What to Read Next

Star-Spangled Cocktails for the Fourth of July

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
July 1, 2014

Derek Brown’s Bread Basket Sour. Photo credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel

Friday is Independence Day, and this September is the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. Dammit, we’re feeling patriotic!

So are the editors at the Smithsonian Channel, who, along with the American History Museum and cocktail historian David Wondrich, have roped 15 of this fine nation’s best bartenders into creating drinks in honor of our national anthem. They’re calling the project “Raise a Glass to History,” and they’ll be sharing the recipes all summer long.

“I want there to be a story before I put something in the glass,” participating Atlanta bartender Greg Best told us. “What’s going in the glass? To build a cocktail, it really takes thinking something through and going deep, and geeking out a little bit.” 

And “geek out”he and the other bartenders did. Below, find four of their cocktails and the stories behind them. Make as many as you like this Fourth of July, because remember: You live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 


Best, who earned two James Beard Awards nominations for his work behind the bar at Atlanta’s Holeman and Finch, is the thinkiest thinker we know when it comes to crafting cocktails.

“A drink should be a medley or a tapestry of flavors, each one for a specific purpose,” he told us. Each ingredient in his creation represents a part of the country he loves. The apple cider vinegar speaks to his Yankee heritage, the Colonial-style Thomas Tew Pot-Still Rum is a throwback to summers spent on Long Island, sorghum syrup is for the South, where he lives now, and Breckenridge Bitters, made in Colorado, is his shout out to the West.

While all of this theorizing is important to Best, he also wants the drink to taste good, of course. “It’s not just a cocktail to appease the cerebral side of things. There are going to be a bunch of folks drinking these; it needs to be delicious,” he said. Amen. “Nothing is more horrifying [at an event] than seeing a tray covered with unfinished glasses full of your drink while everyone else is slamming down the pink one.”

Watch the video for how to make Of Thread and Theory, and find the recipe on the Smithsonian’s website.


“When you drink, you drink first with your eyes. Cocktails should be attractive.”That’s what Derek Brown, who owns Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency, The Passenger, and the James Beard Award–nominated Columbia Room, all in Washington, D.C., was thinking when he made his drink.

Well, that and seasonality. “I got really hung up on the blackberry,“ he said. “It’s a beautiful, amazing berry that grows abundantly right now, especially in mid-Atlantic region.” Rye whiskey is also big in Maryland and Pennsylvania. “When I think about the Star-Spangled Banner, I’m not just thinking about the flag, but also, ‘Why am I proud of flag and where I come from?’” Brown wants to encourage people to think local when they drink—not solely when they cook.

“One of the least fun things about America is this crass commercialism. Our culture started out as being about different pockets of the country and what they did and why they were special,” he said. Brown thinks that, while that went away for a while, we’re appreciating our regional differences again. “There really is a mid-Atlantic cuisine, and there really is something called a mid-Atlantic drink.”

Watch the video for how to make the Bread Basket Sour, and find the recipe on the Smithsonian’s website.


Anu Apte, owner of Rob Roy in Seattle, is a first-generation American with a penchant for family traditions. “The fact that the flag was handed down within a family is touching,” she wrote on smithsonianchannel.com. Her drink contains Appleton VX rum in honor of the Eben Appleton family, who donated the flag to the Smithsonian in 1912, and Amrut Old Port, an Indian rum, “in honor of my parents who moved to the United States from India in the early ’70s. They went to the United States, like many, for prosperity.” That explains the edible gold garnish, which double as “the bombs bursting in air.”

Watch the video above for how to make the Old Traditioned, and find the recipe on the Smithsonian’s website.


That name? “It’s mostly because conflagration is one of my favorite words,” said Brandon Casey, beverage manager of The Gladly and Citizen Public House in Arizona. “Well, that and that it’s a fancy word for ‘fiery mess,’ and I was a bit of a pyro as a kid.” His cocktail involves setting pipe tobacco afire, so that makes sense. While that provides a smoky note, “like firing cannons,” mint and lemon “grab you and bring you back from all that sultriness,” like he imagines seeing the banner did for Francis Scott Key. Casey sampled 15 different pipe tobaccos to find just the right one. Now that’s the spirit!  

Watch the video for how to make This Conflagration Nation, and find the recipe on the Smithsonian’s website