Posted on | March 27, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
In the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta, low-key eatery The Family Dog attracts locals with vibrant pub food and drinks to match. Here, bar manager Jason Kemp talks five-minute cocktails, the importance of advance prep and classy fruit punch.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What is your approach to The Family Dog’s cocktail program?
JASON KEMP: The Family Dog is first and foremost a bar. It’s a boisterous, friendly gathering spot for regulars from the neighborhood, Emory students and young urban professionals. While we could simply schlep boring Jack and Cokes—and perhaps get away with it—we strive to provide our guests with simple but well-thought-out cocktails that maintain a level of sophistication and quality. And, I think that they value our efforts. I see the same faces come through the doors of The Family Dog day after day, week after week, and that’s what this business is all about.
TBN: The Family Dog is a casual destination, so how do you balance bringing your guests interesting, well-made drinks when they might not be so patient to wait for them?
JK: With preparation, it’s relatively simple to provide a perfect cocktail—any cocktail—in under five minutes. Sure, on a Friday night, when we’ve got guests three deep at the bar, taking the time to craft a perfect Old Fashioned (and we make a damn good one, I might add) is a little tough, but that’s why it’s important to practice the craft and do what you can ahead of time. At The Family Dog we juice all of our own fruit, we just make sure to prepare enough that afternoon to meet the demand of the evening. I think the whole idea of waiting 15 minutes for a drink is a little contrived.
TBN: What are your most popular drinks?
JK: Our White Whiskey Mule is a playful blend of High West Silver whiskey, fresh-pressed lime juice and ginger beer. The Angry Elk—32 ounces of adult fruit punch—might just be the cocktail that put us on the map, and I’m ashamed to say that it was inspired by my first experiences with that drink, surely containing gobs of canned Hawaiian Punch. I definitely raised the bar a little with my own recipe, elevating it with fresh pomegranate and orange juices and pineapple, as well as Peychaud’s bitters.
TBN: Beer is also a cornerstone of The Family Dog, and there are several beer cocktails, like the Catcher in the Rye (rye whiskey, orange liqueur, Angostura bitters, Hefeweissbier) on the menu. How do those sell?
JK: Our clientele is generally eager to try new drinks. The Spiked Shandy, our best seller, is an extremely palatable combination of rye whiskey, India pale ale and ginger beer. Ladies seem to really enjoy this cocktail. And yes, our beer list is quite diverse; that’s something I’m proud of.
TBN: Beyond bartending, you’re an artist. Do the two realms connect for you?
JK: Yes, I hold a BFA in Ceramics, and find some parallels in terms of the process and production of my art and the practice of crafting cocktails. There definitely is a correlation with how I approach projects and deal with daily criticism.
TBN: Why is this a great time for
Atlanta’s mixology scene? What trends are you noticing?
JK: The post-Prohibition cocktail craze in Atlanta has spawned a generation of excellent barkeeps creating their own unique takes on old-fashioned cocktails—Manhattans, Sidecars, Sazeracs. Bartenders have experimented with barrel-aged cocktails, bottled cocktails, bitters, syrups and infused spirits for quite a while now, but alongside this innovative do-it-yourself mindset, there is also an explosion of craft-distilled spirits entering the market like no other time in recent history. I can see that simple, well-crafted drinks are here to stay, and I definitely believe that the people of Atlanta have more choices than ever when it comes to finding a place that can make a decent cocktail.