By Brian Robin
No Catch-22 in Batch 22
Matthew Arkin never saw himself in the liquor business. After all, it wasn’t the family business.
Until it was.
“A couple years ago, my dad said to me, ‘You can make aquavit at home.’ I thought, ‘Why would I want to do that? I don’t like aquavit.’ It’s got too much anise and fennel and I don’t like anise and fennel,” he said. “But he kept bringing it up, asking me ‘Did you make the aquavit?’ He wouldn’t let it go. Finally, I had time on my hands and I went to Trader Joe’s, bought a bottle of Vodka of the Gods, read a ton of recipes, put some ideas together and came up with this initial batch.”
That “initial batch” eventually morphed into Batch 22, an American aquavit. And Arkin, an actor who also heads SCR’s Acting Intensive Program and the son of Academy Award-winning actor Alan Arkin, was officially in the liquor business.
Batch 22 is the official spirit of SCR’s 2022-23 season. It is not only available at the theatre bar, it plays a starring role in SCR’s drink specials this season, starting with “The Chanteuse,” in celebration of Nina Simone: Four Women.
Arkin came up with “The Chanteuse:” Batch 22, Pamplemousse grapefruit liqueur and soda water. After spending more than 18 months finalizing the exact mix of citrus, caraway, dill and botanicals that became Batch 22, Arkin mixed his concoction with everything he could get his hands on to find what worked best. It was during one of those tests that “The Chanteuse” was born.
“We know a lot of what Batch 22 pairs with and one of the flavors it pairs very well with is grapefruit,” he said. “That gives you a lot of options: grapefruit liqueur, grapefruit soda or grapefruit juice. Plus, the French name for grapefruit is pamplemousse and Nina Simone spent a lot of time in France.”
The idea for Batch 22, which got its name because there were 22 different bottles on Arkin’s dining room table—with the 22nd batch being the eventual right one—actually came about long before Alan Arkin pestered his son about making aquavit. And the fact the name plays off of one of Alan Arkin’s most famous movies: Catch-22, is a happy coincidence.
In 1976, Matthew was visiting his father on set in Austria during the filming of “The Seven Per-Cent Solution.” On this cold night, Arkin was sitting around with crew members waiting for their cues on a night shoot when one of the grips pulled out a bottle.
“It was something with no label he obviously made in his village,” Arkin remembered. “We passed shots around and they toasted each other. I always remembered that night and how a spirit could unite them in a common bond of camaraderie and history and creativity. I barely remembered what it tasted like, but I always remember that magical evening.”
Arkin began playing for keeps with two partners: Mark Marosi, a former acting student whose mother, Hedda, was a longtime SCR supporter, and college friend Bruce Glassman. The trio embarked on that laborious process bringing Batch 22 to market and on the tasting/contest circuit. Arkin took Batch 22 to six competitions—and medaled in every one. That included a Platinum Medal for Best Aquavit at the L.A. Spirits Festival and Specialty Spirit of the Year at the New Orleans Spirits Competition.
Arkin has a law degree from Fordham that he’s putting to use for the first time in a long time. The SCR veteran of six plays, Our Mother’s Brief Affair, The Prince of Atlantis, The Whale, All the Way, The Siegel and The Sisters Rosensweig, still has a hard time wrapping his head around being in the liquor business.
His dad? He’s all-in, even as Arkin struggles to connect the dots on what prompted that question about making aquavit at home.
“I can’t figure out why. It’s not like we’re aquavit drinkers in my family,” Arkin said. “He’s pretty excited about it. He loves it. Nobody in my family has gone off and started a business. It’s a whole new thing and he’s constantly asking questions about it.”