According to Tupelo Honey Café South's new bar menu, one of the basic and noble tenets among Southerners is the understanding that a great (not just good) cocktail is necessary after the workday.
So, the popular new-Southern restaurant has stepped up its bar game to include a number of forward-thinking craft cocktails that shy away from the overly sweet, fruit-based drinks of the past while remaining fresh and fun.
"The flavor profiles [before] weren't terrible by any means, but we knew there was room to grow it," says Alan Wolf, director of store operations. "Beer City, USA is not by chance. The regional beer scene is fantastic and will continue to grow. Now, we're seeing the spirit side grow as well.” In response to the growing prevalence of regional craft distilleries, the restaurant has built its new bar program on the foundation of the spirits of the South.
At Tupelo, you'll find plenty of Troy & Sons moonshine, the locally handcrafted spirit that seems to be making waves in the South (and the rest of the country). You'll also find Cardinal gin, an excellent spirit coming out of Mount Holly, N.C. Firefly sweet-tea vodka from Charleston, S.C., also makes an appearance, as does an excellent selection of small-batch bourbons and Tennessee and rye whiskey, some available in tasting flights.
Tupelo also makes a number of house infusions, including lemongrass moonshine, limoncello and ginger rum. A jalapeño- and bacon-infused moonshine turns up in a Dirty South martini, liberally splashed with olive juice and finished with pimento-cheese-stuffed olives. Yes, please. (That fat-washed ‘shine can also be found in a bloody mary, too.)
A section of "hard" soft drinks is particularly whimsical, with a Cheerwine-and-Maker's Mark concoction and a Nehi-and-rum drink.
"I think we were interested in featuring soft drinks that were uniquely Southern," says Elizabeth Sims, Tupelo's director of marketing, cookbook author and resident tastemaker. That means featuring an especially Southern take on a whiskey-ginger using South Carolina's Blenheim ginger soda mixed with Jim Beam — bourbon-and-Blenheim, apparently, is a Southern thing, which I've somehow missed in my lifelong status as a Southern dweller (my home state of Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line, people). But I'm glad I finally found it. That Blenheim ginger ale is good.
So too is the Ode to Muddy Pond, a drink that avoids taking on some of the sunnier names that Sims and Wolf developed. Take, for instance, the Porch Swing, a drink made with Firefly sweet-tea vodka, peach puree, scratch-made ginger syrup and fresh-brewed tea.
The Muddy Pond uses a syrup made from Tennessee's Muddy Pond sorghum, muddled basil and Blenheim ginger ale. We've provided the recipe in case you'd like to try it for yourself. Want someone else to mix it for you? Visit the south Asheville location of Tupelo Honey and belly up to its bar, the Pickled Okra (1829 Hendersonville Road). A limited version of the menu is also available at the downtown location.
Ode To Muddy Pond
(sorghum can be ordered at http://muddypondsorghum.com or at Greenlife)
Maker's Mark bourbon
Tennessee’s Muddy Pond sorghum
Blenheim ginger ale No. 8
Sorghum simple syrup (recipe below)
Stir together 1 pint of sorghum syrup and 2 cups of water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until syrup is dissolved. Remove from heat, let stand 30 minutes, store in squeeze bottle and refrigerate.
Method for cocktail:
In 9-oz glass, muddle ½ oz sorghum simple syrup with three basil leaves. Add 1¼ oz Maker’s Mark and ice.
Top with Blenheim ginger ale or ginger beer and garnish with a basil sprig.