‘A River Runs Through’ This Talented Mixologist’s Life

Photo By Paul Vasiliades
Story By Randy Gross – rgross@harrisburgmagazine.com

Think Brad Pitt in the film A River Runs Through It. Now think Brad Pitt supplementing his income by slinging drinks at an upscale Harrisburg restaurant that “once upon a time” was an historic 18th-century tavern. Add a dash of your favorite appetizer, entrée, or dessert, and what do you have? The recipe for an evening of custom-made cocktails and thoughtful conversation with Brandon Hoover at Greystone Public House on Colonial Road, this month’s Bartender’s Choice selectee.

“Okay,” you say, “I get the part about cocktails and conversation. But what does an acclaimed 1992 film have to do with any of this?”

Aside from Hoover’s Brad Pitt-like ruggedness and charisma? Plenty. For, you see, when Hoover isn’t tending bar at Greystone he’s likely to be found chest-high in a Montana river, fly fishing. Which, of course, is what Paul Maclean (Pitt) and his brother Norman (Craig Sheffer) spend much of their time doing in A River Runs Through It, a movie praised for both its lyricalness and Oscar-winning cinematography.

Though it’s been Hoover’s bartending gig at Greystone that’s been paying the bills for the past year-and-a-half, he considers Amateur Fly-Fisherman to be his “day job.”

“It’s definitely a purpose in my life,” he asserts. “It’s definitely a pursuit of mine that I put a lot of time into, and effort. I was just out in Montana a couple of weeks ago for a whole week … Southwest Montana, near Yellowstone, with a couple of guys. We had a cabin on the Madison River and we just fished all day and night. Slept, and then did the same thing the next day. It’s something I picked up during the Covid lockdown and just kind of never looked back.”

One of four bartenders on the team at Greystone, the Cedar Cliff High School and Penn State grad derives as much pleasure “making people happy” as he does from traveling and trout fishing. “I enjoy meeting new people as well,” he says, “and relating to people and learning about their lives.”

Hoover excels at creating new drinks and loves bouncing ideas back and forth with his co-workers Christy, Barbara, and Michelle. Mixed for us with matinee idol flair on a sunny October afternoon were: The KFC (which stands for “Kentucky F****** Coffee”; recipe at the end of this article); the Fall Flyer, a variation on a Paper Plane made with Apple Jack Bourbon Whiskey and Ginger Liqueur; and the Greystone Sour, an Amaretto-infused take on the classic Whiskey Sour.

Look for at least one of the above drinks to make it onto Greystone’s new menu for the winter – and for some additional tasty concoctions for the holidays.

“We’ve been playing around with cranberry,” elaborates Hoover, “and we might add a cranberry drink to our upcoming menu, and kind of have that be a Christmassy kind of thing. It’s still a work in progress at the moment, but we’re all pretty excited about it. I encourage people to come in and check it out.”

• 2 oz Woodford Bourbon
• 2 dashes of Orange Bitters
• 1 oz Tia Maria Coffee liqueur
Stir in a mixing glass
Strain over fresh ice or an ice sphere
Garnish with an orange peel

Tequila Fashioned
(Build in a mixing glass)
• 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
• 1 dash Orange Bitters
• 0.5 oz Blue Agave Syrup
• Orange Peel (No pulp or rind)
• 2 dashes (0.5 oz) Club Soda
Muddle ingredients
Add 2 oz Anejo Tequila
Fill with ice, stir ingredients
Strain over ice sphere
Garnish with orange peel

Brandon’s Dossier

Words of advice to home mixologists:
My words for home mixologists are to keep it simple. Get some bar tools such as: a jigger (preferably Japanese style), mixing glass (a pint glass is fine), bar spoon (preferably Japanese style) a cocktail shaker and strainer. Learn the basic fundamentals and some classic cocktails like Manhattans, Martini’s, etc, and go from there. Identify the purpose for the ingredients you’re using and how they will complement each other. Bartending is a lot like baking. Have some fun but keep it simple. 

I draw inspiration from a lot of interests in my life. I lived in Los Angeles for 5 ½ years, where there are many excellent bartenders, and I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with a lot of knowledgeable people. I was very fortunate to work for an excellent restaurant group while in California, where learning, growth and structure was always encouraged. A friend and former coworker of mine, Steven Berry, was always putting on a show making drinks with just the right amount of flair to enhance the restaurant’s atmosphere. Barbara Nork, a coworker of mine at Greystone, who was very gracious with me and set high standards when I first started working here. I had an excellent conversation with a bartender at the Doug Fir Lounge on a rainy night in Portland, Oregon years ago. I think his name was Ben. He really opened up and taught me a lot in a couple hours … I always appreciated that.

Favorite spirit straight:
Tequila. While a glass of whiskey neat is always nice, give me a glass of Don Julio® Blanco on the rocks with a lime wedge and I am a very happy man. 

Recommendations of two or three spirits to try:
I’m big on Mezcal. It’s from Mexico and has a very interesting smoky profile from the way it’s made. Each Mezcal I’ve tried has a different level of smokiness. My favorite is Del Maguey. Mezcal gives an interesting twist to a lot of established recipes such as a Negroni, Margarita, Mules or even rinsing a glass for a smoky Tequila Fashioned. 

Gran Gala is an interesting liqueur that I enjoy. It’s an Italian orange liqueur. I love using it in Margaritas when I’m at home or having a glass after a good meal. It’s a little sweet, smooth with a zesty spiciness that I really enjoy. 

Gray Whale Gin is a spirit I had the pleasure of trying one afternoon. It’s delicious, and one of the only gins I’ll enjoy served neat. It’s from Golden State Distillery in California and they’ve incorporated ingredients from six different areas of the California Coast, a place that is very important to me. 

Favorite spirits to mix:
I can’t say I truly have a preference, but most of my ideas involve bourbon.

Most commonly ordered drinks at your bar:
It really varies depending on the day. Our seasonal and signature cocktails sell very well, but we also have a good selection of wines by the glass and bottle, and a favorable amount of beer on tap. 

Philosophy on drinks:
I have a couple philosophies on drinks. Good drinks, great company, and excellent conversation is a good place to be. Most importantly, knowing the basics and make them great. I once heard someone say, “The basic fundamentals, refined to perfection, are your most advanced techniques.” I think that philosophy applies to almost anything. You need to have the basics down with cocktails before you start getting wild.

Thoughts about your cocktails:
With all my creative endeavors, I always come from the place of recognizing that I’m not necessarily going to re-invent the wheel. Build on the basic concepts but isolate different flavors and try out different ingredients. It’s always been about the desire to make drinks and come up with ideas that I would enjoy myself, serving it to a guest and seeing if it checks out.  

Your day job (if bartending isn’t your day job):
Amateur Fly-Fisherman and Fly-Tyer. It’s something I picked up during the COVID lockdowns in 2020. I’ve traveled to many states to fish over the last two years. I’ve always been a traveler, but Central Pennsylvania is home. Art, music, and food are some of the things I enjoy as well. Bartending allows me to have time to pursue the things that I love. 

What days/times do you typically work at the bar:
I’m typically working Wednesday through Saturday in the evenings. Occasionally, you may catch me working a Sunday brunch.