Peanuts and Coke aren’t the only drink to incorporate America’s favorite nut. Greg Best is a master mixologist who has worked with peanut ingredients for years, and he loves the flavor that peanuts add to a drink. He was one of the founding partners of the renowned Holeman & Finch Public House, and he recently opened one of the hottest bars in Atlanta today, Ticonderoga Club. Best knows a thing or two about operating a successful mixology program. So we sat down with him to find out how he’s popularizing peanuts behind the bar and get the scoop on his favorite peanut cocktail.
How did you get your start as a bartender?
Back in 2000 is when I first officially bartended. I had moved to Las Vegas, where my older brother was a chef for Emeril Lagasse. When an opportunity to open a restaurant in Atlanta for Emeril arose, I put my name on the list. I moved to Atlanta and completely fell in love with the city. With the opening of H&F, the city really embraced us and was really excited about that restaurant. It was a special time and that's when my reputation as a bartender started spreading like wildfire in the work that we were doing behind the bar at Holeman and Finch.
When did you first start working with peanuts in cocktails?
There was a time when I was just kind of getting embedded in the greater picture of our agricultural landscape here in Georgia. During that time, I became exposed to the folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance and instantly found a whole ton of kindred spirits. We were all talking one day, and they said, "Hey, we're doing this event and we've been working a lot with the National Peanut Board compiling historical drink recipes that played in and out of the beverage history of our region. We’d love if you would lend a hand in this process.”
I thought that it would just be a great opportunity for me to take something that I love and apply it to something else I love. I had never looked at something like a peanut and thought about how it could play into the cocktail world that I was so in love with.
Of course, it all started with George Washington Carver and his booklets on all the many uses of what you could do with peanuts. Working with the SFA and looking into their historical documents and all these old antiquated cookbooks, I created a list of drinks and then I started workshopping them.
What do you like about using peanut ingredients?
It's kind of a modifying ingredient or an aromatic. In cocktails I occasionally take peanut flour and blend with a little cane sugar, or sometimes with salt, and make a rim for a glass. Sometimes I will dust creamy drinks with peanut flour. I really like peanut flour because it's got kind of a silky consistency with just this intense flavor. I also like using peanut milk.
What’s the best peanut cocktail you’ve ever had?
The original peanut milk punch that I did behind our bar. It was strictly peanut milk, cognac and rum, and that one was my favorite. It completely blew my mind that you could get this complexity out of both the brandy and the rum that took the peanut to be the skeleton key. Without the taste of the peanut, you just didn't get these same profiles out of the drink and out of the spirits. I thought that was remarkable. That was my favorite one.
Try the recipe for yourself to see how peanuts unlock the flavor of this cocktail. Cheers!
Peanut Milk Punch
The richness of the peanut adds depth to the classic New Orleans brunch-style cocktail that inspired this drink.
3 ounces peanut milk*
1 ounce brandy, or Cognac
1 ounce dark rum
2 dashes pure vanilla extract
Roasted (unsalted) peanuts, coarsely chopped
In a bar glass full of ice, combine 3 ounces of peanut milk with brandy, rum and vanilla extract. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Top with ground peanuts and grated cinnamon.
*For peanut milk, mix a heaping tablespoon of creamy peanut butter with 2 ounces of water, then strain the liquid through a cheesecloth. Or try this recipe for peanut milk using whole peanuts.