The art of the craft cocktail

Ryan Dierks, co-owner of the Truckee Tavern & Grill, has a reputation. If you want a cocktail in Truckee, he is one of the masters of the art of craft cocktails. The bar features all manner of unique bottles of spirits and Dierks knows his stuff.

Watch the video on how Truckee Tavern makes ice cubes with a chain saw

Blueprint of the Cocktail
Saturdays in February | 6-7:30 p.m.
$90 | 21+

“Cocktail programs are a whole different animal,” says Dierks, who is also the bar manager. He and his staff prep for hours to make the bar ready for an evening. The infusions, bitters and syrups used in the cocktails are all made in house; the garnishes are cut to precision and lined up along the bar creating a beautiful setting for the eye to behold. They use all fresh juices and cut their own ice cubes with a chain saw.

You won’t find a soda gun at this establishment. If you ask for a rum and coke, you get a Coca Cola classic in a bottle. If you order a drink with tonic, Q-tonic and Fentimans are the two brands behind the bar. Dierks and his bartenders wield a hand-held soda siphon that makes seltzer using Truckee water. The siphon has been used in bars since the 1800s. Truckee Tavern & Grill also makes its own ginger syrup using a blend of raw and cooked ginger. If you are a fan of ginger beer, they make that, too.

“We do as much in house as possible and if someone can produce it better, we buy it,” says Dierks.

The bitters for the establishment’s cocktails are sensational. Barrel-aged aromatic bitters with subtle hints of orange and coconut flakes laced with golden raisins are used to prepare the Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. Banana bitters are used for rum drinks and saffron cardamom bitters are used for Gin Fizz cocktails.

Barrel-aged aromatic bitters with subtle hints of orange and coconut flakes laced with golden raisins are used to prepare the Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.

“Dealers Choice” is one of Truckee Tavern’s most popular cocktails on the menu. The bartenders ask their customers a few pertinent questions about their preferences: do they like citrus or boozy, fruity or herbal? Do they have a spirit of choice? These questions give the bartender a sense of what type of cocktail they will design for their customers.

“It’s about good customer service. Giving them what they want yet introducing them to something they don’t necessarily know about,” Dierks says.

Dierks doesn’t want to be called a mixologist.

“Being a bartender is about an authentic human experience between you and the customer. The bar is hallowed ground, a place where CEOs and plumbers sit together and shed the weight of the day. The bartender is the emcee,” he says. “It’s a place to meet new people, have good conversation over a good cocktail. Making a good cocktail is another tool in the tool box.”

Many of the craft cocktail creations are inspired by the seasons. Dierks looks at produce availability and sets the menu from there. Dirty Martini’s are made with Truckee Tavern’s housemade brine: a blend of capers, olives, champagne vinegar and herbs. Currently, the tavern is serving up music-themed cocktails, such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “Jolene,” “Pumpkin” and “Formerly Known As.”

Dierks, a self proclaimed cocktail nerd, offers all manner of trivia and knowledge about the process of making and preparing the cocktails he serves. He reads books and blogs to drink up everything about the world of cocktails.

A fun twist at Truckee Tavern is the cocktail classes. Every Saturday night through the winter season, Truckee Tavern will be hosting cocktail classes from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the side bar.

“The purpose of the class is twofold: We want to offer people a different culinary experience and to help people be more confident as to what to order at a bar — not all bars are cocktail bars,” he says.

Participants learn about cocktails in order to demystify them and make them more approachable and to learn the basic of ingredients of simple cocktails they can build on.

Over the last two years the biggest thing that has changed for Dierks is how he has come to mentor people and share his love of craft cocktails. Jason Gifford, Ian Hadder, Michelle O’Shea and Bryce Tomberlin are the crew that tend bar with Dierks. Tomberlin won last year’s annual Bartender Competition at West Shore cafe. This year’s competition will be held on Feb. 26.

For more information or to register for the cocktail classes, call (530) 587-3766 or visit

Priya Hutner
Priya Hutner is a writer, personal chef and meditation teacher. She writes feature articles about music, art, food and recreation. Priya loves to immerse in story. Whether jumping from a plane, eating obscure foods or hitting the Tahoe-Reno music scene, she is always up for adventure and experience. Having moved to the mountains from Sebastian, Fla., she embraces the Tahoe lifestyle and loves to ski, hike, paddle and swim. Priya is the owner of the Seasoned Sage, a business that prepares organic meals and facilitates workshops that promote a health-conscious lifestyle. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience living on an ashram and working on a series of cookbooks. |