Ask a Bartender: Tiger Mama’s Charles Coykendall

Bringing Southeast Asian fare and flair to The Fenway, Tiger Mama has become the welcomed new neighborhood hot spot in town. While the menu is stacked with inventive takes on classic Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian dishes, the new restaurant also has a stellar cocktail menu to complement their offerings, updated seasonally. We caught up with Charles Coykendall, beverage director of Tiger Mama and Sweet Cheeks to talk about his new spring cocktail creation: The Mandalay Punch.

We heard you have a spring cocktail you adding to the menu. What is the name of the drink and what’s in it?
The drink that I’m adding to the menu today is definitely a spring cocktail. It’s called The Mandalay Punch. It is a sesame-infused rye whiskey. We’re using Old Overholt rye whiskey and we’re using sesame oil and we’re doing a fat-wash, which means we’re putting the oil into the bottle. We empty the bottle, pour the sesame oil in and then add the whiskey back into the bottle and put it in the freezer. The oil freezes and the liquor does not, so we strain out the sesame oil and it takes on some of the flavors from the oil. Then with that, we’re mixing it with a sesame orgeat. Instead of using almonds, which is typical in orgeat, we’re using sesame seeds and creating a syrup with that. We combine the whiskey with the orgeat and Combier Liqueur d’Orange and also St. George raspberry liqueur and lemon juice, and then we’re garnishing it with a raspberry that we’re dipping into the orgeat and partially coating it with demerara sugar and sesame seeds.

Where did the name come from?
So Myanmar—the country formerly known as Burma—is the number one sesame-producing nation on the planet. That was how I eventually came to Mandalay. I was looking for a connection to Burma that made sense for the cocktail. There are a lot of challenging names to put on a cocktail menu when you’re dealing with Southeast Asian names. Mandalay was more approachable, and geographically it is northern part of Myanmar where a large portion of the sesame production takes place.

Was there an inspiration that made you think of the cocktail before you created it?
The kitchen was using sesame and I felt like it was a good ingredient to transition from winter to spring and I wanted to do an orgeat with sesame. It was an idea that fixated on for a while. Orgeat is a classic cocktail ingredient in a lot of cocktails, probably most famously, the original Mai Tai. So my initial thought was to build the drink like the original Mai Tai. Instead we’re using rye not rum and lemon instead of lime. I have this new raspberry liqueur and was looking to use it and thought the whiskey, raspberry and sesame combination made a bunch of sense. I knew it was going to be a refreshing drink that would be a good pairing for things on the menu, but also very approachable for most people.

What would you recommend to pair with it?
We offer Singapore Street Noodles—layers of noodles with sesame and different textures and flavors. That would be the best pairing, but we have several dishes that may not even include sesame, but the flavors of the drink would still pair well with, like the Pad Thai or some other earthy dishes.

Would you say it’s for a specific kind of drinker?
It’s pretty approachable. Some people might not be crazy about sesame, but aside from that, it’s the kind of drink that could convert non-whiskey drinkers to whiskey drinkers.

Besides this new drink what is your favorite drink on the menu?
The drink we just took off the menu was particularly hard to part with. It was called the Old Saigon, which is a riff on an Old Cuban cocktail where we used shochu instead of rum and sparkling rose as opposed to sparkling white wine. That one had cardamom bitters, lime and mint.

How have you been enjoying the new location? And what was the process like coming up with a cocktail program that would fit your new neighborhood?
Great. We love it. We definitely designed the cocktail program to be approachable with something for everyone, as well as for someone more adventurous and seasoned cocktail drinkers and people seeking out that craft cocktail experience. We have something for everyone and it’s appropriate for the food being served.

When you’re in The Fenway area and you get cut early, where do you go?
Typically I’ll head over to Hojoko. I have some friends that work over there. Or there’s Citizens across the way, but I recommend for people to definitely check out Eastern Standard. Also, Audubon around the corner is a great place and they have a really great program over there as well.   

Come visit Charles and his team at Tiger Mama for lunch, dinner and drinks. If the bar is full don't worry—there's another one in the back.   

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