At the age of 28, young Dustin Haarstad is already an established cocktail craftsman, having worked in bars as soon as he was legal. Originally from Seattle, WA, Dustin credits his love for the crafted adult beverage to a college friend who introduced him to Murray Stenson of (formerly) Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, winner of American Bartender of the Year at the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Presently, Dustin serves as a Brand Ambassadors and Mixologists for Tequila Fortaleza and operates his own cocktail creation company, San Diego-based Blind Tiger Cocktail Co., with his business partner Adam Stemmler. This May he’ll be representing San Diego at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, one of the biggest cocktail events in the States. We caught up with Dustin in San Diego and learned about the man behind the craft (also, where to grab a drink in S.D., Chicago and Seattle).
How did you get into cocktails?
I credit my friend and colleague Kevin Langmack to introducing me to the world of spirits and cocktails. While bartending my way through college at a blues club, Kevin had me a read a few old cocktail books and showed me what he was working on. After a few books read and plenty of “Research and Development,” by this I mean drinking, Kevin brought me down to the Zig Zag Café to sit in front of Murray Stenson. Needless to say, I experienced what being a barman is truly about. His technique, warm presence and seemingly endless knowledge of spirits and cocktails changed everything for me. I have since dedicated my life to a career and lifestyle of quality food and beverage.
San Diego has a decent cocktail scene, tell us about that?
[quote align=right]For me, its not a matter of the bar, it’s the bartender behind the stick. Visiting Anthony Schmidt at Noble Experiment is always a great time. Erin Williams at The Saltbox is doing great things as well. What’s great about the San Diego cocktail scene is that you can find quality drinks in places that you wouldn’t normally expect, such as what upcoming bartender Jason O’Bryan is doing at Urbn Coal Fired Pizza.
What are you working on now?
We’re putting the finishing touches on our own Bar Keep White Spiced Fennel Bitters being released this year through the guys over at the Greenbar Collective that will hit the market in all 50 states in the next couple months. We’re also getting ready to launch our new website that will include an accurate account of our travel blog and current projects.
What are some of your favorite places to go for cocktails?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled around a bit lately; some of my last few stops have shown me some impressive work. Mike Ryan (Sable) and Dan Marunowski (Blue 13) in Chicago are throwing out some truly impressive cocktails. Erik Chapman (Sun Liquor), Casey Robison (Barrio) and Kevin Langmack (Knee High Stocking Co.) are some serious heavy hitters from my hometown in Seattle.
So, what’s next?
We will be down in Mexico studying spirits for the better part of March. We look forward to representing San Diego at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic before we head to Europe for a month to study distillation and wine making at the end of May. This should prove to be a pivotal year for Blind Tiger.
What are you drinking now?
We have been drinking an excessive amount of spirits of Mexico lately. Fortaleza, Don Fulano and Casa Noble tequilas specifically, as well as an array of mezcals and sotols like Fidencio, Del Maguey and Don Cuco.
Dustin Haarstad’s cocktail bar recommendations
416 West Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60654
505 North State St.
Chicago, IL 60654
1047 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Urbn Coal Fired Pizza
3085 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92104
1420 12th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122
607 Summit Ave. East
Seattle, WA 98102
Knee High Stocking Co.
1356 East Olive Way
Seattle, WA 98122