Whether you’re starting 2021 with a Dryuary or toasting the New Year until the fetid smell of 2020 has worn off, January’s become a time to get thoughtful about alcohol — what we love, what we hate and what role it plays in our newly pandemic-stricken social lives. It’s also the month when, in 1919, Arkansas ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, establishing prohibition in the state and ushering in a formalized relationship between booze and government. So, in January 2021, the Arkansas Times raises a glass to all things boozy with a series we’re calling Drink/Drank/Drunk: our city’s great cocktails and mocktails, the history of temperance in the state, brews to try before you die, a boozy playlist and more.
One of the things I miss most about going to bars, aside from the camaraderie and conversations that are so engaging at the time but I likely won’t remember later, is the person behind all the fun — the person giving us something to hold in our hands, the one who knows our poison and fuels our buzz and inevitably gives us the crushing news informing us of how much fun we’ve had in a formal spoken word announcement simply known as the bar tab.
“Rhett, that’ll be $55.”
“Oh, my God.”
I love shooting the shit with the bartender. It doesn’t matter what we talk about: the game that’s on, how slow the night’s been, exclusive bar gossip that surely they wouldn’t share with just anyone. The bar is one place where it’s devastating to not be a preferred customer. And for some people that have had their names stamped to the indelible “Barred For Life” list, I can’t imagine the pain they must’ve felt. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s no higher bar honor than the tradition of being selected by the barkeep to take part in a sneaky moment of customer/bartender interaction that’s both intimate and a little mischievous. The whole thing takes a few seconds. The bartender grabs a bottle and two shot glasses. 1.5 ounces of liquor is poured into each glass. The bartender and the customer clink their glasses together, tap them against the bar (this tradition has many meanings. To some it’s a sign of respect for the bar and the bartenders, others say it’s a tribute to absent friends) and then take down the contents in one swallow. The bartender moves on and perhaps the rest of their night is a little more bearable. The customer has just been asked to participate in quite possibly the bartender’s favorite part of the evening, and better not take it for granted. The gesture has to be factored into the tip later, or it may never happen again. If it were Larry David, he’d probably find a way to go from doing a shot with the bartender right to the barred for life list.
Some nights I’ve found myself alone on a barstool observing as the bartender builds cocktails. It’s always captivating because they make it look so easy. Someone orders some random drink I’ve never heard of, the bartender nods and walks away and seemingly prepares the drink without thinking. Everything they need — the booze, liqueurs, shakers, strainers, ice, glasses, garnishes — are all neatly within reach. Their movements are self assured, swift, smooth. A bartender looked at me once as he was shaking a cocktail and he shook his head from side to side as if to say, “It’s all too easy.”
Do they look that cool at home making cocktails? Do they even drink cocktails at home? What do they drink when they do? What would they recommend for the amateur home bartender? We talked with a few local bartenders for recommendations and to find out what they like to drink when they’re not behind the bar.
Brood & Barley
North Little Rock
If you live in Central Arkansas and like to partake in craft cocktails, David Burnette’s probably prepared one for you. He’s been bartending for nearly two decades. He’s worked at The Capital Hotel, South On Main and he’s been managing the bar program at Brood & Barley in Argenta since the gastropub opened in June.
Burnette: My thoughts this time of year initially turn to warm drinks. This is a good time of year to settle into the couch with a hot toddy or mulled wine.
A basic hot toddy is as simple as combining a nice warming brown spirit, like whiskey, rum, Scotch or brandy, with lemon juice, honey and hot water. If you want something even more calming, maybe add some chamomile tea or any other nice hot tea bag you may have on hand.
Basic Hot Toddy
1½ oz. bourbon
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. honey (more if you like it sweeter)
3-4 oz. very hot water
Stir the bourbon, lemon and honey together in your favorite coffee mug, and top with hot water. Garnish with a lemon wheel to feel fancy.
Mulled wine is another easy one for the house.
Just bring some cheap red wine to a very gentle simmer (not a rolling boil). Add in some holiday spices from your spice cabinet, like star anise, cinnamon and clove. Toss in some slices of orange, plum, lemon or really any fruit you may have on hand, and let it steep. I like to add a little honey to sweeten it to taste and spike up the alcohol content with a little bit of brandy (a little goes a long way). Don’t have wine, or prefer a nonalcoholic option? I like to make this same style beverage with red fruit punch (think Hawaiian Punch). I’ll just throw this in a crock pot and let it do the work.
Andrew Phillip Stone
Fox Trail Distillery
Andrew Phillip Stone started out his bartending career at Pizza D’Action in Little Rock, where he notoriously played “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus at last call every shift that he worked. After a bar-managing stint at The Fold Botanas & Bar, he moved to Austin, Texas, and worked at The Launderette, a restaurant located in a converted gas station/laundromat. Since moving to Northwest Arkansas, he’s tended bar at The Hive in Bentonville’s 21c Museum Hotel, The Foreman in Rogers and currently at Fox Trail Distillery. At The Foreman and Fox Trail, Stone’s worked with batched freezer-stored ready to drink cocktails [RTDs], which helped inform his current home drink of choice: The RTD Manhattan right out of the freezer.
Stone: The main point of it is that I make drinks all the time at work, so I don’t really want to bartend at home. This way, I can still have a tasty cocktail but not have to do all the work for it every time. For the Manhattan, I like doing equal parts bourbon and sweet vermouth because I’ve been more into vermouth recently. Vermouth just means wormwood, so it’s just fortified wine with spices in it. Each region has different recipes. The Spanish ones are kind of saltier and a little more briny, so I really like that in Manhattans.
This recipe is for a 750 milliliter [one-fifth of a gallon] glass bottle. You can use whatever size you have, just make sure you have the correct proportions. It’s mainly just looking up the proper ratio for dilution. 20-25% dilution is standard for a stirred cocktail, and the alcohol content is high enough that it won’t freeze. Classic stirred cocktails like Negronis and Martinis work well for this method. You just grab it from the freezer, pour it in a glass and you’re done. I prefer Old Granddad Bonded (high rye, high alcohol) and Gonzalez Byass vermouth. I highly recommend either a Spanish style vermouth or a Torino style. Cocchi Torino and Gonzalas Byass are not more expensive than Martini & Rossi, but might be harder to find.
300 ml. [1⅓ cup] bourbon
300 ml. sweet vermouth
120 ml. [½ cup] water
1¼ tablespoons Angostura bitters
Funnel into a glass bottle and twirl, or don’t. It’ll mix together. Freeze and when you’re ready for it, pour into a coup glass or martini glass or whatever you have. Cherry garnish optional.
Rob Roy Armstrong
North Little Rock
Rob Roy Armstrong is another familiar face in the Little Rock craft cocktail scene. He was bar manager at The Fold Botanas & Bar, beverage director at Rock Town Distillery and he tended bar at Petit & Keet before taking the job as bar manager at Cypress Social when it opened in August 2020.
Armstrong: I love this cocktail because it proves that if you put just a little effort into having fresh juices and sugar substitutes at your home bar, even the simplest cocktails can be classy and elevated. The Gold Rush is also a fun concoction for any season.
The Gold Rush
2 oz. bourbon
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¾ oz. honey
Combine all three ingredients in a mixing tin. Before adding ice to the concoction, stir all three ingredients. This will blend the honey with the whiskey and lemon juice. Once ingredients are blended, add ice to the mixing tin.
Shake, SHAKE, shake!
Strain the cocktail into a fresh rocks glass and add fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon and enjoy!
Pink House Alchemy
Named for the 100-year-old Fayetteville house where CEO and founder Emily Lawson lived when she launched the company, Pink House Alchemy has become the place where Arkansans — and increasingly folks in the know from around the country — turn when they want to liven up their cocktails, coffee or food. The company specializes in syrups, shrubs and bitters. It’ll celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. You can find Pink House products in grocery stores and speciality shops through Arkansas, at its Fayetteville headquarters or online.
pH Cardamom Daiquiri
1 oz. pH cardamom syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. dark rum
Combine in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain and pour into a coup glass. Beach vibes commence.
1 can Tecate
10 shakes pH Smoldered Bitters
5 oz. Knudsen’s Very Veggie Juice, Spicy!
1 oz. lime juice
2 drops ghost pepper sauce.
Rim glass with lime salt. Mix all ingredients together (except beer). Pour into a pint glass. Top with Tecate. Stir and garnish with lime.
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. pH Lavender syrup
2 oz. vodka
lemon slice for garnish
Combine lemon juice, lavender syrup, and vodka over ice and top with soda water. Garnish with a lemon twist.
1 oz. pH Tonic Syrup
2 oz. vodka or gin
½ oz. fresh lime juice
Combine and serve over ice. Top with soda water.
Lavender French 75
2 oz. gin
1 oz. pH Lavender Syrup
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Float with champagne and garnish with a thick lemon twist.
Campfire Old Fashioned
2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. pH Delight Syrup
5 dashes pH House Bitters
1 pH Dehydrated Blood Orange to garnish
Stir bourbon, syrup, and bitters on ice. Strain onto an ice rock. Garnish with the dehydrated blood orange.