More than a few months remain before Southern peaches arrive in earnest. Until then, peaches held captive in jars and cans may be freed to help one get through the interminable wait. Or you might get your fix with a cocktail.
Peaches have long made their way into strong drink—distilling the fruit into brandy became a noble method for preserving and shipping the flavor of a ripe peach before refrigerated train cars showed up in the late nineteenth century. Today you can find all manner of peach-imbued tipples in bottles and cans, including an array of liqueurs, whiskeys, and vodka sodas. Lamentably, the taste of many of these often has more in common with artificially flavored candy than a sun-dappled orchard in June.
Happily, that’s not always the case. After years of running a thriving event production and design company, Seth Watson founded Distillery of Modern Art in Chamblee, an Atlanta suburb, in 2021. Combining vocation with avocation, he proceeded to fill a sprawling building at the edge of the entertainment district there with exhibits of modern art (some permanent, some rotating), along with a cocktail bar and distilling equipment, which he used to turn out vodkas, gin, corn whiskey, bourbon, rye, and a unique peach amaro.
Amaro, a bracing Italian spirit—the word translates as “bitter”—traditionally gets served after a meal to abet digestion. “The category hasn’t really been elevated in America,” Watson says. “And for somebody trying it out, they might need a little bridge. So, the addition of peach gives that balance of bitter and sweet.”
It’s a seductive combination, providing topography and hard edges to the soft, Rubenesque contours of a high-season peach. The distillery recommends mixing the amaro with lemon soda (such as San Pellegrino) or blending it fifty-fifty with rye. If you’re looking for a drink better suited to this season of lingering sweater weather, however, Shannon Brandon, the assistant bar manager at Jewel of the South in New Orleans, has a suggestion: an amaro-martini riff she conjured that offers an ideal transition to the warmer months.
Her cocktail, La Sabine, relies on some cunning mixology: an equal split of vermouth and a hint of maraschino liqueur to boost rather than obfuscate the fruitiness of the peach. After all, she says, “Amaro Peach is good enough to stand on its own.” She’s not wrong. But you’ll find her concoction accentuates those positives.