I’m a big fan of the song “A Change is Gonna Come”, whether you go with the Sam Cooke original or one of the many covers, the words ring true, perhaps now more than ever. We know this. We hear it all the time “The only constant is change.” For all our talk of change, it sure does seem like those wheels turn slowly sometimes. I am reminded of the old proverb, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly fine.” Maybe that is as things must be, as long as we continue on that moral arc we will eventually find justice. I just wish the road to true equity and equality ran a smoother path. So, in honor of that struggle and the need for change, won’t you join me now as we stand and make Jubilee Juice.

It’s Juneteenth, which is finally a national holiday. There is something ironic in how long it took for folks to acknowledge this day. If you are not familiar with it, and I have to admit that growing up in Tennessee, I was an adult before I heard about it, Juneteenth celebrates the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to free the roughly 250,00 enslaved people in the state. I say it is ironic because those folks had, ostensibly, been released from bondage 2 years before when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. To be fair, there has always been a delay between promises made and promises kept in America, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by stubborn choice. So here we are, 156 years later, celebrating our first nationally recognized Juneteenth.

This beautiful drink was created specifically to honor this day by by Tiffanie Barriere, an amazing cocktail creator and the former beverage director of One Flew South located in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. Ive been there once or twice and there is a reason it is generally recognized as one of the world’s best airport bars. I first became aware of her work in The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails, where she contributed an amazing sherry forward sipper, the Cab Calloway. So, when I saw this drink of hers pop up on The Bitter Southerner, I knew I had to try it. 

This one can be made with or without spirits, obviously, I am going with spirits. That is kind of what I do. The recipe calls for 2 ounces of your favorite spirit and I debated back and forth before seeing that bottle of Uncle Nearest still sitting on my bar from last night’s Bananas Foster Manhattan. Not only is Uncle Nearest named for, and run by descendants of, the first African American Master Distiller in the United States, Nearest Green, but they are having their grand re-opening today post pandemic. So, this is an obvious choice. I am sure that the drink would be lovely with vodka, gin or tequila or even with no spirits at all, but it felt right to use this locally made small batch whiskey to celebrate today.

Grab your tins and pop in 2 ounces of Uncle Nearest 1884, 2 ounces of hibiscus tea or pomegranate juice. I had tea, so that’s what we are using. 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 3/4 of an ounce of 2:1 honey syrup. Add some artisanal ice and shake to the beat of “A Change is Gonna Come”. I know I have used that song before, but it is stuck in my head today and I just can’t think of anything that better captures how I am feeling. Go with the Otis Redding version to shake things up. I always liked it’s cleaner, stripped down production. When your tins are good and cold, grab an ice-filled glass, fill it half way with ginger beer and strain the drink over the top, garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel, some dried hibiscus and maybe a sprig of mint.

That is light, refreshing and lovely. A nearly perfect summer sipper. It’s been hot today and this one goes down smooth as Lake Street Dive would say. Mine was more pink than the prescribed red. The tea steeped for a while and it was a great deep red, but it did not stand up to the ginger beer. I guess I should have gone with Pomegranate juice. I also skipped the stir, cause I loved a layered presentation and the ginger came through just fine in every sip. In spite of the color, the taste is all there. Personally, I like the kick from the whiskey, giving this one a bit of an edge, but I can imagine it working with most any other spirit or it really might be best of all in the kid-friendly version. Just a great combination of flavors, each elevating the next, as it should be.

Look, I am a white guy from the South and my opinion on the merits of Juneteenth is the last thing anyone needs, but I am glad we are acknowledging the date and the actions that make it important. I don’t know how to best be supportive here, but I do know that I want to live in a world where everyone gets a fair shake and I want my son to grow up in a world where who you are matters more than where you were born, how much money your parents had or the color of your skin. A world that cares more about the things you do with your life than the stuff you had no control over. It gives me some hope that most of the folks we have elected to represent us were able to vote yes on recognizing this as a legal holiday, even while some of them were crafting legislation that would make it harder for everyone’s voice to be heard and illegal to discuss the history of this holiday and why it is as important today as it was in 1865. I guess I should be happy with baby steps in the right direction, but I am hoping that this is more than another symbolic gesture. If we want to live in a better world, then we need to make sure that world is better for all. Our children deserve better than we had and we can give it to them. After all, as Dr. King reminded us “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I hope that is true and that we finally have our feet on the right path. So let’s raise a glass to justice and change, this Juneteenth. It’s been a long time coming. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane my friends.