Erica Casey: Uncorked’s Cocktail Queen Talks Negroni Week, and a New Menu

10540635_10152556775263971_7963631301565368145_nThe elevation of former Sapphire bartendress “Aloha” Erica Casey to bar manager and Master Mixologist earlier this year boded big things to come at Uncorked (nee Oodles) on Market Square. And now her ascent is paying off, with a brand new craft cocktail menu, debuting June 1.

Casey is quick to add, though, that she had a little help in coming up with the restaurant’s new drink line-up. “A lot of places I’ve worked, only one person makes the menu,” she says. “I made sure every bartender had at least one drink on it.

“This is our introduction onto the craft cocktail scene.”

A lovely raven-haired Hawasian lass, Casey has been a tireless worker since her arrival on staff at the West family operations a year or two back. Even on an alleged day off, she’s a veritable perpetual motion machine, scurrying around the restaurant, experimenting with drink mixes, tending to various infusions, designing florid garnish sculpture out of apple boats and orange rinds and prickly bunches of pineapple leaves…

Between chores, she explains that the new menu includes at least two drinks with every major spirit; plus six sangrias and an egg-white cocktail and an acai berry cocktail, and even a cocktail devoted to Uncorked founder Jim West called the “Jimmy Appleseed” — a potent little admixture of apples and Larceny Bourbon and fresh ginger, plus a splash of champagne.

Casey notes that many of the drinks on the new menu will change seasonally. And supplementing the drink rotation will be Casey’s own personal roster of exotic infusions — right now, justferinstance, she’s got a vat of Gummy Bear vodka, jalapeño tequila, and pineapple-habenero vodka stashed behind the Uncorked bar top.

And kicking off Uncorked’s grand entrance into upscale cocktailery will be the venue’s participation in the annual Negroni Week competition, June 1 through June 7.

For those who aren’t in the know — and count me among that group; I had to look this @#$ up — Negroni is a gin-vermouth-Campari mix, garnished with an orange peel. The active ingredient — Campari — is a bitter distillation of various Italian fruits and herbs, the most notable characteristic of which is its rich red color, originally deriving from a dye made from crushed cochineal insects.

And no, I wasn’t making that last part up. But rest assured, the barbaric practice of stomping bugs for the manufacture of Campari has long been retired, and no insects were harmed in the making of any of Uncorked’s mixed drinks.

In any case, Campari’s annual Negroni Week event challenges bars and restaurants all over the world to sell as many Negroni cocktails as possible, with one dollar from each sale going to charity.

All the more reason you should stop by Uncorked and order a Negroni is the fact that Casey has chosen Knoxville’s Young-Williams animal shelter as her charity of record for the event.

“They just lost one of their major funding sources,” says Casey. “And I got both of my dogs from Young-Williams.”

That would include Sophie, a three-year-old German Shepherd-labrador mix whom Casey describes as “super-duper sweet and cuddly,”; and Huxley, a two-year-old Australian cattle dog-coonhound mix whom she says is “kind of of a crazy asshole… but lovable, too.”

Neither Sophie nor Huxley will be taking any direct part in Negroni Week festivities, seeing as how neither is of legal drinking age. We run a tight ship here at Uncorked, and rules are rules.

But they would greatly appreciate your participation in Negroni Week at Uncorked, for the sake of their lonely canine (and feline) brethren back at Young-Williams, many of whom will never know the joy and comfort of a loving home.

Also worth noting, says Casey is an upcoming revamp of the Uncorked wine list. Long known for having arguably the best and most extensive wine selection in town, Casey says Uncorked is nonetheless due for an overhaul. “There are some things that need updating,” she says. “Some of the wines just aren’t trending anymore.”

Also on tap is a more seasonal approach to the Uncorked wine list, and a new dinner menu (mid-summer-ish??) that will include vino suggestions for each entree. “We’re going gear our menu toward pairing wine with food,” she says.

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