Regional Drinks: Uncovering the Unique Flavors of Bartending Across America

Today Is: Sunday, Sep 24

Each state in America has its own rich history and unique contribution to the world of bartending.  Let’s take a quick shooter at each bar as we journey through 16 states for a glimpse of the diverse and flavorful tapestry of American mixology. By the way, did you know that one theory says that the word ‘shot’ or ‘shooter’ originated in salons when a bullet could be exchanged for a drink if the locals were short of cash?

New York Mixology Legacy

New York City has been at the forefront of cocktail innovation for decades. An interesting anecdote comes from the 1800s when Jerry Thomas, known as the “Father of American Mixology,” tended bar at the Metropolitan Hotel in NYC. He amazed guests with his flamboyant bartending skills and created classic cocktails like the Tom Collins and the Blue Blazer.

If you want to know even more, I suggest reading “The NoMad Cocktail Book” by Leo Robitschek which provides insights into New York’s bartending legacy.

Also Read: Mixology vs Bartending: What’s the Difference and Does it Matter?

Louisiana: Birthplace of the Sazerac

Louisiana has a rich cultural heritage, and its bartending scene reflects the vibrant flavors of Creole and Cajun cuisine. The famous New Orleans drink, The Sazerac, has its origins in Louisiana. As the story goes, in the 1830s, pharmacist Antoine Peychaud started selling his own bitters at his pharmacy. Customers enjoyed them with brandy, and this combination eventually became the Sazerac, named after a brand of cognac.

Other famous New Orleans drinks are The Hurricane and Ramos Gin Fizz. The Hurricane typically has rum, passion fruit syrup, lemon juice, and grenadine, served in a hurricane glass. While the Ramos Gin Fizz is a creamy and frothy cocktail that dates back to the 1880s and contains gin, citrus (lemon and lime), egg white, cream, simple syrup, orange flower water, and soda water. Give it a vigorous shake before serving.

California: Farm-to-Table Mixology

In California, bartenders have embraced the farm-to-table ethos, using locally sourced, fresh ingredients to craft their cocktails. The state’s abundant produce inspires unique creations like the Cucumber Collins, where bartenders muddle fresh cucumber for a refreshing twist on the classic Tom Collins.

Kentucky: The Bourbon Trail

No exploration of American bartending would be complete without mentioning Kentucky’s love affair with bourbon. Kentucky’s bourbon heritage is legendary, with distilleries scattered throughout the state. Visitors can take the Bourbon Trail, a route that leads to various distilleries, offering a glimpse into the history and craftsmanship of this beloved American spirit.

Texas: The Margarita State

The Margarita, a quintessential cocktail made with tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, has strong ties to Texas. Legend has it that in the 1940s, socialite Margarita Sames created the cocktail for her guests in Acapulco, Mexico. One of her guests happened to be Tommy Hilton (of the Hilton Hotels), who later introduced the Margarita to his hotels in Texas, helping it gain widespread popularity.

Also Read: From Speakeasies to Craft Bars: Tracing the History of Bartending in America

Hawaii: The Tropical Tiki Culture

Hawaii’s bartending scene is deeply influenced by Tiki culture, with tropical and exotic cocktails taking center stage. The rise of Tiki culture in the United States can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s when Americans became fascinated with exotic and tropical themes, especially as an escape from the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II.

One of the most famous Tiki bars, Don the Beachcomber, was founded in California but quickly spread to Hawaii, capturing the spirit of the islands with its Polynesian-inspired décor and drinks.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Wisconsin has a unique cocktail preference – the Brandy Old Fashioned. Unlike the traditional Old Fashioned made with whiskey, Wisconsinites prefer to use brandy, and it’s considered the state’s unofficial drink.

The Wisconsin Old Fashioned differs from the traditional Old Fashioned in several key aspects:

  • Base Spirit:The traditional Old Fashioned typically uses bourbon or rye whiskey as the base spirit, which imparts a rich and robust flavor to the cocktail. In contrast, the Wisconsin Old Fashioned uses brandy as the primary spirit. Brandy is a distilled wine that brings a smoother and fruitier profile to the drink, altering the overall taste.
  • Sweetness Level: While the traditional Old Fashioned uses a sugar cube or simple syrup to add sweetness, the Wisconsin Old Fashioned is known for its sweeter profile. Instead of a sugar cube, it is common to use muddled maraschino cherries and an orange slice in the Wisconsin version, which contributes to a fruitier and more candy-like sweetness.

Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned

Georgia: The Peach State and the Georgia Peach Martini

Georgia is famous for its peaches, and bartenders have crafted the Georgia Peach Martini, a delicious blend of peach schnapps, vodka, and peach nectar, paying tribute to the state’s iconic fruit.

Tennessee: The Home of Jack Daniel’s

Tennessee is renowned for its whiskey, particularly Jack Daniel’s, one of the most famous whiskey brands in the world. Jack Daniel was a skilled distiller who perfected the charcoal mellowing process, which involves filtering the whiskey through charcoal before aging it in barrels. The Jack Daniel’s distillery, located in Lynchburg, was founded by Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel in the 1860s. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery attracts thousands of visitors each year, making it one of Tennessee’s most popular tourist destinations.

Bartenders in Tennessee have creatively incorporated Jack Daniel’s into various cocktails, such as the Lynchburg Lemonade, a refreshing mix of whiskey, lemonade, triple sec, and lemon-lime soda.

Jack Daniels

Illinois: The Windy City’s Chicago Fizz

Chicago, Illinois, is the birthplace of the Chicago Fizz, a delightful cocktail that originated in the early 1900s. It combines brandy, rum, and port wine with citrus and egg white, creating a frothy and complex concoction.

Kentucky: The Mint Julep and the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky’s association with bourbon goes beyond the classic Old Fashioned. The state is also famous for the Mint Julep, a cocktail traditionally served at the annual Kentucky Derby horse race. The combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and crushed ice is a refreshing way to celebrate the event.

Florida: The Mojito and the Florida Keys

Florida’s tropical climate makes it an ideal place for refreshing cocktails. The Mojito, a classic Cuban concoction, thrives in Florida’s vibrant cocktail scene. The Florida Keys, in particular, have their signature variation known as the Key Lime Mojito, adding a tangy twist with key lime juice.

Colorado: Craft Beer Cocktails

Colorado’s craft beer culture has given rise to unique beer-based cocktails. Bartenders often blend local craft beers with spirits and various ingredients to create innovative and flavorful beer cocktails.

Oregon: The Pacific Northwest’s Craft Spirits

The Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, is known for its craft spirits. With a focus on locally sourced and organic ingredients, bartenders in Oregon create exceptional cocktails that highlight the state’s vast offerings.

Nevada: Las Vegas and the Lavish Cocktails

Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, is famous for its extravagant cocktails. The city’s mixologists are known for their flair in bartending, creating visually stunning drinks to match the city’s glitzy atmosphere.

Massachusetts: Irish Pubs and Craft Beer

Massachusetts has a strong Irish influence, evident in its numerous Irish pubs that serve classic drinks like Irish Coffee. Patrons can enjoy classic Irish drinks like Guinness, Irish whiskey, and Irish coffee while immersing themselves in the spirit of Irish hospitality. The state is also home to a thriving craft beer scene, offering a wide range of locally brewed beers. Massachusetts hosts various craft beer festivals throughout the year, attracting beer enthusiasts from across the region.

Each of these states has contributed to America’s diverse and rich drinking culture, showcasing the nation’s love for a wide range of alcoholic beverages and unique drinking traditions.

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