Winner: Best Bartender, Best Martini
What are some cocktails you've created?
I've created the entire menu for the last three years. We make everything in-house, homemade simple syrup, homemade sour mix. We have pretty much every liquor available. We serve everything from the Tilt-A-Whirl, which tastes like cotton candy, to Just Beet It, which is made with pickled beet juice. I like to use fresh ingredients like cucumbers and jalapenos—anything I can find in the kitchen.
What are some favorite cocktails?
This year one of the most popular is the Uncle Charlie. It's made with Hendrick's Gin, St. Germain Elderberry, muddled cucumbers, fresh lime juice, and a little splash of soda. It's very popular in spring and summer. Another popular one is Original Sin, which is made with blueberry vodka, vanilla syrup, white grape juice, sparkling wine, and fresh blueberries.
How do you come up with ideas?
I actually just play. We won the Bombay Gin contest in Knoxville and competed in Nashville. It's like chemistry. I wanted to do something I'd never heard of, so I got honeydew and different random fruits and juiced them and played with them. I ended up using the honeydew because it's lighter and refreshing. It went really well with the gin. I used basil and clove simple syrup. We also put roasted jalapenos in the clove simple syrup to give it a little spice. It's one of my favorite recipes—so good and so different.
Do you ever make anything really bad?
All the time. [Owner] Aaron [Thompson] gives me that leeway. If there's a new product I want, he'll order it. I'll ask the chef. He'll help me brainstorm and come up with things. I try not to do obvious combinations.
What makes a good martini?
I think it takes effort. You have to know your stuff. I think we won Best Martini because we have so many different kinds of martinis. On Wednesday you can try any of the signature martinis for $5 instead of $10. We rotate the martinis (and other drinks) seasonally.
Are these drinks really martinis?
It's the glass. You get a lot more liquor. We don't put the –tini suffix on the names. I've always loved martinis. I think they're kind of sexy and sophisticated. I love playing with different rims—chocolate, sugar, cayenne. It's like an art.
Do you sell many $350 Sapphire Martinis?
We sell quite a few. One couple came in on their anniversary, first time in Knoxville, and her birthstone is sapphire, so they ordered one. That was sweet. Last year we went through probably the most we've ever gone through—10 or 15. It's supposed to be made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, but basically you can get whatever you want in the glass.
How are your wines?
Our wine list used to be a lot bigger, but we weren't known as a wine bar. We have fewer wines now, but we have really good ones. When we had lots of wines by the glass, we ended up throwing away wine. Our house wine, Salmon Creek, is very good—a Cabernet and a Chardonnay—and it's $3 during happy hour.
What do you like best about working at Sapphire?
I've been here six years. It's like a family. It's a great work environment. We have very little turnover. I like the interaction and getting feedback from customers. It's just a very fun atmosphere to work in. I love the customers. It's completely different during the week and on weekends. I like fresh faces and seeing people who've been coming for a long time.