Truth be told, Knoxville does not have a signature cocktail, or even one that’s popular and particularly reflects regional tastes or ingredients. (We’ll grant you that some are Big Orange.) Ever anxious to correct an oversight, Metro Pulse asked some of our favorite local bartender types to hit us with their best shot at a Knox-tail. Here are their soon-to-be-famous concoctions, recipes included. We may not form a consensus on a Knoxville’s pre-eminent cocktail the first time at bat, but it sure is fun trying.
Downtown Grill & Brewery
The Downtown Grill & Brewery on Gay Street does a brisk business in shooters (chase ’em with microbrew ale, or not), and bartenders Kristen Tomcak and Sarah Wegrzyn put their heads together to come up with a new twist on a popular Brewery shooter ingredient: sweet tea vodka. Tomcak arrived here about four years ago from Nebraska, looking for a change of pace in the city where her best friend lived and says this drink says “Knoxville” to her. “The inspiration came the other day when a guy was selling fruit from this booth,” says Tomcak. “He had blackberries. I’ve never had fresh blackberries before, and they are amazing.” She’d forgotten all about it, Tomcak says, but Wegrzyn remembered blackberry liquor when they needed one more flavor enhancer for this signature shooter. “It just really merges all the rest of the flavors,” says Tomcak.
Blackberry Tick (Download Downtown Grill & Brewery's recipe card here.)
- 1 oz. sweet tea vodka;
- the Brewery preferred is Firefly
- 1 oz. Stoli blackberry vodka
- Splash creme de cassis (blackberry liqueur)
- Squeeze lemon juice
- 1/2 packet of Sweet ‘N Low
- Splash sweet and sour
- (“If you want it to be sweeter”)
Shake all ingredients and strain into a shot glass.
Copper Cellar Restaurants
Bill Smith has been a corporate bartending trainer, particularly emphasizing fresh juice techniques, for the Copper Cellar Restaurants group for just four weeks. But he’s got a few years of bartending under his belt—he learned to tend bar originally at the Copper Cellar on campus from ’78-’80. “Before that I was a tuba performance and theater major at UT,” he says. “I started tending bar to pay my way and ended up never going back to school.” Smith also started to learn magic tricks behind the Copper Cellar bar, which led to a long career as a magician. He still does shows as Baffle-O Bill, and special effects definitely figure in this martini developed with a campus crowd in mind.
K-Town Speed Bump (Download Copper Cellar's recipe card here.)
- Juice of a whole lemon
- Juice of half an orange
- 1 1/4 oz. Jack Daniel’s
- 1/2 oz. Licor 43
- 1/4 oz. Southern Comfort
- 3/4 oz. simple syrup
- Dash of bitters
Shake all with ice and strain into a broad, martini glass that’s sugar-rimmed about an inch on the outside. Finish with a flaming orange peel: Fold a piece of orange rind with the orange side of the peel on the outside. As you fold, hold a lit lighter at the edge of the glass, squeezing the rind next to the flame. “That makes the oil shoot out through the flame and it momentarily ignites as it splashes onto the drink and gives you the flavor of the burned oil,” says Smith.
The bar staff at downtown’s Preservation Pub worked together to create a cocktail that’s properly drunk after toasting, “Bless your heart.” The lemon wheel garnish and the round belly of the highball glass kind of suggest the Sunsphere, too. True to their origins, the Preservation Pubbers involved a classic European lager as an ingredient: Stella Artois, a bottom-fermented blond pilsner.
Honeybunch (Download Preservation Pub's recipe card here.)
- 2 oz. Wild Turkey American Honey liqueur
- 2 oz. Stella Artois lager
- 2 oz. ginger ale
Shake all and strain over ice in an old-fashioned glass or brandy snifter. Garnish with a fresh lemon wheel.
Oodles on Market Square sits right on the edge of the Knoxville Farmer’s Market, and this fresh locavore take on the Bloody Mary was chef Amelia Adams’ entry into a recent farmer’s market Bloody Mary contest. Adams is primarily chef and general manager at Oodles, but she’s now eight months pregnant with her first child. “As I couldn’t work in the kitchen as much, I started working behind the bar a little, which meant taking our martinis and mixed drinks to a more culinary level—that’s how I approach things,” says Adams. “The movement is really towards using fresh local ingredients in the kitchen, and we’ve taken that idea to our bar as well.”
Knox Heritage Bloody Mary (Download Oodles Uncorked's recipe card here.)
- For four good-size cocktails
- 4-5 large local, heirloom tomatoes
- 2 large fresh cucumbers, peeled
- Pinch of prepared horseradish
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- Pinch smoked sea salt (sold at most local gourmet markets)
- Salt to taste
- Per drink: 2 oz. Hangar One vodka, either Buddha's Hand Citron flavor, or, for a spicy Mary, Chipotle
Puree vegetables and seasonings together in a food processor or blender. Chill in refrigerator until using. “The longer it sits, the better,” says Adams.
To make individual servings: Shake one fourth of the mix with vodka and ice, “very, very vigorously” and pour into a highball glass without straining. Garnish with cilantro and a pickled green bean.