The U.S. in a Glass
By Cheré Coen | Photography Courtesy of Ruthie Hauge
Author Brian Bartels tours the country to sample unique cocktails and learn regional drinking traditions in his latest book.
Ernest Hemingway once said that “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” Bartender and author Brian Bartels takes that to task after spending a year touring the country to write his latest book, “The United States of Cocktails: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions from All 50 States (and the District of Columbia).”
While working a full-time job, the Wisconsin native then living in New York toured the nation, visiting craft distilleries, famous and not-so-famous bars, and learning about local traditions and signature cocktails.
“Coming from Wisconsin with its fun drinking traditions, I wanted to see what the rest of the country was doing,” Bartels says, adding that he left home every other weekend — and then some — to visit states. “I used up an entire year’s worth of vacation writing the book.”
Bartels breaks up the book into regions: Massachusetts includes a recipe for the Cape Cod cocktail, Kentucky favors bourbon, for example. Naturally, the South commands a strong presence with the chapter on Mississippi spotlighting the Snackbar in Oxford, The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, and King’s Tavern in Natchez, as well as Cathead Distillery, the state’s best known spirit maker. And what would be a book on cocktails without mentioning New Orleans, where many drinks originated and arguably the word cocktail itself.
“New Orleans is one of those few cities, when I was visiting, I was thinking how fast could I get back to it,” Bartels says.
The book covers enormous ground, mainly because Bartels would ask other bartenders for their favorite watering holes in each place visited. He also discovered many “diamonds in the rough” craft distilleries and encourages readers to support these local businesses.
The following is a recipe Bartels picked up from Charlie Rausch, a mixologist from Fayetteville, Ark., perfect for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It’s a bit involved, but for the home bartender Bartels suggest substituting coffee liquor for simple syrup and milk instead of cream, although heavy cream is ideal. (Cathead makes a lovely Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur but the extra bitterness of the chicory might require adding a little sugar, Bartels says.) Bitters, salt, and the Sambuca are optional.
So, raise a glass to Eire and be Irish this month while celebrating the unique spirit traditions America’s melting pot produced.
“What a crazy, beautiful country we are able to live in,” Bartels says.
Everyone’s Irish Tonight
By Charlie Rausch, Fayetteville, Arkansas
1 ounce Tullamore D.E.W. blended Irish whiskey
3/4 ounce cold brew coffee
1/2 ounce simple syrup
4 dashes Bittercube Corazon bitters
1 pinch of salt
2 ounces heavy cream
Sambuca in an atomizer (optional)
Directions: Stir the whiskey, cold brew, bitters, and salt with ice until chilled; strain into a chilled coupe glass. Shake the cream in a sealed shaker without ice for a good 30 seconds to thicken it. Very slowly top the drink with the cream so it rests on the top.
If desired, spray Sambuca three times over the drink, and if you’re really adventurous, light a wooden match and hold it between the cocktail
and the Sambuca, then point the Sambuca atomizer toward the cocktail and over the flame, which will spray the top of the cocktail with flickering flames, leaving a delicate aroma of burned sugar and anise on top.