You might miss Acacia if you weren’t paying attention. Located on Pittsburgh’s busy East Carson street, the cozy cocktail bar keeps a low profile with boarded-up windows and a small, nearly imperceptible sign. This hidden storefront may bring to mind an air of exclusivity or snobbery, much like the craze of fancy speakeasies that rose in popularity a few years back. Instead, Acacia manages to be welcoming and unpretentious while still serving some of the most best cocktails in the city.
Bar Manager Shane Morrison helps cultivate that approachable, “neighborhood haunt” atmosphere while creating cocktails that would impress any craft aficionado. With an expansive spirits selection (especially that mezcal shelf!), a variety of housemade potions and tinctures, warm welcomes, and a super intimate interior, Acacia takes all pretense out of the craft cocktail bar.
We recently spoke with Shane about his beginnings in the industry, his guilty pleasure drinks (hello, PBR Hard Coffee), and the burgeoning cocktail scene in Pittsburgh. He also shared two fantastic cocktail recipes using our Honey Habanero and 100 Proof moonshines.
First thing’s first, who are you?
My name is Shane Morrison, and I’m the bar manager at Acacia in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
How long have you been bartending?
I’ve been bartending for about 15 years.
What first got you behind the bar?
I liked the creativity aspect of it. I was serving at a place, and they offered me a job behind the bar. I had the opportunity to make more money–and money’s good–so I took the opportunity to get behind the bar and start making drinks.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
Absolutely. Be a sponge, and learn as much as you can. Get in with someone good who really knows what they’re doing. Walk before you run, and before you walk, crawl. Don’t overextend yourself by trying to get too fancy with things. Understand the fundamentals, the basics, the classics, and why they’re done a certain way, and why they’ve been done that way for 150, 200 years.
Favorite drink made by someone else?
My buddy Sean Enright has a tiki-style drink on the menu at Spork . It’s called Galeophobia–it’s Maggie’s Farm 50/50 dark rum, which is a local distillery, a little orgeat, citrus blend, and a toasted macadamia liqueur. It’s just absolutely fantastic. He serves it in a big shark glass. It’s a lot of fun to drink, and it’s really well put together.
Favorite drink that you make?
That’s a loaded question. I think bartenders, in general, hate that question. People say all the time, “Make me what you drink.” Well, why would you want what I drink? My favorite drink is going to be the one that keeps you coming back. Whether it’s something rum-based, mezcal-based, moonshine-based, bourbon-based–I want you to have the experience. It’s not about me, behind the bar, what I drink. It’s more about what the guest wants at that particular time.
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
I didn’t want to love it, but the PBR Hard Coffee is so delicious.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
It would have to be mezcal. I love mezcal. I love the diversity of it. The single village stuff and the boutique stuff–it’s all really unique, and it’s all really different. Every time I taste something new it gives me a new perspective on the spirit.
What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?
Honestly, the people who work here. I know that sounds cliché, but we have some really good people. We have a lot of fun here. The guests, definitely, as well. We have really great support from our regulars, as well as the local community.
What makes your bar unique?
I think it it’s approachable. We serve a high-end product in a comfortable atmosphere. We don’t compromise our standards, but we do it in a way that’s not pretentious.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
It depends on the night. Wednesdays I’ll definitely go to Tiki Lounge and have a guilty pleasure piña colada. Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill–Max is doing some really amazing tiki stuff up there. That guy is super talented. I love going to Spork to see Sean. Lorelei is doing some really great work here. Cecil is absolutely fantastic there as well.
What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?
It’s definitely exploded over the last decade. It’s hard because Pittsburgh is a small market. I think some people are getting a little ahead of themselves. There’s only so many people to work. Again, it’s the “walk before you run” thing. But all in all, Pittsburgh is really doing some great work. There are some really talented people here. We have a tight-knit community, and everybody is really supportive of each other. I think that’s the best aspect of it.
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
One thing I tell everyone here on staff is to greet the guest as soon as they come in the door. Say hi, and give them a warm greeting, because A) it makes them feel welcome and B) when you’re in the weeds and making eight or nine cocktails at the time, the fact that you’ve acknowledged the guest’s presence can buy you some time. They’ll be a little bit more patient with you that way.
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
Coffee in my coffee. I also like the Honey Habanero, equal parts with some grapefruit and a pinch of salt. It’s like a spicy Salty Dog.
1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero
½ oz. pineapple juice
½ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. ginger syrup
Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Roll (don’t strain) into a rocks glass and garnish with a mint sprig.
Steal My Moonshine
2 oz. Belle Isle 100 Proof
1 oz. grapefruit juice
½ oz. rosemary syrup
3 drops homemade black pepper tincture**
6 drops homemade charred rosemary tincture
Add all ingredients to a shaker tin with ice. Shake and double-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with 2 drops of charred rosemary tincture.
**Click here for tips on creating your own tinctures!
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Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.