Mixologist Eric Simpkins
Growing up outside Atlanta, Eric Simpkins quickly grew to
appreciate food and drink, developing an especially avid interest
in traditional spirits and antiquarian cocktails. He began his culinary
career working as a bar manager at The River Room where
he oversaw the wine list and spirits program. In 2005, at age 27,
Simpkins moved to New York to attend The French Culinary Institute.
While enrolled, he received an opportunity to work with Audrey Saunders
at her famous New York cocktail-focused lounge, the Pegu Club.
While refining his skills alongside other notable New York mixologists
at Pegu – such as friend and mentor Toby Maloney
– Simpkins learned of a growing demand for skilled bartenders
in Atlanta, a market whose mixology scene has just begun to grow.
Seeing a chance to make an even stronger impact on the industry,
he moved to the South in 2006 to become head mixologist at TROIS,
where his menu of 20-odd cocktails is creatively subheaded
– “modern mixes,” “vintage quaffs,”
“Champagne opportunities,” and so on. Simpkins
collaborates with the pastry kitchen, making homemade grenadine
and ginger beer; his cocktails are inspired by his New York training,
and he is one of the few in Atlanta bringing a true bar chef approach
to the craft, complete with small-batch ingredients and seasonal
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AB: Were you trained in bartending or mixology?
ES: I learned everything on the job, and from people who write books on the subject. I graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and immediately got into the cocktail scene.
AB: What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market?
ES: Bitters, particularly orange
bitters, show up in a lot of cocktails right now. People are paying
attention to small regional differences, like east coast versus
west coast twists. And ice – lots of different kinds of ice.
I want a cold draft machine – it makes large, solid, clear
cubes that don’t dilute drinks as much. It circulates the
water so there’s no air.
AB: What goes into creating a new cocktail? How long does it take to create a new cocktail?
ES: It takes anywhere from
half an hour to one week. My current raspberry cocktail –
with homemade jam and lavender-infused gin – took a week to
get right. The Trois cocktail, with green tea, mint and
egg white, took 20 minutes.
AB: What inspires you when creating a new drink?
ES: Seasonal changes, memorable food experiences, and dinner parties.
AB: What is your favorite cocktail to drink?
ES: An Old Fashioned whiskey cocktail – no fruit, no soda, and four dashes Angostura bitters, with lemon and lime zest.
AB: Favorite cocktail resource book?
ES: That would definitely have to be The Gentleman's Companion: Around The World With Jigger, Beaker, and Flask by Charles Baker.
AB: If you weren’t a mixologist, what would you be doing?
AB: Which person would you most like to go out for drinks with?
ES: Tom Waits – we’d sit around and shoot the shit. This would have to be back when he was drinking, of course.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
ES: I’d like to open my own bar – my dream bar would be the size of Milk & Honey in New York.
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