Decatur got more than exquisitely plated and delicious sushi from chef Jason Liang when he opened Brush Sushi Izakaya in April. The city also landed another spot to drink damn fine cocktails. Under the guidance of beverage director Jeff Banks, Brush has brought a bit of Japanese cocktail culture to its guests by way of the subtle nuances of Asian whiskies such as Nikka and Kavalan and distilled spirits like the rice-based shochu and soju.
Banks’s appreciation for the quiet precision of Japanese cocktail-making, with its focus on the build and use of ingredients rather than showmanship, is apparent in nearly every aspect of the program. From traditional drinks such as the force-carbonated Brush highball with Nikka Coffey Grain and sake, to the 1890s sherry and vermouth-based classic bamboo, to Banks’s mild-mannered yet highly focused disposition behind the bar.
Banks’s booze journey began in 2012 at farm-to-table restaurant Graft in Grayson. He developed a strong, whiskey-focused cocktail program before leaving in 2014 to take up residence as beverage director at The Luminary in Krog Street Market. The transition from the slower pace of suburban drinkers to the frenzy of ITP crowds in Inman Park was a bit overwhelming for the young bartender at first. But, Banks quickly found his rhythm, winning multiple barcraft competitions around town while gaining a faithful following for creating drinks, such as the wildly popular rosé slushy, and his love for riffing classic cocktails.
So, where does Banks drink when he’s not behind the stick at Brush?
Late night spot
When I have the chance, Kimball House is always great.
Happy hour bar/lounge
Ticonderoga Club for frozen drinks.
One Eared Stag. It's around the corner from my house, so it's a nice walk and great atmosphere. Though, I wish they still had the chef's breakfast served with a beer.
Place for drinking and dining
My girlfriend and I only have one day off together, which is on a Monday, so we always find ourselves at Ticonderoga for happy hour, then wind up staying for bottles of sherry and food.
Bar where you're a regular
SOS Tiki Bar. It's across the parking lot from Brush and Bobby Dudley does a killer job.
Top three bars not mentioned above
Out of town fave in the South
The Imperial Life in Asheville, N.C..
Out of town fave anywhere in the country
Williams & Graham in Denver, Colo.
Go-to cocktail order
Daiquiri. I think any bartender worth his salt should be able to make a great daiquiri. It's definitely my litmus test, if you will.
Under the radar bartender to watch
There are so many people I could put on this list, but Joseph Haywood at Bar Margot is really great. I've competed next to him at a few competitions, and his drinks are always very creative and well-balanced.
• All Brush Sushi Izakaya Coverage [EATL]
• All Boozin’ Go-To Guides [EATL]