2013 Carolinas Rising Star Joe Raya of The Gin Joint - Charleston, SC of The Gin Joint

2013 Carolinas Rising Star Joe Raya of The Gin Joint - Charleston, SC of The Gin Joint
November 2013

The Gin Joint
182 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401



If Mixologist Joe Raya seems nimble behind the bar—as if he could reach all the way into the kitchen, say—it’s because he’s got more than cocktail training behind his talent. Before he found his rightful place in mixology, Raya undertook an extensive education at the Culinary Institute of America, foreseeing the kind of culinary-cocktail crossover and emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients that defines modern mixology.

Building on his CIA experience, Raya worked for years at a variety of restaurants, including The Four Seasons Palm Beach. He then moved to Charleston with his wife MariElena, where the couple took over MariElena’s father’s restaurant, Robert’s of Charleston—teaching them how to run a business and giving Raya a chance to refine his technique and expand his cocktail palate. Raya also took the time to earn his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

When Robert’s closed in 2010, Raya and MariElena opened their dream restaurant and bar, The Gin Joint. And in the process, the duo created a neighborhood “watering hole” that offers classic food and drink in a casual setting, all very thoroughly steeped in the pre-Prohibition style. It’s not just the happy hordes of locals who are validating the Rayas’s shared talents. Through outlets from Garden and Gun to Imbibe, the restaurant has garnered Southern and national press. Earlier this year, Raya won the Charleston Wine + Food Festival Official Mixologist Competition, and he and MariElena launched Bittermilk Cocktail Compounds, selling innovative, all-natural cocktail mixers nationwide.

I Support: Share Our Strength


Why: I have kids and I am blessed enough that they don’t have to worry about getting their next meal. No kid should have to worry about that. Food is a way to connect people and build relationships and we should work to strengthen that in our young people

About: Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry and Cooking Matters campaigns are ending childhood hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Interview with Mixologist Joe Raya of The Gin Joint – Charleston, SC

Antoinette Bruno: What inspires you?

Joe Raya: I'm a real stickler for authenticity. I think that is something that bars lack sometimes. I really wanted to create an environment that was authentic in its approach to cocktails. We chose to focus on pre-Prohibition cocktails, because it was a period in time when you had no choice but to use fresh, local produce, because it was too expensive otherwise. We don't have vodka here. It was not part of the pre-Prohibition era. The use of flavorful spirits allows us to make flavorful cocktails. By law, vodka has to be neutral in flavor.

AB: What about the flavored vodkas?

JR: Well that's artificial. If we want a flavor, we add the fresh ingredients. 

AB: What are some of your favorite flavor combinations?

JR: Tart with a herbal or vegetal quality, because it is hot here is Charleston. I'm not a believer that every cocktail has to have acidity. In the fall, I played with the flavor combination bittersweet, which was really fun. There are so many really cool bitter flavors; whether it is an amaro or vermouth, those flavors are spirit-forward. They are nice when it is cold outside. The Holland Sling is a great example of that. 

AB: What goes into creating a good cocktail?

JR: There is an easy answer and a more complex answer. If I were talking to a consumer, I would say balance—sweet, tart, bitter, and alcohol, which has to do with dilution. From a bartender’s perspective, I'm the kind that over-prepares for something. I studied old cocktails for some time before I attempted them; how spirits are made, how they get their flavor, and what they go well with. With that background knowledge, it makes it more difficult, but you can come up with better results. If a guest asks us to use a particular spirit, we tell them we are choosing this spirit with this particular cocktail for this reason and usually they will give it a try. 

AB: What is your favorite cocktail to drink and make?

JR: To drink: whatever my wife makes me when we get out of work. 

To make: right now we've been playing around with the Old Fashioned. 

AB: What ingredient is most under appreciated?

JR: Ice. It is in almost every cocktail. People don't think about it much, but it has a big impact. We have a strong ice program. The size, temperature, and shape of the ice all play a role in the cocktail. It is especially difficult to execute a pre-Prohibition cocktail program without a strong ice program. Before modern day ice makers, you would get ice delivered in blocks. It allows the guest to decide how diluted the cocktail will be instead of it happening in a matter of minutes. 

AB: Where will I find you or what you will you being doing in five years?

JR: I will be bartending here; I will be a lot better and know more then!

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