Interview: bartender Eric Simpkins

Bartender Atlanta

Photo courtesy of Eric Simpkins


Who are some bartenders you haven’t worked with that you admire, and how come?

We’re really coming into a new golden age of cocktails, and all the different events and competitions, and all the chances we get to meet each other has created a worldwide network of bartenders. In Atlanta, we’ve really exploded, there are people like Greg Best, Paul Calvert, Miles Macquarrie, Lara Creasy. Outside of this city, Sean Kenyon in Colorado. Gina Chersevani in D.C. John Gertsen at Drink. Joaquin [Simo] amazes me, one of the most amazing and gracious bartenders I’ve been lucky to meet and talk with. All the bartenders down at Cure in New Orleans. There are so many people we’re lucky enough to have working with us in the industry these days. Chris Bostick in L.A. Craig Harper in Edinburgh. Mike Ryan in Chicago at Sable. Josh Habiger, who was at the helm at Patterson House when they first opened, is now working on [Aviary] in Chicago. Nicholas Kosevich, and all the different bartenders who work on the Cocktail Apprentice Program, like Jeff Grdinich. We call him Jeff G. Elf, and he’s one of the head guys at the Cocktail Apprentice Program, and even with all the traveling, he still runs his bar in Connecticut.

What was the last cocktail you developed, and what was your approach?

For this Bulleit rye launch, they wanted a late 1920s theme, so we had 1920s style hot jazz band, but it’s still frontier whiskey, so I was thinking about that frontier style, which brought to mind “Deadwood” and Swearengen and his propensity for bringing out canned peaches for VIPs at the bar. So I really wanted to do something for the guests at my bar, so I created this drink called Swearengen’s Fancy, where I infused the rye with black pekoe tea. The tea they use for tea is Lipton, so I created an almost julep-like drink with that, keeping it as simple as possible, with syrup from canned peaches, a little bit of simple syrup, fresh mint, and garnished with fresh mint and canned peaches. I made it sweet enough that people who live in the South and like sweet tea, it was something they could really key into. It’s spicy whiskey, but really done with amazing balance with a couple key ingredients. They went through 3 or 400 of them throughout the night.

What’s a great simple cocktail recipe for people to make at home?

The cocktail that I most make at home is just a really good Manhattan, just a simple, old fashioned, with 1.5 ounces of good American whiskey, preferably a rye, a sweet vermouth that has hopefully been kept in the refrigerator, a couple dashes of bitters, stirred to proper dilution and strained. If people don’t have cherries around the house, I suggest cutting a little bit of orange and finishing with a little orange zest on top. Just a little disc of orange peel to express the oil.

Where and what do you drink when you’re not at work?

Lately I’ve been drinking at a place called Top Flr. Some of the bartenders that I’ve trained just started working there, and some other bartenders around the city started working there. It’s owned by bartenders and DJs. It’s more of a restaurant, but they have a good bar. I normally have some sort of Negroni variation there. They serve food late, so it’s good for industry people.

If you could only fill your glass with one more cocktail, what would be in it?

It would definitely be a double Old Potrero 18th Century style single-malt rye Old Fashioned with raw sugar and a big boulder of ice.

Who would make it?

It would probably have to be Chad Solomon. Tuesday nights at Pegu, if I got out of there early enough and had a really good night or really bad night, I tried to make it over to Milk & Honey for last call, and it would take the edge off. It was $18 for a shot of whiskey, but it was worth it every time.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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