* The PineStraw Redux *
A little cocktail that changed the course of history (well, my history)
By Tony Cross • Photograph by John Gessner
A little over seven years ago, I was working behind a restaurant bar and, as the evening was starting to wind down, PineStraw’s Andie Rose walked over to say goodnight. She and a large group of her friends had just finished celebrating a birthday. She thanked me for her old fashioned and mentioned that the magazine had a 10th anniversary issue coming out that May.
“Would you be interested in creating a cocktail for the occasion?” she asked.
Without hesitation I agreed and told her that I’d be in touch. “Cool,” I thought to myself. That was immediately followed by, “What the hell am I going to do?”
At the time, my twin obsessions were working out and thinking of cocktail ideas. Even though my creative juices were flowing, I was scared to death of coming up with a drink that would be published and read about — not to mention drunk — by half the county.
“It’s got to have pine straw as an ingredient,” I thought. That quickly morphed into, “That will never work, but pine needles might.” I went to the end of the internet searching for ideas and came up empty. Ultimately, I decided to go with a pine needle simple syrup and work everything else in the cocktail around that. I chose pisco (a brandy from Peru or Chile) as the base spirit. I’d recently received a special order from our state’s ABC, and just happened to be in the middle of a love affair with it. The other ingredients included chamomile-infused dry vermouth, lemon juice, and a muddled strawberry. In retrospect, maybe I was trying to do too much in my head but I felt like I had something to prove. In the end, the article accompanying “The PineStraw” was very kind.
By the end of the summer, I was no longer with the restaurant. The idea of opening my own spot scared me. I was juggling notions of what to do next when my brother suggested I would crush it with a cocktail catering business. Southern Pines was growing faster than Jabba the Hutt, but I knew that I couldn’t make a living just catering gigs. There had to be something else.
One night while I was talking to myself in the shower (I’ve been barred from karaoke bars in seven states), the soap in my ears whispered what that “something else” was. Bottled carbonated cocktails for delivery. And that’s all it took to get me going. I named my business Reverie Cocktails after my brother’s daughter. Reverie means “daydream,” but it also meant “drunkenness” in 16th century France. Quelle chance!
My idea sounded great in the shower, but I had no clue how to carbonate cocktails, bottle cocktails, or start a business. Details, details. I was still jonesing from being behind the bar and would do anything to create a cocktail for someone, which led to another crazy idea. Maybe I could write about it. After chatting with the PineStraw folks, my first column (on punch) came out in December 2015.
Reverie Cocktails launched the next year. I figured out how to carbonate those cocktails and deliver them. The logistics have changed some, but the mission has remained the same. Not only do we sell our cocktails locally, we deliver to Wilmington, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, as well as locations in Ohio and Indiana. Soon we’ll be in our fourth state, West Virginia. All the while, I’ve been allowed to write about spirits, cocktails, techniques, and things that I never would have dreamed anyone would want to read about.
It’s come full circle this month as Reverie Cocktails debuts our PineStraw cocktail on draught and growler delivery. We’ve switched the pisco to equal parts Absolut vodka and Beefeater’s gin, but the pine needles, chamomile, lemon and strawberry are still there. It’s an honor to recreate a drink that helped launch my business. And for that, I thank you. PS
Tony Cross is a bartender (now ex-bartender) who runs the cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.