New artisan gin joins Dripping Springs’ booming booze barrio

Dripping Springs Tasting Room

The area west of Oak Hill out to Dripping Springs, Texas is quickly becoming a booze barrio. The neighborhood is home to Revolution Spirits, the soon-to-open Deep Eddy Vodka distillery, and a new Treaty Oak Distilling facility that is under construction. San Luis Spirits, the maker of the Dripping Springs Vodka, has just added a new tasting bar and is offering distillery tours.

The distillery, located 25 miles west of Austin, has opened its doors to show off a micro-distilling process using gleaming 50 gallon copper stills. It’s quite a sight to see how they turn corn grown in the Midwest into vodka. As an added bonus, after the guided visit, guests are able to taste the finished goods at the newly installed bar. And hey, you get to keep a branded shot glass, too.

Tours are available each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 1 pm and 3 pm for $10 with a reservation. The tasting bar also sells full-size bottles of Dripping Springs spirits and other swag.

That’s not the only trick up the distillery’s sleeve. San Luis Spirits is expanding its lineup of spirits to add Dripping Springs Gin, officially released September 2. It joins other notable local gins Austin Reserve Gin, Genius Gin and Waterloo Gin in the fight for Austin’s love.

This isn’t the first go at making gin for San Luis Spirits. In the summer of 2011 they partnered with Don Short, former Coca-Cola executive, and Robert Del Grande, James Beard award winning chef, to create Roxor Gin. Unfortunately that product was shelved because of a TABC law that precluded contract distilling. That law has since changed, but it’s too late for Roxor. The good news is the venture helped them learn a lot about making gin.

“The recipe for Dripping Springs Gin is quite different from Roxor,” said Kevin Kelleher, co-owner of San Luis Spirits. “When Roxor ended, we agreed not to do another gin like it. It had 12 different botanicals and Dripping Springs has nine botanicals. We decided to go after four primary notes and do the best job that we can. Our gin has a focus on juniper, but we backed off on traditional juniper forward London Dry style. We use hibiscus for a floral scent, cardamom for spice, and Texas oranges and limes from Mexico to get a bright citrus flavor. We finish it with the artesian spring water with a lot of minerality that cuts the hard edges and makes the gin.”

Dripping Springs Gin is made by steeping the botanicals in Dripping Springs Vodka for 24 hours at 120 proof and then distilling it again. Four of the distillery’s 15 stills are used to make 40-gallon batches for very limited production. Each botanical has different “gravities,” which causes them to distil at different rates. Dripping Springs has worked to ensure it captures the ideal flow from the heart distillation to get the essence of each botanical without over cooking them. The gin then gets a light filtration to remove some of the oil that might make it cloudy.

The finished product is soft, smooth and flavorful. Try it in The Dripping Springs Vesper:

  • 2 ounces Dripping Springs Vodka
  •  2 ounces Dripping Springs Gin
  • .5 ounce Lillet Blanc

Shake ingredients together with ice, strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and serve it garnished with a lemon twist.

A version of this  story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut unveil tasty new flavors with Texas roots

Deep Eddy Cranberry VodkaNew flavored vodkas from Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut are hitting Texas shelves this month, just in time for spring break madness. And both are riding the wave of growing demand for flavored vodka with local roots.

While vodka remains at the top of the heap for sales of alcohol — commanding 34 percent of all liquor sales — its sales are relatively flat. There are, however, two bright spots for vodka sales: small brands and flavored vodkas.

Craft is where it’s at. The Distilled Spirits Council says that in 2001 there were 24 craft distilleries in the U.S., but by 2013 the number ballooned to 434 small distilleries in operation. The small producers are growing at a faster rate than the big boys. In fact, Texas favorite, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, was one of the industry’s fastest growing brands according to industry analysts Impact Databank.

Flavored spirits are growing 10 times faster than total spirits according to the Beverage Information Group and make up 26 percent of all vodka sales. There are hundreds of flavors of vodka. Think about it, when you walk into a bar it’s not uncommon to see shelves lined with Cherry, Citrus, Mango, Cranberry, Apple, Coffee, Pineapple, Strawberry, Vanilla and even Marshmallow vodka among countless others.

Deep Eddy Vodka introduces Cranberry

Local vodka maker Deep Eddy knows a good thing when it sees one in the booming trend of flavored vodkas. Almost a year after introducing its wildly popular Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka, the folks at Deep Eddy have launched the brand’s third flavored vodka, a cranberry vodka released in February.

“The growth that Deep Eddy Vodka has seen over the last four and a half years has been truly amazing.  We have grown the brand over 200 percent a year since we started in 2010, and we continue to see strong growth on our straight vodka and each of our flavors.  We attribute this growth to offering a truly differentiated product that has created a new category within the space.  Our focus on real ingredients – real tea, honey, fruit – has been the recipe to our success, and we followed the recipe again with the new cranberry flavor that we launched this month,” said Chad Auler, co-founder of Deep Eddy Vodka.

The new cranberry-infused vodka starts off its life the same way as all of Deep Eddy’s vodkas, by being distilled 10 times and charcoal filtered four times. It is then flavored with cane sugar and New England-grown, non-GMO cranberries. It finishes its life the same way as all of its vodkas, too: in my belly.

Sipped straight, it bursts with sweet cranberry with raspberry undertones. It’s just sweet enough to mask the slight warmth of the 70 proof alcohol as it eases back. Deep Eddy suggests that it mixes well with beer or Champagne. It’s delightful served with sparkling water and a twist of lime. Try this recipe:

Deep Eddy Cranberry Breeze  

  • 2 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka

  • 2 oz club soda or sparkling water

  • 1 oz grapefruit juice

Pour ingredients into cocktail glass filled with ice. Stir. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Abolut Texas Limited Edition VodkaAbsolut Texas Limited Edition goes for local appeal 

Similar to Deep Eddy Vodka, Absolut is taking aim at both the flavored and “drink local” markets, with the release of Absolut Texas, the eighth addition to its Limited Editions portfolio.

The Limited Edition series introduces specially designed bottles and flavors to appeal to specific audiences, like Absolut Karnival celebrating the Brazilian party, Absolut Colors with a rainbow pride flag celebrating equality, and a few city specific editions for Brooklyn, Chicago and London to bring local relevance to a global brand. The Texas edition is the first state-specific product.

Absolut Texas is packaged in a boldly attractive bottle, with artwork was created by San Antonio-based contemporary artist Cruz Ortiz. It features a stylized cowboy boot kickin’ it up with a Texas star. Some are skeptical that putting Swedish-made vodka into a Texas-themed bottle is enough to convince savvy Texas consumers to buy it. There is an old Texas saying, “It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.”

Mark Shilling, CEO of Austin-based Revolution Spirits isn’t impressed with the Absolut gambit. “I’m all for cool packaging and marketing, etc., but this just seems overly gimmicky to me. Kind of like the Six Flags version or something,” he said. “If you’re gonna try to sell vodka in Texas with a boot, at least stick it in a pair of Luccheses.”

One Texas-based craft distiller who chose to remain anonymous sees the Absolut marketing ploy as the company’s attempt to capitalize on the success of small, local distillers. He confided, “This is Pernod Ricard’s [parent company of Absolut] attack on craft distilling in Texas. It is reminiscent of Anheuser-Busch coming out with Ziegenbock to try to take a piece of Shiner Bock. It likely won’t be the last attack by corporate raiders against the craft industry. The product is so-so. Not terrible.  [It tastes like they used a] decent quality chemical additive pumped into Absolut.”

Marketing approach and packaging aside, Absolut Texas features a unique cucumber and Serrano chili pepper flavor recipe is “inspired by Southwestern cuisine.” Yes, Serrano is a Southwestern flavor, but cucumber? Regardless of its authenticity, it tastes pretty damn good.

Sipped straight, it tastes like a spring drink lush with cucumber, with an ever-so-slight tingle coming from the chili pepper. It’s delightful with nothing but a chill, yet it begs to be mixed in a cocktail. Absolut Texas would be a fantastic base for a Bloody Mary, however it mixes well with several other ingredients like cranberry, pineapple and citrus. Absolut recommends this recipe:

Absolut Tejano

  • 2 parts Absolut Texas

  • 3 parts grapefruit soda

Build over ice in a highball glass, garnish with a lime wedge and a chili-salt rim.

Whether you want to really drink local or drink a locally themed drink, these are two tasty flavored vodkas worth a try. Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka sells for $19 and Absolut Texas goes for $20. Both are available at Urban Wine + Liquor in downtown Austin.

An abbreviated version of this story first ran on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by both Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut.

What are you drinking? 

Texas-flavored Bloody Mary recipes for your Sunday Funday

The perfect Bloody MaryThere are billions of reasons for day drinking on a Sunday: you need a little hair of the dog, your NFL team is winning, you’re thirsty in church, it’s the holidays and you have a house full of family drama, to name a few. And there is no better concoction for a Sunday Funday than a Bloody Mary. Brunch says to it, “You complete me.”

We owe a debt of gratitude to the French for our pervasive Sunday elixir. Legend has it that the Bloody Mary was created by Fernand “Pete” Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the early 1920s and after the end of that ghastly period known as Prohibition, he imported his basic recipe to the King Cole Bar in New York.

Over the years the Bloody Mary has taken on a myriad of styles while staying true to its core ingredients. The basic backbone of a bloody — vodka and tomato juice — gives it an ideal frame for an immeasurable variety of spices and garnishes to customize it to suit your mood.

Recently I stumbled across a wonderful book by Judy Bennett, Bloody Marys: Sanguine Solutions for a Slew of Situations, that has dozens of scrumptious recipes to fit any reason you have for drinking a cocktail. In her book, Bennett mixes wit and wisdom as deftly as she mixes booze and bitters. It’s full of clever anecdotes to accompany each recipe.

As a food and drink writer, I felt it was my duty to work my way through the book, finding the recipes I like best for conjuring a mid-day haze on a lazy afternoon. We are fortunate to have several excellent hand-crafted vodkas made right here in Texas like newcomers 1876 Vodka and Starlite Vodka from Treaty Oak Distilling Co.; and stalwarts like Deep Eddy VodkaDripping Springs VodkaSavvy Vodka and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I substituted all of the recommended vodkas in Bennett’s book Texas vodka to give them a local flair. Give these a try.

Bloody Mary made with Texas Vodka

Go Packers
This is the official tailgate recipe of the Green Bay Packers, but you can make it suitable for a Longhorns, Cowboys or Texans game by mixing it with local Deep Eddy Vodka.

  • Generous amounts of Worcestershire sauce, 4-5 dashes
  • 3 drops Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • 3 dashes celery salt
  • Juice from 1 lemon wedge
  • 2 fingers Deep Eddy Vodka
  • 2-3 fingers tomato juice
  • Dill pickle spear, to serve (optional)
  • Garlic-stuffed green olives, to serve (optional)
  • Pepperoncini, to serve (optional)

Add ice to a 12-ounce plastic cup and set aside. Put the first four ingredients in a second plastic cup and add the vodka and tomato juice. Pour the mixture into the first cup, then pour everything back into the second cup. Keep pouring back and forth until it is well blended. Squeeze a little lemon, garnish and serve.

My Kids Found My “Private Drawer”
For those times you just want to forget what just happened, try this tangy and spicy Mary.

  • 1 shot Dripping Springs Texas Orange Vodka
  • 1 shot sake
  • 1 tsp. wasabi
  • 6 ounces tomato juice
  • 1 tsp. dried ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro to serve

Shake and strain all the ingredients (except the cilantro) into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with cilantro and drink way the memory of what just happened.

This is My First Really Healthy Relationship
When your heart is going pitter patter for someone special, here is a classic recipe for two.

  •  Several dashes salt and black pepper
  • 1 jigger Starlite Vodka
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp. horseradish
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 ounces high-quality tomato juice
  • 1 fresh lemon, cut in wedges, to serve
  • Several pickled asparagus spears, to serve

Rim two Old Fashioned glasses with the salt and pepper in equal measure. Combine the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour over ice in the prepared glasses and garnish with lemon wedges and asparagus.

The Way to a Man’s Heart is Through His Stomach, But That’s Not Where I’m Headed
When you’ve conquered the early phases of romance and are ready for the power of time tested aphrodisiacs for a real Sunday Funday, this recipe is for you.

  • 46 ounce bottle of tomato juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  •  ½ avocado
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. steak sauce
  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp. celery salt
  • 2 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. horseradish
  • 1 750ml bottle of 1876 Vodka

Excluding the vodka and garnishes, whirl the ingredients together in a blender. Fill pint glasses with ice and 2 shots of vodka each. Top with the tomato mixture, then garnish with an asparagus spear and a stalk of celery.

Whether you are looking for a Bloody suitable for Queen Mary or for something appropriate for a Roman circus, there is a recipe for you in Bennett’s Bloody Mary bible. I know which one I’m mixing next.

Samples were provided by 1876, Deep Eddy Vodka, Savvy Vodka, Starlite Vodka and Tito’s. I still have some left if you want to come over and mix up a few more batches with me. Cheers!

This story was originally published on CultureMap

What are you drinking? 

Raising a glass to fight cancer, LIVESTRONG!

There is nothing light-hearted about cancer. However, even the most serious subjects deserve a serious party. Sometimes gathering like-minded souls together to fight a shared villain is the right thing to do. This weekend we hosted our third annual Mellow Yellow Benefit to raise a glass, and raise money and awareness for the LIVESTRONG Challenge for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We set out to raise $5,000 by inviting people to attend our party and make a donation to LIVESTRONG as their ticket to entry. We asked for donations of services and food and beverages to keep our costs down and to be able to donate all proceeds to the Foundation. I am moved by the outpouring of generosity I found every time I asked. To date we have raised $6,000!

Three Texas spirits companies — Republic Tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Distilling Company —  gladly donated for a third year in a row. Heck, Republic Tequila also sent two beautiful bartenders and Republic Spirit Blends to set up and staff a margarita bar! They made Twisted Margaritas. Here is the recipe:

Twisted Margarita

  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Jalapeño-Lime Spirit Blend
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Prickly Pear Spirit Blend
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice Shake and pour into a rocks glass

Josh Hare, brewer at Hops & Grain, sent over 10 cases of beer on the eve of his brewery’s first anniversary.

Ed and Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards donated wine for a second year in a row and came to the party to wish us well and enjoy the fun. Miguel Lecuona of Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 was a tour de force gathering four cases of donated wine from seven Texas wineries and delivered them with a smile.

The house and yard looked glamorous and the food fast fantastic thanks to Suzanne Court Catering & Events, who hustled favors to get donations of goods and services. Our photography sponsor, Steve Rogers Photography, donated his time and talent to capture the fun in our LIVESTRONG photo booth (the well lit photo booth pictures below are from Steve and the candids are fom me). Chris Brewer from the Lance Armstrong Foundation made the photo booth look official by loaning us an amazing LIVESTRONG backdrop.
I appreciate the help of Stephen Moser spreading the word about the Mellow Yellow Benefit in the Austin Chronicle and Michael Barnes for sharing the love in the Austin American Statesman.
Much of the thanks for creating a memorable event yet again this year goes to Beautiful Wife. She was instrumental in converting our home in to a fun event venue.
Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause and who came to the event. You are making a difference in the lives of the more than 28 million people living with cancer. THANK YOU! 

Special thanks to all of our beverage sponsors:

Drinking Local in Columbus, OYO Vodka and Whiskey

Do you love where you live? Do you feel a deep connection that you want to nurture through involvement? It seems like the ultra-local drive in the foodie and beverage industry has taken hold all over the world. People not only have pride in their home town, they want to support it with their wallets. The farm-to-table movement is every bit as much about local pride as it is about sustainability, authenticity and healthy living.

I recently visited Columbus, Ohio to attend the wedding of the fabulously talented couple, Alex & Kevin, and was delighted to see that their wedding featured local food, drink and art through-and-through. I was even more delighted when my good friend Quint and his friend Bill took me to sample local vodka and whiskey at an urban distillery, Middle West Spirits, in the Short North. Josh Daily showed us around and poured us a few samples. Hot damn.

Middle West Spirits opened their doors in July 2010 and began selling OYO (pronounced O-Why-O) vodka, honey vanilla bean vodka and whiskey. This is one of the first micro-distillery in the state of Ohio since the death of Prohibition. Founders Brady Konya and Ryan Lang have a passion for creating hand-crafted spirits with local flare. Ryan came by this passion genetically. His grandpappy was a bootlegger. They have gone to great lengths to make the best booze possible from the equipment to the ingredients they use. 

Middle West imported a 600 liter Kothe still from Germany, the first of its kind in North America, to produce ultra-pure and smooth liquor. It’s an impressive contraption. They employ an open-air process to allow native yeasts into the fermentation. The vodka and whiskey are made with 100% Ohio-grown soft red winter wheat, with more than a million pounds going into the mash already this year. The artisanal approach pays off in the finished products.

OYO Vodka

This is the flagship product, which is made without the carbon filters that strip other vodkas of their flavor.

Look Unlike the turbid Olentangy River that rolls passed The Ohio State University, this is as crystal clear as the purest water with vivid viscidness. 
Smell Cumulonimbus alcohol clouds billow forth like a sake scented thunderstorm over Columbus.
Taste The local wheat and distinctive distillation process give OYO a full flavor profile. It pours forth lush flavors of biscuits, cream and flint. The silky mouth-feel coats the tongue and holds a smooth lingering finish.
Price $35

 

OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

This flavored vodka is made with Ohio wildflower honey and fair-trade Ugandan vanilla beans imported by another local entrepreneur, Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams fame.

Look Soft gold leaf glimmering in the evening sun.
Smell Mellow spirit vapors mingle with floral honey in a jubilant celebration.
Taste Like a stolen kiss with the mayor’s daughter behind the stock barns at the State Fair; dangerously delicious from the moment lips touch, through the honeyed dewiness, until the lingering vanilla tang gently fades. Sweet with a bite.
Price $36

 

This is great served straight, but it’s also excellent in cocktails. Here’s one to try.

Southern Side Car

  • 1 oz OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka
  • 1 oz Cointreau Noir
  • .5 oz fresh lemon juice

Toss all ingredients in shaker, stir well with ice. Strain into chilled martini glass, half rimmed with raw sugar.

OYO Whiskey

This single-cask hooch is just coming out now and I wasn’t even able to buy a bottle yet. Yes, I cried a little. It’s the only whiskey around made from 100% wheat and is aged for 48 months in American oak barrels.  While it packs a punch, clocking in at 92 proof, it’s balanced and approachable enough to be enjoyable when served neat at room temperature. 

Look The frontier medicine bottle amber colored whiskey glistens with playful clarity. Its medium body held the sides of the glass well.
Smell Rich, complex aromatics smelled of cinnamon, honey, dried hay and charred oak with ample alcohol heat.
Taste The taste immediately had an alco-hold on me. The approach is vaguely grapey, like Cognac or tawny port married with a distinctive charcoal bite. The mid-palate is round with a welcome heat heralding the arrival of my dear friend, alcohol. It finishes smooth and honey sweet like a blended Irish Whiskey. This is one to savor neat, or with one cube if you like a bit of a chill in your glass.
Price $46

 

If you are like me, and don’t live in Ohio, you’ll have to rely on your bootlegging friends to send you a bottle or two (I’m still waiting on that whiskey, Quint). OYO is sold in Ohio and in neighboring Kentucky.

Go ahead, drink local with pride. What local spirits, wine or beer have caught your attention?

What are you drinking?

Dirty

Booze and bawdiness. Intoxication and innuendo. Sauce and sex. The two are inextricably linked. It’s not that you can’t have one without the other, but let’s face it alcohol and action are hot bedfellows.

Not only is drink used as a social lubricant, but we also give drinks provocative names like Sex on the Beach, the Screaming Orgasm and the Buttery Nipple. These drinks might sound clever when you first sneak into a bar when you are 19, but they are a bit hard to order with a straight face once you pass the age of 25.

There is one drink that has managed to subtly invoke notions of nooky without compromising its sophistication: the Dirty Martini. Martinis are the epitome of an erudite drink, but give it the name “dirty” and it opens the door to intimation. So, what is it?

A classic martini has two main ingredients: chilled vodka or gin, and dry vermouth. The International Bartenders Association specifies that a martini has 2 ounces of gin, half an ounce of dry vermouth. I’m not going to get into the whole gin vs. vodka debate because they both have their own merits. Because I live in Texas I often choose Tito’s Handmade Vodka or Dripping Springs Vodka. Here are some tips on making a damned fine martini.

  • Start off by misting the outside of the glasses with water, and put them in the freezer until frosty
  • Pour gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker with cracked ice
  • Shake the hell out of the liquor until it feels like your hands are going to freeze to the shaker like Ralphie’s friend Flick’s tongue froze to the pole in a Christmas Story
  • Rinse the inside of the glass with the vermouth by swirling it around a few times. Then toss the majority of it down the drain
  • Pour the shaken vodka or gin into the chilled and vermouth bathed glass through the shaker strainer to remove any chunks of ice, but allow it to get a fine sheen of frozen crystalline glamour  

So what makes it dirty? Pop in 2 large, firm olives and a measure of olive brine. How dirty do you want it? Some recipes call for a tablespoon, but you can get downright filthy if you like. Now it’s sophisticated and sexy.

The conversion to dirty happens right from the start. Drinking from a martini glass is putting your lips on the hem of an inverted A-line skirt. Next the salty brine mixes with the alkaline alcohol like the sweat on a lover’s lip. Fleshy olives stand their ground for a moment, and then yield to the bite. I don’t know who bit whose lip, but I taste a little blood. And I like it. A good dirty martini is as cloudy as you are when you are finished, relaxing in the warmth of its memory. Ready for a second round?  

What are you drinking?