For this issue of SWIG, we sent our resident suds swiller, T. Ballard Lesemann (a beer lover if there ever was one) to sample some of the Holy City's finest cocktails. He almost didn't make it back to the office. Lucky bastard.
The Exchange Street Cocktail
One of Carolina's most popular house-designed concoctions is the Exchange Street Cocktail, a punch-like, bourbon-based drink that's surprisingly light and quite tasty. They muddle a big, fresh slice of lemon and a maraschino cherry, then blend in a nice shot of the smooth, 10-year-old Russell's Reserve Bourbon with a dash of Grand Marnier. Mixed with pineapple juice and bitters and served on the rocks, it's delightfully citrusy and refreshing, with hints of oak and berry flavors in the finish. The handsome Exchange Street Cocktail reflects the elegance and care the Carolina's team puts into its fine service and atmosphere — well worth seeking out on a warm afternoon or evening in the lower peninsula.
Sex on the Breach
The Boathouse at Breach Inlet
The big, green Boathouse at the western tip of the Isle of Palms, where Breach Inlet meets the IntraCoastal Waterway, sports some terrific views and some classy fare on both the food and cocktail menus. The popular East Cooper hot spot specializes in fresh local seafood and Lowcountry cuisine and the cozy inside bar (situated alongside the bustling kitchen doorway) and the newly renovated outdoor raw bar on the side deck feature more than a few tropical-themed cocktails. Their popular Sex on the Breach is a highly drinkable alternative to the Long Island iced teas and familiar margaritas. Served on the rocks in a highball glass, the fruity specialty blends Stoli and peach schnapps with a big dose of Midori melon liqueur, pineapple juice, and orange juice. In the Midori-centric two-tone green, it looks almost atomic powered, but tastes delicious on a breezy spring or summer day.
A stylish gathering spot along Upper King Street, Shine's cocktail and beer menus are almost as funky and eclectic as its global fare. They work from a small but eccentric selection of specialty vodkas, bourbons, sakes, scotches, and beers, but they get pretty clever and creative. Shine's twisting bar invites a relaxed session during dinner or Sunday brunch with staffers, who will gladly jump at the chance to show off one of their unique cocktail recipes. Their creamy Espresso Martini is a current hit. Another popular martini on the list is The Business — a bright-green concoction made with Hendrick's gin (infused with cucumber and rose petals), local honey, fresh lime, and freshly pureed English cucumber. Intensely floral with a strong and invigorating cucumber aroma, it's a wonderful happy hour refreshment or accompaniment to a light dinner.
Blu Restaurant & Bar
Last January, veteran Blu bartender Morgan Hurley won the Charleston's Next Top Cocktail contest when he designed the signature drink for Charleston Fashion Week's Fashion Finale. His healthy reworking of a traditional cosmopolitan — the Skinny Goose — blended Grey Goose vodka with pomegranate juice, Triple Sec, fresh lime, and the trendy new VeeV Açaí Spirit, a Brazilian liqueur made with the antioxidant superfruit. The refreshing, pinkish-red martini is not on the official Blu drink menu, but Hurley never hesitates to mix one upon request. This spring and summer, the oceanfront venue's signature Tru Blu Martini might catch on as a top local favorite, too. Made with Grey Goose vodka, Hypnotiq (a French-made liqueur blend with vodka, cognac, and natural fruit juices), white cranberry juice, and a fresh lemon twist.
Ultimate Bloody Mary
Hucks Lowcountry Table
This snazzy little upstairs eatery along the IOP's bustling Pavilion strip serves a very mean, multi-dimensional Bloody Mary. As with most of their menu, they go for a delicate balance of flavors and unique complexity with their cocktails. Hucks Ultimate Bloody Mary already has a strong reputation. At the cozy bar, they make it with rosemary/jalapeño/peppercorn-infused vodka, green olives, a fresh stalk of leafy celery, lime and lemon slices, and a huge slice of cucumber and serve it in a highball glass rimmed with smoked sea salt seasoned with Old Bay, cumin, and fennel seed. The robust blend of tomato, citrus, and cucumber kicks a little in the finish with a mild but assertive peppery aftertaste. It's a flavor-packed wallop.