Sara Justice//photography by neal santos
Wow. What inspired you to dream up this concoction?
I knew I wanted there to be a gin drink that really just played to all of the botanicals and fresh herbal flavors that you think of in the springtime. I love the Barr Hill Gin and the floral honey notes it has, so I wanted to bring that out as well. I love chamomile as well. The white chocolate came into play as a way to balance out the chamomile. Right before this menu launched someone brought me this honey grappa. I had never had it before, and I knew just a little bit would be perfect for this drink.
You hold an impressive bartender track record, even nabbing glossy mag acclaim in Food & Wine and on Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list. But, where did it all begin? What was your first bartending gig ever?
I have been working in restaurants my whole life. My first job was bussing tables at a diner in my hometown where my older cousins waited tables. I loved working in restaurants and the hospitality and social aspect of everything, but I never really thought about this as a career until I started waiting tables at a restaurant in Decatur, Ga. called Leon’s Full Service. The bar program there is top-notch, and I was lucky enough to start bartending there. I pretty much just fell in love with all of it. The history of cocktails, the amazing world of spirits, the importance of fermenting and distilling. That’s pretty much when I realized this is what I wanted to do.
Favorite classic cocktail to create (and recreate) and why:
Probably manhattans and variations of them. It’s just such a great format, and there are so many amazing fortified wines you can use in place of vermouth, and so many bittering agents you can add instead of a dash of your typical bitters. It’s just a drink I could drink anywhere, any time.
Cheekiest cocktail you’ve ever invented:
I once made a sort of painkiller variation with charred corn infused vodka, corn whiskey, a little bit of mezcal, pineapple, watermelon, coconut and BBQ bitters. It was summertime, so it was supposed to be like being at a cookout, having all the fresh fruit, corn on the cob, BBQ. It was called “Everybody Hurts,” after the R.E.M. song. That one was pretty fun.
You’ve infused, smoked, whipped … and, basically, gotten straight-up scientific when it comes to composing ingredients for your cocktails. But, what has been the craziest technique you’ve undergone to nail a flavor for a drink?
Right now for the Sweater Weather (which is part of the tasting but also on our regular menu in a full-sized portion), we basically steep an Earl Grey tea with dandelion and burdock root, add a touch of raw honey, then make a loose gel so we can whip it all in a whipped cream canister. Then it’s served on top of the drink, which has bourbon, grapefruit, fennel and Peychaud’s Bitters.
Compared to the food world, I don’t think the technique is super out there, but it’s fun for a cocktail, because it offers a different textural experience. The tea and honey feels somewhat ethereal, which is really nice for springtime.
On your (rare) nights off, where can we catch you sipping? What’s your current go-to drink order?
There are so many new spots opening up in Philly right now. I usually try to go somewhere new to take it all in! I just made my way over to Brick and Mortar—the crew over there is so great and their drinks are delicious. My go-to is probably something like a manhattan—something boozy. I also love anything with rum.
The Franklin’s latest five-course cocktail tasting, Thaw, is available at $65 per person. Find Sara Justice behind the bar, pulling up all her stops, at 112 S. 18th Street in Philadelphia. For more info, visit www.thefranklinbar.com.