Sazeracs, Cheap Beer and Insta-Worthy Cocktails: Drinking with Bob Peters

We first discovered Bob Peters on Instagram and quickly became intrigued by his stunning cocktail creations and reached out to learn more. A true Southern boy, Peters is a native of North Carolina and is currently Head Mixologist for the Punch Room at The Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte.

In 2015, he won Global Bartender of the Year for The Ritz-Carlton Corporation. Not impressed yet? Check out his Instagram @bob_peters. (Yup, thought so). Although it is his impressive artistry and vision with craft cocktails that caught our attention, his sincere friendly Southern Charm is what had made us fans. Without further ado, let’s go drinking with Bob Peters.

Drinking With Bob Peters

Drinking With Bob Peters Bartenders Charolette

Featured Image Credit: Justin Driscoll.

How did you get started in the biz? What was your first hospitality job?

I got my start in the service industry accidentally by picking up a part-time job bussing tables at a restaurant while still in college. It wasn’t until after college that I stumbled into a job bartending, and that is when I fell in love. It was a charming little dive bar that my oldest brother turned me on to, the Elizabeth Pub. It was old and run down, with a couple of pool tables, dart boards, a ping pong table, two TV’s that didn’t work very well, and one phenomenal jukebox.

There were no real closing duties except to empty the ashtrays and wipe down the bar top. Taking out the trash was semi-optional. It was a perfect place to cut my juvenile bartending teeth. Twisting domestic bottle caps and pouring the occasional straight liquor shot of Jack Daniels or Rumplemintz was about the extent of my required job. Even though I was the only person working during my shift, I had ample amounts of free time to play pool. It was heaven.

What was the gateway drink that made you say this is a cocktail and inspired you to take it all seriously?

There are two “A-Haaa!” cocktails for me. I don’t remember which came first because there might have been a day or two that separated the tastings. The Sazerac and the Corpse Reviver #2. It might have been the absinthe – I don’t really care for the licorice flavor – but the subtle anise finish in both of these cocktails really blew my mind. Maybe it was the technique of rinsing and that being a part of the presentation that got my attention. Maybe it was the first times that I had ever had a perfectly balanced cocktail but the experience was like nothing that I ever ingested via cocktail before.

Then I dug up the history of both of these classics and realized how old they both were. Boom! I felt like I was having an existential journey through almost two hundred years, sharing those cocktails with all that drank them before me. My fascination with the historical side of the cocktails makes sense because my Dad was a complete history buff, especially when it comes to the Civil War. The Corpse Reviver #2 and the Sazerac made me explore more and more classic cocktails, famished for historical recipes and thirsty for all the information I could find.

What is your current go-to drink order?

My current go-to drink order when I am at a nice cocktail bar is whatever the bartender wants to make me. For fear of overlooking the star of the show for something familiar, I always turn my decision over to the person that always knows best: the bartender. On the flip side of that, if I am at a bar that is not necessarily known for its cocktails, then I am completely at home with ordering a good shot of tequila and a cheap beer.

What is your favorite place(s) to hang out over a drink or 3 when around Charlotte?

There are several places here in Charlotte that are doing some really amazing things: Soul Gastrolounge, Heist, Stoke Bar, The Cotton Room, 204 North, and Sea Level are all doing amazing cocktails.

But if I want to get away from it all and still go somewhere that I know everyone, I’ll go to my favorite dive bar, Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Smokey’s reminds me of the dive bar that I started at, except its way nicer and a lot more clean.

Coffee or tea?

I  am an avid coffee drinker. When I’m on top of my game, I bring my wife a cup of coffee while she is still trying to wake up in bed, and I typically start every morning with two incredibly strong brewed cups. If I am really dragging in the afternoon, on the way to work I will stop by my favorite local coffee shop called Central Coffee. It’s a wonderful little spot at a busy intersection that has incredibly talented baristas and delicious pastries. If I’m at work already Bar Cocoa is in the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. I’ve heard rumors that the baristas are magicians and I believe it.

Where do you take out-of-towners for cocktails for an “Only in Charlotte” experience?

If I have good friends from out of town visiting, I always take them to Soul Gastrolounge. The food is incredible and the cocktails are amazing. I worked there some years back and it just feels like home. It is always great to be around friends who feel more like family.

What is your favorite spot for a romantic “let’s get it on” date night drink recommendation in Charlotte?

The Punch Room, of course!

Most under the radar impressive bar in Charlotte that deserves more attention?

I really like the Cotton Room at Belfast Mill. It’s tiny and awesome. They use fresh ingredients and take a lot of care when mixing their cocktails. It’s my kind of place.

What are your favorite drinks seasonal – warm weather vs cold weather? And now that it is going to be the holidays – what’s the perfect holiday drink?

I don’t think I have a favorite season for cocktails. I love summer to winter cocktails and everything in between. There is, however, a time and a place for everything. I love sipping boozy bourbon cocktails when it’s freezing cold outside. The feeling of a perfectly balanced cocktail thawing your chilled body from the inside out is one of pure satisfaction. On the other hand, I also love quenching my almost primal thirst in the hottest Southern summer months with an incredibly cold citrusy gin cocktail. There is almost nothing in this entire world more pleasurable than drinking seasonally. I think it makes your soul smile when you are in harmony with the seasons.

What is the most popular cocktail on your menu right now?

The Saint. It is stirred together with one of my all-time favorite bourbons, Old Scout, and combined with Punt E Mes, a bitter Italian vermouth, and a homemade honey miso walnut syrup garnished with an almond lace “ halo.” I am lucky enough to have an incredible pastry team at The Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, headed up by Crystal Broadbent and they are kind enough to help bring my avant-garde cocktail concept to life. For that, I am eternally grateful. This cocktail is definitely the star of the fall menu. I think The Saint is so successful because it touches 4 out of the 5 basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, and umami. There are a ton of interesting flavors that bounce around on your taste buds, like hyperactive kids on a trampoline during a sugar bender. The presentation is stunning as well. That never hurts.

What is your hangover remedy?

My hangover remedy is a little unconventional. I love to gather some of the same savages that helped get hungover, back together for a greasy burger and fries. The hangover cure is not delicious life-giving food but it’s the laughter that makes you feel better. I don’t think I ever laugh harder than the times I spend piecing together the foggy moments of the night before with true friends. Filling in the blanks, hearing things you missed and realizing where your wild card friend ended up is absolutely rejuvenating. It’s hard to feel bad when you can’t stop laughing.

Special shout to any bartenders or drinks makers out there that you do your best to visit and you think deserve some special love?

I would like to send some love to Tenzin Samdo (@bostonmixdrink). I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Tenzin yet but we have spoken on several occasions. What an amazingly kind-hearted person. I love his creativity and passion for cocktails. I love the fact that he is a proud father and integral part of the bar and restaurant scene in Boston. I’m actually going to meet him in person at the 2017 Las Vegas Nightclub & Bar Convention.

Tenzin, Natalie Migliarini (@beautifulbooze), Erick Castro (@hungrybartender), and I will be on a panel discussing Instagram-Worthy Cocktails. That is going to be a blast. I can’t wait.

You have a massive following on social media, do you think there is pressure to make drinks not only taste good but also look good and be “Instagrammable”? If so, is this good or bad for the industry?

I think any pressure that someone feels to make a cocktail IG-worthy only can come from inside that person. If you can harness that nervous energy into motivation, that can be a very powerful tool. If you have your priorities in order, then this can be a very positive thing for our industry. First and foremost your cocktail has to taste great. Once that is done, then you can start thinking about esthetics. I rather enjoy this part of the drink creating challenge. Just like food, we drink with our eyes first.

The Most Instagrammable Cocktails

Featured Image Credit: Justin Driscoll.

A cocktail that tastes great is…a great cocktail. But a cocktail that is beautiful and it tastes great, that is an experience. I love watching my guests’ faces when I deliver a stunning cocktail and then after their first little sip, their eyes roll back in their head in pure ecstasy. That’s why I love my job, I get to share that experience with each and every one of them.

Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to or someone to thank?

I am typically inspired by chefs. I love how really successful chefs have an incredibly strong point of view. Their commitment to the experience they want to share with their guest is incredible. I’m inspired by the energy that chefs pour onto a plate. I love the passion that you can see in someone’s eyes as they are working. That singular focus that blocks out everything else in the world, while trying to make sure that whatever they are working on, however minute, is nothing short of perfect. I am inspired by their boundless knowledge of food and flavors. I am inspired by love. I am inspired by people that understand that they can never really master their craft but are willing to die trying.

Any advice for aspiring young guns wanting to break into the industry?

Stay busy. You always have to stay in motion in order to grow. Select a mini-project that is interesting to you. Find something you don’t know how to do and then attack it with everything you got. Try it a hundred different ways. Exhaust all the possibilities. When it starts to become less interesting you know it is time to find a new project and repeat. I’m also a firm believer in the fact that you have to surround yourself with people who get it — motivated and successful people. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. Earning your position and/or success should be a point of pride.

Spill it …. shameless what are you working on right now?

HA! Winter cocktails. That’s all you get!

Connect socially:

Instagram: @Bob_Peters
Twitter: @bobthebartender
Facebook page: BobPetersCraftCocktails

Punch Room details

201 E. Trade St. (at The Ritz Carlton Charlotte), 704-547-2244, 

Featured Image Credit: Justin Driscoll.

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