What better way to deepen your appreciation of the arts than with an artfully made cocktail? Take this literally. We’re talking about cocktails created with Spoleto events as inspiration. Venues across Charleston are participating in the 2019 Spoleto Sips program and will be stirring, shaking, and pouring some of the most creative concoctions to hit the peninsula from kickoff apéritifs to finale digestifs and everything ‘twixt and ‘tween.
How would a mixologist even begin to pair performance themes, personalities, and aesthetics to the contents of a beverage? It seems reasonable to argue that flavor profiles are akin to character development. From sweet to spicy to an even-keeled umami, from complex drinks that break your heart to effervescent grins in a glass, flavor combinations, like art, can alter the mood and affect the soul.
Wild Common (formerly Cannon Green) offers a delightful cocktail response to Pay No Attention to the Girl. The performance, with its discussion of gender and its Silk Road context, inspired a drink, “Pay No Attention to the Colour,” composed of tequila, pink peppercorns, rhubarb liqueur, Cocchi Rosa infused with ginger, rose petals, and spices, and finished with grapefruit, lime, and a splash of soda. Finally, the drink is garnished with a sprinkling of jasmine blossoms from the garden. But folks, don’t let that sweet pink drink fool you. This sassy lady packs a punch.
“It creates a really beautiful light pink cocktail that looks girly and feminine, but like the play, we’re playing with preconceived notions,” says Simon Stilwell, Wild Common’s GM. “Though it does drink really easily, it’s actually a very powerful drink with 2 ounces of tequila and an ounce of liqueur. We’re telling a different story than what you may expect from the color.” Try it with the diver scallop crudo, suggests Stilwell, or end your meal with the cocktail and their citrus tart silhouetted with burnt cinnamon and coriander.
If you’re interested in Roots or root vegetables, head to Basic Kitchen for the “Garden of Good” cocktail. Roots, presented by English theater company 1927, brings to life a series of rare folktales sourced from around the world. The global nature of the performance inspired Basic Kitchen to modify a traditional Verdita (“little green”), a drink with its own roots in Mexico. “The verdita is traditionally a combination of parsley, pineapple, cilantro, and jalapeno in a thicker juice which is served next to either tequila or mezcal as a chaser. We took those ingredients and made them into a looser form cocktail mixed with tequila and garnished with a rim of spicy salt,” says GM Kellie Holmes.
Trying to stay grounded for the performance? Garden of Good makes for a great mocktail as well. Instead of tequila, mix your elixir with a splash of Seedlip’s Garden 108 — an herbaceous and vegetal non-alcoholic spirit inspired by the English countryside. Either way you go, the drink represents Basic Kitchen’s wholesome approach to cuisine. “We’re very inspired by clean food and clean energy to fuel your soul, to fuel your body, and to give you energy without weighing you down,” says Holmes. “This is a great cocktail that makes you feel like you’re doing something good for your body, and it’s enjoyable.”
Tradd’s is taking the Shakespearean route in honor of Shakespeare’s Globe. Inspired by Twelfth Night protagonist, Violet, the restaurant has created “Viola,” a combination of gin, crème de violette, maraschino cherry liqueur, lemon juice, and Champagne, served with a violet edible flower garnish. The drink is especially Instagrammable between the flowers and its pink to violet ombré hue. “We try to preserve the old-school in everything we do here, especially behind the bar,” says bar manager Alex Hammond. “Being a part of Spoleto is really an honor. It brings a lot of class to the community and helps preserve the old school ways in the arts.” Hammond suggests salty pairings for this colorful cocktail like french fries, oysters, or Tradd’s beef tartare served atop a gaufrette (essentially a large potato chip) with an olive oil poached yolk, shallot, capers, and caviar.
The Macintosh, O-Ku, and Cocktail Club, all part of The Indigo Road restaurant group, have also opted in to the Sips campaign. The Macintosh sustains the Shakespearean theme with “Prince of Tyre,” an adventurous blend of Beefeater gin, Dolin Génépy Le Chamois liqueur, yellow Chartreuse, and Bittermans Orange Cream Citrate. The components come together to create a drink that nearly glows vibrant neon. O-Ku honors the legendary founder of Spoleto, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, with “Menotti’s Composed Pie.” The cocktail gives a nod to O-Ku’s Japanese cuisine with shochu but channels the jammy sweetness of fruit pie with blueberry, vanilla, pineapple shrub, and a lemon-herb meringue whip. Finally, Cocktail Club sets its sights on Spoleto’s under 40 Spoleto SCENE audience with “End SCENE,” a light, bright, and superbly summery mix of Hendricks gin, del Professore Bianco, fresh pressed grape, lemon, simple syrup, and bubbly soda.
First time Sips participant, Vintage Lounge, is doing more than simply joining the fun. Vintage is also the exclusive provider of beer and wine at Spoleto’s finale event. “We’re excited to provide an elevated yet approachable wine selection that is reflective of our carefully curated offerings here at Vintage and to bring attention to one of our favorite local breweries, Edmund’s Oast,” says Brooke Rowan of King Street Hospitality Group. Drawing inspiration from the Italian origins of Spoleto, Vintage will serve “Coppa di Spoleto” as their Sips contribution. The cocktail, also a refreshing summer blend, is made with Pimm’s no. 1, Lillet Rose, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, rhubarb bitters, Angostura bitters, soda, and garnished with a lemon.
Husk and Minero both take a fruit-forward approach with a play on punch and a Spanish sangria. Husk’s “Between 1st and A” shares a title with a song from The Punch Brothers. Applejack, Crème de Cassis, mint, lemon, and soda keep the drink light with a finishing kick of Sacred Bond brandy. Minero’s Los Santos Sangria draws on Path of Miracles. The performance is a choral work inspired by the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Northern Spain. “When we thought about cocktails that come from Spain, we immediately thought of sangria,” says Minero manager Chris Michael. “We wanted this sangria to be light and refreshing since spring weather has arrived, so we used rosé as the base. We added passion fruit liqueur, peach nectar, and lemon juice to give it its fruitiness.”
Quite a collection to choose from, and these are only a portion of the participants. Check out the Spoleto Festival USA website for a complete listing. Salute!