From Trois to Drinkshop to Dinner Party Atlanta and most recently, The Lawrence, Rising Star Mixologist Eric Simpkins has certainly made a name for himself in Atlanta. At a recent Kanon vodka party at The Goat Farm, Simpkins took center stage, creating cocktails that The Lawrence Executive Chef Shane Devereux based his menu around, rather than the usual method of pairing drinks to the food. Here, Simpkins gets frank with Eater on what he likes to drink, what's selling at the bar at The Lawrence, and how it feels to be the big cheese.
Where do you get the inspiration for your drinks?
Inspiration can come from anywhere really. It depends on the circumstances. It can be something new I've eaten, a wine or cocktail someone has given me, a new spirit, cordial, or bitter. Seasonal changes. Emotions, books, movies, music, quotes. And the inspirations tend to collaborate and intertwine once the creative process has begun. The way into a new drink can literally come from anywhere.
You recently led an event where the food was paired to the drinks you created, instead of you having to match the drink flavors to the food. How did that change the way you work?
It's exciting really. Most of the time there are restrictions on what you create based on already existing flavor profiles in the food you are pairing with, you need to compliment or contrast in relation to what is there for each course to cohere into a singular flavor experience. It has to work together, so to be able to create the first flavor for the food to pair to unfetters the imagination to run a little wild.
What's new in the world of mixology? Any big trends or popular ingredients?
New? I would say I have seen many friends and compatriots across the world messing with bottled cocktails, room temp cocktails, sherry is starting to become a much more used cocktail ingredient. Potable bitters, i.e. amaros like Fernet, Nonino, and Averna are still big as is everyone's understandable fascination with mezcal especially now that we have the lovely Del Maguey mezcals here. American craft distilling is growing fast with distilleries like Lion's Pride out of Chicago making really interesting well thought out whiskies, New York Distilling out of Brooklyn has made some of my new favorite gins, St.George distillery out of CA has also put out some really interesting gins.
What's the oddest drink request you've ever gotten?
A guy came up to me while working late night at Sound Table, and handed asked me if I was up to a cocktail challenge and handed me a clove of garlic.
What, in your opinion, takes a drink from good to great?
Balance, balance, balance. And equal parts verve and wit.
What do you like to drink?
Everything. Its all dictated by a whim. Wine, beer, whiskey, cocktails. Lately I have been drinking a lot of Sancerre and a lot of scotch. I always liked scotch, but now I am really enjoying it.
How did you go about creating the beverage list for The Lawrence?
I wanted The Lawrence to be more about beverage as a whole, rather than trying to over concentrate on one area. I want anything that people drink at The Lawrence to have the same care and attention devoted to it, whether it be the coffee and tea, or their cocktail or wine. A bar is not just cocktails, unless you are a cocktail bar. The Lawrence is a restaurant in the middle of Midtown eventually to be open for lunch, brunch, dinner, and tea in the afternoons. All of it matters, there is something for everyone here and it should all be well thought out and well executed with the same level of quality. I started out a long time ago as a bit of a cork dork wine steward type and also did some time as a barista before I got into spirits and cocktails, and now its nice to bring it all together. I want all the aspects of beverage to intertwine. Cocktails made from wines, beers, teas, coffees. I have spent over 15 years in this business learning the rules of beverage, now I want to break those rules systematically and methodically, to play with all the facets to create a truly fun and unique beverage experience for my guests. I wanted to find interesting ways to surprise people by giving them what they want in ways they didn't expect.
Any immediate hits on there?
The Lady Lawrence, a real crowd pleaser - vodka infused with lavender mint tea, ginger, lime, soda, and cassis. And our house Old-Fashioned made from a barrel of Elijah Craig 12-year-old bourbon we bought to be our house label whiskey.
Anything else we should know?
Everything you drink at The Lawrence is only going to get better.