Mixologist of the Month: Maksym Pazuniak

The head bartender at The Counting Room in Brooklyn, New York, tells Wine Enthusiast about his mixology philosophy.

Mixologist Maksym Pazuniak has worked few bars in his brief career. But wherever he gets behind the stick, he makes an impact.

When Pazuniak worked at Cure in New Orleans, he and fellow barkeep Kirk Estopinal self-published Rogue Cocktails (2009), a slim volume of radical recipes that became one of the most influential cocktail books of the past few years.

“Rogue Cocktails was a reaction to how boring a lot of cocktail guys were,” he says. “We were going through these old cocktail books, and they were cool. Then you’d [read] new books and couldn’t make anything, because they involved crazy syrups and things you couldn’t find.”

One day, Estopinal made him an Angostura sour, a drink that turns the typical cocktail model on its head by using the bitters as its base. “My brain exploded. I thought, ‘This is awesome. Why don’t people know about this?’”

Pazuniak shifted the spotlight from gin, whiskey and other traditional cocktail building blocks to unsung bitter and herbal liqueurs like Campari, Cynar and Chartreuse. “They’re such beautiful spirits on their own,” he says.

Though only 277 copies of Rogue Cocktails were printed, the book was a hit. In 2011, an updated edition, Beta Cocktails, was released. “We’re seeing that gospel spread a little bit,” he says. “We’ve got people feeling more comfortable using Cynar or Fernet-Branca as a base spirit.”

Today, Pazuniak works a shift called “Something Like This” with a new drinks menu every Monday night at The Counting Room in Brooklyn. 

A recent offering was The First Time Darkness Fell. It included Cynar, Lemon Hart 151 Rum, Punt e Mes (an Italian vermouth), coffee, milk, stout and Angostura Bitters. Drinking at a Pazuniak bar, you come to expect such adventurous combinations.

Get Pazuniak's bittersweet Sleeping With Strangers cocktail recipe.

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