Wednesday, August 10, 2022

In the Mix: The Lurleen

A doggone good blend from Mississippi’s Little Easy.

Snackbar bartender Jayce Photo by Casey Hilder
Snackbar bartender Jayce McConnell/Photo by Casey Hilder

Snackbar, located in Oxford, Mississippi, is the kind of place that instantly makes you feel as if you’ve been missing out on a specific and crucial part of living. It’s a permanent dusk inside, with the lights dimmed into ruby shadows that make even the least inventive beer or glass of wine look glamorous.

When the bar is packed, it maintains a pleasant, muted chatter that allows for intimacy and good conversation, reminiscent of an Old-World country club. Jayce McConnell meets me here on a Monday afternoon — a time pleasantly juxtaposed with the much celebrated happy hour. He is effortless in his greetings, undoubtedly a telling characteristic of the true bartender.

Jayce has a few favorite cocktails on the menu, and, unsurprisingly, he names the complicated ingredients verbatim. The Lurleen, stationed on the “House Classics” portion of the menu, is strictly Southern. More than that, it was named after John T. Edge’s dog.

“We named our dog Lurleen Wallace after the late governor of the state of Alabama. Jayce pours a rye that gives her namesake cocktail a raspy quality, comparable to Lurleen’s raspy tongue,” says John T. Edge.

The New York Times, Garden & Gun, and Oxford American (to name a few) contributor, as well as director of the University’s Southern Foodways Alliance, was at Snackbar one night, and after having a Manhattan or two, “wanted to try something different,” explains Jayce. “So I made this up for him, he liked it, and we decided on calling it that.”

The Lurleen’s base liquor is Bourbon, and Jayce rightly dubs it “The South’s iconic spirit.” However, the heaviness of this traditional liquor is cut with savory fruit flavors: lemon-soaked bitters for its slight zest and a grapefruit undertone. Tying in a sweet Vermouth with complimenting flavors, ginger and nutmeg, the Lurleen is an anytime drink — regardless of season. It is refreshing for the more sultry months of the year, but has also earned its place among the regulars regardless of season and the South’s caustic climate.

“We try to source as much as we can locally, and that adds a really interesting element to it — that what you’re eating [or drinking] is from around the corner,” Jayce says.

Beginning work at Snackbar in 2009 as “mostly as an oyster shucker,” Jayce worked in the kitchen as a crab cook.

“I got an interest in doing cocktails — we started a Saturday morning brunch bar and it didn’t take off at first, so I had a lot of free time when I had no one to pour Bloody Marys for.”

Instead of being lulled by these slow Saturdays, the enterprising mixologist took up a keen interest in the science of cocktails themselves.

“We had a couple of books lying around so I’d pick those up and thumb through them. I learned a lot about different kinds of liquor, how it’s made, where it comes from,” Jayce said.

Before long, he and his fellow co-workers decided to create a cocktail program of their very own.

“We’d seen a lot of other places, especially in New Orleans, as well as other Southern cities, that have really good cocktails,” Jayce said.

Essentially, they conspired to create a name of their own for mixology here in Oxford. Jayce added that “it was strictly seasonal-based at first. We had a Fall or Spring or Summer section, and then had classic drinks.”

However, in the past year, they’ve strayed away from seasonal and gone with gut instinct and fancy.

“We try to represent all of the major types of liquor on our menu. We play with whatever is laying around — rosemary, lemon, gin — and figure something out from there.”

And while the Lurleen is studied, measured and deliberated, it’s also playful and invested with that free, creative spark that Snackbar is known for cultivating. The deftness with which Jayce seems to have made this up for his well-known customer base only reinforces the innate understanding of liquor, pairings, and the customers’ wants that any good bar-tender knows. Alluding to previous jobs, the Lurleen’s creator adds, “Sometimes you weren’t very proud of the product, and had to just grin and bear it. But here, you don’t have to worry about that.”

INGREDIENTS:

Old Weller Antique Bourbon, Ginger Liqueur, Bitters soaked Lemon, Turbinado, Fresh Grapefruit, Sweet Vermouth, Nutmeg

METHOD:

1. In a shaker glass, add two wedges of lemon, 5 dashes angostura bitters and 5 dashes Fee Bros. rhubarb bitters and ½ oz turbinado syrup (1:1)

2. Muddle. Then add 2 oz old weller antique bourbon, ½ oz ginger liqueur (stirrings is also fine), ½ oz dolin rouge, and ¾ oz fresh grapefruit.

3. Add ice, shake vigorously, then strain through a fine mesh strainer over a large ice cube in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel with fresh grated nutmeg on it.

– Review by Mary Buchanan Sellers, Click Magazine, December 2013

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