When trying to settle on a name for his Los Angeles bar, a hypermodern venue with a commitment to Southern-style hospitality, Mike Capoferri was stumped. He’d long been a fan of Charles H. Baker Jr.’s The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, and realized the answer to his naming conundrum was right there in the book. “Thunderbolt” was perfect, he thought, as the drink—a peach-infused rum julep—is named after a town outside of Savannah in Capoferri’s home state of Georgia. “It’s kind of cool there’s a ‘canonical’ classic from where I’m from,” he says.
In The Gentleman’s Companion, Baker writes of the ambrosial quality of the Thunderbolt—a “nectar of the gods,” in his words—and where it came from, calling it a “long-hoarded julep treasure from old-time Georgia.” The recipe calls for a staggering three jiggers (presumably 6 ounces) of aged Cuban rum, lots of mint, a whole peach that’s been peeled, pitted and halved, a small measure of lime juice and a touch of sugar. It’s built like a classic julep, except that the rum, lime and sugar are mixed separately before being poured into a large goblet over a giant mound of ice bearing the mint and peach halves.
The way the original is concocted is about as far as you can get from the way it’s made at Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt’s program is a child of the 21st century—you won’t see a single drink at the bar stirred or shaken. Most of the prep happens behind the scenes. “Everything we do here is pretty high-concept, but none of it is for the show... It’s all for the purpose of faster, more consistent, higher quality, more delicious, more affordable [cocktails],” Capoferri says.
Thunderbolt’s take on its namesake drink begins with the “justino” method, popularized in Dave Arnold’s book Liquid Intelligence, wherein dried fruit is blended in a Vitamix with spirit and put through a centrifuge. The technique had been lauded as the most effective way to get fruit flavor into spirits, and Capoferri agrees: “I’ve tasted every peach brandy and peach liqueur that’s out there, and this is the best way to get peach flavor into a spirit.”
The peach-rum justino is made by blending dried peaches with aged Jamaican rum—the bar uses Appleton Estate Signature Blend—which Capoferri says is the ideal pairing. “That hogo-y Jamaican rum with a big punch in the face of yellow peach is so delicious,” he says.
To serve the cocktail, Thunderbolt bartenders build the drink in a simple amber-colored glass over crushed ice. Two ounces of the peach-rum justino is joined by half an ounce of Clément Canne Bleue—a single-variety 100-proof agricole rhum from Martinique—and a small measure of crème de pêche. Thunderbolt doesn’t garnish any of the other drinks at the bar, but Capoferri couldn’t resist finishing the julep riff with a mint bouquet, which adds aromatics.
On the menu, the Peach Thunderbolt lists just a few words—“aged and agricole rums, peach, mint”—which can read to guests like a lighter cocktail. And while Capoferri dialed back the rum from the classic, with two and a half ounces of the base, it’s still on the boozy side. “We learned pretty quickly that a lot of people were not expecting what they got early on,” he says. But once guests have been briefed on the spirit-forward nature of the drink and decide to go for it, they’re delighted by its maximal peachy flavor.
Each drink on Thunderbolt’s menu is designed to highlight a different high-concept technique employed at the bar, and the Thunderbolt julep has a permanent spot. The peach version appeared on the opening menu in 2019, and the second iteration was made with tart cherries; the third, which will appear on a new menu debuting later this month, centers jackfruit.
Capoferri says the Thunderbolt is the bar’s eponymous cocktail because it’s the most representative of its ethos. “It’s the most tech-heavy way to bring forward a very simple, singular flavor combination,” he says. “And it’s presented in this very, very simple serve with no frills.”