When you think “barbecue,” what comes to mind are smoked meats slathered in sauces that make your fingers sticky. You may not picture cocktails. But there’s room alongside brisket and ribs, mac and cheese and coleslaw, for the right kind of mixed drinks.
A place that does this well is BarBQ in Stamford, CT. A southern transplant in the northeast, BarBQ is a no-frills joint. There’s simple rustic wooden décor, lots of beer and whiskey, and a dining menu that doesn’t take require than a single page.
This theme of simplicity also defines the six-drink cocktail menu. “Barbecue is simple: you eat your meat and your sides. So we try to match that with easy drinking,” explains BarBQ assistant general manager Nicky Vezzuto. “If the food isn’t too fancy, then you don’t want to get too fancy with the drinks.”
Which doesn’t mean that cocktails must be boring. BarBQ makes their Frontier Old Fashioned ($11) with Crown Royal Vanilla as the base. This adds a sweet smooth twist to the classic, one that’s fitting given that Crown Royal is a huge sellers down south.
The sweet vanilla flavor and little citrus kick of this cocktail match perfectly with the sweet tanginess of the house BBQ sauce. As does the sweet, slightly fruity Huckleberry Lemonade ($10), made with 44 North Huckleberry Vodka, house-made lemonade, fresh blue berries and sugar rim (pictured atop, with ribs).
Proper barbecue doesn’t overpower with flavor. It’s about the tang of the sauce and the smoky sumptuousness of the meat. Cocktails served with BBQ should be similarly restrained, explains Vezzuto, while focusing on simple flavors that are sweet or sour. Drinks that goes down as easily as the food.
Though there is room for flourishes of flavor.
Like the sugar rim of the Huckleberry Lemonade, or the fruitiness of the BarBQ Moonshine ($10): cherry moonshine, house-made lemonade, peach schnapps, and fresh apples. The peach and apple flavors stick out like melted popsicles in this smooth, sweet, easy-drinking cocktail.
But not so much that they distract from the main attraction: the BBQ. Cocktails shouldn’t compete with the meat, but complement it.
“This is the simple south,” Vezzuto says. “And these are soul drinks for the soul food.”