With a Mint Julep that’s known throughout Louisville and a cocktail menu that highlights local ingredients, Proof on Main (one of our picks for the 100 Best Places to Drink in the South) head bartender Jenni Pittman is at the forefront of southern cocktail culture. Here she chats about her first night behind the bar, where she finds her cocktail inspiration and why you’d best be a bourbon fan if you’re going to sit at her bar.
Imbibe: What first drew you to bartending?
Jenni Pittman: I started in the industry as a hostess, and after that, I wanted a new challenge. I was most unfamiliar with the bar, so that seemed like the perfect option. I was, as they say, “thrown in with the sharks”—left to my own devices on a fairly busy night behind the bar, and that’s how I learned the ropes.
Imbibe: What’s your favorite drink to make?
Pittman: I love making the drinks I know I can execute perfectly: the Gimlet, Mint Julep, Old Fashioned, French 75.
Imbibe: Where do you find your cocktail inspiration?
Pittman: I’m inspired by Chef Paley of Proof on Main—his flavor combinations, his thought into the textures of a dish, the presentation—all of these things I consider when making a drink. Also, using seasonal and, when possible, local ingredients is important.
Imbibe: Are there any quintessentially southern flavors that often find their way into your drinks?
Pittman: I use a lot of honey, mint and barrel-aged flavors, like bitters or bourbon reductions.
Imbibe: What do you love most about southern cocktail culture?
Pittman: We’re all passionate about food and drink—our lives center around it. We’re supportive of one another—we’re not just representing our establishment, we’re representing the entire city of Louisville. Also, being southern, we’re proud. Hearing someone say they don’t like bourbon is a little soul-crushing. I sometimes won’t let a customer leave the bar until I’m certain I’ve changed their mind.
Imbibe: Is there one cocktail you think perfectly sums up the spirit of the South?
Pittman: [A mix of] bourbon, sweet tea and mint. Or, let’s be honest, if we’re talking about deep in the heart of Kentucky, then it’s moonshine, sweet tea and mint.
Imbibe: What do you pour yourself at the end of a long shift?
Pittman: Green Chartreuse, neat. It burns going down, has a sweet finish and it makes me feel rosy.