A simple Old Fashioned calls for spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. But in the realm of Malibu Beach Inn’s Bar Director Josh Curtis, the options are limitless.
“One could use a half ounce of Pisco and an ounce and a half of vodka,” says Josh, his mind at work as he oversees the bar at Carbon Beach Club. “Honey, a couple of drops of coconut water, lavender bitters, and a big ice cube.”
Known for his creativity behind the bar, Josh has been crafting innovative cocktails in Southern California for more than a decade, and it was his distinct style and passion for the storied beaches of Malibu that led him to write a cocktail book inspired by our coastal town.
Under the working title of Malibu Beach Cocktails, the upcoming book highlights Malibu history, the current regime of bars and restaurants in Malibu – with insights from Malibu Farm, V’s restaurant + bar, Mastro’s Ocean Club, Moonshadows Malibu, and more – and Josh’s own modern take on cocktails.
“Back in the olden days, cocktail books were just books of recipes,” he says. “This book shines a light on days gone past of legendary watering holes in Malibu, specifically along the Malibu coast, and draws inspiration from them including places like the Tonga Lei, Las Flores Inn, and Alice’s Restaurant.”
Where Duke’s Malibu stands today on the Pacific Coast Highway, the Las Flores Inn stood in 1915 (at a time when the road ended right there), and after Las Flores came the Sea Lion (with actual sea lion tanks outside the restaurant).
“An interesting thing about Malibu,” says Josh, “is that every place along the way used to be something else, and the Tonga Lei was here [at Malibu Beach Inn]. I found a menu from there from 1966, when drinks were $1.50.”
His cocktail book not only divulges the history of these classic beach bars but reimagines many of the most popular drinks of each era, including the Grasshopper, Pink Lady, Brandy Alexander, and the tiki drinks that were so popular in the Polynesian-inspired Tonga Lei.
Moving into present day, the book also highlights some of the most significant names in Malibu bars and restaurants today with an array of featured cocktails and bartenders, along with Josh’s own creations.
“From my experience creating a fresh selection of cocktails every week and curating drink menus on a consulting basis over many years,” Josh says, “I wanted to have creative cocktail ideas with a beach theme that were not overly complicated to make from a consumer perspective.”
Many of his cocktails like the Playa Access, with fresh-juiced cucumber and Casamigos tequila, have appeared or currently appear on the menu at Malibu Beach Inn, and the book will even include a few non-alcoholic drink recipes featuring Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit.
“I think in templates, like a margarita or a Manhattan, and go from there,” he says. “Then I have a base and I can complicate it as much as I want after that. I also like splitting spirits to have two different spirits in one drink.”
Josh’s journey to completing the cocktail book actually began in 2009 while working at a nightclub in Los Angeles. He was approached by his friend and mentor, acclaimed graphic designer Rod Dyer, who suggested a cocktail book. After convincing Josh to meet up at 9 am – a difficult feat for a bartender in his 20s – Dyer photographed a selection of Josh’s drinks and began persuading him to write about his craft.
Following his move to Malibu Beach Inn in 2016, Josh was approached by Richard Joseph, owner of The History Press of Arcadia Publishing, with publications like Portland Beer Stories and Austin Breakfast Tacos. He posed the beach city cocktails idea to Josh, and in August 2017, Josh’s book proposal was accepted. (He connected again with Dyer to photograph all of the drinks for the book.)
Josh also credits his work to Malibu Beach Inn’s General Manager Gregory Day. When the two worked together at Shutters on the Beach prior to Malibu Beach Inn, Day tasked Josh with coming up with a new cocktail menu each week – expanding Josh’s repertoire from solely farmers market cocktails to the classics, the new, and everything in between.
“He saw something in me,” Josh says. “That really broadened my scope as far as making all cocktails and expanding on what Rod had instilled in me, which was to educate myself and understand these drinks as a whole subject.”
Malibu Beach Cocktails will hit the shelves in July, with just enough time for Josh to finish the manuscript and complete a final review. The book will be available at major retailers and at Malibu Beach Inn, where you can join Josh at the bar for one of his signature cocktails.