Each month, as part of an ongoing portrait of rising talent in the bartending community, PUNCH hosts a resident bartender who has demonstrated a strong sense of personal style. In this installment, Columbus, Ohio’s Annie Williams Pierce is taking over our bar, and debuting a custom menu of four original cocktails that we’ll serve throughout her month-long residency.
Though far from a cocktail mecca, if you asked anyone where to get a good drink in Columbus, Ohio, the answer would invariably be “Curio.” With a penchant for out-of-the ordinary ingredients and a farm-to-glass bent, Curio was a key player in educating a thirsty public that cocktails could be more than just ‘tinis and well drinks. When the bar abruptly shut its doors after six years of service, it left Annie Williams Pierce, a Columbus native and former Curio bartender, eager to continue the momentum it had established for the city’s drink scene.
“No one is trying to open the new Curio, because no one could—there was nothing like it in Columbus,” she says. “But I think there’s a lot of need for great drinks, for the sort of passion and the level of nerdiness and attention to detail that we had at Curio.”
Williams Pierce has been working in the service industry since the age of 14, filling various positions at diners and restaurants before finding her way behind a bar at “a really high volume, sloppy sports bar serving bomb shots and Bud Light” in Chicago. It wasn’t until 2011 that Williams Pierce landed what she calls her first “real” bartending job at Matt the Miller’s Tavern back in her hometown. Recognizing a genuine curiosity in Williams Pierce, then manager Christina Meehan called her up from server to bartender. “She was like, ‘You should be back here. I can teach anyone recipes; I can’t teach people to give a shit,'” remembers Williams Pierce, “and then me just being a total nerd, it just kind of went from there.”
It’s this same studiousness that will guide the drinks program at her forthcoming bar, Law Bird, which she’ll open in the Brewery District later this year with her husband and business partner, Luke Pierce. (“He’s the brains, I’m the booze,” she jokes.) There, alongside a wine-focused drinks program, the veteran bartender will serve the sorts of cocktails that she herself enjoys.
“My style is inherently weird but good,” says Williams Pierce, acknowledging that her drinks might look odd on paper. “We’ve spent years building our reputation as the ones that are like ‘Trust us, we’re going to do some really fun things, it might get a little weird, but you’re going to love it,'” she says. This often manifests in highly vegetal, savory concoctions that take cues from the world of wine. “Vermouths, sherry, Madeira… those are some of my favorite things in the world to consume,” says Williams Pierce, “I love drinking that way, so I always try to kind of incorporate it into my drinks.” Take her London x Tokyo, for example, a Persian lime- and sugar snap pea-infused Martini variation that calls on verjus for balance. “When I realized that you could savor a sip of something the same way you savor a bite of food… I was hooked,” she says.
Here, get to know Annie Williams Pierce in four drinks.
Created for the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in 2017, this Martini variation is inspired by Japanese flavors incorporated with techniques like fat-washing and infusions that might be more at home in the London cocktail scene. “My husband and I took our honeymoon in Japan and just fell in love… we love the food, we love the process of it, we love the delicacy behind it… but they crush beer during their meal,” says Williams Pierce, “I was like ‘Your girl needs a Martini!’” Here, Persian lime-infused, olive oil-washed gin is complemented with sugar snap pea-infused blanc vermouth and verjus for a delicate, vegetal spin on the timeless classic. The resulting vermouth-infused peas act as a bonus snack.
“This one is, again, in my style of kind of weird but good,” says Williams Pierce, “I wanted to create this kind of green prickly sort of cocktail… but it’s also frothy and floral.” Tequila provides a charred, grassy backbone while almost a full ounce of Suze and a touch of Cardamaro, bring a green, bitter herbaceousness to the mix; rosé syrup adds brightness, and texture comes courtesy of aquafaba. Williams Pierce adds the finishing touches with ground fennel pollen and dehydrated raspberry dust sprinkled over the top.
Created while working at a neighborhood restaurant, The Sycamore, the Rather Cavalier was designed to be an approachable introduction to mezcal. “At the time, we had all of these things here [on the backbar] and none of the staff knew what any of them were for so it was sort of my excuse to play with them all and educate the staff at the same time,” says Williams Pierce. Here, she combines the slightly smokey, rich profile of Mezcal Vago Elote, a mezcal infused with roasted corn, with pamplemousse liqueur and dry vermouth, which, in keeping with her signature style, adds a subtle vegetal note to the minimalist stirred cocktail.
“It’s basically a Ramos Gin Fizz with carrot juice and grassy spirits,” says Williams Pierce of this dessert-like creation, which is inspired by a carrot pudding served by a beloved local food truck. Cachaça and wheat vodka comprise the earthy component representative of carrot greens, while a spiced syrup featuring coriander seeds, allspice and cloves complements fresh carrot juice. Finally, Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon soda stands in for the expected soda water for an extra-bright finish.