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Watch from home as Atlanta beverage pros shake, stir, pour and chat

Bartenders,  sommeliers use social media to connect with drinkers during shutdown

As bartender Mercedes O’Brien fills a measuring cup in her latest SippNatHome video, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” drifts in for a few seconds. She’s making a Something Different gimlet, using Instagram’s live-streaming feature, and it’s as captivating as watching her craft cocktails behind the bar of Cold Beer, Kevin Gillespie’s restaurant on Atlanta’s eastside Beltline.

Sheltering in place, some talents in the beverage industry have turned to videos to share skills and support, and to replace the social hours many drinkers miss. “It's always been a goal of mine to start a project like this, but working restaurant hours, you really don't have much time for anything else,” O’Brien said.

For a few minutes, we are transported from our all too familiar homes to her magical bar, watching not just for cocktail tips, but for companionship. O’Brien releases her videos biweekly at noon on Thursdays. She produces them at her Kirkwood home with her partner, Bryan Bankovich, whom she describes as “a full-time editor, media mastermind and the perfect match for this project.”

Between videos, the duo posts a variety of resources, including an ingredient list for the next episode, at-home recommendations, teaser clips, and a bonus cocktail from the previous week's ingredients.

Her primary focus is applying her professional insights and techniques — from working at places like Cold Beer and Gunshow — to the at-home bartender. She doesn’t take herself too seriously; humor has been a coping mechanism for both of them.

“Once (COVID-19) hit, I was forced to go full stop with unemployment and, like many of us, was faced with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness,” O’Brien said. It was as if “none of the skills I've accumulated in my career could be used to help or better the situation, and (it) took my partner, and video editor, to shake me out of it and remind me of the opportunity.”

She realized she could bring a bit of joy and hospitality into the homes of people who need it now, more than ever.

Find SippNatHome on Instagram and look forward to drinks focused on seasonality, vacationing at home, backyard foraging, history of the classics, and even quarantine obsession "Tiger King."

“There will also be a heavy sprinkle of at-home hacks, and fundamental knowledge for beginners, as we always want to make sure it’s accessible to anyone, with no intimidation or worry,” O’Brien said.

The weekly “Wine Show” from European Cellars is a chance to sip along with experts.
The weekly “Wine Show” from European Cellars is a chance to sip along with experts.

Credit: Courtesy European Cellars

Credit: Courtesy European Cellars

Is wine more your thing, rather than cocktails? Oenophiles can participate in tastings via online video conferencing. Tim Willard, eastern regional manager for European Cellars, hosts "The Wine Show" series of virtual tastings every Wednesday night. (Find the link to join on his Instagram page, @twillard06).

For each themed evening, he presents sommeliers, vintners and other wine professionals, along with musical guests. “I have people reaching out, saying it’s the best part of their week, and that it’s what they need during these dark times,” Willard said. “We even had our first ‘virtual first date’ last week.”

Guests on Willard’s show have included well-known names from Atlanta’s beverage scene. Steven Grubbs, wine director for Hugh Acheson Restaurants and a musician, headlined “The Joy of Value Wine” on April 1. Miller Union wine wiz Neal McCarthy was the special guest on “New Spain: A Renaissance of Spanish Wine.”

“Wine is just the vehicle,” Willard said. “The chat function during the show has been, for me, the most impressive and rewarding aspect — to get real-time perspective from everyone that is participating.”

Future shows will focus on skin contact wines, with a suggested charcuterie board for pairing. Head to europeancellars.com/online-tastings for the list of featured wines, as well as local shops that carry them, like 3 Parks Wine Shop in Grant Park.

Is it a coffee shop you yearn for during this time? Missing the connection with customers at his Toco Hill and Ponce City Market Spiller Park coffee shops, owner-barista Dale Donchey took to Instagram Live for a home-brewing series. Visit his Instagram feed, @dbdonchey, at 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, when he shares his best tips for brewing coffee at home. He is very engaged during his airtime. You may share the experience, with warm mug in hand, and you don't even have to steal the Wi-Fi.

Tune in every evening at 5 p.m. for virtual cocktail hour from Likewise at Ponce City Market, and don't forget to tip your bartender.
Tune in every evening at 5 p.m. for virtual cocktail hour from Likewise at Ponce City Market, and don't forget to tip your bartender.

Credit: courtesy Likewise at Citizen Supply

Credit: courtesy Likewise at Citizen Supply

There are others out there trying to fill a creative need while serving consumers. Likewise, located at Citizen Supply in Ponce City Market, presents "Quaran-tini Time" on Instagram Live (@likewiseatlanta) each evening at 5 p.m. Recaps list the recipe for the cocktails made during each episode.

Jerry and Krista Slater of the Expat in Athens take to the Southern Foodways Alliance's Instagram Live page (@southfoodways) for a virtual happy hour at 6 p.m. Fridays. Lessons on how to make such drinks as a Ruby Slipper or a perfect Old-Fashioned are streamed live, with lists of ingredients and a lot of joy. They guide home bartenders through recipes with and without alcohol.

Missing a round at the pub? At 8 p.m. every Thursday, Fado Irish Pub hosts virtual pub quizzes via Instagram Live (@fadoirishpub). Tune in with your team on Zoom to play along. And, at 6 p.m. Fridays, they offer a virtual happy hour with hosts Kieran McGill and Tom Dowd.

Ordering takeout from restaurants during the pandemic is only one side of the coin when it comes to supporting the food and dining industry. When you view these videos, consider tipping your bartender via places like Tipsyatl.com, or donating to your favorite restaurant's GoFundMe page.

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