St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance Cafe & Bar Makes a Batch of Light Cocktails

St. John Frizell was in the business of covering food and drink long before serving it. He’s since picked up the cocktail shaker himself, and the result, Fort Defiance (named for a Revolutionary-era stronghold), is a bastion of coziness and class in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Frizell’s cocktail menu is liquid, changing with the seasons and their ingredients.

How would you describe the style behind Fort Defiance’s cocktail menu? Our menu always includes some original drinks, but it’s very important to us to include drinks on the menu that everyone recognizes, like a Tom Collins or an Irish Coffee. Those are not only great drinks, they’re also lifelines to any guest who might still be a little bewildered by the whole fancy-cocktail thing.

Do you have a personal favorite ingredient or liquor when it comes to cocktails? So difficult to answer, but I’ll say apple brandy. It’s so misunderstood—when I put it on a menu, people automatically think green apple Pucker. But it’s a locally made spirit with a long, distinguished tradition in America, especially in the Northeast, and it works great in both stirred and shaken cocktails.

Tell us more about the King Bee. We make this drink with Comb Vodka, made in Port Chester, NY, from pure honey—hence the name. Benedictine is expensive—look for a liquor store that sells smaller bottles (unless you really like to drink Benedictine). You can make this recipe without it, but it’s the ingredient that really makes this drink great. fortdefiancebrooklyn.com

Photos by JP Bonin