Barley + Rye: ESS and Paper Plane bartenders on naming cocktails

The collaborative and creative process that inspires great drinks
The Bernadotte and Graffitti Lane, now at Empire State South

What, exactly, is in a cocktail name? Bartenders can be both inspired to name their drinks, and flummoxed by the pressure of capturing its spirit. Names can either entice or detract guests from ordering, so the decision usually comes with considerable thought. I spoke with two barkeeps about their process.


Currently serving:

Graffiti Lane bourbon, Averna, Suze, sorghum, lemon

Bernadotte Calvados, Swedish Punsch, vermouth, aromatic bitters

Bobby Eldridge was promoted to ESS bar manager last year. He’s the second-in-command to award-winning barkeep Kellie Thorn, who in addition to ESS, oversees beer and cocktails program at all of chef/owner Hugh Acheson’s establishments. Eldridge credits

Thorn with showing him the ropes in the past two-and-one-half years he’s been at the Midtown restaurant, where he was first exposed to the discipline of craft cocktails.

Bobby Eldridge mixes the Bernadotte
Bobby Eldridge mixes the Bernadotte

How do you begin? I decide on a base—is it a gin cocktail, or a bourbon cocktail, and so on. Then I work in how I want the drink to feel—is it refreshing, spirit driven, sour? Next is deciding other taste components, like if I want it to be bitter or more herbaceous.

What was your inspiration for the Graffiti Lane? I’ve always wanted to work with Suze [a root-based French bitters] and Averna [a smooth Italian liqueur] because they work well together. A lot of bartenders just do equal part shots, it’s delicious. I wanted to play that into a bourbon-based cocktail that was kind of sour, refreshing, with a little bitterness. It’s a weird one.

It’s lovely. Where or what is this Graffiti Lane? That’s a reference to a Kentucky rock band since the cocktail has bourbon. The drink has an edgy, funkiness to it. I saw the name online and thought it was cool.

Your other drink on this menu is called the Bernadotte. Sometimes we like to research the spirits for inspiration. I was researching Calvados [an apple brandy], which is from France, and Kronan Swedish Punsch [a smoky liqueur]. Bernadotte is the name of a general who fought in the French Revolution under Napoleon. Later he became King Charles XIV John of Sweden. A little homage.

I always imagine that bartenders come up with names as they’re stirring or shaking. Not always! Naming is actually one of the hardest things to do for me.


Currently serving:

Nervous Tick pisco, lemon, Bonal, rosemary, bitters

A Brief Hibernation gin, lime, Dolin Genepy, Cocchi Americano, Salers, absinthe

Paper Plane barkeeps Kelly Cloninger (l), Maxine Chaney, Paul Calvert
Left to right: Paper Plane barkeeps
Kelly Cloninger, Maxine Chaney,
Paul Calvert

You can still enjoy Paper Plane’s holiday menu for a couple of weeks before the winter offerings debut. In the spirit of the season, the bar is donating a portion of the proceeds to local organizations The Atlanta Food Bank, The Giving Kitchen, Refugee Family Services, and The Wren’s Nest.

“We all work together on these drinks,” said bar manager Paul Calvert of the team’s development process. This menu is particularly personal to the staff. Each cocktail is dedicated to friends or loved ones, many of whom Atlanta drinkers will recognize. The Life of Ryan, for chefs Ryan Hidinger and Ryan Smith of Staplehouse and The Giving Kitchen, is the most popular, Calvert said. There are also acknowledgments to the Wrecking Bar Brewpub, chef Ria Pell, and the blues band Spanky & the Love-Handles (parents of barkeep Maxine Chaney).

The Nervous Tick is for Romeo the dog. My dog has high anxiety—well, medium anxiety. He’s a Golden Retriever and Shepherd mix. Romeo likes the wild rosemary that grows in Cabbagetown and always wants to walk through it. The drink was named for him and his weird compulsions.

Talk about how your ingredient choices, Rosemary is a nod to the winter season. The combination of lemon, Bonal [a French aperitif], and bitters create a brown sugar and white grapefruit flavor. Bonal is a little bitter and the lemon has that acid, so you get the character of grapefruit.

A Brief Hibernation sounds literal, for former Holeman & Finch managers Greg Best and Regan Smith. That has ingredients that my friends Greg and Regan really like. It’s dry and kind of gentian-forward. It’s boozy and packs quite a punch. They’re both hibernating until they do their next thing.