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Cocktail Connoisseur: Jack Dusty’s Ingi Sigurdsson Elevates the Drink

By Abby Weingarten / Photography By Mark Sickles | July 09, 2014
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Ingi Sigurdsson serves up a handmade wooden cocktail tray onto the bar counter at Jack Dusty.

Ingi Sigurdsson slides a handmade wooden cocktail tray onto the bar counter at Jack Dusty, cupping an old-fashioned glass in one hand and a lighter in the other. He sets fire to a small bowl of bourbon-soaked apple wood chips and covers the flame with the upside-down glass.

Sigurdsson, a Sarasota native with Icelandic roots, began working at the Ritz on January 2 after moving from Illinois with his wife, Diona. Upon arrival, he fully revamped the drink menu, which now consists of 18 cherry-picked libations. Sigurdsson straw-tastes every recipe as he concocts it to guarantee perfection.As a smoky aroma emanates, he places a sharply cut square ice cube into the glass and pours over it a blend of whiskey, syrup and bitters. This is the Smoking Jacket, one of Sigurdsson’s many liquid coups as head bartender for the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota’s hotspot.

“I’m really into cocktails because there was someone 100 years ago who used to know how to do them really well and mostly that’s been forgotten. These classic cocktails are tried and true, and they have a recipe to them,” Sigurdsson says. “Knowing the classics is huge for me. All of my bartenders need to know how to make the 20 basic classics.”

Bartending is actually an offshoot of Sigurdsson’s original profession. He started his career in the banquet kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton before attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. He then worked in Iceland, where he has dual citizenship, and later relocated to the Midwest. In Chicago, he was employed at Alinea before transitioning to Aviary.

“I ended up being the sous-chef there and then I fell in love with the cocktails. I also worked at the Trump hotel, and I was there for about six months before I started moving toward the bar,” Sigurdsson says. “I wrote their whole cocktail list and became the head bartender. I bartended for nine months there and then moved down here.”

Sigurdsson’s prodigious knack shows in Jack Dusty’s new drink menu, which is divided into three sections. The “classic cocktails” are the Jack Rose, the Paloma, the Last Word, the Manhattan, the Sazerac, and the Negroni. The “house cocktails” include the Cut and Run, the Siren, Whistling Winds, Bedlam, Man Up, and Smoking Jacket. The “drink rum” page offers the Classic Daiquiri, Zaya Daiquiri, Dark and Stormy, Slow Match Swizzle, Jack’s Tiki Punch, and Matusalem Old Fashioned.

The Smoking Jacket at Jack Dusty
Ingi pours a tasting flight of Tiki Punch
Photo 1: The Smoking Jacket at Jack Dusty.
Photo 2: Ingi pours a tasting flight of Tiki Punch.

The ice cubes for these cocktails are just as important as the recipes. Sigurdsson uses a band saw to cut massive 300-pound blocks of ice, and in five hours, he can make enough cubes to last an entire month.

“For me, it’s all about what the guest sees with their eyes, and in the cocktail world that’s kind of forgotten about. My interest in that goes back to my cooking days, because in the kitchen, you’re always like, ‘How can I make this dish look cooler?’ I love seeing people’s reactions. I love the surprise.”“My style is, I like to keep it simple. I know a lot of bartenders who are going toward using four types of Amaro and all these bitters, but I don’t think those cocktails are very approachable. Especially for a town like Sarasota that is fairly new to the cocktail world, those are flavors people aren’t used to and it’s intimidating,” Sigurdsson says.

Jack Dusty is currently offering cocktail classes with Sigurdsson from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays (July 16, August 13, and September 10). Each session will focus on a different drink on the menu. Admission is $60 per person or three tickets for $150, and the individual fee includes two full cocktails and bar snacks. To reserve, call 941-309-2041.

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