Cocktails made with low-alcohol booze have become increasingly popular, and Atlanta’s at the forefront of the trend. So-called “suppressor” drinks—the antithesis of ultra- potent “revivers”— swap hard liquor for fortified or sparkling wines, layering them with liqueurs, juices, sodas, and fruit for a complex beverage that won't have you stumbling home.
And according to Atlanta cocktail pioneer Greg Best, that's exactly the point. He’s now co-owner of Ticonderoga Club, a Colonial-inspired tavern, but kicked off the trend when he was behind the bar at the upscale pub Holeman & Finch, mixing dry vermouth, Cocchi Americano, sherry, and grapefruit bitters to create an anti-cocktail he called Suppressor No. 1. “Atlanta is a driving town, so having several boozy drinks in a night doesn’t work here,” he says.
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Barkeeps around the city have followed Best’s lead, adding a low-proof cocktail or two to their own menus. At Ration & Dram, bartender Andy Minchow’s Suppressor #7— Pommeau de Normandie, Cynar, and sparkling wine—is a perennial favorite, as is Cooks & Soldiers’ La Lorea, a zippy concoction of Casoni 1814, Cocchi Rosa, lemon, honey, and cava. Some choose suppressors because they’re less intimidating than, say, a high-octane martini. But they’re also true drinkers’ drinks, showing what a bartender can do when he doesn’t have the harder stuff to fall back on. That’s what excites Eduardo Guzman, beverage manager for the Atlanta hot spots JCT Kitchen & Bar, the Optimist, and Beetle Cat, which all serve low-proof cocktails. “Removing the liquor base creates a whole new world of possibilities,” Guzman says.
At Ticonderoga Club, those include the Poor Fella—port, sherry, Coca-Cola, sorghum, and lime—as well as the Hootchy Cider Punch, made with French cider, Amer Ticon (a house-made riff on Amer Picon), and bitters. As low-ABV options begin to appear alongside traditional cocktails, Atlantans often order them without realizing it. “People choose these drinks because they have cool ingredients, not necessarily because they’re low- alcohol,” says Ticonderoga Club co-owner Paul Calvert.