What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Alley Twenty Six bartender, owner crafts cocktails with homemade ingredients

Posted March 18, 2015

Shannon Healy is owner and bartender of Alley Twenty-Six in downtown Durham. (Briana Brough for Durham Magazine)

— Bartender (ˈbär-ˌten-dər) n. “the person who’s right for the place they’re at. The person who best implements the strategy of their bar.”

Shannon Healy, owner of and bartender at Alley Twenty Six, explains the definition of a good bartender before adding, “What I hope makes me a good bartender at Alley Twenty Six is just caring about the product and the people that I serve. I love what I do.”

Being a bartender at a cocktail bar means knowing cocktails – not just recipes, but also the histories behind those recipes and what formulas work together.

It also means making your own mixers and always using fresh ingredients. “There’s no soda gun back there,” Shannon says. “If you want cola, I made the cola. If you want tonic, I made the tonic. If you want anything with lemon or lime, I just squeezed the juice today. If you want stuff that comes in a can, I don’t have any of it.”

Basically, Shannon makes everything but the booze, including liquors, syrups and bitters. “I don’t have Kahlúa, I have coffee liquor,” Shannon says. “I can dictate what sugar goes into it, what water goes into it, what coffee goes into it and what rum goes into it. I have complete control of these ingredients.”

At Alley Twenty Six, those flavors are always meant to highlight the spirits, never hide them. “If I make you a drink with bourbon, you’re always going to know there’s bourbon in the drink,” Shannon says. “You’re going to recognize the vanilla and charred tones, that crème brulee taste. Here, we want you to taste the booze.”

Shannon’s Apple Brandy Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz. apple brandy (Carriage House Apple Brandy is preferred)
  • ¼ tsp. sugar
  • 6 dashes angostura bitters
  • Orange peel

In a mixing glass, cover sugar with bitters and stir to dissolve. Drop a strip of orange peel (roughly a half-inch by two-and-a-half inches) side down in glass and gently grind it into bitter sugar solution. Add apple brandy. Add four or five large ice cubes. Cover with a mixing tin and roll four or five times. Empty all contents into a cold double old fashion glass. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: Shannon is one of five craft cocktail makers who will be making originally curated drinks at the Artisan Cocktail Dinner on April 25 at 7 p.m. at The Cookery in Durham. It’s part of the Taste event series. The cocktails will be paired with food from Piedmont and Revolution. Tickets are $110 and are available at Taste 2015's website. A portion of proceeds will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C

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