Rhode Island’s Willa Van Nostrand concocts original artisanal cocktails to take your big event to the next level.
Willa Van Nostrand is not one to knock a basic vodka soda. But the craft cocktail maker and owner of Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails also loves to go beyond the basics, drawing on her imagination and creativity to produce inspired beverage presentations for events of all sizes. “It’s really set and setting all the way,” admits the Providence, Rhode Island-based mixologist who creates cocktails—complemented with charcuterie—to match a particular setting and theme. For example, a seaside celebration might have her foraging for sea beans as an edible garnish. In the deep winter, Van Nostrand leans heavily on the bitters she concocts herself, which she believes are the essential salt and pepper for every drink.
Growing up in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, with her bartending minister father and herbalist midwife mother, was an education in cocktail culture for Van Nostrand. She loves presenting things in duality: food/drink, art/artists, drink/garnish. World’s Fair Gallery, her studio and gallery in Providence, brings like-minded artists to showcase their work, and gives her a space to test-drive cocktail creations.
“Bitte,” which means “please” or “you’re welcome” in German, captures the essence of what Van Nostrand is doing—carving a throwback to the golden age of hosting. Her theater arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College has helped Van Nostrand set up similar productions for her bartending and food catering events. “I see this as an extension of my artistic embodiment,” she says. “It’s all a big production.”
Van Nostrand is always up for a challenge. The most outrageous drink she’s ever crafted? A black cocktail for a design firm, made up of gin, aquavit, fresh anise hyssop, black licorice, and . . . squid ink.
We asked Van Nostrand to concoct a cold-weather cocktail just for Take. It’s a spin on the Old Fashioned with a warming kick of crystallized ginger and allspice dram in lieu of the traditional Angostura bitters and muddled sugar base. Savor a sip of this handy recipe, and you too will be pirouetting through the season.
2 oz. bourbon
⅟₄ oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Crystallized ginger for muddling
Crystallized sage for garnish*
*Coat both sides of a fresh sage leaf
with citrus juice, and dust with sugar.
Muddle allspice dram with crystallized ginger in a rocks glass and add ice. Add bourbon and stir for 15 seconds. Garnish with a generous curl of orange zest and crystallized sage.