It doesn’t take long for Jayce McConnell, head bartender at Charleston brewpub Edmund’s Oast, to prescribe your perfect cocktail.
At his Bitter and Then Some pop-up at Saint Leo’s — part of a tour across the Southeast he’s doing to promote Edmund’s Oast’s upcoming brewery and retail wine and beer store — I gave him only two clues: Tequila, but I usually go for whiskey. He was sure of himself as he began crafting a cocktail consisting of pineapples, rum, tequila, lime and cumin. He lit a dried star anise on fire and set it atop the still-swirling liquid in a coupe glass.
The Pina Collateral, as it’s called on the Edmund’s menu, is one of a handful of cocktails from the brewpub McConnell selected to make for his pop-ups. Among the other items available was a bourbon-based cocktail accented with an orange peel and special hibiscus tea ice cubes with thyme and ginger, which, as they melted into the drink, infused it with soft floral undertones. It’s called The Red Wedding, and it seemed to be a popular order. It’s important to note, McConnell takes his base spirits seriously. A drink he’s made won’t lack in flavor or alcohol content.
“They tend to be fairly strong,” McConnell said. “That’s kind of how I always made drinks. I know there’s a lot of people that like to do lower alcohol content in cocktails, but that’s never been my style … I really like working with rye and bourbon, obviously, but more and more I find myself using a lot of rum. It’s kind of my favorite thing to use.”
McConnell got his start in mixology, or the art of creating cocktails, in Oxford at Snackbar, where he worked his way up to a bartending position. That, he said, made his pop-up in Oxford all the more special. After spending three years at Snackbar, he moved to Charleston and became head bartender at Edmund’s when it opened.
As a homage to the town, he even made a special cocktail — one of his favorites — called The Velvet Ditch for the Edmund’s menu. He also included the drink in his pop-up repertoire.
Classified as a bittersweet cocktail, The Velvet Ditch includes aged rhum agricole, two types of Amaro liqueurs (another ingredient McConnell says is a favorite), lemon, powdered sugar and cinnamon.
“When you shake that all together,” he said, “It comes out velvety smooth.”
McConnell was constantly mixing, shaking or stirring cocktails, but he simultaneously answered people’s questions, usually about what drink they should order.
For many of the patrons, it took only the answer to one question: “What spirit do you like?”
Then, McConnell might churn out a bright pink cocktail in a coupe (called the Yes Way, Rosé), or a Rum al Pastor (this one is accented with house-made jerk bitters) in a rocks glass.
When I asked him how he knew so well what to make, he only said, “It’s usually pretty easy if you know how to read people.”
The Saint Leo pop-up continues tonight until 10 p.m. Tomorrow, McConnell will finish out his tour in Memphis at Porcellino’s Craft Butcher.