Cocktails ‘Round the Campfire – Southern Efficiency (Visit #2)

 A friendly, minimalist bar, Southern Efficiency offers up some adventurous cocktails and simple charm.

Ambiance: ****

Decor: *****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ****

Overall Rating: 4.25

It’s been a long while since I last sipped generously at Southern Efficiency, the petite ode to the south off of 7th Street in Shaw. So when I needed a break from the oppressive heat, I was happy to find refuge in SE’s cozy and booze-lined premises.

I really love SE’s vibe; the glass front lets in just the right amount of late afternoon sun, draping the minimalist metal and wood bar in a relaxing, lazy light. It never seems too cramped or crowded, just nice folks enjoying an afterwork drink or five. That friendly atmosphere was on full display when I walked in last weekend only to find the power was out and the temperature was up. Still, spirits were high and plentiful, and it was a rocking good time, regardless of the sweat. The bar staff is also super friendly and capable.

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Another reason I was excited to revisit SE was its new summer camp-themed cocktail list. I’ve only been camping a few times and never quite took to it – I’m a big fan of showers and flush toilets. However, I suspect if I had added SE’s cocktails to those outdoor jaunts, I’d have had a better time. The list was strong and brought across some interesting new flavors with lots of smoke, sugar, and marshmallow. Of the nine drinks on the “Camp Iwannawhiskey” list, I thought four were standouts including my favorite drink, the “Suffering Camper” with bourbon, aged aquavit, toasted coconut syrup, lime, ginger, and bitters. A seductive, faint burn in the beginning off of the coconut and ginger simmers with some bourbon as it goes through. Rich and doused in savory ingredients lightened with ice and lime, I loved this one.

 

First up was a standout, the “Last of the Firewood” with rye, green chartreuse, toasted coconut syrup, (they ran out, so I had mine with simple syrup) lemon, and allspice dram. Very good, with a hard rye and chartreuse herbal kiss up front, giving way to a sugary sweet/spice in the middle that softens it and gives it a real earthy vibe. Nice. Next was the “Tigerclaw” with bourbon, dark rum, falernum, cane sugar, lime, grapefruit bitters, and soda. The claw was fairly solid with an even mix of rum and bourbon, almost strangely so — you’d expect those rich flavors to clash, but they are tame here. The lime and soda livens it up from there, making for a refreshing sipper with some zing to it. Surprisingly sophisticated, I liked this one.

Then the “Bubblegum Bow Knot” with Belle Meade bourbon, allspice dram, China-China, (an orange liqueur) cane sugar, orange bitters, and absinthe. A full-bore, syrupy bourbon drink, the orange bitters light the edges and some sugar smoothes out the bourbon. But this is an in your face bourbon show, and you don’t pick up much on the spice or China. Ok. Jumped on over to a standout, the “Parent’s Weekend” with bourbon, Strega (an Italian herbal liqueur), Don Ciccio and Figli Concerto coffee liqueur, cane sugar, lemon, and egg white. A superb taste, very well-balanced, with bourbon leashed and enabled by the herbal Strega and kicked up with sugar and lime. The coffee is the real hero though, this very distinct, earthy punch near the end. Just a fun, up and down adventurous cocktail. Loved it.

Got a little less showy with the “Wet Hot American Sazerac” with rye, Pineau des Charentes (a French aperitif that comes from local grapes), dark rum, pineapple gomme, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe. Up front, dark and handsome, this sazerac does its job with some nice latent sweetness from the dark rum and pineapple and smoke off of the rye. Very powerful too, you’ll feel that kick for a minute or too. Nice.

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Next was the standout, the “Jiminy Cricket! He Flew the Coupe” with Brandy de Jerez, PX sherry, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit ginger cordial, and lemon. An excellent cocktail that revels in its measured burn, even the maraschino–which I don’t love–is fine on the border. The ginger is a great savory influence as well, giving this a nice herbal spirit with some spicy brandy to boot. Sophisticated and layered, very much enjoyed it. Then, the “Sock Hop Slow Dance” with rye, Pineau des Charentes, sweet vermouth, maraschino, China-China, and pineapple gomme. Ok but a bit boring, very rye forward with some maraschino on the back and….that’s about it. A restrained drink that only really hums on the edges, this fell sort of flat for me.

My finale was a sweet one, the “Moonrise Milk Punch” with One Eight Rock Creek White Whiskey, High West Campfire Whiskey, creme de cacao, toasted marshmallow syrup, milk, and salt. Wow, never had anything like this! Ultra-unique, this cocktail is heavy in rye power and smoke, softened a tad with some thin milk which, honestly, tasted a little off to me. Not bad and I liked how the sugar marshmallow mixed with the cacao, but I can’t say I loved it. Good times at SE, hopefully it won’t be another year before I poke my head in again!

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