One summer accessory that never goes out of style is the bright red Solo cup. Whether at the pool or beach, on a rooftop or patio, the Solo cup is a staple. Problem is, it usually contains a beverage you wouldn't give to a thirsty stray dog.
It's time to forget your college days of sketchy punch, cheap vodka and lukewarm beer. That cup might look great with any outfit, but some drinks are too pretty for plastic red containers. Instead, summer is for chic experimentation.
Enter Stefan Huebner, a finalist in GQ's 2010 list of the country's 41 Most Inspired Bartenders. His latest venture is Heist Brewery, a brewpub in NoDa set to open this month. Inside the not-yet-open building, Huebner displays a rainbow of natural ingredients — things like mint, lemons and good old OJ — that can elevate a cocktail from good to sublime.
- Justin Driscoll
Stefan Huebner of Heist Brewery uses fresh ingredients to make summer cocktails.
"Life's too short to drink cheap booze," Huebner says, as he squeezes a lime into a Mezcal margarita, the rim ringed with salt. Huebner says Charlotte-area restaurants and bars are currently experiencing the popular wave of chef-inspired drinks that has taken hold in other cities. Rather than drinking just to drink, this new breed of cocktail connoisseurs is experimenting with new flavors and aromas. "It's a full sensory experience," says Huebner.
Indeed, Enso Asian Bistro at the EpiCentre adds English cucumbers to its gin cucumber cooler, and at Crave Dessert Bar, fruit purees sweeten the strawberry honey mojitos and blueberry margaritas.
In today's go-green environment, our lust for fresh fruits and vegetables has moved from the kitchen to the bar. A New York Times article on the trend even suggests adding heirloom tomatoes. According to Huebner, some of the more popular new picks for cocktails are peaches, cucumbers and mint, but he adds that anything in season will jazz things up. "I'm a firm believer in whatever is fresh is better," Huebner says. "What separates us from other cities is how green we are. Everybody's got a garden, so what we lack in actual alcohol, we make up in our mixer world."
Clint Medlock, general manager at Crave, says his customers are wild about strawberries. "Our most popular drink is the Sweet Surrender," Medlock says. "We use strawberry puree, strawberry flavored vodka and garnish with a strawberry."
Garden-fresh drinks aren't the only way to go. The AMC show Mad Men has inspired a resurgence of cocktail classics: those Manhattans and vodka gimlets you associate with chain-smoking hipsters in '50s noir films, shrouded in a haze of smoke and cologne. AMC must have known it was on to something, as the network offers a full cocktail guide on its website.
"Cocktails are just like clothes: There's a season for everything, and just when you think it's out of style, it becomes fashionable and all the rage once again," Alison Penland, known as "The Charlotte Mixologist" for her cocktail column at Examiner.com, told CL in 2011.
For those who like meat, bacon is appearing in bar mixes. "I do a Bloody Mary with maple syrup, cracked black pepper, and a bacon stir stick," says Huebner. "Bacon makes everything better." Don't get too excited though — bacon-flavored vodka (yes, it exists) packs the caloric equivalent of a strip or two of the real thing.
Charlotte — unlike Miami, known for its mojitos, and Chicago, which loves its whiskey — doesn't have a signature libation. That may change soon, according to Huebner. "Charlotte's a toddler," he says. "We're still trying to figure out what we are. But I think in the next year or so, there's going to be a big cocktail movement in town."
Try This At Home
Courtesy of award-winning mixologist Stephan Huebner, some of his favorite summertime drinks.
2 oz Monte Alban Mezcal
1 oz Grand Marnier
2 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
Splash of fresh squeezed orange juice
Served in a tall glass over ice 0x000Awith a salted rim and lime
1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin
1 1/2 oz Creme de Violette
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz Luxadora cherry liqueur
Stir over ice, serve up with a lemon twist
Chartreuse Mint Julep
2 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 oz. simple syrup
7 leaves fresh mint
Top with 1/2 oz. club soda over ice, garnish with mint sprig
The Gig Gaffney Peach
1 1/2 oz Tito's Handmade Vodka
1/2 oz peach schnapps
2 oz. peach nectar
1/2 oz orange juice
Squeeze of lime
Shake over ice, serve over fresh ice, garnish with peach wedge