By Jessica Festa, Epicure & Culture Editor
“We make our own ginger beer which we put in the ‘Moscow Mule,’ but the ‘Artillery Punch’ is what Savannah is known for.”
During my boyfriend Andy and I’s romantic Savannah getaway I’d spotted a sign on the door of Savannah Cocktail Co boasting “cocktails on draft.” I’m a sucker for niche concepts, so I added this to our to-do list.
Our uber-friendly mixologist (hey, this is the south) was able to let me sample each option, similar to how you would try tastings of beers at a bar to determine which you wanted. I can’t tell you how many $15 cocktails I’ve ordered and silently swallowed with a frown, so the try-before-you-buy idea resonated with me. While the “Moscow Mule” was bright and tangy, their “Chatham Artillery Punch” — which I ordered — was boozy and complex. It featured Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum, Breckenridge Bourbon, Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, sparkling wine, sugar and lemon oil syrup (aka oleo saccharum if you want to get fancy).
Andy went with the “Savannah Fashioned,” an Old Fashioned infused with vanilla lavender simple syrup, and we cheers-ed under moody red lighting on plush leather seating. I noticed these guys also like to have a little fun, serving “Breakfast Shots” from noon to 5pm on Sunday Funday. The salty sweet concoction features Jameson and butterscotch chased with a side of orange juice and served with bacon strip. What a way to wake up!Love craft #cocktails? You may want to add #Savannah to your #bucketlist! Click To Tweet
How Savannah Cocktails Began
The truth is we had no idea Savannah had a craft cocktail scene, though by the end of our trip we realized otherwise. William Herrington, Food and Beverage Director and Executive Chef of the soon-to-open Kitchen 3 Twenty, explains that Savannah’s history as a place to drink while exploring (they have lax open container laws) has helped.
“Around 2008 people started to see a marked difference in the kind of cocktails on offer throughout Savannah,” he says. “The venues around town have evolved from menus of frozen daiquiris on River Street to hosting an extremely popular Negroni week held throughout the city. There is a healthy competition between bartenders across the city to come up with the next hit cocktail. I would say that Savannah’s trademark style of cocktails would find their roots in the old classics and graft on new ideas with ingredients unique to the south.”
Kitchen 3 Twenty’s “Whiskey Peach” really brings this to life, combining whiskey and local peaches. Herrington also notes that Savannah’s cocktail and culinary movement has attracted many top chefs and mixologists to the area, allowing the city to “get in on the ground floor of an exciting future at the forefront of the craft cocktail movement.”
The Art Of Food & Cocktail Pairing
Our favorite meal of the trip also delivered some of our favorite cocktails. a.Lure, a welcoming restaurant with red brick walls showcasing locally-painted Savannah scenes, educated us on the art of pairing craft cocktails with elevated lowcountry meals.
Notes lead bartender Kerry Junco, “At a.Lure we focus on the use of fresh seasonal ingredients, and are heavily influenced by classic cocktails. More than anything, the focus making our drinks drinkable, delicious and fun. There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to pairing food and cocktails. It really comes down to your palate and what you enjoy drinking.”
Between sumptuous bites of filet mignon-ground meatloaf infusing chunks of foie gras I sipped drinks that not only tasted good, but told a story. Take for example “The Forsyth,” named after Savannah’s iconic 30-acre park. The libation puts a unique twist on the classic “Mint Julep” by replacing sugar with honey-mint simple syrup and adding a bit of fresh lemon juice, chamomile bitters and soda water. This retains the traditional flavors while amping them up.
Many of a.Lure’s drinks actually have specific people in mind. For example, Kerry’s grandparents were raised in Kentucky and were fans of bourbon. Because of this you’ll notice a wide variety of bourbon-based cocktails on her list. Moreover one of a.Lure’s newest cocktails, the “Peach Fuzz,” was designed with Kerry’s mother in mind. The drink features Woodford Reserve with a house-made peach-black pepper shrub, integrating her mother’s favorite spirit with Georgia peaches, a nod to her childhood.
Being from NYC where the speakeasy trend is alive and well, Andy and I both love checking out hidden venues in other cities. Which is how we were led to Mati Hari. Well, sort of. FourSquare provided the address; however, the speakeasy is housed (surprisingly quietly) within the walls of the boisterous Club 309 West, though is still a separate venue. Among the scantily clad girls and sweaty guys we found a well-dressed man standing calmly in front of a door in the back of the club.
“Is this Mati Hari?” we asked.
The guy nodded. “Do you have a key or are you a member?”
“No. We’re visiting from New York and heard this place was good.”
He looked at us. “Well…okay. Head inside.”
I don’t know if it’s always that easy or if we just got lucky, but the man’s southern hospitality led us straight into one of the most authentic-looking speakeasies I’ve ever seen. We found ourselves inside a charmingly shabby living room complete with carpeted floors, worn mismatched sofas, antique lamps and cherub statues. It wasn’t too crowded, which was great because many guests were dancing to Rick James in the center.A #speakeasy in #Savannah, #Georgia? It exists! Click To Tweet
Mati Hari is known for its absinthe cocktails. Just to quell a few misunderstandings about this spirit, you will not hallucinate (unless you’re extremely susceptible to the placebo effect). Wormwood, one of the main ingredients of absinthe, is a mild muscle relaxant, so you’ll get extremely chilled out before you see any green fairies. Fennel and anise are the other key ingredients, with the latter giving the spirit its licorice flavor and making for an excellent digestif.
Sipping our drinks, Andy and I made our way to the sofa to cuddle up and listen to the lounge singer that had replaced the dance music. The charmingly dilapidated space paired with my “Absinthe 75” — an absinthe-laced take on the classic gin-focused “French 75” — made a perfect ending to the trip. Immersed in our own secluded pocket of Savannah, it allowed us to really savor the cocktail culture of the city.
These are just a few examples of the many delicious Savannah cocktails we experienced during our long weekend. And the city’s future is looking even brighter (and boozier).
What are your favorite spots to explore Savannah cocktails? Please share in the comments below!
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