By Jan Walsh // Photography by Beau Gustafson
JT’s Lounge is located on the main level of Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort and Spa. It is named for its settler, James Taylor Ross.
The Ross family’s Scottish heritage served as the inspiration for its ambience. This 2,000-square foot bar welcomes locals and travelers. Wood paneling and natural light envelope the space. And outside there is a patio for those who want to sip al fresco. Fresh fruit, fresh herbs, and rosemary grown on the property decorate the bar and are used in their cocktails. JT’s Lounge also incorporates Alabama spirits and offers local brews.
Bartender Kelsey Crenshaw introduces us to the “Daily Beverage Ritual.” This ritual is a daily punch served from 5 to 6 p.m. or until the Tena Payne, Earthborn Studios pedestal bowl, made of Southern clay, is empty. The punch recipes change daily and are inspired by the book Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Crenshaw is an award-winning bartender whose bar knowledge and skills are extensive. She has been tending bar for 22 years. She educates me in the five elements of any respectable punch: sweet, strong, sour, bitter, and sparkling. And today’s punch—Paloma Smash—has it all. This lovely, thirst-quenching concoction includes all the elements. It is a mix of tequila, cava, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh orange juice, and soda water. It is golden in color and served in a lowball on the rocks with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of lime. One easy sip reveals the delights and dangers of this fabulous, flowing bowl.
Later Wade Combs, director of food and beverage, introduces us to Opelika’s John Emerald Distilling Company with a dram of their Single Malt Whiskey. Released in September 2015, this single malt is believed to be the first legally produced whiskey in Alabama in 100 years. Distilled from 100 percent malted barley, it is smoked using peach and pecan wood and aged in small, five-gallon barrels. The company is the namesake of three Sharp brothers who immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland. Thus their spirits are kin to JT’s Alabama and Scottish heritages.
Crenshaw also uses John Emerald’s Gin in The Notasulga Negroni along with Campari and sweet vermouth—a twist on the classic Italian drink that is shaken and served in a martini glass with an orange twist. It has a pronounced flavor profile that hits the palate on many cylinders, as it should. The Negroni is believed to have been invented in Florence, Italy in 1919, at Caffè Casoni, an antique shop and bar, where Caffè Giacosa sits today. Here Count Camillo Negroni asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by adding gin instead of the typical soda water. And Fosco finished the drink with an orange garnish verses lemon.
Our final drink is their wildly popular The Strawberry 100. For this cocktail, Crenshaw muddles fresh, in-season strawberries, and shakes with lemon, juice, agave nectar, and Birmingham’s own Redmont Vodka. Served in a martini glass, this gorgeous cocktail is red in color and garnished with a strawberry flower—the top of the berry. It is naturally sweet, juicy, and delightfully luscious. •