Top Shelf Views: Asheville bartenders talk about two-ingredient cocktails

DYNAMIC DUOS: Amy Pike, bartender at Sly Grog Lounge, recommends a few easy, two-ingredient drinks, including Hot Cherry Pie, a mix of amaretto and cranberry juice, and Champagne Royale, which blends Champagne and Chambord. Photo by Matt Burkhartt

The process of putting together a dazzling cocktail can be a truly enjoyable experience. Some of the most involved recipes rank among the best. For example, when made correctly, the notorious Long Island Iced Tea is a wonderfully complex libation. But its ingredient list (gin, rum, vodka, tequila, triple sec, lemon juice and cola) threatens to overwhelm the home bartender.

If you’re especially thirsty, you may be disinclined to spend the time required to put together a drink that, when it’s all said and done, both looks and tastes a bit like sweet iced tea. Happily, simpler mixed drinks exist in plentiful fashion.

In fact, there are a remarkable number of mixed drinks that can be created with only two ingredients. The best-known among these are familiar standards: gin and tonic, bourbon and ginger ale, a simple martini and the Cuba Libre (rum and cola). And many quality base liquors — scotch in particular — can be enjoyed with a mere splash of water added.

While fancy drinks have an undeniable appeal, simplicity is a highly valued quality in the world of mixology. Drinks of surprising sophistication can be crafted from just two ingredients. And while some of those cocktails feature exotic liquors, even if one is limited to components that are locally available, the choices are as plentiful as they are delicious.

Tequila pairs quite well with other ingredients. The Brave Bull (a 2-to-1 mix of tequila and Kahlua or another coffee liqueur on ice), for example, is a quickly made and flavorful concoction.

A favorite of ours is the B&T (two parts tequila to one part Benedictine liqueur, shaken and served with ice); the complex sweetness of the liqueur balances the sharp notes of the Mexican spirit. The B&T is itself a variation on the better-known B&B (brandy and Benedictine) available premixed but better when made from a select brandy or cognac.

We put out the call to some of Asheville’s best bartenders, asking for their favorites drawn from the world of simple yet highly appealing mixed drinks. The responses were intriguing and varied.

Joe Nicol of The Times at S&W suggests mixing Fernet Branca and cola. The licorice and spice notes of the Fernet cut the sweetness of the soft drink. MG Road’s Lexy Rae recommends a drink combining Italian liqueur and fortified wine. “Spaghetti is equal parts Strega and Cappelletti,” she says. “Mama Mia!” Appalachian Vintners on Biltmore Avenue stocks the latter ingredient.

Casey Campfield of the Crow & Quill provides an unnamed recipe. “Equal parts Amaro Montenegro and mezcal, chilled and sipped or taken as a shooter. It’s lovely!”

Jonny Burritt, bar manager at Antidote, mentions another favorite of ours, the Rusty Nail. Some cocktail recipe books specify three parts Scotch to one part Drambuie, but we find that a 2-to-1 mix is more to our tastes.

Katey Ryder of the soon-to-open Golden Pineapple bar in West Asheville shares a personal favorite of hers, the Verte Chaud: “Two ounces green Chartreuse with 6 ounces hot chocolate, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream.” She emphasizes that it’s not her own creation but calls it “stupid-delicious and underappreciated.”

At the high end of the scale, if you happen to have both green and yellow Chartreuse on hand, the Episcopal — an equal mix of the two, served in a short glass with a few ice cubes — is astoundingly complex.

Amy Pike tends bar at the Sly Grog Lounge and Galactic Pizza. Asked to contribute a recipe, she instead enthusiastically offers up three drinks, each made from two ingredients. Cautioning that the drink called Good’n Plenty is “not for the faint of heart,” she specifies equal parts sambuca (an Italian anise-flavored liqueur) and mezcal. Chilling the ingredients adds extra appeal. “Chilling sambuca gives it a cloudy appearance,” Pike explains. “I’ve always thought of this drink as a storm in a glass.”

Hot Cherry Pie (see sidebar) combines amaretto and cranberry juice. “If you happen to be using a cheaper amaretto, I’d garnish with a lemon wedge to cut the sweetness these usually have,” Pike offers, noting that Amaretto Disaronno works with or without the twist.

She also recommends the Champagne Royal (see sidebar). “This recipe is good to dress up some not-so-expensive Champagne,” Pike says. “Leave the strawberry in the glass until the end, and it will absorb the flavors of raspberry and even get a bit bubbly from the wine.”

There’s a special art to balancing just two ingredients in a mixed drink; the examples here represent good starting points to make drinks that are quick, easy and amazing. Home bartenders are encouraged to come up with their own. If experimenting with something you’re not sure you’ll like, try making a half- or even quarter-size drink to start with. You can always make more.


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About Audrey and Bill Kopp
Self-described “liquor nerds” Audrey and Bill Kopp enjoy a good cocktail now and then (and then, and then) but always imbibe responsibly. Everyday Americans with upscale tastes, they're always on the lookout for the best values in spirits, clever-yet-legal DIY strategies, and adventurous cocktail recipes. Find them also at Follow me @liquornerds

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