Photograph by Ryan Hayslip
Five years ago the cocktail options in Atlanta favored
whatever-tinis (apple, chocolate, banana split) or paint-by-numbers basics like whiskey and Coke. In 2008 Holeman and Finch Public House opened, not only sparking cravings for bone marrow and cured hog jowl but also serving as the local vanguard of a cocktail revolution that began in New York—a return to Prohibition-era recipes (such as the rye-based Vieux Carré out of New Orleans) and new twists that included complex artisan liqueurs. An early favorite at Holeman and Finch was the Southern Cola, using, yes, Coke, but pairing it with Amaro CioCiaro* and finishing it with an ice cube made of lime juice.
The boldest idea percolating among the city’s new generation of bartenders is the “suppressor” movement, a new class of cocktails designed to keep the alcohol level in check—apropos to a city where customers typically drive to imbibe. Sherries, vermouths, and Madeiras replace whiskeys, vodkas, and tequilas. Greg Best of Holeman and Finch coined the term (the opposite of a potent family of cocktails called “revivers”), and a coterie throughout town is busy creating lower-octane sips. Paul Calvert at Pura Vida, for example, came up with the warming, herbaceous Suppressor Veintiuno—amontillado sherry, Barolo Chinato (a wine-based digestivo with quinine), Cynar (an artichoke-based aperitif), and orange bitters.
We’re also seeing a closer alignment between chef and bar in restaurants that serve cuisines lacking an obvious cocktail culture. Miso Izakaya (misoizakaya.net) uses shochu, a brewed spirit similar to vodka, as a base for drinks as bright and flavorful as Guy Wong’s kimchi rice, and Cardamom Hill (cardamomhill.net) draws on the traditional drinks of India (chai, ginger coffee) to inspire cocktails that pair with Asha Gomez’s spice route–influenced dishes. That doesn’t mean it’s all exotica out there: Skilled bartenders devise new creations built on their erudite knowledge of classics, particularly those made with American rye whiskey or bourbons that fall in line with Atlanta’s rekindled love of Southern cooking. Sure, most mixologists will still shake a Cosmo with a smile, but on your second round they may gently encourage you to try new flavor frontiers. There are multitudes to explore.
*Amari (or amaro, singular, literally “bitter” in Italian) are spirits infused with herbs, spices, roots, and barks that originated in medieval Europe as medicinal elixirs. They include both bittersweet aperitifs like Campari and stronger after-dinner digestifs (called digestivo in Italy) like Fernet Branca.
Check out our list of the best places to drink cocktails
This article originally appeared in our June 2012 issue.