I have a special place in my heart for Dogwood Southern Table. When I sent out the initial email to pitch restaurants on joining the first ever Cheers to the Queen City Cocktail Tour this past summer, General Manager Tim Buchanan was the first to respond with an enthusiastic, yes, they would love to be involved. Filled with all the confidence in the world after securing my very first restaurant I made my way to South Park one afternoon to sit down with Tim who introduced me to Brian "The Hammer" Lorusso who manages the bar program at Dogwood. To the crew at Dogwood, Brian is known as "The Hammer," a title that one might imagine would be bestowed upon the intimidating type but what I found during our first meeting was quite the opposite.
Standing behind his bar which is stocked with an impressive array of jars filled with various house made infusions, spices and bitters, I met Brian, a soft spoken fellow with a deep passion and knowledge for his craft. Brian is always willing to talk about new recipes he’s experimenting with, share a taste of a cocktail ingredient he's cooking up or offer a whiff of a spice combination he’s put together. Since I first met Brian on that afternoon last summer, I’ve come to see his bar at Dogwood flourish with a lively gaggle of South Park residents who faithfully gather around the bar to imbibe on his righteous cocktails. Get to know the barkeep who has made the Dogwood Southern Table bar the place to be on any given night.
TC: What interested you in this profession?
BL: It’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since I was 16. It’s all I know.
TC: How did you get your training?
BL: I mess up a lot, people who say they don’t mess up aggravate me because I learn way more from messing up than getting it right. Either you get better or you don’t, it’s free to pay attention.
TC: How did you come up with your style which I would say is partly focused on traditional cocktails but elevated with house made infusions, syrups and interesting spice combinations?
BL: I would say endless research. My wife and I cook a lot. I have an extensive cookbook collection and I’m just constantly learning, whether it’s websites, books or videos. I just have an insatiable quest for all things food and beverage related.
TC: How often do you consult with the Chef when crafting a new cocktail menu?
BL: All the time, that’s my favorite thing to do. I’m sure sometimes they get annoyed with how much I’m back there but that’s just like my favorite thing in the world, to let them try stuff because I want feedback, seriously, who has a better palate than someone in the kitchen.
TC: So "Hammer", how did you get that name?
BL: (laughs) I have no idea, I’ve asked Tim that 1,000 times and no one has ever given me an acceptable answer. It’s Tim that came up with it. Yea, I don’t think there really is a good reason.
TC: What can we expect for trends in spring cocktails in Charlotte?
BL: Man, that’s pretty tough. I just think as Charlotte becomes a more educated city you will see more people using local as much as possible. So more bartenders using products from farmer’s markets which is all pretty awesome.
TC: What is your bartending philosophy?
BL: Don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s just bartending.
TC: Do you preferred to be called a mixologist or a bartender? Why?
BL: Bartender. Bartenders have always been around. Mixologists are someone who will not be bartending next year.
TC: Ok then, what’s your definition of a mixologist?
BL: A mixologist is.... (pauses) Oh, man, I don’t want to get in trouble. I’ll just say a mixologist is someone who takes themselves too seriously.
TC: What do you think about people using molecular chemistry and such in crafting cocktails?
BL: I think its great. There should be no limits. Anything you can do to push the boundaries of flavors and the craft is awesome.
TC: For you what is the best part of tending bar?
BL: For me it’s hospitality. Above all else its about hospitality and if you don’t understand that aspect you shouldn’t be bartending.
TC: Final question, when you’re behind the bar and you're in the zone serving up cocktails left and right what is your theme song? The song that's playing in your head?
BL: Man, it constantly changes but right now it’s Meek Mill, Dreams and Nightmares.