Bourbon, it is just how Matt Shields of The Bay restaurant in South Walton rolls. If a customer offers to buy him a drink, he said, his request is always a shot of Jim Beam.

“It’s what I drink. It’s what I like to play with,” he said. “Around here, I get more freedom to be creative because they (The Bay) allow me to make my own drinks.”

In honor of his love for bourbon, and The Bay restaurant’s open-air dining motif, Shields chose to feature The Bay Old Fashioned as his signature sip.

“I wanted to do something not super beachy, but still refreshing, and something customers could drink outside,” he said.

Shields explained The Bay version of the classic cocktail gives it a citrus twist that in turn creates a refreshing, balanced drink.

“We add orange bitters instead of the regular aromatic bitters,” he said. “We also use Filthy black cherries as opposed to maraschino cherries, and they are some of the better cherries I have used in an old fashioned.”

Shields has been bartending for three years and said this second career came to him as a necessity, but it has now turned into a passion.

“I was a 3-D designer for an architecture firm,” he said. “We got bought out and, subsequently, I had to look for the next big thing, and, in this area, bartending was just screaming at me.”

Thanks to some friends and bar owners in Tallahassee, Shields became a quick-study craft cocktail bartender and said he still hones his skills every day.

“I read books about cocktails. I’m a nerd,” he said. “I like the flavors and smells and how they interact. To be able to put out a cocktail that is precise and as quickly as possible, that is the most important thing about bartending, especially here at The Bay.”

The Bay is at 24215 U.S. Hwy. 331 South in Santa Rosa Beach. For more information, visit http://baysouthwalton.com/ or call 850-622-2291.