Alex Zepeda, one of HUB’s Storytellers-In-Chief

I cleared my calendar when I was invited to a private cocktail tasting at HUB for local food and beverage journalists.

But for me, this abrupt schedule sweep wasn’t just about my occupying a coveted seat at a hot downtown bar and restaurant to witness the revelation of a new cocktail menu. It was as much about my private audience with Alex Zepeda, HUB’s general manager, whose work behind the bar over the years has always been anchored by the concept of story. Since story makes us in the media smile, I eagerly accepted the invitation and soon found myself on a bar stool directly across from this spirituous celebrity.

That I was additionally honored to sit next to popular booze blogger “The Classy Alcoholic” is another story for another time!

And that’s when Alex Zepeda started talking about Mexican bug shells.

The East Ender

During the assembly of the East Ender, one of nine new creations on her libations list, she paused to tell the story of Granada-Vallet, a bitter liqueur with notes of pomegranate that gets its warm sunset color from a natural dye that comes from the shells of scale insects in Hidalgo, Mexico. A collective hush hovered over the bar top as we all reflected on the blessings of a beverage made possible by a bug’s unselfish sacrifice of its exoskeleton, as our host returned to the stirring in anticipation of her next story.

Along with the Granada-Vallet, the East Ender features a white whiskey, a wine-based apertif called Cappelletti, an Italian Amaretto, and a lemon peel garnish. Drawing inspiration from the classic Negroni, Zepeda calls this one, “a cocktail for the true cocktail drinker.” I guess this is why it ranked high atop my list of the nine.

Pieces of Eight

Zepeda then began to channel her inner Jack Sparrow as she started to build another new cocktail called Pieces of Eight.

As she was unsheathing the purple straw that would later be plunged deep into a tall glass, she told a story about the pirates of yore who regularly robbed individuals of their Spanish pesos. Those pesos could actually be broken into eight pieces, called reales, which was common currency back then. And now there’s a cocktail at HUB inspired by crime and currency.

This playful beverage features black barrel rum, Swedish Punsch, ruby port, cinnamon syrup, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and a grapefruit peel and parasol garnish.

Zepeda calls it a coincidence that her Pieces of Eight has eight building blocks. But I’m not so sure.  Without that parasol, it might have been called Pieces of Seven, which would rob her of the pirate story.

Here are the other new cocktails on HUB’s list:

Workhorse: vanilla-infused rye whiskey, demerara simple syrup, Workhorse Rye Salted Cacao Bitters, salt, and orange peel garnish.

Basil Buck: basil vodka, fresh lime, ginger syrup, soda water, and lime wheel garnish.

Sunspot: gin, apricot liqueur, orgeat, lemon juice, and lemon wheel garnish.

Sandia Fria: tequila, falernum, watermelon syrup, lime juice, hibiscus salt, and lime wheel garnish.

Stuck in my Cabana: tepache, raspberry eau de vie, coconut syrup, lemon, and garnish of raspberry, pineapple slice, and cinnamon lime.

Rodeo Queen: vodka, lemon juice, blueberry syrup, sparkling wine, and garnish of blueberries and thyme.

Santa Cruz Float: Amaro Lucano, Whiskey Del Bac, stout syrup, soda water, and salted caramel ice cream.

Work your way down the list and let me know your favorites. And please raise your glass to say cheers to Alex Zepeda…or yo-ho-ho if you’re drinking the Pieces of Eight.