Mix It Up: Sovereign Remedies’ seasonal cocktails are a revolving stage for year-round creativity

Sovereign Remedies founder/owner Charlie Hodge is known as a wizard of mixology who blends spirits and local agriculture into complex yet perfectly balanced cocktails. Under his tutelage, the chic downtown Asheville restaurant with an Old Europe vibe, plant-forward ambiance, and distressed zinc bar is known for its elevated, inventive, and inclusive beverage service. That includes an adherence to history and openness to innovation in its menu of classic cocktails, such as the House G+T and No. 27, a sour mash whiskey concoction consistently the most popular in the house.

On a quarterly basis, Sovereign introduces a seasonal slate of libations that general manager Morgan Willger says aims to anticipate what guests will be seeking at that time of year. “Some are spirit-forward, some lightly refreshing, and at least one is what we call a ‘nerdville cocktail’ that is really inspired by what the bartenders want to play with,” he explains. “They’re complicated and may not appeal to everyone but people who are really into cocktails get very intrigued by them. Those are for the cocktail nerds, which we say with affection.” The summer Sovereign Seasonals (try saying that a couple of times!) rolled out July 1 and are still being shaken, stirred, garnished, and poured.

“We start conceptualizing the next season about midway through the current one,” Willger says. “It’s myself, my lead bartender, and we encourage staff to bring their ideas to the table and let’s see how we can mold them into Sovereign Remedies. We also have to design them so they can be served on a large scale and not just as a one-off. “

He adds that while Hodge’s knowledge is extensive and the result of years of experience, he doesn’t heavy-hand the process. “He likes to play with the ideas — he can’t help himself,” says Willger. “But he has fun with us, too. He does a really good job of adding bumpers to the lanes, helping with the thought process and giving us hints to go in certain directions, but primarily he weighs in on what we’ve already created.”

Among those current creations is a Sovereign interpretation of the classic Air Mail — rum, lime juice, simple syrup and Champagne. Sovereign’s Axes’ Air Mail comes complete with a tiny slip of actual mail. “My lead bartender came up with this. It’s referencing World War II Axis powers, so we use a couple of Italian liqueurs and a Japanese whiskey with some lemon juice, shake it with ice, strain it, and serve it in a coupe with a little note pinned to the glass,” Willger explains. “It’s a bright, refreshing spin on a Manhattan-style cocktail.”

He describes the Neptune’s Baptism as a vodka cousin of the classic gin-based negroni, admitting that many find that Italian cocktail too bitter, though he is a dedicated fan. “I think it’s my favorite of the summer drinks,” says Willger. “The locally made Eda Rhine amaro adds that bitter quality that people love or hate. The Blue Curacao adds the most gorgeous color to it.”

Claiming the summer “nerdville” category is the Truxican Standoff, which, upon seeing its breakdown in the menu, prompts the question: “What is jalapeño bacon fat-washed mezcal, and why is it in my cocktail?”

Willger has the answer: “A fat wash is a technique used in cocktailing to infuse the flavor of whatever the fat is into the drink by skimming and straining to just leave a residual of that flavor. This cocktail has a lot of spicy with a little savory, so instead of a plain smoky mezcal, you’re almost doing a barbecue- jalapeño mezcal. We make the syrup in house, add Genepy liqueur, and serve it over ice with cucumber rolled in a little seasoning. Definitely nerdville.”

For those seeking nonalcoholic options, Sovereign’s bar menu offers a seasonally rotating section of zero-proof cocktails, all crafted in house with the exception of the Brooklyn-made and bottled Phony Negroni. “It’s too good not to bring in, and we haven’t figured out how to replicate it as well as they do,” Willger explains.”I am very passionate about having options for everyone, and you’ll see the NA part of our menu expand.”

While Sovereign Remedies guests escape the dog days of summer within the cool confines of the downtown corner bar quaffing an Axes’ Air Mail or Neptune’s Baptism, Willger and his staff are looking toward fall. “We picture the mood and feel of the season, so we’re moving from lawns and summer patios to autumn leaves and anticipating a little nip in the air,” he says. “Every season is always our favorite when it comes around.”

For more on Sovereign Remedies, visit sovereignremedies.com

Written by Kay West
Photos courtesy of Sovereign Remedies