Cocktail-Crazy Charleston

This South Carolina city is undergoing a cocktail revival where fresh and custom ingredients are front and center.

Already known for its New Southern gastronomy, Charleston, South Carolina is undergoing a cocktail revival where fresh and custom ingredients are front and center.

Though the Cocktail Club hasn’t been open a year, Jasmine Beck, partner and beverage director, is generating plenty of buzz for her 35-plus creations that turn the classics on their heads.

The seasonal menu is enhanced by ingredients harvested from a rooftop garden. Adventurous farm-to-tumbler offerings include Maized by the Sun, a gin- and Green Chartreuse-based beverage muddled with roasted corn. The Double Standard is a drink that packs some heat, thanks to the house-infused serrano pepper gin.

This contemporary mixology melds with a vintage setting. The intimate space retains some of the building’s original 19th-century features: exposed wood beams, decorative fireplaces and ivory doorknobs.

Mickey Moran, owner of The Belmont, zeroes in on the simplicity of the classics and then imbues them with a modern touch. His Brown Derby relies on jalapeño honey, while his Timpani, a popular after-dinner cocktail, mixes one of his favorite liqueur styles, amari (his impressive collection is 15 strong), with espresso, topped with a dollop of foam.

With his fresh-pressed juices (such as honeydew and pineapple in the summer) and handcrafted, flavored vodkas (like Tahitian vanilla), Moran has a knack for using creativity to expand his customers’ tastes. Adding to the classy, yet fun vibe: Black-and-white films, including those by Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Curtiz, are projected on the walls.

Speakeasy, an unmarked bar, requires entering a portal shared with a dance club and climbing a narrow stairwell. In this petite space, manager and bartender, Travis Doverspike, balances the classics with twists on the tried-and-true. Among the 19th-century drinks, the refreshing dark and stormy relies on Gosling’s dark rum, house-made falernum and ginger beer.

Doverspike, who makes some of his own bitters (such as cherry-vanilla and blueberry), sources herbs from his garden for the Speak Softly, a drink made with house-infused rosemary-and-lavender vodka, St-Germain and Champagne. The relaxed ambience, boutique liquors and popular nibbles—like pickled okra and double-smoked andouille sausage—keep patrons coming back for more.

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