Growing up with a father who worked as a chemical engineer, Ryan Draine “had no choice but to love science and math,” he says. Though now Draine channels his passion for precise measurements and chemistry in a less traditional way – as beverage director at Huck’s Filling Station, the restaurant housed in a former service station in East Greenwich. His cocktail menus feature complex and technique-driven drinks that often blend together several different ingredients.
“I love layers of flavors,” he says. “I don’t believe that any cocktail should taste the same when you take a second sip. Some of the ingredient combinations might not seem like they make sense to everyone, but I know they will work. It’s just a fun thing to do.”
Take, for example, Draine’s Asian-inspired State of Zen, which features a long list of familiar and unique elements: Thai basil, orange saké, gin, Italicus (an herbal liqueur), shiso (an herb in the mint family), a yuzu and green tea cordial, kalamansi (a small, bright citrus fruit), grapefruit bitters, and soda water.
Draine dedicates a lot of time to making ingredients, including bitters, cordials, and infused spirits, in house. To craft infusions, he often uses an immersion circulator, also known as a sous vide machine. The cooking device heats a water bath to a precise temperature, and in go plastic bags of ingredients such as slices of orange and fresh herbs along with saké or a spirit.
“I cook everything at about 55º Celsius, so it’s hot, but it’s not burning out any of the booze,” he says. “The process takes as much flavor as possible out of the ingredients, so the essence of the fruit or the herb will be present in the cocktail without adding sugar. It also gives us the opportunity to control balance because I don’t think any drink should be too sweet.”
Many of the dishes at Huck’s have a Southern-inspired twist, so it’s no surprise that Draine’s Johnny Carson drink, with housemade grilled peach bourbon and ginger sweet tea, is a big seller. Also on the menu this season is Day Drinker, which Draine first created for now-closed Providence restaurant Milk Money, which was a part of Dig In Dining and Entertainment – the restaurant group that includes Huck’s. The refreshing wine cocktail includes Sauvignon Blanc, cucumber vodka, and caramelized pineapple, among other ingredients.
Draine is currently working on creating a ready-to-drink canned version of the Day Drinker and is also developing bar menus for other Dig In projects slated to open later this year, including a bar in Providence called Novella. He has been with the restaurant group, which also operates Thirsty Beaver and several other projects, for about 11 years.
Draine got his start in the beverage industry 14 years ago as a busser in Providence. There he became interested in craft cocktails and saw a connection between bartending and cooking, which he has loved since he was a kid.
“Everyone wants to move up, so I thought, I don’t want to be the busboy. I want to be the bartender,” Draine recalls. “And one day, someone called out and they were like, ‘hey, do you think you could work the bar tonight?’ I just fell in love with the industry from there.”