Despite its title as “Beer City, USA,” Asheville, North Carolina is more than just a craft beer destination. The Southern city celebrated “Asheville Cocktail Week” last month to highlight its local mixology talent and vote for the best Bloody Mary in the city. According to Imperial Life bartender Jasper Adams, Asheville has a high concentration of impassioned bartenders, ardent food professionals, and a great selection of wines, beers, spirits, and cocktails.
Imperial Life has adopted techniques like hand-cut ice and barrel-aged cocktails to provide a richer customer experience for its patrons. From percolation to maceration, every new technique offers a way for the bartender to make beautiful cocktails easily and efficiently.
“We’re a small bar,” Adams said. “The way that we think about drinks is in a way like ‘death to the cocktail bar, long live the cocktail.’ We use great ingredients, provide great service, but you don’t need all of the fussiness per se.”
Adams hopes to see spirits become less expensive, giving everyone access to spirits and eventually leading to a “democratization” of the cocktail. In the future, more people will know how to make better cocktails while bartenders are enabled to provide greater service.
“People are realizing that they can get a good cocktail that’s made with care and attention but that it doesn’t need to be fancy or pretentious,” Adams said. “The waxed-mustache armed garter, you know, super fancy, everything bartender is kind of becoming exhausting and people want that same craft, but they want it in a more down-to-earth way”
With the direction that cocktails are headed, Adams sees bars returning to just being bars and not concept-based.
“I think that you’ll see more of ‘this is a good bar,’” Adams said. “They’ve got cool music, the bartenders are nice, it has the atmosphere that I’m looking for and I can get an awesome cocktail.”
When the Imperial Life is hiring, Adams isn’t concerned with whether the applicant knows how to make a cocktail. If they aren’t able to provide gracious, good service, it doesn’t matter.
“There are bars and breweries and whatnot in large cities where they know that 365 days a year, they’re going to be completely full to their max, making bookoos [sic] of money,” Adams said. “I think because that’s not the case—it’s beginning to happen, which is cool—but it’s not always been the case here and so you have a level of humility that means we welcome anyone who comes out because it’s all business.”
As you make your way to Asheville, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Field Guide to Drinking in America: A Traveler’s Handbook to State Liquor Laws by Niki Ganong to learn more about North Carolina’s liquor laws.