For Don Pirone, beverage director at Brezza Cucina in Atlanta, hospitality is not just the name of the industry he works in, it’s an ethos to live and work by.
“The core of it is making sure people enjoy themselves at all costs,” he says. “The thought of someone paying for something they did not enjoy at our restaurant almost keeps me awake at night.”
Pirone’s start in the industry came as a 15-year-old busboy in a South Florida pizza restaurant. In less than 10 years, he was running his first bar program and had qualified as a certified sommelier.
Now 29, Pirone shares his love of wine during the educational tasting classes he hosts at Brezza Cucina. The sessions focus on Italy, though Pirone admits the first bottles that spoke to him had a French rather than Italian accent.
Nowadays, his passion is equally shared between the wines of Alto Adige and the Loire Valley, and Pirone takes a keen interest in discovering biodynamic, sustainably produced, and orange bottlings.
Sustainability is also on the agenda when devising new drinks for Brezza’s cocktail program. “Our chefs, and the restaurant as a whole, are very dedicated to using as local ingredients as possible,” Pirone says. To help make this possible, the drinks menu changes four times a year, and research and development is a collaborative process, involving every member of the team.
“Something that’s very important to me is having the entire staff take ownership,” he says. “Everybody has a drink on the menu.”
One of Pirone’s latest concoctions, “The One and Only,” earned first place in VinePair’s recent Brunch Cocktail Awards. The drink features lemon juice, gin, Don Ciccio fennel cordial, and Brezza Cucina’s proprietary celery syrup, and is topped with Prosecco to add a “bright and crisp,” character.
According to Pirone, Prosecco’s versatility and affordability make it a vital cocktail ingredient. “I’ve seen it go from being used as the [value] ingredient in bottomless Mimosas to a thoughtful addition of effervescence that lends a refreshing zip to a hair-of-the-dog cocktail,” he says. “In my opinion, Prosecco in cocktails is here to stay.”
Following his winning entry, VinePair caught up with the beverage director to discuss all things spirits-related, from the drink(s) he chose to celebrate turning 21 with, to the cocktail he could drink every day for the rest of his life.
What’s your desert-island drink?
A desert island has to be hot, so I’d go with a Painkiller: refreshing but boozy.
What’s the first drink you bought when you turned 21?
I worked at a dive bar so they had five shots of tequila lined up for me at midnight.
FMK (f*ck/marry/kill) three cocktails: Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan?
Gotta kill the Manhattan; without a high-proof rye they’re too sweet in my opinion. F*ck the Margarita, but only if it’s made properly. Marry the Negroni because I could have them every day for the rest of my life.
You’re on death row. What’s your final drink?
A Toronto. Fernet — Vittone or Don Ciccio over Branca, though — in a cocktail is great and the perfect way to go out.
You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
Biltong Bar. From beverage to food to service those guys kill it. Plus, it’s hard to find a better group of nerds in Atlanta; love those guys!
What’s the best and worst bottle on your shelf?
Best: Green Chartreuse Elixir I brought home from France. Worst: Peach Schnapps I’ve had for years.
What cocktail will you never order again?
A Long Island Iced Tea. Gross.
This article is sponsored by Riondo Prosecco.