Drive by Sweet Grass Next Door Thursday, March 29th, and you will find all the windows blacked out.
Next Door patrons, decked in "hats, spats, and pearls," will be celebrating the anniversary of the end of Prohibition (a few months late, owner Ryan Trimm notes, as Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933).
While speakeasies and Great Gatsby parties are trending right now, this isn't just another theme party; it celebrates the Fee Brothers line of bitters and syrups becoming available in Memphis.
Fee Brothers has a long history, one that predates Prohibition. It began as a fruitful liquor and wine distribution company, then shifted its focus to altar wine and home-brew kits during Prohibition. (Making small quantities of alcohol at home for household consumption was not illegal.) And in a move that would change the face of the company, Fee Brothers also began selling flavored syrups to make the taste of bathtub gin more tolerable.
Following the repeal of Prohibition, the Fee Brothers' array of flavors and syrups and bitters grew, until non-alcoholic mixers became the company's sole focus.
"We sell a lot of syrups, but the bitters are the most interesting," says Joe Fee, who now co-owns the company with his sister. "We're up to 13 flavors of regular production bitters."
"Seeing that bitters were becoming popular, we went off the reservation and took a chance on flavors like rhubarb," Fee says. "If you look behind the bar, there aren't any spirits that represent rhubarb, and working with fresh rhubarb is difficult because it's a stalky thing. So rhubarb has become a very popular flavor of bitters. It's about the only source of that flavor in a drink."
Intrigued? Try the Boulevardier. It's made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Aperol, and rhubarb bitters.
Fee Brothers has also revived flavors that virtually disappeared after Prohibition.
"Celery bitters, cherry bitters, and peach bitters — they were made pre-Prohibition but have fallen out of production because during Prohibition the best and brightest bartenders [went to] work elsewhere. What was left was not a skilled bartender, and they weren't using the more unusual items," Fee says. "It wasn't until the internet that people started to talk to each other and relearn these old skills and use these old products."
Sample these flavors in the New Yorker, a mix of lemon, rye whiskey, Luxardo cherry syrup, and cherry bitters; the Vanilla Beach, made with mango rum, vanilla vodka, peach bitters, and soda; or a Bloody Mary with celery bitters.
The party starts at 7 p.m. For your $30 ticket, you will be free to sample from a special 12-cocktail menu and enjoy heavy hors d'oeuvres by Chef Trimm. But Trimm isn't sticking as closely to the theme.
"We looked back to see what was being eaten back then, and it's really not very creative," Trimm says. "Beef was popular, but it was also around the Depression, so the speakeasies would serve a lot of chicken and vegetables and starches like potatoes. I don't want to fill people up on that. I just want to make some good food and not worry about the theme."
Sweet Grass Next Door, 937 S. Cooper (726-0015)
Also on Thursday, March 29th, Capriccio Grill in the Peabody is hosting a Jack Daniel's Whiskey Tasting and Dinner — complete with a tasting of four types of whiskey (including a "Peabody Select" single-barrel whiskey) and a four-course meal. The menu incorporates Jack Daniel's in each course, from whiskey-glazed meats to candied nuts and a honey whiskey banana pudding. Tickets are $65 plus tax and gratuity. Reservations are required.
Capriccio Grill, The Peabody Hotel, 149 Union (529-4199)