Valkyrie at Proof

A mixture of Italian amaro, St. Germain and 101 Wild Turkey Rye makes for a big cocktail. file/Stephanie Barna/Staff

You shouldn’t be surprised to see a cocktail from Proof in this column since it’s my favorite bar in downtown Charleston. I love the bartenders, the vibe, the free jazz on Monday nights, the boiled peanuts and the salty Marcona almonds. The cocktails are good, too, and probably the main reason other people come here. Owner Craig Nelson is a Charleston f&b lifer, having worked behind many bars around town before breaking out on his own in 2012.  

The Daily Meal just released its 150 best bars in America and Proof made No. 20, impressive for a small bar in a Southern town on a list that honors such esteemed bars as the Dead Rabbit, Bar Agricole, The Aviary and the Old Ebbit Grill, so I feel like it’s relevant to discuss their offerings this week.

With the chilly winter we’re having, Proof’s boozy cocktails provide a buffer against the cold. We stopped in to see what bartender Sam Gabrielli considers his signature drink and he served us the Valkyrie, a manly combination of Wild Turkey 101 Rye and two types of Italian bitters with a feminine splash of St. Germain, a French elderflower liqueur.

“This is the original Sam cocktail,” says Gabrielli, who brought it with him from Boston, where it was published in “Drink & Tell, A Boston Cocktail Book.”

If you’re not up for the burly rye whiskey drink, the cocktail menu has all sorts of classics and new creative concoctions. Sometimes a French 75 (gin, lemon, sugar, champagne) is all you need. And sometimes you want to see what the heck a Knuckleball tastes like with its combination of Old Grand-Dad B.I.B., spicy Coca-Cola reduction, orange bitters and pickled boiled peanuts. The beauty of experimenting at Proof is that you are in very good hands. Nelson is one of the best in the business and he attracts young, ambitious bartenders eager for the opportunity to make real cocktails (as opposed to serving up buckets of vodka and sodas at the college bar down the street every Friday night).

Proof opens every weekday at 4 p.m. for happy hour and on the weekends at 6 p.m. 

Follow Stephanie Barna on Twitter @stefbarna.