Craft Cocktails in Charlotte | Charlotte’s got a lot | Charlotte NC Travel & Tourism
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Craft Cocktails in Charlotte

By Chrissie Nelson

Charlotte’s creative craft cocktails will keep you warm all winter long.

The chill of winter is quickly approaching and any cold-weather contingency plan should include seeking refuge in some of Charlotte’s hottest bars and restaurants. We’ve rounded up our favorite signature and seasonal sippers to warm you right up.

The Barrel Rested Gin & Ginger at The Asbury 

The Asbury is more than a hotel restaurant and bar. It has become a popular spot for Charlotte locals to hang out. There’s a focus on local and seasonal ingredients in the kitchen (Executive Chef Chris Coleman’s grandparents were farmers in Mississippi), which has carried over to its cocktails. Bar manager Pete Ladino develops the cocktail menu, which is a blend of customer favorites and new creative libations concocted seasonally.

The Barrel Rested Gin & Ginger is a spin on a traditional bourbon and ginger, featuring Southern Artisan Spirits’ Cardinal Gin, Asian pear nectar, ginger simple syrup and lemon. All of the star ingredients in the cocktail are sourced from local farmers and vendors: Cardinal Gin hails from Kings Mountain, the Asian pears travel to Charlotte from Henderson County and the ginger used in the drink is from Windcrest Farms in Monroe. The pears are cooked down (with the skins on in order to keep the bulk of their flavor) into nectar and leftover pieces of ginger that the kitchen doesn’t use are boiled into simple syrup. The result is a well-rounded cocktail with subtle sweetness and piney notes, well suited for fall or winter. Baby it’s Cold Outside at Crêpe Cellar Kitchen & Pub

What started with one specialty drink featured on a chalkboard next to the bar has evolved over the past two years into Crêpe Cellar’s complex, creative cocktail list that changes monthly. Lead bartender Colleen Hughes develops Crêpe Cellar’s cocktail offerings, taking into account flavor profiles, ingredients and what guests will look forward to.

Baby It’s Cold Outside is a mix of Knob Creek bourbon, Knob Creek gin barrel aged orange bitters, house-made grenadine with pomegranate juice reduction and brandy, lemon oil and fresh pomegranate seeds. The drink has a light, sweet nature – something that will appease Old Fashioned lovers.

There’s also a barrel-aged version of the cocktail released seasonally and available until it runs out. There are slight differences between the two versions of the Baby It’s Cold Outside, including pomegranate liquor in the barrel-aged version, and because the drink is in a first run (brand new) barrel, it will have hints of vanilla and oak. Hughes says barrel aging rounds out the edges of the cocktail, which makes the drink smoother and more complex.

Pecan Wood Smoked Manhattan at Heist Brewery 

Heist’s bar manager and cocktail sensei Stefan Huebner loves classic cocktails. He thinks of himself as a teacher (hence his title), and has been behind the bar at Heist developing their cocktail menu from top to bottom for two-and-a-half years.

Heist’s Pecan Wood Smoked Manhattan is a twist on a classic Manhattan. “As the temperatures drop, the more bourbon is consumed,” says Huebner, so this drink was inspired by the season. Heist’s Manhattan is made with Elijah Craig bourbon, Angostura bitters and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. The drink is stirred over ice and is eventually poured into a martini glass that has captured the smoke from burning wood chips. The lingering smoke gives the cocktail “a campfire feel” and pairs well with Heist’s fry basket ribs.

Aviation in the Skye 

What’s better than sipping a craft cocktail while enjoying a panoramic view of the Queen’s City’s skyline? Fahrenheit has become more than a place for Charlotteans to enjoy Chef Rocco Whalen’s creations. Fahrenheit is a place where guests can indulge in cocktails with super fresh ingredients (many from Fahrenheit’s own rooftop garden).

Fahrenheit’s cocktails embrace the same philosophy that is applied to their food—they combine excellent ingredients in a simple way. While both the food and cocktail menus change seasonally, Fahrenheit’s Aviation in the Skye is available on the menu all year long. It’s made with Hendricks Gin, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and Rothman & Winter crème de violette. Aviation in the Skye is full of classic flavors that have been a hit since the early 1900s. And the addition of crème de violette adds a stunning color and unique floral flavor.    

The Woodford Press at Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge 

Charlotte native Bob Peters has been a bartender for more than 20 years, specializing in what he likes to call “good drinks.”  According to this craft cocktail veteran, “store-bought spaghetti isn’t the same as mama’s homemade spaghetti,” so he uses ingredients that he makes from scratch. Peters is the force behind Pisces' cocktail menu, which changes about once a year, but he is forever coming up with new concepts.

Peters’ recent recipe, The Woodford Press, is sure to warm you right up: It’s a warm drink with Woodford Reserve bourbon and coffee. For this cocktail, Peters wanted something with strong backbone, so he started with Mountain Air Roasting’s Hector Jose Franco Lopez, a great Columbian coffee with a long name. He uses a fresh press to brew it strong and then adds his homemade butterscotch syrup, made with organic butter picked up at Atherton Market in South End, organic whipping cream, vanilla bean, dark sugar and a pinch of salt. Step out of the cold and pull up a stool at the bar: this drink is perfect for a chilly night.             

Shinin' Cider at Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth 

Halcyon’s bar manager Johnny Dunbar hails from Florida, so he loves that North Carolina’s change of seasons brings new and different flavors. There are a few drinks that stay on Halcyon’s cocktail menu year-round but the rest of the drinks rotate as seasonally appropriate.

Dunbar designs most of Halcyon’s cocktail offerings; he is fascinated by the science and history behind alcohol and cares about his creations. For colder months, Dunbar developed Shinin’ Cider, a cinnamon-driven cocktail bringing out the flavors of winter. Shinin’ Cider is moonshine steeped with cinnamon (Halcyon uses Junior Johnson’s moonshine from Madison, North Carolina), brown sugar, simple syrup and an apple cider reduction – apple cider reduced with cinnamon and clove. Dunbar adds a bit of egg white to the drink, which gives it more depth, makes it more complex and showcases the drink with a little froth.

The Grass Hopper at e2: Emeril's Eatery 

Miki Nikolic has been working behind a bar since he was 16. He started in a Bay Area restaurant because he was tall enough to reach the glasses on the highest shelves. He loves classic cocktails and those he creates are spins on the traditional, while playing with new, fresh ingredients. “It’s what chefs do in the kitchen; why not do it behind a bar too?” he says.

As bar manager at e2, Nikolic helped develop the cocktail menu, which follows the kitchen and rotates seasonally. The Grass hopper, made with Hendrick's Gin, cucumber water, wheatgrass, lime juice and jalapeño simple syrup, is a yearround staple at e2 and one of the number one sellers. Nikolic calls The Grass hopper his Mona Lisa—it’s pretty, fresh, silky and smooth. The cucumber and lime flavors refresh the palate, but The Grass hopper is more complex than that and ends with a subtle jalapeño spice that sits in the back of your throat.          

The Croce at Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar 

Cowbell has more than just burgers; they also have a full small batch whiskey bar, offering more than 100 different whiskeys. The Croce (after folk singer Jim Croce of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” fame), is Cowbell’s take on an Old Fashioned. It’s a classic, straightforward interpretation of the drink, featuring Bulleit Small Batch bourbon, orange bitters, cherry bitters and some simple syrup.

Bartender Olivia Isaacs, says using flavored bitters is a new trend in mixology, because it removes the gritty pieces from your drink while still highlighting the cocktail’s traditional flavors. The Croce is finished with a little flair (or really flare) – Cowbell bartenders sear a bit of fresh orange peel with a lighter to bring out the orange aroma in the drink.         

Cadillac Jalapeno Margarita at Nan and Byron's 

This family oriented, neighborhood-focused eatery has friendly, attentive bartenders serving up a variety of creative cocktails. While their cocktail list hasn’t changed since they opened last November, they focus on what sells and drinks that are satisfying and refreshing all year long.

A customer favorite is the Cadillac Jalapeño Margarita. The emphasis in this drink is on the flavor of a jalapeño pepper rather than the spice and heat. The drink is muddled fresh jalapeño mixed with Patron, triple sec, lime and other citrus juices and topped with Cadillac foam, which is made in-house with Grand Marnier, egg whites, peach bitters and a splash of orange juice. The drink is finished off with a dash of cayenne to kick it up a notch.

This article ran in the December 2014 issue of Charlotte Happenings.