. As a leader it is my goal to always mop my floors sometimes literally but also figuratively. Through these actions we must never lose sight of our goals, which is crafting a world class cocktail program. We instill this in our staff, and I do my best to lead them to where we need to go. The philosophy of “shut up and work” is an important one. I believe we have begun to lack this in our technology ridden society. Marketing is key but if there is no substance behind the products, we have nothing.

Lastly, Vuolo’s will continue to progress as much as we can every day and try to stretch our customers’ minds and taste buds where we think they can go. It is a personal mission of mine and now this mission has wandered into obsession.


Drinking Mount Fuji in a Pina Colada


1 1/2 oz infused Strega
1 oz pineapple juice
3/4 oz lime juice
1 egg white
splash soda


Strega fat washed rapidly in a sous vide with coconut and sesame oil.
when completed double strain.
Twice shake and double strain over a large rock.
Garnish with a dehydrated lime.


A pina colada with added complexity.

The post We Ask Bar Owner Joe Lamonica the Story Behind Vuolo’s Cocktail Menu appeared first on Chilled Magazine.

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