The bar + lounge at The Hive is the perfect place to quench your thirst, entertain important clients, or grab a casual bite with friends. For nearly 8 years, Food & Beverage Director, John Robinson has been leading the bar program and helping to create the signature cocktails that have become favorites of both locals and visitors. We sat down to pick his brain about all things cocktails from his favorite ingredients to his go-to drink after a hard day.
21c: What’s your favorite drink to make at home?
JR: When I’m at home I’m pretty straight forward with my drink making. When I have time to make a cocktail at home for myself, I try to keep it simple with a traditional daiquiri or an old fashioned, but I usually opt for a neat pour of bourbon or a hard seltzer. I am not afraid to admit that I love a good hard seltzer! My wife, however, loves tropical tequila cocktails so it’s a weekly occurrence to make a trip to the supermarket to look for interesting fruits to turn into syrups for margarita riffs.
21c: What’s your favorite drink at a local restaurant?
JR: My favorite spot in Bentonville is Scotch & Soda on the other side of the Bentonville square. I love checking out their whiskey selection. They have hundreds of whiskeys and I enjoy experiencing something new when I’m there.
21c: Favorite type of spirit?
JR: My favorite spirit is by far Whiskey of all kinds, but especially Bourbon and Islay Scotch. My favorite Bourbon as an easy-to-find option is Wild Turkey Rare Breed. If I have to go down the rabbit hole of my favorite bourbons that are impossible to find in my neck of the woods it would be George T. Stagg and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. That’s a hard question because there is also a place in my heart for funky Jamaican and Agricole rums, the funkier the better!
21c: Ingredients you can’t live without?
JR: Chartreuse is definitely an ingredient I couldn’t live without. It is so good in large proportion, but it can also really elevate a cocktail and create nuance with just a quarter ounce or barspoon. I feel the same way about smoky scotch, if you have an awesome stirred whiskey cocktail, add a little smoky scotch in there, or atomize it over the top of the drink. Game changer.
21c: What 3 things are always stocked in your bar at home?
JR: I always have a bottle of Evan Williams Bottled in Bond at home, it’s around $16 from a liquor store and it is my go-to. My wife’s love for tequila cocktails means I always have a bottle of El Jimador Silver laying around. The third would have to be an amaro of some kind; usually Fernet Branca or Campari. These are very nice late night sippers while binging a good Netflix series.
21c: What inspires you when creating a new cocktail?
JR: A few different things inspire me when I’m creating cocktails. First off, more broadly, I want every cocktail to have its own personality. From the name, to the ingredients, to how it is glassed, to how and where it’s listed on the menu; it’s important that all of the stars align and there is depth to the cocktail in that regard. Second, our local immigrant communities here in Northwest Arkansas have brought with them some amazing products and flavors we wouldn’t have otherwise. I love visiting the local markets to find new exciting ingredients and to see how they can be woven into an interesting recipe. Being an Arkansas native and growing up hearing Arkansas folk-lore and history, I am inspired and driven to bring those indigenous stories behind the bar and to represent our state. Though we don’t have many spirits that are native to Arkansas, there is always the fun goal of telling a truly Arkansas story with our cocktails.
21c: What is an example of an Arkansas cocktail?
JR: We have a cocktail on the menu right now that is called Bad Moon Rising. It is a very spirit-forward, stirred cocktail that utilizes a hickory chip softened Arkansas moonshine, Madeira, Islay Scotch, and Maple syrup. The hills of Arkansas – and the Ozarks as a whole – are peppered with old, abandoned log houses and cabins. I have always seen beauty in these old structures and there is a certain romantic quality to picturing them in their glory days. This cocktail is an homage to those abandoned homes. If you could turn an old abandoned log cabin into a cocktail, that is exactly what this drink tastes like. It is rustic, aggressive, smoky, woody, with a touch of maple sweetness. It’s served modestly without a garnish, and we let the barebones approach and straight forward nature of the ingredients speak for themselves.
21c: What’s your favorite food/drink city (to visit) and why?
JR: Kansas City is by far my favorite destination city for restaurants and bars. The history of Kansas City lends itself to a very diverse food scene from amazing BBQ to awesome little old piano bars that have amazing bar programs. You can’t forget about all of the new, swanky craft bars in KC or their prolific brewery and distilling industry. Plus, KC is just such a chill, fun town.
21c: What 3 words would you use to describe the current dining scene in Bentonville?
JR: Just getting started. I think with time Bentonville will truly be a food destination. It has been so exciting to watch our once-little town turn into a tourist destination with attractions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and our vast, expansive mountain bike trail system. While we don’t have tons of options to choose from when it comes to high-end food and bar programs, the spots we do have are focused on quality and are sure to make a name for themselves nationally as time goes on.
21c: Favorite thing to do in Bentonville on your day off?
JR: I have a 7-year-old son, and our favorite thing to do in Bentonville on my days off is to either veg out on some video games or to ride our longboards on one of our town’s awesome trails that weave through the Ozarks.
21c: What drink starts your day? Ends your night?
JR: Oh, coffee 100% starts my day and a good amount of it. It depends on the night I’ve had, as far as what I drink to end my night. Everyone’s heard of a shower beer, but have you ever tried a shower hard seltzer!? It’s seriously one of my favorite things after getting home from a long dinner service. I highly recommend it!
21c: Any new activations happening at The Hive this year?
JR: Yes, we have started a new monthly cocktail class series that has been very popular. We always teach two cocktails; usually one light and refreshing option and one stirred, spirit-forward option. It has been so much fun sharing bartending knowledge and teaching the public the ins-and-outs of creating cocktails at home.
Our February Cocktail class is sold out, but we will have a class in March on the 12th. Stay connected with us by following us on Instagram or joining our mailing list to be the first to get your hands on tickets for our next Cocktail Class!