By JOHN T. WARD
At Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, the bar has become a place of labor-intensive cocktails prepared with carefully chosen fruits and flavorings, says Beau Keegan, who runs the beverage operation.
“A generation ago, it was all about liqueurs, but there’s been a revolution in the last 10 or 15 years of people making their own purees, syrups, bitters,” he says. Driven by customer interest, “everybody’s kind of pushing each other” to find new, and fresher, ingredients, he says.
At age 32, Keegan is clearly a next-generation mixologist, one who’s already put together a dazzling résumé of jobs and awards on both the food and drink sides.
His grandfather owned Pep’s Place in Deal, which “was kind of like my daycare,” he says of the now-gone bar. Cooking since he was three years old, by the time Keegan graduated as valedictorian of his class at Johnson Wales, he was working the front of the house at a popular Providence restuarant. A year later, in France, he earned an honorary Sommelier degree from L’ecole de Savignac, he says.
Since then, he’s done stints in restaurants in Florida, Georgia, and since 2010, here in the Garden State, where he bar-managed Red Bank’s Buona Sera for three years.
He’s been at Ama, located in the oceanfront Driftwood Beach Club, since January, 2013.
With Ama’s 26-year-old executive chef, Chuck Lesbirel, Keegan says he strives to keep the bar offerings, and his “pride and joy” wine list, in synch with the food menu.
“My emphasis is fresh, local,” he says. “I love local ingredients. I think they make a huge difference. I think people are looking for that now. And the summer’s
Overseeing a cocktail menu that, like the food menu, changes four times a year to reflect the seasons, Keegan says he likes to prowl stores and farmers’ markets – Sickles, Delicious Orchards, the farmers’ market in Monmouth Beach – for inspiration. He recently found some in the lemon thyme in his mother’s home garden, which he uses in a blueberry cocktail.
“Summer’s my favorite time of year,” he says. “It’s a great time, when everything’s in season.”
And what of his white peach martini?
“White peaches: I mean, it’s a home run,” he says. “When I think summer, I think peaches, I think bubbles, I think ‘sit on the patio, knock back a few of these and feel good.’ ”
Keegan purees the Jersey peaches, then adds Purity vodka, peach schnapps, simple syrup, prosecco – “for dryness and depth” – and grenadine, which sinks to the bottom of the glass to simulate a peach pit surrounded by golden peachiness.
The taste? One might arguably call it magical, both for cool uber-summery flavor and slightly pulpy texture.
In the interest full disclosure, however, I must admit to a strange bodily sensation, perhaps brought on by a surge of stray estrogen, that made me wonder if anybody saw me slurping such a pretty concoction.
“Eighty percent of your specialty drinks are going to be served to women,” Keegan acknowledges. “The gentlemen, they’re not really big risk takers.”
Still, Ama is pouring about 100 peach martinis a week, helped by a $7 price on Thursdays and from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays.