SpringHouse mixologist Will Abner brings a chef’s creativity – inspired by Executive Chef Rob McDaniel – to the cocktails he makes for the bar’s patrons. | Robert Hudson photo
SpringHouse mixologist Will Abner brings a chef’s creativity – inspired by Executive Chef Rob McDaniel – to the cocktails he makes for the bar’s patrons. | Robert Hudson photo

Archived Story

Mixing it up

Published 11:32am Thursday, December 26, 2013

Complexity of cocktails hooks SpringHouse’s mixologist Will Abner

When it comes to a cocktail, the base formula stays the same, but it is the variable of creativity and experimentation that gets Will Abner excited about blending the familiar drink.

Abner, who has served as bar manager and mixologist for SpringHouse since October, said the simple – yet complex – nature of creating a cocktail is what he most enjoys among the many aspects of his job.

“Everybody has their own kind of drink, and that’s what I enjoy about bartending, talking to people and seeing what they like to drink,” Abner said. “I just kind of dove into the history of cocktails and tried to see where it all began. That’s where I really fell in love with it. There have been bartenders since the turn of the century, and cocktails really haven’t changed since. We have a lot more to work with, but they were as creative as we are now.”

Abner started out four years ago as a barback in a Montgomery bar and soon found an interest in the creativity of mixing drinks.

“I just kind of fell in love with what the bartenders were doing behind the bar and the endless possibilities that come along with bartending,” Abner said.

The recipe for the average cocktail is pretty straightforward, Abner said, and has withstood the test of time.

“The basic foundation of any cocktail is going to be your alcohol – your base spirit -– and then you’re going to balance that out with sugar and some sort of acid, like lemon juice or lime juice, just juice,” Abner said. “That’s really the most classic formula for a cocktail.”

But it was at an event where he met SpringHouse Chef Rob McDaniel that Abner said he truly started to realize the creative possibilities in his new passion.

“I think what might be my favorite drink, and what maybe got me the job here, is when I was at this event, Lambstock, in Virginia. It was the first time I met Rob and a lot of the SpringHouse staff,” Abner said.

While Abner was serving as a bartender at the event, he met McDaniel, who was picking local herbs and other ingredients to use in his cooking.

Abner said McDaniel picked a plant called shiso, which is like a blend of basil and mint. When the event’s host approached Abner about making pre-dinner cocktails, he thought of a creative way to serve something different to the guests.

“Then I thought of that shiso out in the woods. So I went out and picked all these leaves of this plant and used it to make a julep, so to speak,” Abner said. “We had a little bit of the bourbon and the moonshine with that mint, fresh basil leaf, and it was amazing. It was kind of a shift in thinking for me.”

That change in thinking has followed Abner to SpringHouse. He said it has been good to add a culinary influence in his cocktails, and learning to blend flavors for different tastes one wouldn’t normally think about putting in a drink.

“Lately, what’s really keeping me excited is this is really the first opportunity I’ve had to work in a bar at a restaurant – so, there’s the food,” Abner said.

“Ever since I started here, the cocktails that I’ve been making have taken a really interesting direction in being more food-based because I have an awesome kitchen crew to work with and some of the best cooks in the South with Chef Rob McDaniel. They have amazing palates and that presents an opportunity to have more input from them and more sophisticated drinks than your average cocktail.”

Abner added that he has thought about new ways to work with those around them and how that influences his approach to his job.

“Another great thing I enjoy about working here at SpringHouse is working with the general manager, Sam Fonte, who is a sommelier, which is a wine expert,” Abner said. “I didn’t know anything about wine, but hanging out with Sam has really opened my mind up the same way working with the kitchen has.”