TOWN Magazine (Dec. 2014)
Kirk Ingram of Greenville’s American Grocery Restaurant takes the craft to new heights
by Steven Tingle
photography by Paul Mehaffey
Kirk Ingram is behind the bar at American Grocery talking about his past. When he says he used to be the head bartender at the “Airport,” he’s not talking about some funky, airplane-themed restaurant or club—he’s talking about the actual Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. It’s been a long, strange bartending journey that has brought Ingram to American Grocery. But in the year since he’s joined the AGR team, he has developed an impressive bar program where he honors America’s pre-prohibition past, throws some twists on modern classics, and creates custom cocktails based on customer preferences on the spot.
Ingram first started tending bar in Chicago where he was a self-described “broke student trying to make some quick cash.” But he quickly tired of Chicago’s fast pace, cold weather, and high cost of living and made his way down to Greenville where his parents were enjoying their retirement. He took the job at the airport, and while there, immersed himself in the history of cocktails and cocktail culture, as well as the new craft-cocktail movement that was heating up across the country.“By that time,I was making my own bitters at home and burying myself in research,” he says. Ingram left the airport to develop the bar program at the short-lived Owl restaurant.Then, in the summer of 2013, he brought his game to American Grocery and has since become known as one of the most knowledgeable and talented bartenders in the area.
But Ingram is not content to coast; he’s always researching and experimenting. He points to several small bottles of homemade bitters sitting behind the bar.“There’s Buddha’s hand, blood orange, apple, even root beer,” he says. “And one of the things we’re going to be doing soon is focusing on shrubs, which are ancient drinks that go back thousands of years.”A shrub is a drinking vinegar that is often infused with herbs and spices, and according to Ingram they can add depths of flavor, well beyond that of bitters and other modifiers. He’s currently experimenting with shrubs in some modern drinks, specifically one that is more known for its name than its taste.“I still get a lot of orders for cosmos,” he says.“So what I want to do is offer a twist on a cosmo, and instead of cranberry juice use a cranberry shrub.”
Despite the bitters and shrubs and countless jars of herbs behind the bar, Ingram is still more than happy to stir up a dry martini if that’s your pleasure.“You know,” he says pulling down a bottle of Hat Trick gin,“in the end all that matters is that it tastes good.”
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