By Ann Marie Edlin
Joseph Stinchcomb is a native of Oxford and head bartender at Saint Leo where he has helped grow the program from its inaugural launch in June of 2016.
Since then, Stinchcomb has made a name for himself, honing his cocktail craft and sharing his creations both with the folks who pull up a stool at the Saint Leo bar and across the country.
Stinchcomb was accepted as a Sam Beall Fellow for 2020, about a month before the pandemic hit in early 2020. His journey began at Blackberry Farm, home of the Blackberry Farm Foundation and the Sam Beall Fellows Program, nestled in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. He was able to reach and experience Big Sur, California before the virus began to sweep the country, forcing the program to come to a halt.
Even in the throes of uncertainty that was 2020, there were some silver linings.
Stinchcomb was published in Marcus Samuelsson’s cookbook, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook.”
“It’s still kind of surreal,” Stinchcomb said. “I’m in those pages with people who have won James Beard awards for what they do and have books of their own, and being one of two people who deal with beverages in the book, it is still mind-blowing.”
Inventive cocktails can create a portal for people to discover new ingredients or flavor combinations that they may otherwise pass up.
“It’s a cool vehicle to be creative,” Stinchcomb said. “To be able to create something for someone that is so finite, right? It’s a drink. You drink it and in 5 to 10 minutes it’s gone. It’s cool to be able to create something for someone in that space and in that moment that they’ll think about for years on end.”
Over the course of his career at Saint Leo, Joe has shaped several themed cocktail menus that create a conversation among patrons.
“Having a succinct menu and theme helps the menu read better and helps people understand that these are seasonal cocktails and it’s almost like reading a book. Each one is like a chapter and you kind of need all of it to understand how it works. I enjoy it because I feel like it’s a way to introduce flavors and ideas to people who don’t necessarily understand some of the ingredients and it kind of breaks down that barrier of intimidation,” Stinchcomb said.
Whether you’re having the “Veruca Salt” from his Willy Wonka themed list, a citrusy gin, pinot grigio concoction, “We’ll Always Have Paris” or the “Round Up The Usual Suspects” from his latest Casablanca themed menu, you’ll be enjoying a thoughtful, flavorful creation.
The drink of choice, for Stinchcomb, depends on the vibe of the place.
“It depends on where I am. If I go to a neighborhood bar or dive, I’m not asking them to make me a Sazerac, I’m gonna get a beer and a shot like anyone else. But if I am at a nice craft cocktail bar, I’m going to drink every cocktail on the menu. I just love exploring people’s drinks and how they think about cocktails and how it weaves into the overall atmosphere of the place,” he said.
“The people and the connections that I’ve made. It’s crazy how this career has lifted me to places that I never would have imagined; to cook at French Laundry, to go to Big Sur, just through bartending and learning more about hospitality and my craft and the people that you meet has just been phenomenal.”
Stinchcomb was recently included in the 2021 LEGO Bartender Collection by Brad Thomas Parsons. Stinchcomb’s minifig is holding a green bottle of Chartreuse, which you would more than likely see him sipping if you joined him on one of his nights off.