Happy Hour with Sean Gleason of Biltong Bar

What bartender wouldn’t want to work at a place whose motto is “beef jerky and booze”? When Sean Gleason was offered just that chance — to create and run the beverage program for Biltong Bar at Ponce City Market — he jumped. At the time, he was working at Leon’s Full Service, which has been a hotbed of bartender talent over the years (starting with Miles Macquarrie, now at Kimball House). A year in, Biltong Bar is, like Leon’s, a true drinking destination, thanks to Gleason’s complex cocktails and a surprisingly vast selection of spirits within the rather intimate confines of the bar. We sat down with Gleason to learn about the joys of beef jerky, Long Island Iced Teas and bad pina coladas.

When was the first time you tasted a cocktail and realized it was something worth paying attention to?

I had cocktails in college, but I’m not sure they should count. The experience of tasting a cocktail that most stands out to me was one of Miles Macquarrie’s I had about the time I started serving at Noodle in Decatur. I thought I hated gin, but his drink, the Blood Water, made me re-examine everything I thought I knew about cocktails. I still love that drink, and occasionally feature it on the classics menu at Biltong.

What was your first experience actually making cocktails?

The first drink I ever invented was during my sophomore year of college at Emory. It was a spite-fueled mockery of a Long Island Iced Tea affectionately called the “Sean Super Drink” by my roommate. It was terrible — Captain Morgan, Irish whiskey, amaretto, cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper — but I kept drinking them anyway.

What's your guilty pleasure these days?

Definitely the pina colada. Even when they’re made with bad rum and a shitty too-sweet mix, they are just always tasty. I’m not sure I can trust a person who doesn’t like pina coladas, actually.

Favorite drink to relax with?

Honestly? A cup of warm tea. Preferably oolong.

At Biltong Bar, you feature the South African style of beef jerky, but what would you pair with grocery store beef jerky?

It’s been years since I had grocery store jerky, so I’d probably side with the masses: cheap bourbon and really cold domestic beer.

Biltong Bar is also known for its popcorn — what do you like with that?

Our popcorn comes with melted butter, parmesan cheese and peri-peri salt. It’s less salty and much richer than standard popcorn, so it pairs well with stirred cocktails. I’m partial to it with a Manhattan. Standard popcorn (I’m operating under the assumption of movie theater style) demands something thirst-quenching, so beer is good, but so is any Collins-style drink, or really anything shaken.

Favorite thing about how the Atlanta cocktail scene is shaking these days?

There are so many different little microcosms of culture in Atlanta, and they all seem to do their own things. I guess what I like best is how inclusively “common goal” everyone is to raising the bar and increasing quality, despite radical differences in clientele across the city.

Least favorite thing?

I don’t personally like the re-emergence of pseudo-speakeasies… places with hidden doors and passcodes to get into. To me, bars are the epitome of a neighborhood hangout; places where anyone is welcome to gather, have fun, and get away from it all. Once you start adding that air of exclusivity, it stops feeling like a bar.


"The name for this drink comes from Archer. I like referencing TV shows and movies in drink titles. The first version of this drink came from my time at Leon's, when I was trying to make a stripped-down version of a Rum Barrel for a tiki-themed party. Over time, the drink just became a little more refined."

- 1 ounce Smith & Cross Rum (or other Navy strength rum)

- 1 ounce black rum

- 1/2 ounce ruby grapefruit juice

- 1/2 ounce lime juice

- 1/2 ounce grenadine (homemade, or any decent brand should work, as long as it involves actual pomegranate and no red dye)

- 1/4 ounce cinnamon syrup (homemade, or the one from BG Reynolds)

- 1/2 ounce egg white

- 1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients over ice in shaker, then shake and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with grated cinnamon and nutmeg.