“Think outside the box” is an encouragement to let creativity thrive unfettered by stale ideas. But sometimes limitations inspire imagination, rather than stifle it. Juniper bar manager Kevin Arndt understands this. His job is to create cocktails to pair with chef-owner John Perkins’ hearty, Southern-influenced fare.
“It’s actually tricky to stay in that box,” said Arndt. There are classic Southern cocktails, of course, and Arndt’s menu has some solid examples, like the Georgia Julep made with Old Grand-Dad, peach sweet tea simple syrup and mint.
It would be easy to replicate this tried and true template when creating any new drink – whiskey, rinse, repeat – call it Southern and move along. But Arndt takes a much subtler approach, going beyond the obvious tropes and using the food’s flavors and less-is-more attitude to inform his drinks, instead of the region’s cocktail stereotypes. Because really, what is Southern?
For example, The Cat’s Pajamas is based on the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail. Arndt’s riff incorporates barrel-aged gin and the bitter French aperitif Suze, but it still tastes Southern. “It evokes that feel of being on a picnic, and it pairs well with a lot of our food,” he said. That broad swath of the country can be tasted many ways in Arndt’s creations – be it the watermelon shrub in the mezcal-based Hell Hath No Fury, the ginger in The Presbyterian, or his knack of combining just a few simple, quality ingredients to yield something far more delicious than the sum of its humble parts. The end results are drinks that, like the best Southern cooking, tell a story and make you feel at home.
The Cat’s Pajamas
1½ oz. barrel-aged gin
¾ oz. Big O Ginger Liqueur
½ oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)
½ oz. lemon juice
1 barspoon Suze
• Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.
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