Jim McCourt's Secret Ingredient For the Best Manhattan
Charleston, South Carolina, hasn’t just gone through a food renaissance; its cocktails are coming on strong, too. Irish-born Jim McCourt is doing some of the best work as a bar manager at Prohibition—a hip King Street spot—like his Manhattan made with a splash of Grand Marnier. Here, we got some more background on his inspirations and favorite drinks.
When did you know you wanted to work behind the bar?
I don't really remember the exact time I knew I wanted to work behind the bar, but my mother was a bartender for 30 years and as a kid I was always around. I would be there after school doing my homework and on weekends I would be playing. My mother has a picture of me around 1 year old in her arms pulling a pint of Guinness. So I guess I was always destined to work behind the stick.
What inspires the cocktails you create at Prohibition?
I get my inspiration from a lot of different places. Classics are a big influence—reading old books, re-creating the recipes and putting my own spin on them. Sometimes I even come up with a name for a drink and work it that way. Other times I'll find a new ingredient or product and work on that.
Which cocktail that you've developed in your career is your favorite, and why?
There are so many cocktails over the years that I've created it would be hard to choose a favorite one, but one of my favorites would be the 547 Manhattan. I moved to Charleston a few years ago and when writing the cocktail menu, I wanted to create a drink that would tell the story of my 12 years in New York City and my new life in the Lowcountry. After a short time, I discovered that Charleston at the time drank more Grand Marnier than any other city in the world, so I made a Manhattan (the nod to NYC) and added a touch of "grand ma" (as they call it here).
What's your favorite classic cocktail, and why?
My favorite classic changes day-to-day, whatever is in my hand, but I always love a well-made old fashioned—classic and simple.
What's a super-easy recipe that someone can re-create at home?
One easy cocktail for people to make at home would be a whiskey sour.
2 ounces whiskey
1 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Add all ingredients to a shaker, fill with ice and shake vigorously for ten seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.