"A cocktail should still taste like the spirit you are basing it on."
Cocktail purists: Rejoice in this too-often-forgotten mantra from Alec Franklin and his team at the newly opened Oliver Speck's in Harbor East. And yet Speck's, the barbecue- and comfort-food replacement to Vino Rosina, isn't interested in putting on airs with its food and beverage program.
Instead, the crew wants to serve up flavorful, fun, down-home fare that takes advantage of local ingredients. To complement the Speck's take on Southern cuisine, the cocktail menu is seasonal and based on bourbons, ryes and other whiskeys. Plus, as Franklin enthusiastically notes, he and chef Jesse Sandlin "are just big bourbon fans in our free time."
Their expertise is apparent in Life's a Peach, a perfect example of the Speck's philosophy, wrapped up in one tasty drink.
The cocktail was inspired by a Southern classic, the Mint Julep. Franklin decided to mix up the original bourbon and mint base and add a summery twist: "I wanted to take advantage of some beautiful peaches we had been getting from the farmer's market … we incorporate regional and seasonal ingredients because it keeps people on their toes, excited about trying new things. To me, that's a big part of a dining experience."
In addition to adding fresh peaches, the cocktail uses brown sugar in lieu of traditional sugar or simple syrup, creating a richer, warmer pairing with the fruit. Fresh lemon juice brings acidity, ensuring the drink is balanced and not overly sweet. Franklin uses Bulleit Rye for the base because, as he explains, "it's bold enough to still taste like whiskey and yet allows the other ingredients to complement, rather than mask, its flavor." Yes, the drink does taste like rye — a spicy, fruit-laced version.
So, can life really be called a peach? Franklin thinks so. In naming the drink, he wanted to convey the idea that "life is short … try to enjoy the good times."
How to Make Life's a Peach
2.5 ounces Bulleit Rye
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5 ounce brown sugar syrup
2-3 slices fresh peach
Muddle mint, peaches, sugar and lemon juice in a julep cup, add the bourbon. Fill with crushed ice and stir well; garnish with a sprig of mint.
Where to Get Life's a Peach
507 S. Exeter St., Harbor East
$11 regularly; $8 during Happy Hour (5-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun