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Food - Drink up, ATL

The origin stories (and recipes!) for five of Atlanta's most iconic cocktails

What does it take to become an iconic Atlanta drink? These five cocktails (OK, four cocktails and one sangria) earned their status through a combination of creativity, popularity over time, and, most of all, tasting damn great. Make it your calling to try each at its home bar, and then thank the bartenders who created them for sharing their recipes here so that you can recreate these icons in your home.

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Bufala Negra

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H. Harper Station

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• 1.5 ounces bourbon
?• 4 fresh basil leaves
?• 1 brown sugar cube
?• 0.5 ounce balsamic syrup*
?• 2 ounces ginger beer

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Muddle the balsamic syrup, basil, and sugar cube in a mixing tin. Add bourbon and ice and shake hard. Strain over fresh ice cubes into an Old Fashioned glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with an additional basil leaf.

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  • Balsamic Syrup: Combine 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of simple syrup (1:1) in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for one minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.


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At first glance, the idea of pairing Kentucky bourbon with basil and balsamic may sound sacrilegious, but the combination in H. Harper Station owner Jerry Slater's Bufala Negra makes the boozy spirit sing like Pavarotti. This cocktail has become a signature drink at H. Harper Station and has been duplicated the world over (thanks to some critical acclaim over the years in Food and Wine and Imbibe magazines).

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"The Bufala Negra is consistently our best selling drink, and one of the few that has been a fixture since we opened five years ago. A winter week in the holiday season will see us make over 100. I actually created it while I was at the Seelbach, in Louisville, Ky., for a James Beard House dinner that chef Todd Richards and I did in 2007. We use Buffalo Trace bourbon, hence the name, which is Italian for black buffalo. Negra also refers to the darker color that the balsamic vinegar adds. About a year ago, a guest said they had seen the Bufala Negra on a menu in Asheville. I looked it up, and sure enough, there it was. So I had to go further down the rabbit hole — I Googled the cocktail and found it on menus in Brooklyn, Denver, Oakland, and in Leicester, England, for £14. We even had a guest recently email us a link to a restaurant in Australia with the Bufala Negra on their menu."

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Jerry Slater, H. Harper Station

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Southern Cola

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Greg Best

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• 2 ounces Amaro CioCiaro
?• 4 ounces Coca-Cola (preferably Mexican Coca-Cola)
?• 1 one-inch cube of frozen lime juice (made with 2 parts lime juice, 1 part water)

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Combine all ingredients in a glass, stir and serve.

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There's no beverage more associated with Atlanta than Coca-Cola, so it's natural that one of Atlanta's most iconic cocktails should employ our hometown beverage of choice. Greg Best created the Southern Cola cocktail back at Restaurant Eugene in 2004, and it rose to prominence accompanying the hearty fare at Holeman and Finch. You'll soon find it again at Best's new bar set to open in Krog Street Market later this year.

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"I've been regularly making this drink for over a decade, and it keeps having its moment. The initial idea was to find a way to make Italian amaro more approachable. Going from zero to fernet an amaro that tends toward the stronger end of the spectrum just doesn't work, so I went with a softer amaro whose flavors are more harmonious with our hometown ingredient. That said, I always prefer Mexican Coca-Cola with its sugar cane base, since it finishes better than the U.S. version. The idea behind the lime ice cube — speaking as someone who has served roughly 400,000 gin and tonics — was to get the acidity in without people discarding the lime wedge. I think it became so popular because it's a great drink with food, and not super octane so it won't get you totally hammered. The Southern Cola is still a great intro to amaro — fun and refreshing, so we look forward to serving it again."

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Greg Best, forthcoming Krog Street Market restaurant

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Goonies Never Say Die!

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The Pinewood

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• 1.5 ounces bourbon
?• 0.5 ounce Taylor's Velvet Falernum
?• 0.5 ounce lime juice
?• 0.5 ounce ginger syrup*

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Combine all ingredients into a shaker and fill with ice. Shake to chill, and then strain into an iced rocks glass. Garnish with a candied ginger chunk and grains of paradise if desired.

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  • Ginger Syrup: Combine one cup of boiling ginger juice with 1 cup of sugar. Fine strain the mixture to remove all of the particulates. This should make enough syrup for roughly 24 drinks.


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Approximately 97 percent of drinking-age Americans today carry a fondness for the 1985 cult classic film The Goonies. That is a completely fabricated, but possibly true statistic. Nevertheless, the Pinewood's Goonies Never Say Die! cocktail has found a place in the hearts of many Atlanta imbibers. The complex Caribbean spice profile from the velvet falernum evokes pirate ships and booty. Also, there's bourbon involved, and the Goonies qualifies for Pinewood's infamous half-priced Whiskey Wednesdays.

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"The Goonies is not only our most popular drink, but also one of my personal favorites. Last summer, I went out to Birmingham to help curate a small dinner with Chris Hastings, of Hot and Hot Fish Club, and it was one of the cocktails created specifically for the meal. At its heart, this cocktail was made to be an approachable all-American play on a whiskey with ginger and lime. If you love whiskey, this drink is for you. If you don't, chances are you'll warm up to the idea after one sip. It's extremely refreshing, while also packing a pretty intense spicy pop."

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Julian Goglia, The Pinewood

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Spiritual Sangria

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Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium

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Sorry folks, you'll have to hope for divine inspiration to guide you with this one. Says Henry: "Let's just leave it at the fact that there is definitely both wine and liquor in there, tons of fruits including blueberries, and has to be served with a spoon and a straw because it's so blessed with fruit."

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When does a simple drink like sangria cease to be just a beverage and rise to the level of spiritual salve? In the hands of Grant Henry, sangria can apparently save souls and inspire all sorts of visions. You can try Henry's Spiritual Sangria at Sister Louisa's Church in both Atlanta and Athens, where it's the most popular drink on the menu. It is also available at Bone Garden Cantina.

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"Sister Louisa's Spiritual Sangria has been served for about 20 years, starting at Sister Louisa's Art Shows in the Telephone Factory Lofts and now in Church in Atlanta and Athens, as well as Bone Garden Cantina. My friend Faye introduced me to this sangria when she catered a private party at my house back in the early '90s ... then passed it on to me through Susan McCracken, Atlanta's stained glass artist. We've gone through as much as nine 2-gallon containers in a single night at Church. The secret is in the alcohol-infused fruit. You could have a glass for dinner, and get your daily fruit requirements in as well as dismantle any inhibitions one may have with the person next to you at the bar. As evidenced by Yelp reviewers, and years and years of comments on social media, it's the best sangria in the world.

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I said world."

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Grant Henry, Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium

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Unsung Hiro

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Miso Izakaya

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• 2 ounces rye whiskey
?• 0.5 ounce Meyer lemon juice
?• 0.4 ounce ginger syrup*
?• 0.25 ounce buckwheat honey syrup**
?• Lapsang souchong tea-salt for garnish***

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Combine whiskey, lemon juice, ginger syrup, and buckwheat honey syrup and shake with ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass over one oversized ice cube. Top with a sprinkling of lapsang souchong tea-salt.

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  • Ginger Syrup: Mix equal parts fresh-pressed ginger juice and cane sugar dissolved


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    • Buckwheat Honey Syrup: Mix two parts buckwheat honey and one part filtered water until evenly mixed.


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      • Lapsang Souchong Tea-Salt: Blitz lapsang souchong tea leaves with rock salt in a Vita-Prep (or similar) until thoroughly blended. Aim for a coarse consistency.


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Ahhh, lapsang souchong. If you've never had this smoky Chinese black tea, once you taste the Unsung Hiro cocktail at Miso Izakaya you'll forever be beholden to its graces. Guy Wong's Old Fourth Ward eatery is an ideal home for a drink that so keenly blends Asian and American flavors. The visual impact of the black sprinkles of lapsang souchong tea-salt over a huge chunk of ice intrigues the eyes, then notes of honey and ginger wash over the briny smoke and straight into your heart.

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"I created a drink called Day That I Die in 2010 or 2011 for the Bulleit Rye launch ... it made it through to the event's cocktail competition finals, taking second place (losing to the very talented Paul Calvert and his Counterfeit Rifle cocktail). I knew that I wanted to use a monofloral honey with a poignant, pastoral quality. After tasting through many, I landed on buckwheat. Meyer lemon and fresh ginger would help me finish the structure, and roasting pecans for a tincture afforded me a touch of Southern inflection. It's nearly the same structure as Sam Ross's legendary Penicillin cocktail. Anyhow, when I dropped in to help Guy Wong refresh his drink program, I wanted to give Miso Izakaya the room to run a revised version of Day That I Die. Since the pecan tincture was more of a contextual ingredient than an essential flavor modifier, I 86'd the tincture and worked in lapsang souchong tea-salt." The flavor was where it needed to be, and the effect of the coarse tea-salt on the single rock of ice was Rorschach/wabi-sabi."

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— T. Fable Jeon, Miso Izakaya



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