From gifts to seasonal cocktails, here's how a whiskey pro preps for the holidays

Felicia Corbett of Louisville's Trouble Bar shares her tips for making better cocktails and buying better spirits

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published November 21, 2021 5:30PM (EST)

Drink on a table (Marc Tran / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Drink on a table (Marc Tran / EyeEm / Getty Images)

This article is part of "Thanksgiving Your Way." From traditional to not at all, 2021 is an opportunity for carving out new traditions and resurrecting old ones.

Felicia Corbett is one of the most exciting faces working in whiskey and cocktails today. She is an Angel's Envy Whiskey Guardian and the "master of potions" at Trouble Bar, a female-owned and run Louisville whiskey bar, which was recently featured on Esquire Magazine's 2021 Best Bars in America list. 

The cocktails she helps create at Trouble indicate a masterful understanding of flavor, as well as a penchant for fun. Take, for instance, 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, prickly pear syrup, lemon juice, lime juice, orange liqueur). 

RELATED: Here's how to add apple butter to your decadent holiday cocktails

In advance of the holiday season, Corbett spoke with Salon about her tips for creating better cocktails at home for beginners, her picks for accessible whiskeys for sipping and gifting and what she makes at home for groups of guests. 

Her philosophy behind creating seasonal cocktails: 

I look at a lot of trends and see what people appreciate in flavor profiles. Then, I try to develop some weird twist on it. For example, you can take the very traditional fall spices and flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pumpkin into account — but then find a way to put a funky twist on it. I also really like uplifting other local businesses. 

Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter.

For example: 

The past few menus, we've been partnering with FOKO (a Mexican-inspired breakfast and lunch stall at the nearby Logan Street Market food hall) where Chef Paco Garcia and co-owner Josh Gonzalez will make us horchata, which I use in my play on a pumpkin spice latte. It starts by infusing 100-proof whiskey 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 overly sweet — and I'm not a fan of sweet drinks. So, you have the bitterness of the cold brew and then infusing the whiskey takes the sweetness out of it, then we top it with horchata. 

Corbett's big tip for amateur home bartenders: 

I taught my mom how to do this, so if I can teach her, anybody can do it. I told her to work on perfecting a simple syrup. There's room for experimentation — finding your ratio of sugar and water for a thicker or thinner syrup. Once you've mastered that, you have the fun of adding herbs and different things to it. A lot of it is just playing around, and you can even do maple syrup or honey if you don't want to do sugar. 

Once you've worked out your ratios, your thickness and your sweetness, you've also mastered the start of making the start of the cocktail. Then at that point, you can sound and look very fancy by saying, "Oh, I grew my own lavender and I used that to make a lavender simple syrup." 

While Corbett is personally a fan of rye-forward whiskeys — which can be a little intimidating for those who are new to the spirit — there are a bunch of accessible whiskeys she's excited about right now: 

I worked for them for a number of years, so I'm a little partial, but Angel's Envy is a great, accessible whiskey that's easy to sip on and good for gifting. If you want to stick to finished whiskey, but try something a little different, I'm a really big fan of Barrell bourbons. They source all of the liquid and then finish it in different iterations and it feels like there are a million of them. I haven't come across one that I haven't enjoyed. The Seagrass and the Armida are two that I think are kind of constant. 

Then Willett did a line where the wheated bourbon was finished in Chardonnay barrels, the high rye is like in a Cab and the rye is finished in port; those are really fun if you're looking for something that's not quite popular yet, but will be. 

Here's how she makes cocktails for groups at home: 

For the most part, I'll have people over and experiment on them. That's only if I'm feeling up to it because I'm a cancer patient and I have chemo, so when my taste buds are completely shot, I'll do that because it gives me joy to see people's faces when I make something and they're like, "How did you do that?" When I'm entertaining a bigger group, though, that's when I'll usually do something like a cider with my own twist or toddies with a twist! 

More Salon stories about cocktails:

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

MORE FROM Ashlie D. Stevens

Related Topics ------------------------------------------