Bluegrass Kitchen expanded its bar about a year and a half ago when the Steeles knocked out part of a wall dividing the dining room from a neighboring store. They added 12 taps from which bartenders pour craft beers. Steele introduced the craft beers taps after West Virginia legislators passed a bill approving the sale of craft beers.
The bartenders work with the kitchen chefs to come up with interesting garnish combinations. For a Maple Bacon Old-Fashioned, the bartenders requested strips of bacon to garnish the maple/bourbon cocktail. The chef took it a step further, and candied the bacon to create a complementary sweet and salty garnish.
Steele and the bartenders are big fans of bitters, stocking them in a wide variety of flavors. For those uninitiated in the finer points of classic cocktails, bitters are bottled tinctures that pack a concentrated punch of flavor. A little goes a long way.
"So much of taste is tied to smell. Bitters hit you in the nose," Steele said. "They are also supposed to aid in digestion." Bitters came into existence as medicinal tonics.
Bluegrass's bitters selection includes plum, pomegranate, mint, rose and chocolate. Celery bitters add subtle flavor to a tomato martini. Chocolate bitters and house-made chili syrup flavored an Aztec Martini. Plum bitters flavor Snarky Brit, made also with dry gin, fresh lime juice and maraschino syrup.
Although they keep bottles of commercial tonic water on hand, the bartenders make their own, which tastes more strongly of quinine.
Fancy garnishes and infusions aside, the heart of the cocktail is its liquor.
"We take small boutique spirits seriously, especially Smooth Amber. We use their gin, smoked gin, rye, bourbon, vodka and white whiskey," Denham said. "It's not only them. We use a boutique rum from Wisconsin, a potato vodka made in Pittsburgh and blue corn whiskey from Texas."
Most of the classic cocktails cost between $9 and $11.
Denham enjoys creating special drinks for discerning customers. Customers who watch him make the drinks see why they take more time than a Jack and Coke.
"There's something to be said for blending a cocktail in front of a customer and having them say, 'Wow,' when you're done," said Denham.
Bluegrass Kitchen, 1600 Washington St. E. Visit bluegrasswv.com or call 304-346-2871.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.