Charleston has no lack of good bartenders. Even at dives you can get a good cocktail. Take Palace Hotel for instance. The Hanover Street watering hole regularly presents new and unique drinks like last month's Grande Hotel cocktail — a mix of Amaro, passion fruit syrup, lemon, and basil. For all this city's PBR-loving talk, we down fancy libations just as often. So we took it upon ourselves to uncover some of the Holy City's more distinctive drinks.
Zero George 0 George St. Downtown (843) 817-7900 zerogeorge.com
Mezcal has been hot in the cocktail world for a while now. Some prefer it straight, others like it mixed with citrus such as grapefruit or blood orange, but Zero George has gone an entirely different direction. Their Mezcalero — Montelobos mezcal, Agaveles tequila, Ancho Reyes, orange liqueur, thyme, fresh squeezed lemon, and lime — is topped with little bubbles of rendered bacon fat. It sounds bizarre, but the duet of smoky mezcal and smoky bacon actually works. Don't knock it till you try it.
The Gin Joint 182 E Bay St. Downtown (843) 577-6111 theginjoint.com
You know what's good in October? A little rye. By late fall, Charleston's just cool enough to finally enjoy some whiskey, and Gin Joint does it up right. In this appropriately named, rust-hued libation, a splash of Rittenhouse Rye is added to what's easily our favorite liqueur name — Bigallet China-China Amer. That bad-boy imparts a combination of citrus and rhubarb flavors. Add a dash of Angostura Amaro and smoked cherry bitters around a perfectly spherical ice cube, and you've got a great autumnal cocktail.
Tavern & Table 100 Church St. Mt. Pleasant (843) 352-9510 tavernandtable.com
We love drinking for a good cause, and thankfully Tavern & Table has given us an excuse to do so. Each month the Shem Creek restaurant debuts a different cocktail that supports a different nonprofit. For October the fundraiser of choice is Share Our Suzy Lowcountry, an organization that helps breast cancer patients with everyday needs like gas bills, grocery cards, and childcare costs. And in keeping with the theme, T&T has crafted a ladylike drink, the Sparkling Suzy. A nod to fall harvests, the cocktail is made with Prosecco, fresh ginger, and fresh-pressed Apple cider. Incidentally, the Sparkling Suzy pairs perfectly with a Shem Creek sunset.
The Pink Rabbit
Proof 437 King St. Downtown (843) 793-1422
In terms of cocktail trends, one that we continually fall for are drinks that remind us of childhood. Just think of the adult milkshake wave we've been riding for the past few years. Now Craig Nelson of Proof has concocted an even greater beverage that would go well with Saturday morning cartoons — The Pink Rabbit, his take on Strawberry Quik. In this case, rather than blending milk with a powder package of pink flavor crystals, Nelson has swirled up Hendrick's gin, ancho chili liqueur, and chocolate mole bitters. "It's presented in a wine glass with fresh strawberries and a big bouquet of mint," Nelson says. A few sips and you'll be recalling that fuchsia bunny in no time.
The Sorrel Serpent
Husk Bar 76 Queen St. Downtown (843) 577-2500 huskrestaurant.com
There's a reason why Roderick Hale Weaver, the head bartender at Husk Bar, is seen as such a cocktail maverick. He not only knows how to mix some wicked good drinks, but he brings a playful edge to each of his concoctions. The Sorrel Serpent is one such case. For this cocktail Weaver travels from Italy to Denmark blending the bittersweet Italian digestif Nonino Amaro with the Danish Aquavit Aalborg — a.k.a. water of life. Though it may look like vodka, aquavit includes the addition of herbs and spices, and Aalborg is flavored with caraway. This is where the Sorrel Serpent gets what Weaver calls its earthy flavor. But of course that's not all. An ounce of hibiscus white pepper simple syrup also goes into the mix with another ounce of soda water and some fresh lemon juice, creating a delightfully delicate drink. But in case imbibers think this is a mild drink, Weaver adds a cautionary garnish — a cucumber snake.