Typical tailgating fair, for me, has been cheap beer and occasionally a saccharine sour margarita out of a bottle. It’s usually pretty generic but it gets the job done (and typically kdoes its job so well, I'm still feeling it the next day). Thanks to King Street’s Cocktail Club and their quarterly cocktail class, we may be making a change to some “traditions.”
A rainy Charleston Saturday (or the start of football) may have been responsible for a strangely low amount of attendees (usually over twenty to mingle with) but it was the perfect day for me to make an appearance at the Cocktail Club. Besides being a dream space for my type of photos, the atmosphere and setup of the cocktail class is open and welcoming. I came in out of the intermittently dreary day to ice cold drinks and the club’s signature bacon fat spiced popcorn.
From there, the class started out with a toast, marking my first drink tally and a warm start to something beautiful.
Our first cocktail was a batch of mojitos made by Cocktail Club bartender Ryan Welliver. We were taken step by step through a cocktail that can be prepared the night before a game for easy mixing the day of. Simple syrup was prepared using equal parts sugar and water and brought to a boil with some ginger. Don Q white rum was mixed with limejuice in another container and put aside for later.
Adding the fresh mint to the boiling simple syrup cooled the air with this natural mint scent, which was infusing in the mixture. After straining the solids, he then combined the mixtures with ice and soda water in a glass. Normally you would let this chill overnight and have it ready the next day but Ryan was nice enough to have a batch ready for us. To give the cocktail a nice nose, a mint leaf is slapped on the palm of your hand and placed atop as a garnish.
In the past I’ve had many a mojito where a mint leaf is demolished in the bottom of the glass causing me to eat my drink later on as pieces of mint fly into the back of my throat or get stuck on my teeth. This demonstration should be the norm for mojitos. That being said though, there is a level of preparation involved with this cocktail and not all bars can have them on tap. So maybe it really is perfect for tailgating. The quality and freshness will definitely turn a few heads and the lack of over sweetening will keep it down to earth on game day.
The class then goes for a break and allows participants to indulge in their cocktails while socializing. On the breaks I talked with a traveling bartender from New York and one of our hosts about how, being from Philadelphia, I’ve stopped saying “wooder” because no one knew I was saying “water,” but I still say “jawn” despite the meaning being foreign to all but Philadelphians. We even caught a college game on the club’s TV while swapping knowledge on fantasy football leagues. In other words, it was easy to spend the time in between cocktails no matter what your background is. People usually flock to the sunny rooftop deck when it’s actually sunny but we were quite content inside.
Up second was an interesting take on margaritas by our other host Matty Soeder. The preparation went as one might expect but was superior to most creations of margaritas with their typical sour mix and tequila. Tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and agave syrup mixed with water. It sounds simple but it beats the hell out of most “Perfect Margaritas” or any variation of that on many bar/chain menus.
The interesting part is the salt rim. Our bartenders busted out a culinary smoker to infuse the salt with flavor and wrap the room with a warm, inviting, cedar smell. These smokers can be used for many things and are probably available on Amazon or in local culinary stores.
I recently had a conversation with someone regarding the effortless mixing of cocktails at many bars. I mentioned how I watched a bartender make a Long Island iced tea with two liquors and some kind of bottled mix. With all that said, many Charleston bars try to keep bartending an art and this became evident very quickly at this club.
The final demonstration was a without a name but could be described as a plum Bellini. Fresh plums were blended, lemon juice added and strained and mixed with simple syrup and water.
Adding Aperol, a bitter orange and rhubarb aperitif, and Prosecco brightened up the color to this beautiful, deep, reddish orange. The champagne flute (which you probably want to swap for solo cups unless you keep it classy in the parking lot) was topped with an orange peel garnish.
Beer drinkers used to bitter beers or Belgian Wits will get a kick out of this on game day. The bitter orange bite and fresh fruitiness made this a good tailgating beverage as well as a possible brunch favorite.
After this, I partook in some of the prepared sandwiches and charcuterie in the back. With options for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike - there wasn’t a sad face in the house.
The final drink tally went to a Fernet Branca shot: a bitter digestif that has become known as the bartender’s handshake. It was once labeled as a laxative during prohibition to keep it on sale and the flavor lets you know how they got away with it. It’s a fine gesture and a lovely way to wrap up what is a truly telling and fun Saturday afternoon. Admittedly, I had to take a little time and grab some ice cream down the street before I took my trip back to Johns Island, but that only made the day even better.
At the inception of this write-up I’m watching a bunch of games while monitoring my fantasy team and near drooling over the cocktails I’ve mentioned. My only regret of yesterday is not whipping up a batch of all of these last night so I can kick my feet up and skip the cheap beer (which I’m not against) for a true “Sunday Funday.”
Mojito - 8 servings
In one container:
Don Q (white) rum 25 oz
1 and ½ cups lime juice
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup Ginger
Add 2 cups mint to *hot* simple syrup mixture
Blanch (you will smell mint!)
Let chill overnight
Strain solids while adding syrup to juice mixture
Poor 3-4 oz and top with 2 oz soda water (Sprite or Ginger Ale are alright as well) to dilute the mint syrup
Smack the mint leaf on the palm of your hand and garnish the glass (or solo cup) for some nose and looks
Margarita - 8 servings
1 ½ cups Tequila (Silver was used but you can use your preference. Silver is lighter and mixes easier.)
1 cup Triple Sec
2 cups limejuice
¾ cup Agave syrup (or simple syrup)
Dilute with 1 and ½ cups water
Add salt rim (or smoked salt rim if you have a smoker and culinary wood chips – check Amazon)
Plum Bellini – 16 servings
8 plums, ripe and pitted
2 oz lemon juice
Puree in blender (lemon juice is a preservative but try to use it within a day, prepare the night before a game even)
2 oz water
2 oz simple syrup
1 oz Aperol (careful with this, it’s bitter)
Finish with Prosecco
Garnish with thin orange peel