Raising the bar

Turner’s tipples: Cynthia Turner is part of a mixology movement dedicated to reviving historic and artisan methods of making cocktails. “Drinks have personality, and I firmly believe that there is a tipple out there for everyone," she says. Photo by Max Cooper

Cultural preservation through food and drink fits well with this area's hyper-local focus and reverence for handmade goods, says Cynthia Turner, a recent transplant to Asheville from New Orleans. Turner is impressed by the prevalence of artisan items and the fervor for local beer and food.

"You feel it, you see it and people are doing such a great job around here," she says. "Everyone's focused around the local."

Turner recently began tending bar at the Magnetic Field in the River Arts District, bringing with her a vast knowledge of historic cocktails, the revival of which is part of a movement that's inspiring mixologists nationwide.

In Asheville, Turner ensures that locals belly up to the bar with a thirst and leave with knowledge of classic fizzes, juleps and flips. "I would like to see the 1970s notion of imbibing laid to rest, and put the richest eras of American drink culture back in the glass,” she says.

Dated drinking patterns include fake everything — artificial colors and sour mixes, for starters. "Prohibition killed the cocktail," says Turner. "Before that, it was a rich scene. And it wasn't until the ‘90s that fresh started coming back. Now, we're researching cocktails as deep as you can go, pulling out classics and dusting them off, revamping them and telling a story," she says.

The Magnetic Field currently offers 24 handmade bitters, a number of handmade syrups including the almond-flavored orgeat and "shrubs," bracing, colonial-era vinegary syrups used to brighten drinks. It takes research to revive rare drink components like falernum, a flavored syrup native to the Caribbean..

"The research consumes me," Turner laughs. "I guess my style is different because I'm going backwards, which is what most of the cocktail world is also doing right now — it's at a boom. Every city is starting to understand."

So going backwards is part of staying fresh and modern? "Why not? With everything processed nowadays, I think people are starting to realize that freshness is key," says Turner. In the current back-to-basics food revolution, a revival of traditional, more unfettered methods is a no-brainer. "Before Prohibition, there was no pre-mixed sour mix, piña colada in a bottle, none of that. It was all done by hand," she says. And that revived attention to detail means that bartending can go back to being an honored craft, not just a job of slinging shots. http://themagneticfield.com


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