Reinventing Sophisticated Libations

February 2018
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw
Photographs by: 
Jon Stell

Strong Waters brings classy craft cocktails to our coast

PHOTO:  Smokin’ Oldie, Strong Waters’ version of an Old Fashioned and one of two dozen high-end specialty drinks; (inset) Elise Stephens.

When Brittain Resorts’ Director of Food & Beverage, Elise Stephens, was asked by her bosses in 2016 to describe the perfect place to enjoy cocktails and food, she didn’t hesitate to begin selling them on the concept of what would become Strong Waters Craft Cocktails & Kitchen. A year later the hip and urban craft cocktail bar, like those Stephens visited in the big cities where she used to live, came to fruition, opening in March 2017. Stephens helped bring a very old (yet all-new to the area) concept to Myrtle Beach, though the model was aready well established in nearby Charleston and Wilmington.

“It’s kind of the speakeasy format,” Stephens further explained while setting up the bar to create a Smokin’ Oldie, Strong Waters’ version of an Old Fashioned and one of two dozen high-end specialty drinks. “We wanted to take the craft cocktail concept a step further and use locally sourced ingredients from the farmers’ markets and use local and regional suppliers. Our bitters, for example, come from Crude Bitters and Sodas in Raleigh. We use Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar Syrup made in Charleston. It’s our tribute to the Carolinas.”

Burnt Sugar Syrup is a bittersweet kettle-cooked aromatic sugar, that, as it turns out, is very hard to re-create at home but is available locally and online. Stephens piled a handful of hickory woodchips on a upside down stainless steel cocktail strainer, pared off a large hunk of fresh orange peel and grabbed the bourbon—Buffalo Trace, her personal favorite.

“Cocktails have been my hobby ever since I was old enough to drink,” she said. Stephens comes from a family of restaurateurs and has enjoyed her own career in hospitality after studying at UNC-Greensboro.

After pouring the bourbon over ice she placed the strainer and woodchips on top of the glass and fired up her butane torch. Soon a small campfire sent the sweet smell of burning wood across the bar as it crackled and smoked. “The cool ice actually draws the smoke into the drink,” she said. Removing the flame, she covered the dying, smoky hickory with another glass and we watched the mystical, swirling smoke perform its magic, infusing the drink with the flavor of a fall campfire. “You can leave the smoke in as long as you like, depending on your preference,” she said. After a couple splashes of bitters, the drink was served.

Best enjoyed at Strong Waters, the Smokin’ Oldie can be made at home, too. 

Smokin’ Oldie

2 ounces Buffalo Trace (or your favorite high-end bourbon)
.25 ounces Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar Syrup (in an emergency, further caramelize 2 tbsps. brown sugar to almost burning, with just enough water to keep it liquid)
2–3 splashes of high quality bitters, such as Crude Small-Batch Bitters
1 large, fresh orange peel, 1 inch by 3 inches
1/2 cup aged dried hickory woodchips
Metal cocktail strainer
Kitchen butane torch

In a rocks glass half-filled with medium-sized ice cubes, add bourbon and orange peel. Place wood chips in an upside down cocktail strainer, place over glass. Quickly heat woodchips with kitchen butane torch until burning well and smoking, place empty glass over fire, depriving the flame of oxygen, and allow smoke to swirl between glasses for 20 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on preference. Remove empty glass, top drink with 2–3 splashes of bitters, give a quick swirl, serve.