The Holeman and Finch Bartender Survival Kit

The fine folks of the Holeman & Finch gustatory empire created an epically brilliant survival kit for rockstar bartenders visiting last week’s Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. It’s so epically brilliant, in fact, that it deserves to be shared as a model of Southern hospitality done right. Note the clever illustrated instructions, especially the subtle reference to inappropriate ways to sign your name when thirsty fans are seeking autographs.


1 Towel. For wiping sweat from brow during Southern heat.

1 Fernet Branca. For instant joy and street cred to boot.

1 Bottle Opener. Duh.

1 Packet of Goody’s Powder. For the morning after.

1 Pack of Mints. To spare those around you.

1 Sharpie Pen. To appease the clamoring hordes of autograph hounds.

Holeman & Finch operation hospitality? Mission accomplished.

Three Cherries – Maraschino, Michigan, and Moonshine

While many folks obsess over which rye whiskey and which sweet vermouth make the most magical Manhattan, not enough attention is paid to the lowly cocktail cherry. I say “lowly” because, unfortunately, what passes for a cocktail cherry in the vast majority of bars around America is a pale imitation of its ancestral archetype. The modern American cocktail cherry is akin to an evil incarnation of all that is wrong with today’s overprocessed food world. Of course, in a truly great cocktail bar, you hopefully won’t find that neon-red, waxed-up and shiny Corvette-paint-job of a cherry that might belong on an ice cream sundae or even in a Shirley Temple, but definitely not in a Manhattan. What you will likely find is either a housemade version or a jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries. These Luxardo cherries are the real deal, from Italy, since 1821, made with real Marasca cherries, real Marasca cherry juice, real Maraschino liqueur. They are a deep black cherry red. They speak to reality rather than saccarine fantasy.

I love cherries. I really do. Especially the ones you can buy on the side of the road in the heat of summer, in places where they actually grow cherry trees. There’s nothing quite like the joy of spitting out cherry seeds at sixty miles an hour as you cruise down a country highway – except maybe the joy of reaching the end of a good Manhattan and finding a perfectly delicious Maraschino cherry waiting for you at the bottom of the glass. In the name of cocktail science, I undertook a taste test of three different cherries – the classic Luxardo Maraschino, an American take on this classic by H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta (but using Balaton cherries from Michigan), and a Southern-fried “moonshine” version from Ole Smoky Distillery in Tennessee.

Let’s start with the original, Luxardo. The ingredient list surprises with a few more entries than one might expect – Marasca cherries, Marasca cherry juice, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, sugar, but then also flavors, natural color, glucose, citric acid. Nothing wrong there, but interesting to see all that goes in to making the classic Maraschino cherry. In the jar, these cherries bear a dark black tint with just a hint of purplish red. The syrup is thick and, yes, ¬†syrupy, with an equally deep dark cherry red color to it. When you bite into one, a base sour note kicks in first, followed by a rich dark cherry flavor surrounded by subtle nutty and earthy notes. There’s a slightly petrified crispness to the texture of the cherries, maybe slightly more than I care for, that lets you know they’ve been hanging out in sugar and liqueur for a while. In a Manhattan, they deliver a satisfying range of bitter to sweet fruit that comes on strong at the end. There is a reason this is the standard bearer, as the bitter and sweet fruit accents a cocktail incredibly well. 12.7oz for $16 or so

On to a modern rendition, from H&F Bottle Shop. (If it seems I have a penchant for this particular purveyor, it’s true – after all, who else is in the South is selling housemade cocktail cherries and Bloody Mary mix¬†alongside a killer wine and spirits selection?) So, first, there are the Balaton cherries, which are “harvested once a year” in Michigan and “may be the best sour cherries grown in the States” (according to none other than H&F Bottle Shop!). Then, H&F uses a combination of cranberry juice, sugar, and Maraschino liqueur to pack the cherries and create a nice light syrup. The color here verges to a purple Kalamata olive territory, decidedly lighter than the Luxardos but still dark on the way to black. The syrup is relatively thin and tart, thanks to that cranberry juice. The taste is a little sour, a little sweet, and very natural, much closer to what you expect from a fresh cherry than something out of a factory. In a Manhattan, these deliver a balanced flavor that is tremendously complementary to the rye and vermouth. And the texture is not too soft, not too crisp, really just right. Big props to H&F for finding a way to better Luxardo, at least in my book. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? I think so, at least for a special treat every once in a while. 5oz for $16.

As for Ole Smoky, you can see right away that this jar of cherries is closer to that jar of cherries that is found in too many bars around America – bright red like cherry flavored candy. Visually¬†appealing?¬†Absolutely, like candy to a baby. Tasty? We’ll see… These cherries don’t sit in syrup, but rather in 100 proof grain neutral spirits with flavor added – AKA “moonshine” (?). The taste? Well, my notes said, “ouch, horrible, high alcohol, not much fruit.” I should probably stop there. In a Manhattan, my note simply read, “egad.” I’ll definitely stop there. 750 ml for $24 or so

What have we learned here? Well, first off, ditch that whole notion of cocktail cherries being¬†“cherry red” and opt for something closer to midnight black. Grab some Luxardo if you can find them, call up H&F Bottle Shop if you’re eager for a more artisanal approach, or wait until summer and make up a batch of your own from fresh cherries. That is, if you can stop yourself from eating them first.

Tasting: Two Top Southern Bloody Mary Mixes

To some, a Sunday brunch is not a Sunday brunch without a Bloody Mary. Its recuperative properties have long been debated, but there is no disputing the fact this is the most lycopene-packing cocktail around. Holla! Tomato juice is the foundation for the drink, and of course a wee bit of vodka, but the fun comes in what else makes its way into the mix. Horseradish, lemon or lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper are almost always present. Tabasco, beef¬†bouillon, celery salt and cayenne are not far behind. Then there are the garnishes – olives, celery stalks, pickled okra, pickled carrots, lemon or lime… I’ve even seen shrimp and lobster somehow climb their way atop a glass.

My favorite Bloody Mary recipe¬†comes from Greg Best and Andy Minchow at Holeman & Finch here in Atlanta. It pulls together your typical ingredients, plus a golden beet, some fennel, some¬†Guinness¬†and sriracha. And its made-from-scratch character shines through tremendously well. Serve it up when you have friends over and you will be handing out the recipe left and right. And, really, if you’re entertaining, why not pull out all the stops and make your Bloody Mary mix from scratch? There is something to be said for the bright flavors that fresh squeezed citrus juice and freshly grated horseradish bring to the drink.

As for bottled Bloody Mary mixes… there are a million out there. The best-selling Mr. & Mrs. T is not too bad in a pinch, and it seems most regions have their own local favorites. Today’s post focuses on two artisan mixes from the South – one from Charleston Mix in, duh, Charleston, South Carolina, and one from Atlanta’s H&F Bottle Shop (the same folks who created the recipe above, but it must be noted that the bottled version is an entirely different concoction). The Charleston Mix comes with the endorsement of Sean Brock and Garden & Gun Magazine (who am I to argue with that??). The mixologists at H&F have been lauded left and right, and for good reason – they know cocktails like crazy (Google Greg Best or Andy Minchow, go ahead, I dare you). Enough with the accolades though… how do they taste?

It’s evident right away that these two products are very different beasts. The Charleston Mix Bold & Spicy lives up to its name. It’s fairly thin, a rusty red color flecked with plentiful spice. The ingredient list is lengthy, starting with water and tomato paste, plunging into apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, veering off to roasted vegetable base, beef base, habanero mash, and a vast conspiracy of herbs and spices. Once you taste it, black pepper, celery seed, and a lemony twang jump to the forefront, but there is A LOT going on here. Behind the heat and acidity, a dark brown sugar mellowness adds depth. It goes down quick, and you’ll be ready for a second one in no time.

The H&F Bloody Mary Mix is bright tomato red, thick like a puree, almost like a marinara in texture.¬†As for the ingredients, the list is short – nine items – but includes one novelty in Cream Sherry to provide a bit of sweetness and punch. The first item? Tomato. As in, NOT tomato juice. And you can see it in the thickness of the product. ¬†The flavors veer much more towards fresh tomato sweetness and vegetable notes. The spice and the zing are a bit more in the background here – it’s clear they’re not trying to blow out your taste buds with heat, but horseradish makes its presence known. H&F notes on the bottle that their mix is a base for exploration, encouraging folks to add Worcestershire or hot sauce. For my taste buds at least, some added heat is a mandatory to get the kind of kick-in-the-pants I expect from a Bloody Mary. That’s not a knock against H&F’s mix, just a recognition that their mix is more about balance and less about the spice. And it drinks almost like a meal.

So is there a victor between these two? Personally, I appreciate the powerful spice profile of the Charleston Mix – that’s what I’m looking for in a Bloody Mary mix. H&F gives you more room to play doctor with your drink, and a more “homemade” feel, so for those who like to add a dash of this and a squirt of that (or for a more timid crowd who can’t take heavy heat), it is probably the better option. Either way, you’re in good hands, and will be off to a great start to your day with your Bloody Mary in hand.

H&F Bloody Mary Mix is available at the H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta, $8 for 32oz.

Charleston Mix is available on their website or in select stores in South Carolina, including Whole Foods, $10 for 32oz.

Related: for another Charleston artisan of cocktail mixers, check out our review of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Small Batch Tonic.

Full Disclosure: Charleston Mix provided a tasting sample for this review.


Scenes From H&F Bottle Shop, Atlanta

There is joy and there is pain. Joy, in the faces of those who have endeavored to open the doors of a long-awaited bottle shop. Joy, in the faces of those who enter and discover an air of tranquility and character that is not often enough seen in purveyors of wine and spirits. And the pain? It’s there, underneath it all, in the not-yet-filled shelves that know they were destined to bear bourbons, amaros, house made magic. The labyrinth of hurdles that must be traversed to open a store such as this is still somehow shocking in this city that sometimes likes to keep a good thing down. It’s enough to turn a man to drink…

H&F Bottle Shop is open now, stocked with wonderful wines, vermouths, cocktail goods, glassware. The vinyl is playing loud; today it was the Ramones. Greg, Andy, all the familiar faces from Holeman & Finch are there to get things rolling. And in a few more weeks, finally, the whiskey and rye will also grace the shop’s shelves, barring any further hurdles thrown their way. Even today though, it’s clear that H&F Bottle Shop will be something special. From the stunning style present in every little detail, to the artfully chosen selection of wines, to that quirky stack of LPs in the back corner – this is indeed a bottle shop like no other in Atlanta, nor elsewhere for that matter.

We’ll let the photos speak, just crank up some Ramones and sip some farmer fizz as you scroll on through…

H&F Bottle Shop
2357 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30305