The Sawbuck: A Traveling Speakeasy
The Sawbuck’s public identity is of a traveling speakeasy that crafts custom and classic cocktails for private events. But in many ways, this small business functions more like a secret supper club where you have to be in the know and invited into the world the Sawbuck is trying to construct. It’s a labor of love, more than a business venture, for the five friends, Aaron Apling-Gilman, Trevor Fulton, Stephen Trimble, Brian Zematis, and Craig Zematis, who created this concept about two years ago.
The idea for the Sawbuck began when independently, the five friends would travel outside of Alaska always seeking the best cocktail bars on their trips. Upon returning home they struggled to find a place to get a “good old fashioned,” Trimble explains. They all have day jobs –Trevor is a legislative aid in Juneau, Stephen is the founder of a clean energy development company and Aaron, the executive chef at the Seven Glaciers restaurant in Girdwood, is the only team member who works professionally in the culinary industry. But it’s this hodgepodge of experiences that allows these friends to experiment together to produce their uniquely updated craft cocktails.
“We get together each month and have a theme,” Trimble almost reluctantly shares--as if this information is a secret. He does let on that the theme and loaction of these informal drink competitions changes monthly. In May, the theme was “Vinyl: A Cocktail Based on a Song.” Fulton mixed a “Phil Collins” a twist on a classic Tom Collins cocktail. Trimble’s drink, the “Rickrolling” was based on the internet meme that involved sending a hyperlink that looks like a legitimate link, but actually is the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Trimble, who has put extensive thought into his cocktail, details how halfway through making the cocktail there is a bait and switch and he “Rickrolls” with an absinthe substitute spirit.
The Sawbuck men, perhaps unknowingly, are playful artists, but Trevor Fulton describes the group as self-proclaimed “cocktail nerds”. He then proceeds to list an entire bibliography of “must-read” references such as Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique and Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail, which Fulton calls a “cookbook for techniques you can extrapolate over an entire cocktail menu.”
This dedication to cocktail technique is what separates the Sawbuck men from other mixologists.
Fulton is adamant that there is a difference between shaking versus stirring, using different types of ice, and picking the right tools to craft a cocktail. But their precision doesn’t stop there. Aaron Apling-Gilman recommends making your own syrups and bitters. “It’s easier than you think,” Apling-Gilman assures, “you just need to plan ahead to do it.” It’s unclear if Apling-Gilman underscores the difficulty of concocting one’s own Kahlúa base (which the Sawbuck has done) or foraging for devil’s club to turn them into bitters (which they also do) or if these creations really are easy for anyone without experience to accomplish. Lastly, even if all these elements come together – the from-scratch ingredients, the meticulous technique – Fulton insists that the perfect cocktail is not complete without the correct garnish to compliment the drink or the right glass to serve it in.
Currently, the Sawbuck functions without a liquor license meaning they either operate under another business’s license for an event or they bartend at private events where the host provides all the liquor based on their shopping list. For now, this set-up works for them. Trimble explains that “they don’t want to be a bar owner dealing with bar infrastructure” and working as a freelance entity allows them “to set their own prices and to have creative freedom.”
In 2015, the Sawbuck collaborated with Café del Mundo (now Black Cup coffee) to create coffee cocktails for a Fur Rondy party at the Pioneer Bar in Anchorage. In the summer of 2015 they created the cocktails and bartended for over 500 people at the VIP grand opening of the H&M store. Still, Apling-Gilman says, “there clearly is opportunity for growth” with their businesses. In fact, the Sawbuck is in discussions with a new liquor license holder in a downtown Anchorage location where they could offer a monthly cocktail tasting event demonstrating and deconstructing a few cocktails in order to educate drinkers about the drink’s history and of course, the proper technique for making a cocktail.
The Sawbuck can be reached through their website. Their rates are on a case-by-case basis, but average about $50 an hour per bartender.