If Tiffanie Barriere was a cocktail, the recipe would be:
One part preacher’s daughter from Grand Coteau, La., a little town of about 1,000 people, halfway between Lafayette and Opelousas.
One part perfect bartender — naturally hospitable, deliciously foulmouthed and equipped with endless stories that’ll keep you drinking until you fall off the stool.
The only thing wrong with Tiffanie Barriere’s bartending is its inaccessibility. You can’t go to Tiffanie’s place without an airline ticket, because she runs the bar at One Flew South, a tremendous restaurant in an unlikely place: Concourse E of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
But if there has ever been anything that’s worth extending your layover, it’s the chance to spend an hour at Barriere’s bar. She’ll be your favorite person in the world in less than five minutes.
One Flew South is in no way like the typical airport restaurant, where customers expect little and usually get it. Chef Duane Nutter insists on running the place properly, sourcing good ingredients from farmers and creating inventive dishes with their roots deeply planted in the Southern soil, such as his BLT with Benton’s bacon – the South’s best – and black-truffle mayo.
And Barriere is always looking for ways to use the kitchen’s bounty behind the bar — a fact that makes The Bitter Southerner No. 6 unique in the series. It’s the first BS cocktail with a vegetable in it.
Don’t turn up your nose. This is good stuff. Just stay with us a minute.
“I'm blessed to work with a good chef, a chef that wants to share the kitchen space and let me goof off,” Barriere says. “We do it a lot. We believe in using everything. I'm so nosy. When I'm in there, he could be pickling something or he could have macerated something. Just like when we were kids, I come lick the spoon. I’ll think about the leftovers and I’ll take a couple quarts. People don't think of bartenders as kitchen folk, but we're kitchen folk. Duane calls me the ‘liquid chef.’”
The Bitter Southerner No. 6 came together when Barriere saw Nutter cooking yellow beets.
“I look at the beets and then I look at the bar and I look at every single yellow bottle I have on my bar,” she says. “Not the labels, just looking for yellow liquor. I'm like, ‘We're going to put all the yellow ingredients together, just fucking around. Let me just try it out."
She cut two chunks from a cooked yellow beet and smashed them in the bottom of a cocktail glass, by themselves, using a muddler. Then she started pouring in yellow stuff. Little of this. Little of that. Not going overboard. Added ice. Shook. Strained.
“I took the first sip and I was like, ‘This is so weird — and so fucking good.’”
Yes, it is. And its beauty is deceptive. Unseen potency lies within its golden clutches, in the form of 94-proof gin and an 80-proof liqueur. This drinks invites you, particularly in hotter climes, to have three or four in rather quick succession. Such behavior will send you down the yellow brick road, which is fine if you’re prepared. We’re just saying: Be advised.
The Bitter Southerner No. 6 is a thing of rare and wondrous beauty with a mischievous streak, rather like its maker.
Yes, you read it correctly. The Bitter Southerner No. 6 begins with two chunks of a yellow beet. All you have to do beforehand is peel the beet and cook it in simmering water until it’s tender, then let it cool. Yellow beets stay in season down here through October, and this is a great drink for the hot months.
“I like beets now,” Barriere says. “I didn't like them as a kid.” But One Flew South’s menu includes salad of arugula and pickled grapes, which also includes a nice little dose of those yellow beets. That salad changed Barriere’s mind about beets.
If you are one of those people who still looks skeptically at the beet, it is important here that we remember the words of the great North Carolina-born writer, Tom Robbins, who, in his masterpiece “Jitterbug Perfume,” declaimed the following:
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
So there you have it. The beet is a serious, lusty vegetable — perfect for getting up to no good on a Southern summer afternoon. So cook up a yellow one, let it cool, pare away two thin slices, and drop them into the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Smash them seriously with a muddler.
The sour component of this drink goes in next: a half-ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice (ideally, strained of all seeds and pulp).
The sweet (and very yellow) elements of The Bitter Southerner No. 6 are two liqueurs from France — St. Germain, an elderflower-flavored liqueur that’s a relative newcomer to the marketplace, and yellow Chartreuse, an herbal liqueur that’s been produced by Carthusian monks since 1737.
The Bitter Southerner No. 6 calls for a half-ounce of each liqueur. St. Germain is delicious and costs about $35 a bottle. Since its introduction in 2007, competing elderflower liqueurs have come on the market, and you’re welcome to try those here, particularly if they are more affordable. But that St. Germain bottle does look awfully pretty sitting on your bar.
There is no substitute for Chartreuse. Do not even substitute green Chartreuse for yellow Chartreuse. Its alcohol content is much higher than the yellow variety, and its flavor is completely different, too. You’re looking for the yellow stuff, 40 percent alcohol by volume, only. Sadly, we must say that it’s a bit pricey, usually more than $50 a bottle. But it’s a fine addition to any bar, and it’s called for in many classic cocktail recipes.
Also, the purchase of Chartreuse is kind of a rite of passage. You know you’ve gone over the line into spirits nerd-dom on the day you buy that bottle, which has looked pretty much the same for centuries.
The Bitter Southerner No. 6 gets its kick from two ounces of Bluecoat, an American dry gin from Philadelphia.
“The gin's got to be your big point here,” Barriere says. “Of course, the beets are going to bind this together good and make it herbal, but your gin is going to be the main attraction.”
She says Bluecoat, which retails a smidge north of $30 a bottle, is perfect for this drink, but that any decent dry gin will do the trick, even good old white-label Bombay, which comes in at less than $20 a bottle.
Just remember that Bombay is 40 percent alcohol, while Bluecoat is 47 percent. So the logic is simple. For flavor and punch, choose the Bluecoat. If you want to drink No. 6s all day, choose the Bombay.
First, the ice. Barriere serves this drink in a wine glass — any sort you have around — over crushed ice. If you don’t have a refrigerator that spits crushed ice, we recommend you put a bunch of ice cubes on a clean kitchen towel, wrap them up and beat them silly with whatever mallet-like object is handy. Or you can do this in a bartender's tool called a Lewis bag.
Tuck your crushed ice back in the freezer while you make the cocktail.
Use two clean shaker tins of differing sizes, or a mixing glass and a shaker tin, or a quart Mason jar — whatever device you have that will seal and allow you to shake a cocktail without spilling good liquor all over your shirt and the kitchen.
Add two chunks of cooked yellow beet to the bottom of your vessel, then smash them thoroughly with a muddler.
Then add the following to the shaker:
1/2 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce of St. Germain (or another elderflower liqueur)
1/2 ounce of yellow Chartreuse
With these four ingredients in the shaker, fill it with enough ice cubes (crack the first two or three) to reach the top of the vessel.
Then pour in:
2 ounces of Bluecoat gin (or any good London dry-style gin).
Seal your shaker, and shake it like hell. Remember, you want to distribute that beet's deadly serious essence throughout the drink. Shake it until the shaker feels so cold you can’t hold it. Then you’re done.
Take a wine goblet, add your crushed ice, then double-strain the cocktail over the ice. That means you should use a standard cocktail strainer (aka a Hawthorne strainer) on the top of your vessel, and then pour the drink through a second fine-mesh strainer over the ice.
The double-straining step is absolutely necessary.
“Otherwise, you're going to be eating salad,” Barriere says. “But to each his own.”
Shaking hard, then double straining, means you get a finished product with all the flavor of the beets, but none of their pulp.
For the finishing touch, take one sprig of fresh mint, give it a few light whacks across your open palm to release its aroma, then garnish the drink with it.
What you’ll end up with is delicious and mildly earthy, the perfect expression of a Southern summer. Have a couple, and you’ll be off to see the wizard.