Russell Greene is a mixologist and the bar supervisor at Bar 1896, a cutting-edge cocktail spot just outside of Phoenix at Castle Hot Springs.
The lounge is known for its porthole infusers, torches and partnerships with local farms to source ingredients for syrups and garnishes. We recently sat down with Greene to learn a little more about his journey as well as his adventures behind the bar.
First, why 1896?
Well, 1896 was the birth year of our resort, and it reminds us to stick to our roots. A simple, more rugged time, that feel and philosophy are reflected in our bar program. From our hardware, cocktails and glassware — even our outfits — we almost look like we were plucked out of the late 1800s. Everyone loves the romance of the Wild West.
Tell us a little more about you and your inspiration behind the bar.
I was born to a military family at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and I grew up experiencing rich culture and culinary across the globe. Following an introduction to cooking in a small bistro setting, I developed an appreciation for using fresh, high-quality ingredients across the culinary and beverage programs. When I got into the industry in earnest, I spent my time building a reputation for thoughtful and unconventional cocktails that use fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. I joined Castle Hot Springs in 2019 to lead the cocktail program, but I am also an expert tobacconist, so I developed the robust cigar program at Castle Hot Springs as well.
What is the cocktail program’s main focus?
Our bar program revolves around classic cocktails driven by farm fresh ingredients, even down to our club soda, which is sourced from our spring. For us, attention to detail is crucial and expected. Fresh citrus, house purees and tinctures are the norm. We also make our more modern equipment collide with old techniques to help us reduce our waste footprint and deliver a fresh and quality product. Our team is dedicated to helping our guests experience the resort to its fullest. Creating a great cocktail is one thing, but running an entertaining bar is what really makes it shine. We have a good time and love sharing our passion with the guests. Beyond our cocktail and wine program, I should note that we take great pride in our vast wine selection and our exclusive Castle Hot Springs Lithium Lager, which is brewed with fresh spring water.
Oddest ingredient you’ve ever used in a cocktail?
I’ve used cactus paddles, but because this is Arizona, maybe that isn’t so odd. I’ve also used furikake, which is a Japanese seasoning typically made with toasted sesame seeds, nori, salt, sugar and I’ve used actual fish flakes, too.
Favorite memory working behind a bar?
Climbing a ladder in a whiskey library to retrieve a cocktail championship belt I had just won. “Rocky” theme music was playing, and everyone was cheering. It was surreal.
Best piece of advice for someone looking to get into the industry?
Don’t burn bridges. Hospitality is a small and volatile industry, so the more friends you have the better. Do your best to appreciate your products and always remember that, ultimately, it is about the guest.
What does ordering a Jack and Coke say about a person?
Being a person who likes a whiskey and Coke, I can give some insight. It’s easy, familiar, refreshing and tastes great. Every bar has it. It will never fail you. It says I’m comfortable with what I’m drinking and I’m ready to relax. Everyone should revisit a whiskey and Coke every now and then to bring them back home.
Favorite drink when not working?
Honestly, I drink primarily bourbon and beer. You are most likely to see me enjoying Wild Turkey 101 or a local IPA on any given day.
What drink do you want us to feature?
Sonoran tea, $16.
Why do you like this cocktail?
I first made this cocktail at a family party, and it was a hit. It’s big and refreshing, with mellow berry, cool mint and citrus perfectly balanced.
2 ounces 100-proof Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
3 sprigs of black mint
Combine solid ingredients in shaker, muddle and then add remaining ingredients. Shake with ice 30 times and pour over fresh ice in large Collins glass and top with black iced tea. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint, a few blueberries, and either a dehydrated lemon wheel or a lemon peel.
5050 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown