When the farm-to-table restaurant from venerated chef Bryce Gilmore moved to Burnet Road earlier this year, one element in the larger space was new: Barley Swine’s cocktail program.
And like the food, it’s kept as seasonal as possible.
Barley Swine hired Robert Stevens as the bar manager last year, and one look at his resume makes it clear why: Stevens hails from Knoxville’s Blackberry Farm, a visionary resort where much of the food is grown within feet of where it is eaten. He’s got the background to know that a cocktail calling for Meyer lemons won’t stick around past March and that if the small garden at the back of the restaurant is growing something for the kitchen, he might be able to use it behind the bar, too.
In today’s American-Statesman, my column about using fresh ingredients in spring cocktails featured Stevens and the Swipe Right, one of Barley Swine’s current cocktails with St. George’s Dry Rye Gin, Herbsaint and a house-made strawberry shrub. (No, no, not one of those stubby plants that tufts out of the ground. A shrub is a vinegar-based concoction that’s deliciously tart and sweet at the same time.)
But the Swipe Right isn’t the only cocktail to seek out right now at the restaurant that’s forever changing up the menus.
Bartender Dustin Bolf is the creator of a couple drinks made from Mexican-based spirits, the Chucho with Chihuahua sotol reposado, pine needle-orange and lime acid and the Mangolada with blanco tequila, mango puree, sangrita and the Brooklyn Summer Ale. At least one of them was inspired by his background; his mom grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I spent some time down there in my early 20s and they had these little candies we used to buy in Mexico that were mango-flavored with tamarind chili powder,” he said. “So (for the Mangolada) we take Texas mangos, tequila, and sangrita (which is a sweet hot sauce-based palette-cleanser from Mexico) and top it with Brooklyn Summer Ale. I’ve made a salt from umoboshi (dried, salted, cured strawberries), dried golden tomato peel and kosher salt. Think shandy meets Michelada.”
Like Stevens, he isn’t afraid to get creative and turn to Barley Swine’s back garden when a customer is looking for something fresh and off-menu.
“We use a lot of things from the garden,” he said. “Sometimes people just want something they’ve never had. I made a cocktail from begonia leaves, gin and ice plant for a customer one time. I use several different flowers for garnish.”
For a look at the current cocktail menu — which you can expect to change out with the availability of seasonal ingredients — visit the Barley Swine website. Have you made your happy hour plans yet?