What ultimately became an impressive how-to handbook for all things drinks began with a simple survey to some of the South’s best bartenders. The question at hand: What is the quintessential Southern cocktail? As you might expect, the replies came fast and furious, including beloved standards (the Sazerac) and surprising suggestions (the Grasshopper). Those answers formed the basis for the chapters in The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails, each of which begins with a classic and is followed by riffs and variations, tracing the lineage of the recipe from the antique to the modern.
Renowned bartender Jerry Slater and SFA’s managing editor Sara Camp Milam collaborated with more than twenty bartenders for the eighty-eight cocktails in the book, ranging from the sparkling French 75 to the deeply layered Unvanquished, a cousin of the Old Fashioned named for a Faulkner novel and muddled with cardamom and pine liqueur. And because all Southerners know that a good drink goes best with a great story, fifteen essays by Slater, Milam, and contributing writers including Gustavo Arellano and Mark Essig accompany the easy-to-follow recipes, revealing the tales and personalities behind the drinks. “We have a rich history in the South,” Slater says. “We’re as excited about the stories as we are about the cocktails.”
One standout was created by Slater himself: the AWP 290 Punch, concocted specifically for his former Atlanta restaurant, H. Harper Station, housed in a one-time train depot. A surefire party starter, it was inspired by the faithful combination of bourbon and ginger, with a nod to the restaurant’s home state. The name refers to the train that once ran cotton from Atlanta to West Point, Georgia, and the punch gets a sweet hit of Georgia flavor thanks to the addition of peach nectar. “It’s a crowd pleaser,” Slater says. “Everyone likes bourbon, ginger, and peaches.”