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Southern Fried Drinking

February 22, 2011 By: Jack Robertiello


For all the talk about local drinking and seasonality, you must look hard to find evidence of new regional drinking trends. But the evidence is there, if only in the ingredients that naturally come to mind, even in this global food supply world.

Take the Southeast: In Charleston, S.C., the bar at Husk features classics on the menu – Monkey Gland, Whiskey Daisy, Clover Club Fizz – along with drinks made using ingredients long employed in traditional southern cooking – like persimmon in The Sunny D (persimmon-infused gin, St-Germain, persimmon puree, thyme simple syrup, fresh thyme sprig) and The Walterboro “the dirty Martini gone nuts” with Smirnoff vodka, boiled peanut-pork jus and house-made peanut orgeat). Persimmons, peanuts and pork jus – if these three ingredients don’t shout “Carolina,” nothing does. Not only that, but to note the arrival of a barrel of bourbon from the famed Van Winkle family, Beverage Director Clint Sloan added The Julian, named as a tribute to Julian Van Winkle. Based apparently on an Old-Fashioned, the drink starts with an orange segment coated with sorghum, followed by a sugar cube, orange, Angostura bitters and Van Winkle bourbon.

In Austin, Texas, Bar Congress (part of three eating and drinking establishment conceptes, including Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen) has Adam Bryan creating drinks both locally inspired -- Congress GT (Cascade Hopped Gin, house quinine and persimmon bitters) and Preferred Lies (Earl Grey-infused bourbon, apple drinking vinegar and a Canton ginger foam)-- and internationally inspired like the Tam Tam Swizzle (Crema de Mezcal, Batavia Arrack, tamarind gastrique and lime seltzer). I’m liking this persimmon theme, and gastriques and vinegars seem to fit perfectly with the Southern theme to me. (But then, I’m from Jersey…)

Swan DiveAlso in Austin, Swan Dive opened, with input from Eastside Showroom Executive Barkeep Chauncy James. A sign-less speakeasy, Swan Dive launched with some preserve-spiked drinks: the Peggy Lee (Siete Leguas Reposado, Pampero Aniversario, fresh lemon, orange marmalade) and the Strawberry Jam (aquavit, Aperol, fresh lemon and strawberry jam). Jams don’t seem especially regional, unless made from local ingredients, but preserving methods once depended completely on what was available to provide both tart and sweet.

Some other forms of southeastern drinking relates to events – Derby Day for one, and the emergence of Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms for another. Among the D.C. spots marking the variable occasion are the local outpost of the Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar mini-chain, featuring two rum cocktails – the Cherry Tini (Pyrat XO Rum, Combier, lemongrass-infused guarapo, Bing cherries and bitters) and the Coconut Cherry Frozen (Three Olive Cherry Vodka, lemongrass-infused guarapo, coconut puree and cherry juice). Zentan will feature Blossom’ed Lychee Milk (lychee, nigori sake and vodka, topped off with a splash of milk foam, served in a shot glass) with a blend of brandied cherries, lychee bits and almond cherry cookie. At Redwood Restaurant and Bar in nearby Bethesda, the feature is a the Cherry Pop cocktail (St-Germain, cherry simple syrup and sparkling wine), while at the Lounge at the Park Hyatt Washington, it’s the slightly similar Sakura cocktail (Crop Vodka, house-made cherry blossom syrup, fresh cherry puree and Virginia sparkling wine). Finally, Againn features the Cherrio cocktail (vodka, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, rosewater and egg white). I’m sure someone in D.C. is featuring a Cherry Rickey, since contemporary mixologists there have embraced the Rickey as their area’s contribution to drink heritage. At least the other cherry drinks make some sort of local sense, if only to show that we make our traditions as we go along.

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