Charleston is synonymous with a certain type of easy elegance. South Carolina’s colorful city oozes hometown charm thanks to historical landmarks, foodie hotspots, and a nightlife scene that adds healthy dose of fun...
A posh federal building-turned-hotel, The Dewberry is Charleston’s newest architectural gem located in the heart of the city. After an eight-year transformation of an iconic mid-century landmark, there’s no better way to experience the belle of the American South than through the lens of John Dewberry in quintessential Charleston style. It is a place that exudes old-world charm with a distinctive modern edge. With 155 guest rooms and suites, no detail goes unnoticed: from the Irish linen bedding to the Danby Vermont marble bathrooms and to the seasonal in-room bars curated by the chef.
But one of the most talked about elements of this property is the hotel’s main restaurant, Henrietta’s. With an “approachable formal” vibe, the black-and-white checkered floor and dangling bulbs give the place a Parisian bistro feel. The food is a mix of French technique and Southern ingredients, with dishes like duck in preserved rhubarb sauce, steak frites, and, of course, fresh oysters. And arguably even buzzier than the restaurant is the hotel lobby and bar, The Living Room. At the center of the cozy lobby filled with leather-bound books, plush couches and a table for two with a chess set ready and waiting, you’ll find The Living Room’s crowning jewel: a show-stopping brass bar. Behind the bar, you’ll find a wide array of whiskeys, liqueurs and Amari — and, of course, a bearded man in a crisp white jacket waiting to take your order no matter the time of day.
The master mixologist is none other than Ryan Casey, a creative genius if we do say so ourselves, and who's listed amongst the best mixologists in America. His seasonal cocktail creations feature twists on classic libations, served with the most intricate details. Even the ice is shaved to perfection and stamped with the hotel’s logo. Naturally, we had to pick his brain and get an inside scoop on what goes on behind the scenes. In a one-on-one, Ryan Casey tells us where he finds his inspiration, the most unusual cocktail he's ever made (you won't believe how long it took to make just the ice!), the secret behind The Dewberry's branded shaved ice, and where to find the best cocktails in Charleston (aside for his own, of course).
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION WHEN YOU CURATE THE SEASONAL MENUS?
We approach seasonal cocktails the same way a chef does in the kitchen, if it's growing right now, we are serving it right now. Summertime is citrus season with lighter spirits, colder months are for darker, more intensely flavored spirits. Dark spirits bring bigger aromatics that fill your head with warmth as you imbibe. Think baking spice, apples, and warm cider. We think about the weather, really how hot or cold is it outside, and work with flavors and ingredients that match. Our screaming hot summers call for lighter, city, refreshing drinks. When we reach the cooler months we start to work with ingredients like Scotch and walnut liquors. More intense and comforting that bright and refreshing.
FAVORITE COCKTAIL YOU'VE EVER MADE?
Ever!? That's tough. One I am very proud of is called "Dark as Night." As the name suggests it's a warmer and is a shining beacon to the less is more approach. It only has three ingredients, which makes all three of those ingredients very important important because they have nowhere to hide. XO Cognac, Barolo Chinato (a type of sweet vermouth made from only Barolo wine), and Austrian walnut liquor. It's served slightly chilled in a very large snifter with one large jagged chunk of crystal clear ice. It's a neat marriage of form an function. The large piece of ice maintains the cool temp with minimal dilution and oversized snifter allows the ice to fit while leaving enough volume inside the glass to allow the intense aromatics to shine as you sit with it.
MOST UNUSUAL COCKTAIL YOU HAVE EVER COME UP WITH?
Less difficult! The Emerald City. This is an 11 ingredient wierdo based on a fig leaf extract I was shown how to make by a Chef named Josh Fratoni at McCrady's a couple years ago. We picked young fig leaves, packed them into a mason jar, filled it with everclear—alcohol is a natural extractor so the more alcohol, the more extraction—and we waited 4 months. The end product was an intense dark green liquid that smells like fresh coconut and tastes like dark green vegetables and forrest floor. Almost mossy and wet, but really interesting. It took 11 ingredients to find the balance required to make that interesting flavor delicious. To bring it home and celebrate the color, I hand cut clear ice into shape edged spikes that looked a lot like quarts crystals. The ice is alarming time consuming, but very cool. I made this drink specifically for an event called "Cook it Raw" when it came through Charleston in 2013. It took me 9 hours to make the ice for the 55 attendees of the final meal. The name comes from The Wizard of Oz. Large green crystals...
CAN YOU TELL US THE SECRET BEHIND THE DEWBERRY'S SPECIAL ICE?
It is made in a special machine called ‘Clinebell’. A Clinebell is what ice sculptors use to make the 300 lbs. blocks of clear ice. They stack them up, freeze them together, and start cutting. It's clarity is a result of purity. A Clinebell freezes from the bottom to the top very slowly allowing all the impurity to be pushed the the top. Once frozen the slug of all things not water is cut off. It's all the things we put in water to make it safe to drink like chlorine and fluoride. Again, a marriage of beauty and function. Crystal clear ice is pure water free of flavor or impurity. The large format freezing also gives us a chance to make the ice cubes much larger than what comes out of a normal ice machine. The large piece has less surface area so it melts slower. Pure water and slower melting makes for a better tasting cocktail that dilutes at a much slower rate. We buy our ice from an ice sculptor in town named Brain Conners.
WHAT'S THE BEST PART ABOUT WORKING AT THE DEWBERRY AND WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO?
Being a part of the team that gets to bring our beautiful building to life. John built a stunner but it's just a building with out us adding the living breathing part.
The creative side is what I love. We take other peoples finished products, mix them together and make something new and exciting with them. There is also an instant gratification that's hard to be mad at. We make cocktails to order in front of our guests, the guest takes a sip, and when well exicuted teh guest can't help but look happy or smile to themselves when they take the first sip.
OTHER THAN THE DEWBERRY, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE GO-TO'S IN CHARLESTON AND THE BEST DRINKS TO TRY?
- The Ordinary – The Classic Daiquiri
- Fig – Depth Charge 2.0
- Little Jack’s Tavern – Jacks Martini
- Indaco – They have a seasonal menu, but it’s always great and you can’t go wrong
BENEFITS OF BOOKING WITH ITKE:
Complimentary breakfast for two daily
$75 Hotel Credit to be utilized during stay
Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
Priority check-in/check-out, subject to availability