Knoxville doesn’t have the full-time “bar chefs” or “mixologists” employed to create the drink of the week like they do at upscale bars in slinky major metropolitan areas like Atlanta or New York. But we do have plenty of creative bartenders messing around with the odd liqueur or fresh-squeezed mixers.
Sometimes a customer request inspires a truly cool concoction—sometimes a couple of barkeeps get bored and inspire themselves.
Here, we’ve collected seven recipes from some of our favorite liquor-by-the-drink spots in Knoxville. If you can get hold of the unusual ingredients (ginger beer? a whole fresh pineapple?) you can mix like the pros right in your own kitchen sink. It’s purely coincidence that all the featured bartenders are guys this time, and they’re the first to tell you they’ve learned plenty from their female cohorts—but since they are, let’s call them the Bad Boys of Knoxville Bartending, and start shaking it up:
- 1 oz. Van Gogh Double Dutch Chocolate Vodka
- 1 oz. Godiva Dark Chocolate liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Bailey’s Irish Creme
- Reddi Wip real cream in the spray can
- Pour the first two ingredients over ice, shake and strain into a martini glass. Carefully tip the Bailey’s down the side of the glass—it’s heavier and will automatically sink to the bottom for a layered look. Spray a “kiss” of Reddi Wip on the top.
Head bartender at Baker Peters Jazz Club, Robert Weed arrived in Knoxville like a bad country-western song. “I followed the wrong woman,” says Weed, who learned his methods at the Hindquarter steak house in Santa Cruz, Calif., and originally hails from East Lansing, Mich. “It’s a lot like Knoxville, with Michigan State—kind of a college town, but more like living on the West side here, or maybe in Farragut.”
Weed notes that the martini craze of recent years has cooled off a little, “but just in the way that a lot of people started to make shooters into martinis, and a lot of customers came into the bar confused about just what a martini was. We’re more high-end, and a lot of our customers are still ordering the classic martinis with vodka or gin, shaken, strained, and lots of vermouth poured over the top,” Weed recommends serving all martinis straight up in a martini glass, not over ice in a rocks glass. “They look better that way and are more sophisticated,” he says. “Some people like their drinks super cold, but a good bartender will shake a martini in a way that it will stay pretty cold without ice.”
Weed also came to Knoxville to study anthropology at UT. He doesn’t have a formal job in that field. “But bar managers use anthropology every day—it’s the study of mankind,” he says.
- 1/2 oz. vodka
- 1/2 oz. gin
- 1/2 oz. triple sec
- 1/2 oz. rum
- 1/2 oz. Southern Comfort
- 1/2 oz. peach schnapps
- 1/2 oz. tequila
- Sweet and sour mix
- Fill a 16 oz. cup with ice, add liquors. Shoot some Sprite on top, almost to fill. Pour in grenadine for a three-count.
Dan Edel says he tweaked his own version of the “Ass-Kicker” with co-Macleods bartender Kenon Brown after the night a young lady sat down and requested it. “We didn’t know what she was talking about, so she called her brother who bar tends down in Florida and he dictated it over the phone,” says Edel. “She told us we should use it, so we do, but it’s still our own because we never could remember exactly what we made for her that time. And we might add extra grenadine.”
Edel’s been providing speedy service and Northern wiseacre remarks—he’s a Buffalo transplant—to the Cumberland Ave. scene for a year at Macleods, and four before that at Buffalo Wild Wings. “In other words, I need to get off the Strip,” he says. Brown, a former drum major for the Pride of the Southland band, is a grad student at UT and also toiled for years at the BWW bar. The two collaborate, but even Brown doesn’t understand Edel’s fierce loyalty to a baseball team that’s inspired many a bar-side argument. “The Yankees, of course,” says Edel. “Nobody but me likes the Yankees.”
- 1 oz. Jaegermeister liqueur
- 3/4 oz. Baileys Irish Cream
- Splash vanilla vodka
- Two splashes Coke
Even the newest bartenders at Downtown Grill & Brewery, like Taylor Hastings, who just turned 21 eight months ago, have created numerous house specialty cocktails—the management there runs frequent “create a drink” contests, and most of the crew is friends outside of work. “When we go to someone else’s bar, we’ll make up a drink, too, but at home parties we don’t have all the weird ingredients,” says Josh “Shaggy” Adkins, a 5-year veteran at the brewery who first learned the bar trade at (now-defunct) Spicy’s in the Old City.
When he’s got free rein and paying customers, he favors cocktails made with whiskey, flavored vodkas, Goldschläger cinnamon schnapps, Jaegermeister, and Black House blackberry schnapps—but not all at once. “I add a splash of Red Bull to the Black House to make a Cotton Candy.”
To create the Brewtini Float, he and Hastings, who’s an on-again, off-again University of Tennessee student, built on the root beer flavor they loved from a drink called the 18 Wheeler, which also has Baileys and Jaegermeister. “A guy sitting across from me at a poker game said we should add an ice cream flavor and make it a float—that’s how we came up with the vanilla vodka and the caramel in the Baileys,” says Hastings. “You have to shake it very well to froth the Coke and the cream.”
- Whole fresh pineapple and pineapple corer
- 1 can Coco Lopez coconut cream
- Pineapple juice, to taste
- Pampero Rum, to taste
- For garnish: cherry and paper umbrella
- To make mix: Top and core pineapple, leaving the shell whole. Blend pulp (minus core) and coconut cream, thin with pineapple juice to taste. (Note: if you can’t obtain a corer, skip using the shell as a serving glass and slice the pineapple into fourths lengthwise, then use a paring knife to cut the pithy core from the pulp and the pulp from the shell.)
- To mix drink: Measure about 5 ounces of ice into a 16-ounce cup, fill with mix and one shot of rum. Blend. Pour into pineapple shell. Serve with a straw; garnish with cherry and paper umbrella.
A native of Colombia, Edwar Avila has lived in Maryville 12 years, graduating from Heritage High School and learning the ropes of bartending at Green Meadow Country Club. Now manager at La Rumba in Bearden, which opened about a month ago, he helped its Honduran owners develop this and another signature drink that’s served in a coconut. “We wanted a Central/South American theme,” he says “All our drinks use a lot of puree—mango, passion fruit. This is our beach signature drink. You could expect the same thing from the vendors on a South American beach. Of course, their liquor laws are more, ah, flexible. We want this drink to make you feel like you’re in a foreign country. And we use Pampero rum, which is made in Venezuela.”
- 3 lime wedges
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- 2 oz. Goslings Black Seal Rum
- 1 1/2 oz. Barrits Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer
- In a rocks glass, muddle the lime and simple syrup. Fill with ice. Add rum, shake and top with ginger beer.
Any “official” Dark and Stormy must contain Goslings and Barrits, and this is Sapphire general manager Aaron Thompson’s take on the Bermuda mix. He and the Sapphire bartenders are probably the closest thing Knoxville has to “bar chefs,” consistently creating new signature drinks with unique and trendy ingredients—living up to the establishment’s tagline as a Modern Bar. “They’ll just sit and try stuff, and they’ll let me sample, too, because I know which tastes blend together well,” says Sapphire chef Chip Meyer. Meyer’s favorite recent creation: sweet-tea infused vodka with just a drop of Red Bull, dubbed the Fire Bomb.
- 2 oz. Baileys Irish Cream
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 oz. Irish whiskey, such as Powers or Bushmills
- Brewed coffee
- Fresh, heavy cream
- Fill a glass coffee mug 7/10 with strong brew coffee.
- Add sugar, whiskey and Baileys.
- Fill the rest of the cup with lightly shaken, heavy cream, pouring it over a spoon, so it floats on top and looks like a Guinness.
- Stir once or twice and then let the coffee settle before serving.
Adding Baileys to the cup is the only twist on traditional Irish Coffee that Dubliner Jon Ferrie, who now owns the Irish Times in Turkey Creek, will endorse. “The ones who use Mr. Whippy Cream out of a can and then put creme de menthe on top, it’s sacrilege!” he says. “A lot of people think green is the national color of Ireland, but it’s royal blue!”
Another common error: mixing the coffee ingredients together. “You should be able to take a little sip and get a little of the separate flavors of cream, coffee, and whiskey—like a pint,” he says.
Ferrie’s bartending experience extends to New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Nashville, where he worked on the General Jackson Riverboat at the Opryland Hotel, and he makes a blasphemous statement of his own. “People are so attached to Jameson for an Irish whiskey, but any other Irish whiskey is better. I favor Powers, then Bushmills.”
Still, if it’s between Jameson and another country’s whiskey? “Jameson, every time,” says Ferrie.
If someone—particularly a female someone—saunters up to the bar at Wild Wing Cafe and wants a drink recommendation, Jonathan “JT” Thomas knows just what to do. “I’ll ask for a color, do you want it sweet? Tropical? Then I throw something together and let her name it,” he says. “I’m a great lady drink maker.”
Thomas is as likely as not to start with a base of 1 ounce Bacardi Razz (flavored with fresh raspberries) and 1 ounce Bacardi O (orange flavor, not color). “I add to that maybe an ounce of peach schnapps, or any flavor that you want,” he says. “I just shake it—turn it over in my tin—and pour it on the rocks with maybe a splash of pineapple juice, some Sprite. Maybe grenadine or a little blue caracoa, which is flavored orange, or triple sec, to make it pretty.”
Thomas, who’s spent seven or eight years as a “bartender dude” and worked some personal-training gigs, too, relocated to Farragut from Asheville, N.C. about a year ago. “I’ve got to say the women here are unbelievable—they’re beautiful,” he says. “I’m the typical bartender, hitting on every girl I see, but the women here are very outspoken. I love it. I don’t want to say they’re aggressive. But they’re aggressive.
“I dig it.”