Felicia Corbett is one of the most exciting faces in whiskey and cocktails today. She’s Angel’s Envy Whiskey Guardian and the “potions master” at Trouble Bar, a female-owned and operated whiskey bar in Louisville that recently made Esquire magazine’s list of America’s Best Bars for 2021.
The cocktails she helps create at Trouble indicate a masterful understanding of flavor, as well as a penchant for pleasure. Take, for example, their fall menu, with drinks like the Practical Magic (gin, pistachio and cardamom infused honey, lemon juice) and the Hey Mister, We Are the Weirdos (tequila, fig syrup barbarism, lemon juice, lime juice, orange liqueur).
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Ahead of the holiday season, Corbett spoke with Salon about his tips for making better cocktails at home for beginners, his picks of accessible whiskeys to sip and gift, and what she homemade for groups of guests.
His philosophy behind the creation of seasonal cocktails:
I watch a lot of trends and see what people like about flavor profiles. Then I try to develop a weird twist on it. For example, you can consider very traditional fall spices and flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pumpkin, but then find a way to add a funky twist to it. I also really enjoy raising other local businesses.
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Over the past few menus, we’ve partnered with FOKO (a Mexican-inspired breakfast and lunch stand in the nearby Logan Street Market food hall) where Chef Paco Garcia and co-owner Josh Gonzalez will cook us the horchata, which I use in my play on a pumpkin spice latte. He begins by infusing whiskey at 100 degrees with vanilla bean, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then I made cold brew and pumpkin puree syrup.
You know, when you taste “pumpkin spice” in drinks, it can be too sweet – and I’m not a fan of sugary drinks. So you have the bitterness of the cold brew, then infusing the whiskey takes the sweetness away, then we top it with horchata.
Corbett’s big tip for home bartenders:
I taught my mom how to do this, so if I can teach her, anyone can do it. I told him to work on perfecting a simple syrup. There is room for experimentation – finding your sugar to water ratio for a thicker or thinner syrup. Once you’ve mastered that, it’s fun to add herbs and different things to it. Lots of things just play, and you can even make maple syrup or honey if you don’t want to make sugar.
Once you have defined your ratios, your thickness and your sweetness, you also control the beginning of the production of the beginning of the cocktail. Then, at that point, you can sound and sound very fancy saying, “Oh, I grew my own lavender and used it to make simple lavender syrup.”
While Corbett is personally a fan of rye-based whiskeys – which can be a bit daunting for those new to the spirit – there are a bunch of accessible whiskeys that are getting him excited right now:
I’ve worked for them for several years, so I’m a little biased, but Angel’s Envy is a great whiskey that’s approachable, easy to sip and good to gift. If you want to stick with the finished whiskey, but try something a little different, I’m a really big fan of Barrell bourbons. They get all the liquid and then finish it in different iterations and it feels like there’s a million of them. I haven’t come across one that I didn’t like. Seagrass and Armida are two that I think are pretty consistent.
Then Willett did a line where the wheat bourbon was finished in Chardonnay barrels, the aged rye is like in a Cab and the rye is finished in port; these are really fun if you’re looking for something that isn’t hugely popular yet, but will be.
here’s how she prepares cocktails for groups at home:
For the most part I will have people and experiment on them. It’s only if I feel up to it because I’m a cancer patient and I’m on chemo so when my taste buds are fully blown I’ll do it because it gives me joy to see people’s faces when I’m doing something and they’re like, “How did you do that?” When I’m entertaining a larger group, that’s when I usually do something like cider with my own twist or hot toddies with a twist!
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