Chestnut stirs up the cocktail scene

Ambitious but not obnoxious: Bar manager Charlie Hodge focuses Chestnut’s cocktail program on quality as well as affordability and accessibility. Photo by Max Cooper

RPM Tuesdays offer patrons a chance to learn about mixology and sample craft concotions

Charlie Hodge, bar manager at Chestnut, is putting the economy on ice. He’s bringing recession-proof mixology (RPMs) to the cocktail program.

The Biltmore Avenue restaurant will host RPMs on Tuesdays. Hodge will create a menu that spotlights two to four classic drinks. The cocktails come at reduced prices ($5 to $7), and the menu includes more information about the drinks than an average bar leaflet. “My plan is for the menu to have the drinks and have a little information and history,” Hodge says. “Hopefully, people will leave saying, 'I learned something about cocktails today.'”

The RPMs are part of Chestnut's approach to cocktails. Hodge is part of a contingent of Asheville bartenders taking a modern approach to classic mixed drinks by using house-made mixers and small-batch libations. They're hoping Asheville will take to craft cocktails, just as the town has taken to craft beer.

Chestnut's menu features fewer than a dozen drinks, but it offers a handful of carefully chosen staples and contemporary creations. “What interests me the most is: How do you craft good cocktails but do it in an environment that's fun?” Hodge says. “How do you balance your integrity with having fun and being able to, at the end of the day, pay all your bills and take care of people? That's what we're trying to do here. We're not trying to be snooty.”

Chef and co-owner Joe Scully makes some of the drinks' components himself, such as the ginger syrup for the Dark and Stormy. Other times, he collaborates with Hodge; the two worked out the flash-pickled vegetables for the bloody mary.

Hodge also has room show off his own mixology expertise, which he honed in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles. The Once Again includes fig shrub (a tart mixture of mission figs, d'Anjou pears and sherry vinegar) and the Cerveza de Diablo melds together tequila, ginger, lemon, cayenne pepper, molé bitters and Bells Double Cream Stout.

RPM Tuesdays begin on Jan. 8. Chestnut is located at 48 Biltmore Ave. For more information, visit chestnutasheville.com.

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