In Good Spirits

Versatility with Lil’ Nellie

Story and photography by Cheré Coen

Lil’ Nellie is the perfect guest for wedding receptions: just the right combination of spicy and sweet.

Chilly weather inspired Ryan Wise, bar manager and mixologist at The Establishment in Charleston, when he entered a cocktail into a local contest. Sweet Lil’ Nellie even tasted like the holidays, a mixture of rye, orange-burnt honey, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram and soda.
“It was in November and my inspiration for the cocktail was from winter, football games,” he said.
The cocktail wowed the contest judges, but by the time Wise entered the drink in the 2019 Charleston Food and Wine Festival, spring had arrived.
But Lil’ Nellie is quite versatile, Wise insists. The spice offers a nice little punch, the burnt honey adds sweetness that’s not too sweet. Dressed with an orange garnish, it’s a lovely cocktail for special events, such as weddings.
“It translates well,” he said.
The Establishment opened in 2018 on Broad Street in the heart of historic Charleston. The restaurant exists between Church and State streets and takes its name from the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…,” otherwise known as The Establishment Clause.
Visitors to The Establishment may be lost on the elaborate reason for its name, but not on the exquisite dining experience. For Wise, who traveled extensively as an Air Force brat and moved to Charleston to attend culinary school, the restaurant has become a great landing place.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and this is the most professional group I’ve worked with,” Wise said. “The people who work here care and it shows.”
As for cocktails, Wise has catered weddings in the past and suggests specialty cocktails such as Sweet Lil’ Nellie be included in receptions. His advice to brides and grooms is to keep cocktails simple and aim for ones that are crowd pleasers. Avoid complicated syrups and ingredients such as egg whites that may be troublesome for guests with allergies.
Wise got married last January and is dad to a newborn. Besides having Sweet Lil’ Nellie featured in the Charleston Food and Wine Festival and enjoying a dream job, he feels very blessed.
“New baby, new wife, everything is falling into place,” he said.

Sweet Lil’ Nellie
1 1/2 ounces High West Double Rye
1 ounce orange-burnt honey (recipe below) 
1/2 ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram 
1/2 ounce Giffard Orgeat 
1 ounce club soda 
3-4 drops Burlesque Bitters 
1 thin slice of whole orange 

Directions: Add rye, honey, Allspice Dram and Orgeat to shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for approximately 20 seconds. Double strain into a coupe glass and top with drops of club soda and bitters. Give a quick swirl with bar spoon to incorporate club soda and bitters and place the orange slice on top with bar tongs. 

Orange-Burnt Honey 
2 cups orange marmalade 
2 cups honey 
3/4 cup water 
3/4 cup fresh lime juice 

Directions: In a sauce pan over medium-high heat, add orange marmalade and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 1 minute. Add honey and bring to a high simmer, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. Simmer for 1 minute. Stir in water and remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Line a fine mesh Chinoise strainer (china cap) with two layers of cheese cloth and strain ingredients from sauce pan through strainer. Wearing food service gloves, squeeze remainder of liquid through cheese cloth. Allow mixture to cool until almost room temperature. With whisk in one hand and fresh lime juice in the other, slowly pour lime juice into mixture while whisking constantly to incorporate thoroughly. Yields approximately 1.5 quarts.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.