THEY HAD ME AT “HELLO.”
Any book whose first chapter is titled “Day Drinking” is a winner on my shelves. Follow that up with a quick reference to Looking Glass’s 1972 hit, “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl,” and I have clearly found my favorite bedtime story.
Allow me to introduce you to THE SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE GUIDE TO COCKTAILS. This 200-plus-page beauty focuses on distilled—not fermented—mixed liquor drinks because the authors “had to draw the line somewhere.”
Co-penned, authored and edited by Sara Camp Milam and Jerry Slater, this is “a Southern Foodways Alliance– curated, bartender-developed, contemporary drink manifesto from the South.” Indeed. The Guide is part storytelling in the way of 15 “side-bars,” part historical novel (did you know that the word “julep” comes from the Persian word gulab, meaning “rosewater”?), and heavy on the cocktails, more than 80, in fact. And because you should never drink on an empty stomach, Chef Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, feathers in a dozen cocktail bites at the end. Think deviled ham, pickled eggs, and pimento cheese.
WOW. To skinny down the list of cocktails for inclusion, Milam and Slater had three requirements. Drinks must be:
- Conceived or popularized
- Used with Southern ingredients, like peaches from Georgia or honeysuckle vodka from Mississippi
- Concocted or recommended by some of the best bartenders in the region
They curated recipes from more than two dozen of their favorite beverage influencers: bartenders, mixologists, and journalists. You’ll find an entire chapter on drinks that are topped with bubbles and fizz and another chapter that encourages you to have fun with your drinks—think, the Hurricane and the Daiquiri. In that chapter, you’ll also find the Lurleen—a Brown Derby–Manhattan hybrid named after the Southern Foodways Alliance Director’s dog, who was named for the first female governor of Alabama.
The featured essays include the sweet story of Milam and her, now husband’s, first date—the “stock the bar” story, which garnered this fine gentleman legendary status among Milam’s friends. An ode to Savannah’s Pinkie Master’s will also keep your attention.
As a prelude to their one-serving Brandy Milk Punch recipe, the duo also shares the details of a 2003 Delta Magazine “utilitarian way” to mix up a batch for a crowd, which calls for a full gallon of milk and suggests that you go ahead and use the empty jug for mixing the rest of the ingredients. I love their approach and I think you will too.
We were fortunate to get to see a preview of the Guide, which I, and Palmetto Bluff’s Director of Wine Jesse Rodriguez, devoured. After paging through, we selected three cocktails that felt like fall. Together, we mixed these and had a little tasting party. Read on for our picks.
The Ruby Slipper
A gussied up Joe Collins, or Vodka Collins, enhanced by grapefruit and rosemary. The redder the grapefruit, the better. Created at H. Harper Station in Atlanta, this is a fantastic brunch drink and a refreshing departure from the standard Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Try serving it by the pitcher for a breakfast or luncheon. Combine the grapefruit juice, vodka, and rosemary syrup in a single batch, then top each drink with soda water before serving.
YIELD 1 (6 ½ -TO 7-OUNCE) COCKTAIL
COCKTAIL 2 OUNCES FRESHLY SQUEEZED RUBY RED GRAPEFRUIT JUICE
1 ½ OUNCES VODKA
½ OUNCE ROSEMARY SYRUP (SEE RECIPE BELOW)
3 TO 4 OUNCES SODA WATER
Pour grapefruit juice, vodka, and rosemary syrup into a shaker, add ice, and shake. Strain into ice-filled glass, top with soda water, and garnish with rosemary sprig.
ROSEMARY SYRUP YIELD APPROX. 2 ½ CUPS
2 CUPS WATER GARNISH ROSEMARY SPRIGS
1 CUP SUGAR SERVICE ICE CUBED
3 ROSEMARY SPRIGS GLASS COLLINS
Place water and sugar in a small saucepan, set over high heat, and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add rosemary, cover, and steep for 30 minutes. Strain and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in a lidded container for up to 3 weeks.
The Seer Sucker
Like a seersucker suit, this drink is what you reach for when you need to make an impression but you know the heat and humidity will render you a sweaty mess in a matter of minutes. Created in Oxford, Mississippi—a town that knows heat, humidity, and seersucker—the Seersucker is an indirect tribute to Jim Weems, the longtime manager at City Grocery restaurant. The flavor profile works best with Hendrick’s, a Scottish gin infused with rose and cucumber, and is perfect for warm-weather cocktails.
YIELD 1 (6-OUNCE) COCKTAIL
COCKTAIL 2 OUNCES GIN, SUCH AS HENDRICK’S
¾ OUNCE COINTREAU
¾ OUNCE HONEY-THYME SYRUP (SEE RECIPE BELOW)
½ OUNCE FRESHLY SQUEEZED LEMON JUICE
1 OUNCE SODA, SELTZER, OR SPARKLING WATER
Combine gin, Cointreau, syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker. Add ice and gently shake. Pour into ice-filled glass, add soda water, and garnish with thyme.
HONEY-THYME SYRUP GARNISH THYME SPRIG
½ CUP HONEY SERVICE ICE CUBED
½ CUP WATER GLASS ROCKS
15 TO 20 THYME SPRIGS
Combine honey and water in a small pot and bring to a slight boil. Remove from heat, add thyme sprigs, and allow to steep for 2 hours. Pour cooled syrup into a glass container (do not remove thyme), cover, and refrigerate. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 14 days.
The Old Spanish
This recipe falls into the category of suppressors—low-proof cocktails intended to prevent overindulgence. Paul Calvert, now a co-owner of Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta, took his inspiration from an unintentionally sophisticated practice he began with college friends in Charleston: drinking fortified wine mixed with tonic. The drink’s name is a nod to the sherry, which must be produced in Jerez de la Frontera in southwestern Spain.
YIELD 1 (6-OUNCE) COCKTAIL
COCKTAIL 2 DASHES ANGOSTURA BITTERS
2 OUNCES SWEET VERMOUTH, SUCH AS COCCHI DI TORINO
1 OUNCE OLOROSO SHERRY
4 OUNCES TONIC WATER
Fill glass with ice. Add bitters, vermouth, sherry, and tonic water. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with twist.
GARNISH WHITE GRAPEFRUIT OR LEMON TWIST
SERVICE ICE CUBED
P.S. There is also an essay
in the book titled “Ice, Ice, Baby.”
About the authors:
SARA CAMP MILAM is the managing editor for the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has a bachelor of arts in Spanish from Princeton University and a master of arts in folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill. Milam began editing Gravy quarterly in 2010 and joined the staff full time in 2012. As managing editor, Sara oversees the production of Gravy quarterly and the Gravy podcast, which won the James Beard Foundation Award for Publication of the Year in 2015 and Best Podcast in 2016. Southern Living magazine named her as one of 50 innovators changing the South in 2016. Before finding her way to SFA World Headquarters, Sara was an associate editor at Oxford American magazine. A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, she lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with her husband and daughter.
JERRY SLATER is a veteran bartender who hails from West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. He put himself through college while working in restaurants, earning a degree in English literature, and got serious about a career in the food and beverage business during a stint at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. Following seven years in Louisville, most of them at the historic Seelbach Hotel, Slater made his way to Atlanta, where he was an opening partner and developed the cocktail program at One Flew South in Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport. From 2010 to 2016, he owned and operated H. Harper Station, a bar and restaurant in Atlanta’s Reynoldstown neighborhood. More recently, Slater and his wife, Krista, an artist and wine professional, have taken to country life in rural Bostwick, Georgia. Between consulting, writing, and guest bartending gigs, they have their sights set on a new venture in Athens, Georgia.
By: Courtney Hampson
Photos by: Krisztian Lonyai