Nova bartender Justin Crawford goes down the ranks of silver shakers like a field marshal, taking a moment to eyeball a cocktail ingredient before adding it to the mix.
His movements are a blur, and the untrained eye might have trouble seeing the rhyme or reason to the whole affair.
About the results, however, there can be no debate: superbly tempered cocktails, equally appealing to the eyes and mouth.
It’s the day of the great beer vote, though the news that Asheville tied with Portland for Beer City USA hasn’t yet come out. Well-deserved as that lofty honor is, Nova is a perfect demonstration that beer culture isn’t the only form of libation enjoyment present in this fair city.
Adding to that is the fact that the bar doesn’t simply serve a good drink—it’s gone out of its way to find, revive and improve on old concoctions.
For example, if you pick up an older bar book (say, from the 1940s) you will be stunned by the number of changes in cocktail culture that have taken place. One of the main tectonic shifts is the disappearance of egg, once a necessity for a whole variety of flips and fizzes.
For those of you out there who’ve suddenly muttered “ick” at the previous sentence: Grow up. The classic Ramos Gin Fizz (with egg white) or one of Nova’s recent innovations, a Golden Cucumber Fizz (with whole egg) are excellent drinks for a reason. Egg, properly used and prepared, adds a rich body to the drink, but without any of the heaviness found in the overly generous amounts of cream preferred these days.
But gin lovers aren’t the only ones in luck: The ever-changing cocktail menu caters to just about any taste. Brandy? They make a mean Sidecar. Tequila? Go for Rosemary’s Baby. Still more gin? The Last Word, a cocktail that dates back to 1916.
The ingredients are fresh, with Crawford elaborating that he’ll craft cocktails based on what’s in season or available in local markets.
The only potential downside is the price. This level of quality and craftsmanship runs about $8 to $12 a drink.
The atmosphere is clean, elegant and sedate enough for truly enjoying a conversation. All in all, if Asheville had more places like this, our cocktail culture might one day be as famed as our beer culture.