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Every time I head to Noble Experiment, the cocktail bar hidden behind a false wall of kegs in the back of Neighborhood in the East Village, I drink in the atmosphere before partaking of their liquid wares. With the artwork lining the ceiling and a solid wall of gold-painted skulls, there’s no place like it anywhere in San Diego.

And even though an operation like theirs benefits from keeping things moving, the staff has always allowed myself and patrons around me to take time to appreciate the sights or a conversation about booze (or just about anything else) with the bartenders.

I recently enjoyed such a convo with Noble Experiment tender, Anthony Schmidt, a fellow dining enthusiast who regaled me with tales of outstanding dishes unearthed during recent travels to Mexico and Los Angeles. We also talked about restaurants and menus with pictures on them before we shifted gears so I could check out his new winter menu.

First up was the Holiday Gold Rush, a mix of bourbon, lemon, honey, allspice liqueur, bitters and muddled orange. Tart yet warming with a balancing sweetness, it was the perfect way to prime the pump for stronger drinks like the one that followed—the Flores.

Made with reposado tequila, mescal, Pedro Ximénez sherry (made from the PX varietal of white grape) and special mole-flavored bitters, it had a pronounced smokiness with citrus nuances and was much more spirit-forward than its predecessor.

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For my third drink, I did what I always do when I go to Noble Experiment - I named a spirit and let Schmidt work his impromptu magic. My selection for the evening was Grand Marnier (I have many fond December memories of doing a little one-for-you, one-for-me while brushing this spirit over cheesecloth-adorned fruitcakes).

Without hesitation, he went to work, combining a jigger’s worth of the orange liqueur with brandy, sweet vermouth, Cognac, aromatic bitters and orange before dropping in a sweet cherry. It was the first time Schmidt had this particular Cognac, a fave new toy of his produced by Pierre Ferrand, on-hand at the bar.

At 90 proof (versus brandy’s traditional 80 proof strength), it had the chutzpah to stand up to the sweetness of my cordial of choice. It turned out to be a splendid equalizer and the final product had all the orange flavor of Grand Marnier plus oaken and lightly herbal dimensions.

In a word, it was a delicious and if Schmidt and company can do that with a sugary fruit bomb of a foundation, imagine what he can do with your no doubt brawnier base spirit. Or find out for yourself. Noble Experiment is located at 777 G Street.

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