“Southern Spirits” Is Your Guide To Drinks Of The South

When you pick up a book titled Southern Spirits, you might think this book is about ghosts in the South (and that would definitely make sense considering its history), but this is actually a book about alcohol. Growing up in a conservative home, alcohol was not a part of our life. We didn’t drink at family gatherings, my parents scoffed at the waiters who asked if they wanted a beer, and we were scandalized when we visited houses with wine or liquor in the kitchen. This is not a quintessential life in the South. Down here below the Mason-Dixon, we actually have a long history with liquor, and this book gave me an opportunity to learn about something I’d overlooked in my home state for 25 years.

Southern Spirits is more than just a look at the classic drinks from the South (although there is certainly history behind those in there). It’s an outline of the history of drinking in the South and how it affected slavery, distilleries, Prohibition, and more. From the creation of bourbon and moonshine to mint juleps and gin fizzes, the South has had a great influence on the drinking culture of America. It’s a big tome—20 chapters, each containing one or two drink recipes that corresponded to that period of alcohol history.

Ask almost anyone to name a uniquely Southern drink, and you are likely to hear someone say bourbon, mint juleps, or maybe even moonshine. But what about Madeira wine, applejack, peach brandy, or fine imported Cognac? These drinks are part of the history of the South as much a corn liquor. There is a myth about Southern drinkers. We wear big hats while we sit in the sun or at a horse race, but that has never been the truth. You can learn more about history by finding what the people of the time drank, especially what they drink when they can get their favorite beer. Like British colonists who found themselves stranded in a new world. This book challenges stereotypes of the Southern drinking culture, and reveals how that culture has shaped the South and America as a whole.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t have a ton of recipes as I was expecting, but it definitely had some interesting ones. Here are two of my favorites:

The Sazerac
Serves one

Cracked ice
1 lump sugar (or 2 cubes)
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 jigger (1.5 oz) rye whiskey
Ice cubes
1 dash absinthe or absinthe substitute (like Herbsaint)
1 strip lemon peel

Start with two heavy-bottomed, 3.5 oz bar glasses. Fill the first with cracked ice and set it aside to hill. Place the lump of sugar in the second glass and dribble a few drops of water on top of it-just enough to moisten the cube. Add both types of bitters, the rye, and several cubes of ice and stir.

Empty the ice from the first glass, dribble in a dash of absinthe, and swirl it around until it coats the sides. Pour out any excess absinthe—it’s there just to flavor the glass. To serve, strain the whiskey mixture into the first glass, then twist the lemon peel over the glass and let the tiny bit of extracted oil fall into the drink. Discard peel.

Brandy Punch
Serves one

Crushed ice
3 oz apple or peach brandy (or substitute regular brandy)
1 oz strong Jamaican rum
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp simple syrup
1 slice orange
1 piece pineapple

Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with crushed ice. Add the brandy, rum, and lemon juice and shake well until mixed, 10 to 20 seconds. Pour contents of shaker into a large bar glass and garnish the rim with the orange and pineapple slices.

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