Swig contributor Kristen Oliveri sits down with Bethany Kocak, head bartender of the wildly popular McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina. Kocak has been leading the charge and most recently implemented the restaurant’s new happy hour program. You can find her handy work in the latest cocktail additions including the “Free Radical” made with gin, suze, turmeric, lemongrass and lime as well as the “Expatriate” made with Irish Whiskey, toasted benne, ginger, honey, egg and bitters. While Kocak is proud of her work behind the bar, she’s also passionate about spreading the love and teaching people how to curate a well-stocked home bar.
Q: First things first. Tell us about McCrady’s new happy hour menu.
A: Available Monday through Friday, McCrady’s bar is featuring a happy hour from 5pm to 6:30 pm. The goal is to provide accessible, reasonably priced options for guests to enjoy and get a glimpse into what we’re all about. We currently have three snack items including ridiculously delicious country ham and escargot that will change periodically. On the drink end, we will have a rotating classic cocktail, draft beer and a white and red wine option.
Q: What are some of your new cocktails you’re producing these days?
A: Since starting with McCrady’s two years ago, I have become more and more inspired by utilizing ingredients found in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. I have dabbled with foraging and I’m currently working on cocktails to highlight these beautiful ingredients that grow in our backyards. Along with the amazing pantry of spices in our kitchen and herbs from our rooftop garden, my upcoming menu combines the fresh components with our tools at McCrady’s into well-balanced, interesting cocktails. I’m excited about a tequila and mezcal cocktail that uses the loquat shrub, rounded out with Yellow Chartreuse and Cappelletti. Another fun drink is a bourbon concoction with Laird’s bonded apple brandy, sumac, wild fennel and lime juice over crushed ice.
Q: How did you find your way into the industry?
A: I attended College of Charleston to pursue Hospitality and Tourism Management, bartending throughout school to pay the bills. It’s funny; I never felt the restaurant industry was really encouraged as a career path during my education. But something about being in the food and beverage space always made me feel like I was a part of something. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I decided I wanted to become a professional in this industry, mostly because the community in Charleston is so tight-knit and supportive. Once I landed a job at McCrady’s, I buckled down and began taking bartending seriously and really started to apply myself. I am extremely happy I did.
Q: What’s your take on pairing cocktails with McCrady’s tasting menu?
A: My favorite part about working at McCrady’s is pairing cocktails with the incredible food that comes out of our kitchen. All of the dishes are so bright and interesting in flavor and usually have some sort of acid, whether it is citrus or vinegar. When it comes to pairing drinks, I never want to overshadow the intricacies of a dish. I like to highlight an herb or element from the dish and either match the acidity or provide a palate-cleansing sip for after the guest is finished.
Q: With that being said, what’s your favorite pairing of all time?
A: We had a rabbit dish on our menu a while back that included pine needle oil and zipper peas. The dish reminded me of a rabbit hopping around in a forest. I was super excited to pair a cocktail to accent the tree components, using pine extract and a wild juniper tincture, built with aquavit, lime juice and buttermilk whey. The cocktail was shaken and topped with club soda, so it was both complex and refreshing.
Q: What’s your go-to drink?
A: My forever favorite cocktail is the Aldo Raine from The Belmont on Upper King Street [in Charleston]. It combines rye, zucca, aperol and lemon, and it’s just so damn good. Second choice: Miller High Life.