Upon walking in, The Dewberry hotel already makes you feel right at home. Appropriately named The Living Room, the lobby of this relatively new hotel on Meeting Street transports you from the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston to a cozy, comfortable, and almost nostalgic environment from another era. You'll find leather-bound books, plush couches, and a table for two with a chess set ready and waiting. At the center, where you'd expect a typical hotel's front desk, lies The Living Room's crowning jewel: an unassuming six-seat bar featuring a brass countertop and bar tools to match. Behind the bar, you'll find a wide array of whisk(e)ys, liqueurs, and Amari — and, of course, a bearded barman in a crisp white jacket waiting to take your order.
This man is Ryan Casey, the former head mixologist at McCrady's and Edmund's Oast. Casey's cocktail menu at The Living Room reminds you why he was named a Best New Mixologist by Food & Wine, recommended by industry magazine Imbibe, and, not to mention, won Bartender of the Year 2013 and 2016 for Eater Charleston.
What sets this bar apart from the rest is its impressive ice program, by way of Ice Age Sculptures here in Charleston. Casey admitted they sent their current glassware to their ice supplier in order to make custom shapes and sizes of ice. For certain cocktails, he and his staff will hand cut, chip, and hammer away at large blocks of clear ice to fit a particular cocktail's needs. The cocktail menu itself is as intricate as it is familiar — you'll find twists on classic cocktails, as well as a few specialties that you'll only find with Casey behind the bar.
ICHER & GLASS
A play on the classic Blood and Sand cocktail, traditionally made with Scotch whisky and fresh orange juice, this particular drink's ingredients include Compass Box Whisky, Orangerie, Cherry Heering, Carpano Antica, and dry Curacao. It's smokey and sweet and surprisingly approachable for even those who don't enjoy the smokiness of traditional Scotch whiskies. Casey points out the "layers" created by the custom made, crystal clear ice sphere. ($14)
The Antagonist is a newcomer to the fall cocktail menu and is created by mixing a couple ingredients including Zucca and lemon juice. Vigorously shaking these two ingredients causes a chemical reaction that forms a rich creamy foam on the surface of this complex cocktail. It's a balance of sweet, sour, and bitter, and maintains that silky mouthfeel you'd expect from a cocktail foam. ($TBD)
This cocktail's popularity on the brunch menu has caused it to appear on The Living Room's Fall bar menu. Made with yellow Chartreuse infused with thyme, jalapeños, mint, and tarragon, in addition to lemon juice, agave nectar and finally topped with Reisling. BUT WAIT... there's more: a garnish of mint, thyme and then finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. It's basically a garden in a glass. ($TBD)
THE OLD FASHIONED
Ok, I've had my fair share of Old Fashioned cocktails, yes that includes those that involved muddled fruit (cringe), shaken (cringe), and served over crushed ice (shudders). That being said, this is not your ordinary Old Fashioned. Don't get me wrong, they make it the traditional way with muddled sugar and Angostura bitters with bourbon and stirred, but the presentation is everything. Each cocktail comes with your very own, hand cut ice cube, complete with a hand stamped Dewberry logo. If you don't think thats impressive enough, they also go through the trouble of drilling a hole in each ice cube and placing a bamboo pick in that slot to create a "crank" to stir your cocktail with your ice cube. Take that, Don Draper. ($14)
DARK AS NIGHT
Not impressed yet? Then the Dark is Night cocktail is for you. This cognac-based cocktail contains Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Mancino Chinato, and Nux Alpina walnut liqueur. It is stirred, then poured into a cognac snifter over a large, hand-chipped iceberg. It is then finished with an expressed orange peel. It's as beautiful to look at as it is to drink ,and heck, even just holding it makes you feel more sophisticated. The cocktail has notes of burnt caramel, citrus, and is incredibly well-balanced. The snifter is a great touch as well, as it lends itself well to the cognac in the cocktail. ($16)
Well this is just a bit of a bonus, but if you ask your barman very nicely, you may be lucky enough to try The Dewberry's single cask Plantation Rum. Hand-selected by Casey for The Dewberry, this limited-edition rum has flavor notes of banana, pineapple, brown sugar, and has a silky smooth finish. This batch won't last too long, so get it while you can.