If you pull up a bar stool at amici 30A Italian Kitchen in Inlet Beach, be ready to be simultaneously impressed and set at ease by the presence of bartender Corey Jernigan. Whether he is helping a customer discover a new drink, or entertaining a crowd, Jernigan makes everyone feel right at home when he is behind the bar.
“I’m kind of a service industry junkie,” he said. “Making cocktails is only five percent of what I do; it’s about offering good service. I feel like I’m the host of a great party; I like being here making people happy.”
Jernigan has been bartending for 15 years, but says it has only been the last seven years where his craft has really taken off.
“I really started to grow when I started craft bartending,” he said. “It really captivated me. About seven years ago nobody here really cared about craft cocktails, but what I learned is you’ve got to make people care.”
Jernigan’s enthusiasm for craft cocktails — or ingredients in general — will make even the most skeptical of customers change their minds about their drinks.
“I try to put a lot of care into everything I do,” Jernigan said. “It applies to life — the discipline you need — you don’t feel like you’re just pouring drinks. When someone calls your drink an art, it feels good. It’s the highest compliment.”
If you walk into amici 30A and don’t know what you want to drink, Jernigan said you are his favorite type of customer. In fact, he said he would love to add a line to the menu titled, “Free Styling” for just such occasions.
“I want people to try different things,” he said. “I love when people say they don’t know what they want, especially if they say they don’t like something. I was trained to look at you and know by your demeanor or emotion, and what spirit you like, and I’m pretty much spot-on every time.”
But when asked what his favorite spirit is, Jernigan had a hard time choosing just one.
“If I had to choose one spirit for the rest of my life? I love whiskey, but that is a tough choice because I like tequila, gin, wine, all of it,” he laughed.
Jernigan said every single one of his cocktails has a story behind it, and his favorite cocktail on the menu — This Whiskey is B.a.n.a.n.a.s — is also one of his favorite stories.
“I won a whiskey festival with that cocktail and it was a total mistake,” he said. “I came home one day and wanted vanilla simple syrup in my whiskey but I accidentally grabbed banana. Now, I sous-vide (cook in a vacuum-sealed pouch in a water bath under regulated temperature) bananas into whiskey and people are crazy about it. It’s the greatest mistake ever!”
As for his signature sip, Jernigan said his cocktail, Summer on 30A, was the beginning of a lot of great things for him.
“This is how I got my job at the donner-peltier distillery,” he said. “The Food Film Festival (South Walton) asked me to be their bartender; they said, ‘We heard you do cocktails, would you want to do a film festival?’ The distillery called me up around the same time, and I said, ‘I want to do something that will change people’s lives.’ So we went to bars all up and down 30A that summer, and made specific cocktails and said 50 percent of the proceeds from these cocktails goes to charity.”
That summer, Jernigan helped raise money for Habitat 4 Humanity, Food for Thought and Children’s Health Network with his cocktails, one of which was the Summer on 30A. It’s now become a staple at amici, and is the most popular cocktail on the menu during the summer.
“It’s basil, watermelon, fresh lemon and lime juice, elder flower and Oryza vodka which is a rice vodka,” Jernigan said.
When asked what the secret is to a good cocktail, Jernigan said, it’s all in the ingredients and the heart.
“Everything from the earth,” he said. “Make sure it’s as fresh as possible and that you have a passion to make it!”