From Garden to Glass — The Ideal Southern Cocktail

Mixologist Extraordinaire Josh Schaff
Mixologist Extraordinaire Josh Schaff

The ideal Southern summer cocktail? Undoubtedly it is the gin and tonic. So cool. So refreshing. So restorative. And it doesn’t hurt that it might keep the mosquitos from carrying you away too.

The ideal Southern summer cocktail? Undoubtedly it is the gin and tonic.

So cool. So refreshing. So restorative. And it doesn’t hurt that it might keep the mosquitos from carrying you away too.

The recipe? Well, you take one part chemistry and mix with one part history. Add a twist of economics and serve over ice.

At least that’s how Josh Schaff, mixologist at Birmingham, Ala.’s, Satterfield’s Restaurant makes it. One sip of his signature G&T with house-made strawberry rhubarb tonic is to taste the essence of all that is right and good with the cocktail world.

Having never tended bar before, Schaff came to work at Satterfield’s and was so inspired by Chef Haller Magee’s locavore mentality that he took it upon himself to create as much of the drink menu from locally-sourced ingredients as he could. “Why use pre-made when you can make it yourself,” he reasoned. And thank God for that.

Armed with a nineteenth century pharmaceutical guide, a mighty imagination, and a helping of ingenuity, Schaff creates many of the ingredients in Satterfield’s house and classic cocktails. The alchemy begins with fixings like birch bark, eucalyptus, and citrus zest. From tonic to bitters, colas to cordials, Schaff builds his “consumable works of art” bit by bit into masterpieces of garden-to-glass goodness.

Then you add in Schaff’s boundless knowledge of cocktail history, which he shares willingly. From Prohibition up through Rat Pack cool with a detour through the drinking habits of Hemingway and Steinbeck to arrive at the present day, Schaff provides fascinating commentary that makes you realize your cocktail is so much more than just a drink. It is a chronicle of human experience swirling around in a double Old Fashioned.

Aside from all that, Satterfield’s makes it a priority to support Birmingham’s farm economy. Fortunately for us, Birmingham is situated in the middle of a lush, agrarian region, and Schaff embraces farmers and foragers alike. That’s why ingredients like fresh sassafras, mushrooms, and honeysuckle make seasonal appearances on the bar menu.

But back to the gin and tonic – the quintessential Southern summer cocktail. Anybody can slag some gin into a glass and top it off with Schweppes and a lime. But to experience the real flavors of Alabama in Satterfield’s G&T, you’ll have to spend an evening in Birmingham with son of the South Josh Schaff. You’ll get so much more than just a drink.

(EDIORIAL NOTE September 2016: Josh Schaff is now creating custom cocktail finery at The Collins Bar in downtown Birmingham, but the Satterfield’s crew is still making delicious craft cocktails in Cahaba Heights.)