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Morgan McKinney

By Andrew Woods Photographed by Lizzie Dean

Morgan McKinney knows how to make things look easy. The kind of bartender that

makes you believe for a few seconds “Hey, this doesn’t seem so hard, maybe I could do this.” It’s fitting that Morgan is also a writer and a martial artist — the masters of both make their audience feel similarly engrossed.

However, as anyone who has attempted to riff their own drink or write their own sonnet knows, it is a lot harder than it looks, and you usually end up with a bad taste in your mouth.

“I do three things every single day: practice kata forms, write something, and look through my cocktail books. Each of these things require an extreme amount of discipline and expertise. Just as I have to read extensively to learn to write better poetry, I think you have to read from those who came before you to make better cocktails,” McKinney explains. “Yes, you can be a naturally talented, but the real masters are the ones that stay humble and study the ones who have done the job better.”

This commitment to studying the past and pushing boundaries in the present has shown up often in Morgan’s cocktails. She loves the technique and ritual of building a Sazerac but is also thrilled with the prospect of layering new flavors together in a funky Mezcal Sour. This drink walks the line between stoking your nostalgia for the original cocktail while still exploring new avenues for exploration.

“I’m excited anytime I get to create different versions of classic cocktails because I feel like I’m becoming a bridge between two worlds. These drinks have the integrity of something classic while giving it a breath of freshness, similar to repurposing your grandmother’s wedding dress into the skirt of your own or turning your mother’s old painting shirts into a quilt. The essence of the familiar remains, but it becomes something else entirely. It gives me a sense of ownership and responsibility over my craft, and with each drink I hand over the bar, similar to when I’m teaching children a 900-year-old technique in martial arts, I feel like I’m passing something down of value larger than its surface value.”

The drink, which adds a twist to every step of the classic Negroni recipe, still maintains the spirit of the original cocktail, a mix of sweet and bitter, strong and elegant, and now new and old.

The Recipe: The Besk Negroni in Town


  • 1 oz Cynar

  • 1/2 oz Capalletti

  • 1/2 oz Letherbee Besk

  • 1/2 oz 13th Colony Rye Whiskey

  • 1/4 oz Hayman’s Sloe Gin


Combine all five ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with bar spoon. strain with a Hawthorne Strainer into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

All ingredients are available at Joe's Wines and Liquors

Left to Right:



This Georgian Rye has a distinctive spicy flavor with a slightly sweet finish. It has a high rye mash bill and is aged in new charred oak barrels. It’s finished in French oak spirals and bottled at 95 proof.



A London dry gin that has been flavored with sloe berries. This traditionally English- winter spirit has an ABV of 26%. It’s light, sweet and has notes of plum, grilled cherries and ruby red grapefruit.



First introduced in 1952, this Italian bitter- sweet amaro is made from artichokes and 12 other herbs. It has a strong herbal and vegetal quality that ends with a bitter finish.



Besk is a relatively obscure, yet infamous, Swedish liqueur. This rendition comes from Chicago and is viciously bitter with flavors of grapefruit on the front, finishing with an onslaught of wormwood alongside earthy gentian root.



In the same family as Campari and Aperol, Capalletti is an artisanal wine-based aperitif made most from Trebbiano. The flavor is slightly bitter with notes of citrus peel.



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