Cocktail alchemist Craig Schoettler decamps from Chicago for Vegas. Magic happens.
With his slick ponytail and his rock-star-skinny suits, Craig Schoettler may not look like a beverage innovator, but wait till you taste what he’s pouring.
There are several immediate giveaways that Craig Schoettler, recruited last year to run the cocktail program at Aria, is not your typical casino beverage guy, starting with his hardware demands: carbonators, recirculating chillers, aquarium pumps, and, most notably, a rotovap (rotary evaporator, if that helps). With it, Schoettler can make pulp-free pineapple juice and heatless Fresno chili water (you get the flavor without the mouth burn). But more important, his unorthodox ways have produced some mind-blowingly good libations, instantly elevating Las Vegas’s casino cocktail game.
A trained chef, Schoettler honed his craft at the Aviary, the Chicago mixology mecca co-owned by superstar chef Grant Achatz, before Aria executives lured him away to turn booze into bait for gamblers. “We provide experiences that you would really need to seek out [if you were] in your hometown,” says Schoettler with some understatement, figuring that he has the only rotovap west of the Mississippi. He slides over a cocktail called The Wild West. With its clever use of flavored ice cubes—which change the taste of this bourbon-laced drink as they melt—it’s a memorable bit of boozy legerdemain. But like any skilled magician, Schoettler makes it seem effortless: “It’s like four or five different cocktails in one. Normal ice cubes dilute. Instead, why not add ice that complements?”
Beyond exquisite fancy drinks, Schoettler’s know-how and connections pair nicely with the buying power of Aria. In addition to overseeing the resort’s custom-brewed Cabaletta beer, he has been able to acquire extremely rare, extraordinarily expensive bottles of whiskey. He ticks off a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of 1940 Glenlivet Scotch, a 62-year-old Macallan, and enough Hardy’s Perfection to fill a Sky Villa bathtub. “We charge $5,500 a pour for the Glenlivet—I could never have done that in Chicago,” he says, acknowledging that Vegas is one of the few places where people will part with that kind of cash for spirits. “So far we’ve sold half the bottle, and it is fantastic. Clients have gotten smarter. They want rare; they want different. We provide those experiences.”
Schoettler is aware that his job is as much about entertainment as liquor. “People like to live it up when they come to Vegas,” he says. “We want to make their experiences memorable and keep them coming back to see something new.”