Toast St. Patrick’s Day the right way with these 5 Irish whiskies

Irish Whiskey for St. Patrick's DaySt. Patrick’s Day has become an outlandish celebration of anything remotely Irish, as well as an excuse to get blindingly drunk. But it doesn’t have to be that way on March 17. To get into the traditional mood, sip a proper Irish whiskey this St. Pat’s Day. After all, the word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic word for “water of life,” which is worth a toast. Whether you head to one of the enormous St. Patrick’s Day parties at a bar, or just celebrate at home, here are five Irish whiskeys to try.

Tullamore D.E.W.: Friendly or fiery

It’s not St. Patrick’s Day without an Irish toast, and the folks at Tullamore D.E.W. have one that accurately captures the sentiment of the day.

Here’s to cheating, stealing, fighting and drinking
If you cheat may you cheat death,
If you steal may you steal a heart,
if you fight may you fight for one another,
And if you drink, may you drink Tullamore DEW with me!

Tullamore D.E.W. is named for the town of Tullamore, set in the heart of Ireland, and from the initials of the young entrepreneur Daniel E. Williams, who worked at the distillery at the age of 14, became head distiller at age 25 and eventually bought the distillery.

Tullamore D.E.W. was founded in 1829 in “the country that invented whiskey,” according to Tim Herlihy, Tullamore D.E.W. ambassador. “We invented whiskey 500 years before the Scots. The first written evidence of whiskey production was found in Scotland, but it’s widely accepted that distilling started in Ireland. The Irish invented the kilt, bagpipes and how to make whiskey. We just forgot to tell the Scots the first two were jokes.”

Irish whiskey sales are booming worldwide, but there are only seven distilleries currently operating in Ireland and only four of which have whiskey aged enough to sell (compared to 108 distilleries in Scotland). Tullamore D.E.W. is currently made with a blend of whiskey from the Midleton and Bushmills distilleries. It is building a new distillery in heart of town that should be up and running by August.

Irish whiskey is known for its approachable style and Tullamore D.E.W. is particularly known as a friendly spirit. Originally, Tullamore was just a pot still whiskey, but the recipe was altered after Williams’ grandson visited the U.S. in 1900s. Pot still whiskey was too robust for the U.S. palate and the distillation process was adjusted to meet the taste preference.

It’s now made with a blend of grain including malted for spice, creaminess and un-malted barley for citrus and fruit flavors and corn for delicate sweetness and a triple distillation makes it smooth. The combination of all three flavor components makes it both silky and complex.

Herlihy recommends enjoying Tullamore D.E.W. neat, with ice, or with a splash of ginger ale to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ginger D.E.W.

  • 2 ounces Tullamore D.E.W. over ice into a glass
  • 2 parts ginger ale
  • Garnish with a twist of lemon

If you are looking for a more hearty style of whiskey, try the new Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix. This triple distilled whiskey is a stout 110 proof. It’s made in homage to town of Tullamore surviving the world’s first aviation disaster in 1785 when a hot air balloon crashed and engulfed a third of the town in flames.

“The town overcame the tragedy and rebuilt better than ever before,” said Herlihy. “The Phoenix rising from the ashes has been adopted as the town crest. Our Phoenix whiskey celebrates the strength and courage of the Tullamore people. We gave the whiskey fiery strength to tie in to the great fire story.”

Phoenix is aged in sherry casks to give it a big red wine influence to soften the high proof. It sells for about $55 a bottle.

Cheers to the water of life!

Jameson: Fancy and spicy

Jameson Irish Whiskey was founded by hardworking people two centuries ago and we are still made for hard working people today,” said Jameson brand ambassador, Stephen Mahony. “Jameson is real whiskey for real people. It’s for people who want to make friends over a drink.”

These were the first words out of Mahony’s mouth after he ordered me a Jameson 12 at Fado Irish Pub. The Dublin native has only been in Austin for a handful of months and brings a strong Irish ethos for whiskey-washed camaraderie to an adopted city that likewise thrives on friendships solidified over a drink.

Arguably one of the oldest and most recognizable Irish whiskeys around, Jameson is essentially the same whiskey as the original stuff made in 1780. It’s a triple distilled, blended whiskey made using water from the Dungourney River next to the distillery and malted barley for spice and biscuit flavor and corn for sweetness.

By regulation, Irish whiskey must be aged a minimum of three years in barrels. Jameson ages its whiskey in a mix of sherry, port and bourbon barrels for a minimum of five to seven years to give it sweet and creamy flavor.

“Jameson isn’t a fancy whiskey,” said Mahony. “It’s not made for swirling and sniffing. Nah, this is your shot-and-a-beer whiskey. It’s also just fine on the rocks or in a cocktail.”

Jameson Tipperary Cocktail

  • 1 part Jameson
  • 1 part green Chartreuse liqueur
  • 1 part Vermouth

Jameson is made at the new Midleton Distillery which also makes several styles of Jameson 12 Year Old Special Reserve, Jameson Gold Reserve as well as other brands such as Powers, Paddy, Red Breast, Middleton Barry Rare and Green Spot.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Jameson Black Barrel is available in Austin starting March 7. The small batch grain whiskey used in Black Barrel is distilled in copper pot stills only one day per year. It is aged in extra charred bourbon barrels and toasted sherry casks to add spice to the satiny sweet, tropical fruit flavors. It sells for about $45 and is delightful on the rocks and stands up well in cocktails.

Irish Wolfhound

  • 2 ounces Jameson Black Barrel
  • 2 ounces ginger beer
  • 2 dashes grapefruit juice
  • A dash of smoked salt

2 Gingers: Good in any weather
The origin of the 2 Gingers might not sound particularly traditional, but it is Irish at the core. After a stint of selling Irish dairy products in Saudi Arabia, Irishman Kieran Folliard, moved to Minnesota and decided to start a pub. Like any traditional Irish pub, whiskey was a big seller, but Folliard noticed that it wasn’t selling all the time to everybody. He wondered why whiskey wasn’t as popular in the summer as in the winter and why women ordered it less.

Folliard asked, “What would have to happen to have a season-less and gender-less whiskey? I wanted a whiskey to appeal to men and women who drink beer and vodka. I wanted a whiskey cocktail that people want to drink on the patio in the summer.”

That curiosity was essential to the birth of 2 Gingers. He set out to make an Irish whiskey that reflects the spirit of the pub and can be enjoyed all year. He had a loose relationship with a distillery owner in Ireland and contacted him to explore the idea of creating his own brand of whiskey with his own recipe.

“The concept for 2 Gingers came out of a pub and the passion for representing the character of storytelling and friendship that is in the pub,” said Folliard. “I’m passionately involved because it is a reflection on a deep level of respect I have in dealing with people and in how I run my business.”

Recently, Beam, Inc. bought the 2 Gingers brand, but it hasn’t changed where or how the whiskey is made. It has allowed the brand to expand its footprint, and it’s now sold in all 50 states. As the founder of 2 Gingers Whiskey, Beam has retained Folliard as CEO and much of the original team to take this Minnesota-born whiskey across the country. And it is starting to capture attention around Austin. “This is a perfect product for Texas,” said Folliard. “Its smooth taste is good in the hot weather.”

Made with malted barley and distilled twice at Kilbeggan Distillery in Ireland, 2 Gingers is aged four years in bourbon barrels. The double distillation is favored by master distiller, Noel Sweeny, which gives it viscosity and bold flavor to stand up in cocktails, to remove the burn on the end and to give it the smoothness that makes it appealing year-round.

2 Gingers is made to be approachable says Folliard. “Some people don’t want to wait for a fancy cocktail or pay $12 for it. They want cocktails that reflect the character of a pub and that they can get as quick as a beer at the same price.” Currently, 2 Gingers sells for about $20 a bottle.

Big Ginger            

  • Fill a Collins glass with ice
  • 2 parts 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey
  • Top up with ginger ale

Garnish with both lemon and lime wedges

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Austin, March 17

  • B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, 204 East Sixth Street — Festivities from 10:30 am – midnight with live music and Irish beer.
  • Dog & Duck Pub, 406 West 17th Street — Live music starts at 11 am with plenty of Irish music and food.
  • Fado Irish Pub, 214 West Fourth Street — the Huge Outdoor Party happens 6 am – 2 am with live music, food and drink specials in the pub in a tent on the street.
  • Opal Divine’s, 3601 South Congress, 12709 MoPac, and 3801 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. — serving Irish whiskies and beers noon – 2 am with live music at each location.
  • North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery, 10010 N. Capital of TX Hwy — live music starts at 5 pm
  • St. Patrick’s Day Austin, Shoal Crossing Event Center, 8611 North Mopac — celebrate 3 pm – 9 pm live music on two stages, dancing, traditional Irish food and beverages.
  • The White Horse, 500 Comal Street — enjoy Irish Whiskey Day Party 5 pm – 2 am with live music and drinks specials.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

5 favorite holiday cocktails of Austin movers and shakers

Ruby Jule and Coco LectricIn between the office parties, your neighbors’ holiday parties and your friends’ crazy Christmas parties, there are bound to be a few times during the holidays when you find yourself without an invitation for an evening out. That’s no reason to bypass holiday cheer. Five prominent Austinites share recipes for their go-to seasonal drinks to order at a favorite bar or to mix at home.

Booze and Burlesque

Ruby Joule and Coco Lectric, co-founders and headliners of The Jigglewatts Burlesque troupe, keep a busy schedule with performances every Friday at theGibson Lounge in Maggie Mae’s on Sixth Street, at private events, as well as in other singing and acting gigs. They also take the show on the road, with performances in places such as Las Vegas and Montreal, where burlesque is see a high art.

All of that work is paying off for the electric duo, with accolades piling up. Joule, a classically trained ballet dancer, has been named “Crown Princess of Burlesque,” at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival 2013. Lectric, a classically trained dancer, actor and vocalist, has landed the No. 5 spot on the “Burlesque Top 50” list compiled by 21st Century Burlesque Magazine.

It’s not all silky long gloves and twirling tassels. Joule and Lectric like to sip and enjoy an occasional cocktail at home or in quiet bars where they can linger over a conversation. The Gibson Lounge, where they have a Friday-night residency, fits the bill with cozy furniture. “I like the Gibson because the serve all-fresh squeezed juices here,” says Joule.

Her go-to holiday potion is a twist on the Cherry Frost, a combination of black cherry liqueur, brandy and crushed ice, topped off with sparkling white wine that is at home at any Christmas party. Joule says, “The brandy has a warming effect for cold days, the champagne makes it fancy and cherry liqueur gives it that little pizzazz. Of course, it’s gluten-free and vegan.”

Ruby Frost

  • 3 ounces champagne
  • .25 ounce Cherry Herring liqueur
  • .25 ounce brandy

Pour all ingredients together and garnish with a cherry.

Lectric likes to imagine escaping the chill of December to soak in the sun on a tropical island. She says, “I prefer an escapist drink that is light and tart. I like to indulge over the holidays with extra treats, so a crisp drink made with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and tequila hits the spot for me. Besides it’s Paleo friendly and gluten free.”

Coco’s Island Getaway

  • 1.25 ounce Tequila Avión Silver
  • .75 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • Fill with club soda

Shake and strain over ice and serve in a tumbler with a lemon garnish.

If they fully gave in to the mood of these drinks, Joule and Lectric would dance on stage together inside a dueling duo of oversized margarita glass and champagne tulip with sugared rims. Lectric purrs, “I love Latin dances, and tequila makes everyone want to dance extremely sultry dances with a lot of hips.”

Joule counters, “I would have a lot of rhinestones on in my dance, because I need to sparkle like the champagne. The music would be a dirty, bluesy swing. Underneath the glitter, I like a little grit.”

I’ll drink to that.

Keith KreegerThe Old Fashioned Potter

Keith Kreeger, the creative hands behind the art flowing forth from the Kreeger Pottery studio, is enjoying a rocket ride of success, with his art showing up in such swank restaurants as Pearl & Ash in New York and the ultrahot Qui here in Austin. He’s come a long way from his humble beginnings as a summer-school pottery student at Skidmore College.

Kreeger recalls, “I took one potter class in college and completely fell in love with the process. I was in the studio 14 hours a day and made a ton of ugly pots that I thought were great.”

After completing school, he owned a craft gallery on Cape Cod for a dozen years. The gorgeous Texas weather and his wife’s family’s ties to the state eventually brought him to Austin. “When you marry a Texan, you tacitly agree that someday you, too, will be a Texan,” he says.

It turns out that becoming a Texan is a really good thing for Kreeger.

“Austin has been really good to me,” he says. “I thrive in this creative community. I’ve always had my pottery followers, and I really appreciate those craft lovers. The past couple of years, the trend of people being deeply interested in the origin of their food and wine has carried over into people caring about the kind of plates the food is served on. I’ve been fortunate to be in some good places, and things have grown really well.”

His days at Skidmore in the bitterly cold winters of Saratoga Springs, New York, influenced his taste in cocktails, too. When he was a senior, a professor took him to the cool, grown-up whiskey bar 9 Maple Ave and introduced him to the Old Fashioned. “It felt cool ordering it, because none of the other students were in that dark, mahogany-paneled bar,” said Kreeger. “It became my cocktail. Now I drink it when it gets cold outside.”

Kreeger’s Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 healthy dashes orange bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura
  • 2 ounces Angel’s Envy  Bourbon

Muddle the sugar cube with the bitters in the bottom of a rocks glass. Stir in one ounce of the bourbon over two big ice cubes until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining bourbon and stir with two more ice cubes. Garnish with an orange twist.

Kreeger makes a mean cocktail at home because he is drawn to process of making them, just as he is with cooking and in the studio. He believes in following the right steps to get the right result. He is just as happy to order an Old Fashioned at Whistler’sor Weather Up, as he enjoys the experience, the craft and the process that goes into those places.

Kate Hersch Cocktail Napkin Queen’s Morning Crush

Even if Kate Hersch didn’t display her wry wit on linen cocktail napkins, the twinkle in her eye would reveal the cleverness bubbling under the surface. Hersch, owner of August Morgan, started the company seven years ago by repurposing vintage needle point pillows and selling them at stores like Barneys and One Kings Lane. She is now branching out into other home accessories, such as acrylic trays, blankets and those whimsical napkins.

Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to find a place to contain all of the water, Hersch uses August Morgan as a place to try to capture her overflowing creativity. She seems to be a never-ending fount of droll cocktail humor splashed across tidy white cloth napkins.

“My inspiration comes when I drink,” muses Hersch. She started creating the cocktail napkins two years ago with four patterns and has been continually adding designs ever since.

For Hersch, the holidays are an excuse to start her inspiration engine early in the day. She said, “My holiday cocktail of choice is a Bloody Mary to start the morning off right. I like them spicy with a lot of olives. I like to keep it local with Deep Eddy VodkaDripping Springs Vodka or Tito’s Vodka.”

To keep things going, there is no reason to mix just one at a time.

August Morgan cocktail napkinsHersch Bloody Mary

  • 12 ounces Deep Eddy Vodka
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • .5 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1.5 cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press
  • .25 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. steak sauce
  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp. celery salt
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. wasabi
  • 1 tsp. dried ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • Several speared olives to garnish

Excluding the vodka and garnishes, marry the ingredients in a blender. Fill a glass pitcher with ice, add the vodka and stir in the tomato mixture. Pour into ice-filled pint glasses, then garnish with a totem pole of olives and a stalk of celery. Makes 10 drinks.

When I asked her what new cocktail napkin design this Bloody Mary would inspire, she barely paused before she quipped, “Do you know those Chinese Crested Dogs? You know the ones that are bald except for a flowing tuft on its head, paws and tail? I’d have a picture of one of those with its paw perched on a tipped over bottle with a caption underneath saying, ‘hair of the dog.’”

I think we may see several new cocktail napkin designs from August Morgan after this holiday season.

Tim League Alamo Movie Mogul’s Midnight Run

Tim League, the founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the theater chain known for its indie films, quote-alongs, film festivals and in theater dining, has a deep appreciation for good movies, food and cocktails. When League gets a hankerin’ for holiday hooch, he doesn’t have to go outside the bars in his theaters. However, he prefers to head to Midnight Cowboy, a former brothel turned cozy cocktail lounge that he opened across the street from the Alamo Ritz along with Alamo Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris and bar manager Brian Dressel.

League would rather head to the Cowboy for a cocktail than go through the machinations on his own. “At home,” he says, “I don’t make too many complicated cocktails.  I usually drink beer or wine. My dad and I built a wine cellar a couple of years ago, so I tend to open a bottle rather than stir a cocktail. I go to Midnight Cowboy regularly for my cocktails. I love their creations, and I can justify regular visits by calling it quality control assurance work.”

For his Christmasy cocktails, League leans toward classic whiskey drinks, such as twists on an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan or a Vieux Carre. “This year, though, I’ve been quite smitten with a riff on the Vieux Carre that is built with rum instead of whiskey,” he says. “They [the crew at Midnight Cowboy] call it the Navesink Towers, named after the Navesink Lighthouses in New Jersey, home of Laird’s Distillery, the producers of the Bonded Apple Brandy in the drink. Javier and Brian from Midnight Cowboy perfected the drink, and it has become my 2013 favorite holiday cocktail.”

The Navesink Towers

  • .75 ounce Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
  • .75 ounce Smith and Cross Navy-Strength Rum
  • .75 ounce Cocchi Americano
  • .25 ounce Apfelkorn
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Josh Loving’s 5-spice bitters

Stirred and served over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass and garnished with an orange twist.

When asked which film he would to watch to pair his holiday drink, League replied, “The Vieux Carre is a New Orleans cocktail, so if I were to watch a movie while sipping a Navesink Towers, I would have to go with the greatest New Orleans film of all time: Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant.” Damn, that’s a good choice.

Whether you head to your favorite bar or make these drinks at home, these Christmas cocktails are sure to make your eyes twinkle and your cheeks rosy.

What are you drinking?

Whiskey: Everything you ever needed to know about the drink for every man

This story originally ran in the Winter issue of Austin Man Magazine. It looks way better in print than it does here, so go pick up a copy at your closest newsstand. Story and photos by Matt McGinnis, hand-lettering by Chelsea Patitillo. 

Whiskey’s caramel-colored glory is just as at home in the coarsely calloused mitt of the rancher as it is in the well-manicured grip of a technology tycoon. Its appeal spans not only socio-economic status, but also nationality and age. It is the drink of the everyman for every man. Whiskey is an elixir that stirs the soul. Under its spell, we speak more eloquently, love more ferociously and fight more passionately. Its allure is as deeply rooted in its traditions as it is in its magical character-enhancing powers. Whiskey’s broad appeal, its adherence to tradition and its ability to transform moods and moments make it the perfect gift for the holiday season and the perfect drink at your holiday parties.


Not all whiskey is bourbon, but all bourbon is whiskey. Bourbon is not whisky. Got it? Whether its spelled “whiskey” or “whisky,” we are talking about many types of alcoholic spirits with the commonality that they are made from fermented mash of grain, distilled at less than 190 proof, aged in oak barrels. The spelling boils down to geographic preference. The Scots, Canadians and Japanese are adamant about spelling it “whisky,” while the Americans and Irish refer to it as “whiskey.”

Whisk(e)y from Ireland and Scotland is made with grains that have been dried with smoke, giving it that characteristic peatiness and smokiness. Canadian and American whiskeys can be categorized as bourbon, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended varieties. Unlike Scottish or Irish whisk(e)y, American whiskey is made using grain, so it typically has a rounder taste. So what is bourbon? Bourbon is a variety of whiskey made to meet exact regulations stipulating that it is made from fermented mash of grain including at least 51 percent corn. The rest of the bill of grains can include wheat for a more mellow flavor, rye for

Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. It is unthinkable and illegal to add any colors, flavors or anything other than water to bourbon before it is bottled. Bourbon must be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels. The selection of the oak barrel, how it is toasted or charred and where it is stored has a huge impact on flavor. Storage of whiskey barrels in a rick house (a warehouse where whiskey barrels are stored) exposes it to temperature swings, which draws whiskey in and out of the wood, gives the whiskey its caramel color and adds oak, vanilla and spice flavors.spice and bite, and malted barley for chocolate and fermented sugars.

Another big regulation for bourbon is that it must be distilled in the U.S. In fact, in 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized bourbon as a distinct American product and passed an Act of Congress that declared bourbon “America’s native spirit.” While the majority of bourbon is made by 13 big distillers in Kentucky, it can be made anywhere in the U.S. Some say there are more bourbon barrels than people in Kentucky. Whether its whisky or whiskey, rye or bourbon, it has been a beloved elixir for hundreds of years because of its enchanting ability to paint a moment of clarity across our minds like a streak of sunset blazing across a glass skyscraper before the fog rolls in and blurs it all in to obscurity.



There are two terms to look for to find high-quality whiskey.

Bottled-in-Bond: The Bottled in Bond act of 1897 may well have been the first food regulation in the U.S., and was established by Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. to create a set of regulations that dictate the highest standards for whiskey. Bonded whiskey must be produced by one distiller during one distillation “season.” These whiskeys are federally regulated to be 100 proof and aged four years. There are fewer than 20 labels, like EH Taylor and Evan Williams BIB, carrying this designation.

Barrel Proof: Whiskey that is bottled at the same level of alcohol-by-volume (abv) as it is during aging in the barrel is called “barrel proof” or “cask strength.” Many whiskeys are diluted with water before bottling to bring the alcohol level down to about 40 percent abv to take the edge off. Barrelproof whiskeys typically weigh in at about 60 percent abv. These straight-strength whiskeys often come from barrels stored in the center of the rick house, where they aren’t subject to quite as great fluctuations in temperatures. The result is the barrels in the sweet spot of the rick house don’t lose as much water from evaporation. Less “angel’s share” is a good thing.


A distinctive bottle of whiskey makes an excellent holiday gift no matter how deep your pockets.

  • For your Boss — Black Maple Hill Small Batch, this bourbon is lesser known, but has huge street cred with whiskey lovers. It says you recognize he is cooler than most people at your company without kissing too much ass. $40
  • For your Best Man Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013, the 12th limited edition, small batch and highly sought after whiskey is a perfect gift for your best friend. It says you recognize his discerning taste in whiskey and in friends. $55
  • For your DadElijah Craig 21-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon, named for the father of bourbon, this well aged and refined collectors bottle is worthy of the man who gave you life. It says you value the finer qualities that come with time. $140
  • For your DIY Bookworm FriendGuide to Urban Moonshining; How to Make and Drink Whiskey, an informative book on the history of whiskey, and an insightful guide to making and enjoying it. $25


The Standard-bearer. The Glencairn whisky glass bills itself as “The Official Whisky Glass,” and many an aficionado agrees that its size and shape make it the only glass for properly smelling and tasting whisky.

The Contemporary Style-hound. The hand-blown, lead-free crystal Sempli Cupa rocks glass created by designer Daniele “Danne” Semeraro spins when you set it down, aerating your whiskey while looking stylish as hell.

The Practical. Use an ordinary white wine glass for a handy way to get the most out of tasting whiskey straight.

The Traditionalist. The rocks glass, aka the Old Fashioned glass, aka the lowball glass, is as at home in a whiskey bar as it is in your hand cuddled with a cigar.



Chip Tate is a mad scientist. His feverish work in the distillery and his amazing beard helps to enhance that persona.

The founder and head distiller of Balcones Distillery, based in Waco, constantly checks the quality of the white dog straight from the still. He also tastes dozens of barrel samples in his lab every day to ensure his whisky is just right. (He spells it without the “e” because he makes a Scottish style). Tate doesn’t just fixate on the whisky itself, but he also obsesses about every aspect of how it is made. He demands the absolute best quality in his barrels because of their essential role in building the flavor.

Barrels matter so much that Tate is even drying his own Live Oak staves to have custom barrels made with Texas wood. That

kind of attention to detail has produced award-winning whiskys. In late 2012, the Balcones Texas Single Malt won the prestigious Best in Glass competition held at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London. It is the first American whisky to win the prize and beat out storied whiskys like Balvenie, Glenmorangie and Macallan to take home first prize.“Barrels add wood profile during aging as the whisky evaporates and adds oxidative effects as the barrel breathes in and out,” Tate says. “We use barrels made with slow growth, yard-aged wood, with extra-fine grain and a custom toast profile charred to my specifications.”

Adding to its awards collection, the fifth anniversary Texas Straight Bourbon won the Sweepstakes Best in Show at the 2013 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. Balcones was the first Texas-made whisky on the market in 2009, and it now makes seven styles of whisky: Rumble, Rumble Cask Reserve, Baby Blue Corn Whisky, True Blue, True Blue 100 Proof, Texas Single Malt and Bimstone, a smoked whisky. It has also produced special edition bottling like the fifth anniversary Texas Straight Bourbon.

We make an original style Texas whisky made with Hopi blue corn,” Tate says. “Our whiskys have a lot of similarities to Scottish malt, but a taste all their own.”

The Baby Blue and True Blue are readily available in stores, restaurants and bars. Tate calls Baby Blue the “Reposado of whisky” because it is a youthful whisky that is lighter in color. It’s slightly lower in alcohol at 46 percent and is made to be drunk straight. True Blue is hearty, spicy, vigorous and assertive at 61 percent alcohol with caramel and pear flavors.

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is hard to find, but worth the hunt and worth the $80. It is made with 100 percent malt, fermented for seven days and is double distilled. After aging in various sized oak barrels, it has rich flavors of caramel, brown sugar, nutmeg and vanilla with ripe pear, a hint of citrus and roasted chestnuts. This is a fantastic whisky to enjoy while burrowed in to a cozy lounge chair. After a couple glasses of this, I imagine myself sounding like Tom Waits speaking intently to a burro that nonchalantly acknowledges my presence.

Balcones was set up to make about 6,000 cases a year, but is retrofitting the distillery, which is housed in a cramped 1880s welding shop, to keep up with demand. Installing new stills in the

existing distillery will triple the capacity. Balcones has also purchased an enormous former manufacturing facility that will house a new distillery, which Tate hopes to have online by the beginning of 2015.

Did I mention that Tate obsesses about every aspect of his whisky production? The mad scientist handmade his copper stills right on site at the distillery. In fact, everything in the distillery is custom built to fit exactly in the tight space. Balcones whiskys are sold in 20 states, the U.K., Australia, Sweden, Norway and Japan. Balcones whiskys are available in Austin at liquor stores and bars like The Four Seasons, The Tigress Pub and Fino.


Texans are awfully proud people. We like to buy products made in our state. Flying in the face of that, one Austin distiller, Treaty Oak Distilling, is brazenly buying bourbon distilled in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee and selling it under its own label with a picture of Texas right on it. The gall! Red Handed Bourbon was released in November and is the first whiskey from Treaty Oak.

The name is a wink and a nod to acknowledge that they’ve “stolen” their whiskey. The distillery buys the bourbon and then blends it and re-barrels it to age for 12 to 15 months onsite in Austin. It’s actually a common practice and producers who do so, like Jefferson’s, Bulleit and Willet, are known as NDPs (nondistiller producers) in the industry. Think about it: There are dozens of brands of Kentucky bourbon on the shelf, but only a handful of distilleries.

“This is bourbon worth stealing,” says Daniel R. Barnes, owner and distiller of Treaty Oak Distilling. “We got lucky with buying really good bourbon to use for Red Handed. It was a rare opportunity for a distillery of our size to acquire the quantity and variety that we did. The oldest batches are from 2006 and the newest bourbon in our blend is from 2010. It’s fun to play with other people’s whiskeys. It tastes so different after we’ve blended and aged it.”

Treaty Oak started the distillery making rum, then gin to showcase craft spirits, before moving in to whiskey. Barnes, an avid whiskey collector with more than 300 bottles of bourbon and several antique bourbons, has been interested in making whiskey since the start of the distillery. He has been making whiskey behind the scenes for seven years, trying out different flavor profiles, but hasn’t released any yet. In preparation for making his whiskey, Barnes worked at a few distilleries in Kentucky to learn bourbon distilling. The relationships with distillers and his experience in Kentucky led to the decision to go the NPD route.

“We wanted to know how to blend whiskey before we put ours on the market,” Barnes says. “It’s an education to work with other distillers’ whiskey to make it our own. We are grateful to the guys in Kentucky who welcomed us with open arms to learn, distill and sell to us. There is great camaraderie among those distillers.”

So if it’s just purchased liquid, what makes this a Treaty Oak product? Barnes says it’s the selection of the blend and re-barreling and aging in Texas heat that makes it pop. Treaty Oak specified the bill of grains for each batch of whiskey and then assembled the exact blend desired. In addition, Barnes hand-selected the new American oak barrels with a three-level char. Treaty Oak ages the whiskey in a warehouse where the temperature doesn’t exceed 95 degrees.

Red Handed is a bold, spicy bourbon made with 60 percent corn and a heavy hand on the rye, with more than 30 percent. Barnes likes it both as a sipping whiskey and also thinks it’s well suited for cocktails like the Old Fashioned. The oaky whiskey has plenty of sweetness with vanilla, caramel and toasted pecan flavors, accentuated by black pepper and ginger. This whiskey should be enjoyed while listening to old Dinosaur Jr. albums on vinyl in a dimly lit room. Its early introduction has been well received. Red Handed has already won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Distillers Festival. It sells for $34 a bottle at local shops like Spec’s and Twin Liquors, and it’s featured in a cocktail at the W Hotel.

Treaty Oak has enough stock of Red Handed for three years of allocated small seasonal releases of about 300 to 500 cases. That will be enough to get them through until they release their own in-house-created whiskey. Barnes intends to introduce a four-grain whiskey with an equal mixture of wheat, rye, corn and barley in about one year. It will be aged four years to get the desired complexity. Treaty Oak is opening a tasting room where visitors can sample Red Handed and its other spirits in its North Austin distillery. Barnes is in the process of building a new distillery in Southwest Austin off Highway 290 near Argus Cidery and Jester King Brewery.


Tucked in to the rolling hills about 10 miles west of Johnson City, the Garrison Brothers Distillery is making bourbon in Texas wine country. Former ad man Dan Garrison fired up his whiskey distillery in Hye, Texas, to make its first batch in 2008. It’s one of the first whiskeys legally made in the state after prohibition.

The flagship Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon is made with 64 percent Texas-grown corn, giving it a sweet profile. The remainder of the all-organic grains in the mash bill is winter wheat grown on the ranch in Hye and barley from the Pacific Northwest. The distillery’s location makes a difference. The water used is filtered through the limestone beneath its ranch, much like the water used in Kentucky bourbon is filtered through limestone. The Texas heat speeds up the aging process by accelerating oxidation and evaporation for the whiskey in the barrel. It’s made in Texas for Texans.

“We have no plans to sell outside Texas,” Garrison says. “As long as the Texans keep drinking, we’re in good shape.”

The Texas corn, heat and water give Garrison Brothers bourbon sweet flavors of caramel, molasses and maple syrup, along with spices like black tea, vanilla and nutmeg. It has a little kick at 94 proof, but is silky smooth on the way down. This is a sipping whiskey best enjoyed with a lump or two of ice while sitting on the back porch with your favorite dog. Garrison Brothers bottles its bourbon twice a year in fall and spring, and vintage dates each batch. Each bottle is hand numbered and hand sealed in black wax. The distillery filled about 1,300 barrels this year. The fall 2013 vintage will be available after it has been aged about three years.

In addition to its flagship bourbon, the company released the special edition Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon Whiskey in May this year. This barrel-proof bourbon was uncut, unfiltered and bottled straight from the barrel, weighing in at 136 proof. You can still find it in some bars, but the small batch of 600 small 375-millileter-sized bottles of Cowboy sold out quickly, even at the steep price of $169. That’s a lot of cash for a small bottle. Why so expensive?

“In Kentucky, they lose three to four percent of the whiskey to evaporation,” Garrison explains. “We lose 12 to 13 percent annually. That’s a lot of ‘angel’s share.’ Our Cowboy Bourbon is expensive because after five years of aging, the barrel is only half full. A lot of the water is gone, leaving the whiskey more concentrated.”

If you didn’t get your share, never fear. Garrison has already selected the barrels he will use in the 2015 bottling. He plans to produce 5,000 of the larger 750-millileter bottles, and make it a little less expensive. The distillery is a great day-trip destination. Garrison Brothers provides informative tours of the facilities, which conclude in the tasting room. Garrison Brothers has done a good job of getting bars and restaurants to carry its whiskey, so it’s readily available throughout the state. It retails for about $75 a bottle and you can find it at major steakhouses like Vince Young Steak House, bars like TenOak, and the W Austin sells it by the bottle.


It is a good sign that a bar might be a good whiskey bar when you walk in and see a wide selection of whiskey labels that are out of the mainstream. The second important element is a bar staff that knows their stuff. That’s what you get at Drink.Well. on North Loop. Not only does the bar have more than 75 kinds of American whiskey, but Co-owner Jessica Sanders knows her corn from her rye. Sanders not only has studied all things wine, beer and spirits as a board member of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild and as a sommelier, but she also recently attended a week-long camp about bourbon in Kentucky. She uses that knowledge for good, teaching whiskey classes and by droppin’ science behind the bar at Drink.Well.

“Drink.Well. specializes in American craft spirits,” Sanders says. “Bourbon and American whiskey are the ultimate American craft sprits. Bourbon is a national treasure. Having a big whiskey selection is critical to our concept. It has become a life-long mission to learn about all of them.”

Tasting a whiskey properly can also improve the enjoyment. Smell it twice by inhaling with your mouth and nose simultaneously with the glass away from your face. Smell as slowly as you possibly can. That way, the alcohol level is turned down and you can smell the fruit and the balance of the spirit. Don’t bury your nose in the glass like wine or it will burn your nose hairs off. Next, sip twice. The first sip acclimates your palate to get past the first burn of alcohol. The second sip is what counts.

Now, think about the various flavors and separate the notion of heat from spice. Whiskey can have great spice flavors of black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg that are completely different from the burn of alcohol. Mind you, that alcohol heat can be there, particularly in the higher alcohol and barrel-strength styles, which can be up to 110 proof. A big swig of that without warming up your mouth will be like getting kissed by a fist.

Whiskey can be intimidating to some with its rough-and-tumble fire-water reputation. Sanders recommends beginners start with bourbon like Maker’s Mark, which has an approachable flavor. Its creaminess, vanilla and sweetness make it a suitable gateway whiskey. As people progress and want to discover the types of whiskey that they enjoy most, Sanders recommends people branch out from whiskeys they already like. Ask the bartender about whiskeys that are in the same family as your favorite.

“Don’t jump from Maker’s Mark to Bulleit,” Sanders advises. “It’s a high-rye bourbon that is spicier. Make the process a gradual one. Drink different spirits until you find the ones you don’t like and the ones you like best.”

A great way to explore different whiskeys is to order a flight, which allows you to compare both complementary and contradictory styles to see which you like better. It might be difficult to know if you prefer the Eagle Rare versus the Elijah Craig 12 if you drink them a week apart. Tasting in flights also helps find preferences among different styles of whiskey. Do you prefer the sweetness of bourbon that corn brings? Do you gravitate to spice rye or softer wheat whiskey? Or are you a big fan of the bold peatiness of Scotch? Sipping whiskey on its own is definitely an enjoyable pastime.

Purists may thumb their noses at mixing whiskey with anything but a cube of ice or a dash of water, but there are many delicious classic and signature cocktails worth exploring.

Battle of New Orleans at Drink.Well

A classic cocktail recipe that’s perfect for Sazerac drinkers who like a little variety.

  • 1.5 ounce bourbon
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1/4 teaspoon Herbsaint
  • 1/4 teaspoon Meletti Anisette

Stir all ingredients and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an expressed lemon peel.

The Atlantic Avenue at Drink.Well

This variation on the classic Manhattan is homage to the Brooklyn cocktail, using Swedish Punsch, which is a popular Scandinavian liqueur that’s based with Batavia Arrack. Combine all ingredients with ice and stir until properly diluted and chilled. Strain into a cold cocktail coupe and express a lemon peel over the drink.

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce Swedish Punsch
  • 1/2 ounce Bonal
  • 2 bar spoons Amontillado Sherry
  • 1 dash baked apple bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters


Bar Congress

This intimate lounge carries 60 to 70 American, Canadian, Irish, Scottish, Japanese and other regional whiskeys available, including an allocated Black Maple Hill 16 year and a rare bottle of A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Reserve. Bar Congress is known both for making solid classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Vieux Carre and Black Manhattan, and for signature drinks like The Roundabout.

Bar manager Jason Stevens: “I’m a huge fan of the Suntory Hibiki 12 year with an extended preparation. I will start a guest with the Hibiki neat, having them take a few sips to get used to the flavor then add ice, a few sips more and then finally and slowly elongate with Topo Chico soda. It’s incredible how the flavors change and how different elements fade and become pronounced throughout.”


This North Loop neighborhood bar has more than 75 types of American whiskey like E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bottled in Bond and St. George Single Malt Whiskey. Drink.Well. offers flights of four whiskeys to let you taste the difference between a Whistle Pig Straight Rye 11 year and a Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.


The absinthe selection might draw you in and then the whiskey will catch your eye with a selection of about 100 bottles. Péché carries special whiskeys like a hand-selected single barrel Buffalo Trace bottled just for it and a Talisker 40-year-old Scotch.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Known for periodically hosting whiskey dinners, Jack Allen’s Kitchen carries 25 different whiskeys, including Texas whiskeys, Kentucky bourbon, Irish, Canadian and Rye. The Texas lineup includes Firestone & Robertson Distillery, Rebecca Creek Spirit Whiskey, Garrison Brothers and True Blue from Balcones. They have a hand-selected barrel of Eagle Rare 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon bottle especially for them.

tenOakTen Oak

This whiskey bar has 220 to 250 whiskeys from throughout the world, including 127 bourbons and as many as 30 American whiskeys. They love to pour Texas whiskey like the Ranger Creek Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey and Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon. They have rare and special whiskeys like the Buffalo Trace Experimental made with rice and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year.

Vince Young Steakhouse

While it may not have the largest list of whiskeys with more than 65 on hand, it has some of the most exclusive labels in town. Vince Young Steakhouse carries full sets of whiskeys, like all five Macallans, from 12 year to 30 year, and four bottlings of Pappy Van Winkle.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for tastings by Balcones, Treaty Oak and Garrison Brothers. 

What are you drinking? 

Austin’s Best Bourbon Cocktails at 4th Annual Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ

This Tuesday, September 24 from 6:30 to 9:30PM at Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal Ln., some of Austin’s best bartenders will whip-up amazing cocktails made with more than 30 American whiskies at Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ. This is an excellent way to taste through a bunch of bourbon during Bourbon Heritage Month.

In it’s 4th Year, the Austin Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) ‘Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ’ brings 16 of Austin’s baddest bartenders together in friendly competition. USBG member-bartenders participating represent the chapter’s best cocktail venues including: drink.well., Midnight Cowboy, Contigo Austin, The W Hotel, Whisler’s, NoVa, Esquire Tavern (San Antonio), East Side Showroom, The League and The Turtle (Brownwood, TX).

Using a randomly selected Bourbon, contestants will craft an original cocktail to be judged during a live competition held at the event. The winner earns the spot as the official USBG Austin ambassador at Portland Cocktail Week in October 2013. I’m thrilled to be a judge this year and am looking forward to tasting some of the bourbon brilliance.

Its obvious from the name, Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ, has more than just cocktails. It also will have all you can eat BBQ and live music from the Sour Bridges and The Possum Posse.

Celebrated in tandem with Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) Benefit day, the event proceeds will benefit the Alliance, which is USBG Austin’s 2012-2013 philanthropic beneficiary. The whole sheebang is put together by the Austin Chapter of the USBG and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (H.A.A.M.) and spearheaded by event chair, Jessica Sanders, who is the secretary of the Austin Chapter of the USBG and co-owner/bar maven of drink.well.

Tickets are a steal at $35. Buy ’em online before you go.

This story also appeared on CultureMap.

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Celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month with Texas Whiskey, Austin Cocktails

Kentucky Bourbon for National Bourbon Heritage MonthWe have a wealth of opportunities to celebrate bourbon in this country, and for that we can thank Congress. Not only did that esteemed body pronounce the homegrown whiskey “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964, but a 2007 Senate bill declared every September hence to be National Bourbon Heritage Month. This is one time when we can get behind the decisions of our government.

Some boozy history
Of course, whiskey in general isn’t an American product, but the specific type known as bourbon is. There are old-world whiskies, such as Scotch or Irish, and new-world whiskies — bourbon, Canadian, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended.

We owe a debt of gratitude to a Baptist minister from Kentucky, Elijah Craig, who first made bourbon in 1798. The processes Craig set in motion have evolved into standards that make bourbon a unique distilled spirit.

Ever since, we’ve had the happy luxury of dreaming dreams that fatten on the vapors of bourbon. Ah bourbon.

Whiskey must comply with stiff regulations to qualify as bourbon. It is made from fermented mash of grain — which includes not less than 51 percent corn — that is distilled to no more than 160 proof; entered into and aged in charred, brand-new oak barrels at no more than 125 proof; and bottled at no less than 80 proof. There can be no colors or flavors added — ever.

Within the strict rules, distillers can coax an array of flavors by creating their own mash bill, or grain recipe. Increasing the corn percentage can give it sweet flavors; adding rye gives it pepper, spice and bite; wheat brings out mellowness; and malted barley adds chocolate with fermented sugars.

The use of sour mash — that thin, watery part of a previously distilled batch of whiskey mash that is added into the next batch, a step Dr. James C. Crow developed in 1823 — also affects the flavor.

The biggest impact on flavor, though, is the barrel. It’s all about the oak. The wood seasoning (“toast” or “char”), along with conditions in the warehouse where the barrel is stored (the “rick house”) — including its size, the location of the barrel, and temperature swings and extremes — contributes to the flavor as much as the age, proof, blending and batch.

Many people think that bourbon can be made only in Kentucky; others think it requires water from a pure limestone aquifer in Kentucky. Both conceptions are myths. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States — including Texas.

Accidental birth of a fine Texas spirit
One night in Waco, Chip Tate set out to make a Mediterranean knock-off of bananas Foster. He concocted a treat of figs, honey and sugar, letting them giggle in the delight of a splash of whiskey that would inflame them. The result was so good that Tate wondered what they would taste like fermented and distilled. That night, with ideas fatten on the vapors of caramelized figs, Tate decided to distill those figs, honey and sugar and the first Texas-made whiskey was born; Balcones Rumble.

Tate’s Balcones Distillery started selling its whiskey in 2009 and has been making original Texas whiskey with Hopi blue corn ever since. Its lineup is, for the most part, distinctly different from bourbon, having a lot of similarities to Scottish malt. But the ever-tinkering Tate made a small batch of bourbon to satisfy his thirsty fans.

“We made a bourbon that is cask-strength at 64.2 percent alcohol,” Tate says. “We only made a few barrels of bourbon, which equates to 42 bottles for sale in Texas, and only 18 were sent to off-premise [not at a restaurant or bar] for sale. Our bourbon aged a little more than two years in the barrel.”

It tastes of honey, baking spice, toast and pepper, with a tannic tightness on the palate. The spice of the bourbon might make one assume that the mash contains rye, but it’s 100 percent blue corn — an indication of how much impact the barrel and aging conditions can have on the flavor.

Balcones whiskies are available in Austin at select retail stores and bars, including TenOak, the Tigress and Fino.

Serious Texas distillery
A little farther south, Dan Garrison started his in Hye, Texas, distillery in 2006 and bottled his first batch in 2010. Garrison Brothers makes the first vintage dated bourbon ever produced.

They consider the limestone substrate of the Texas Hill Country to be similar in many ways to the bedrock in Kentucky, producing a similar style of water for bourbon-making. Garrison Brothers follows regulations to the letter and hand-bottles every bit of bourbon that it ages in the Texas heat.

That dedication to craftsmanship means that it is available only in limited supply in Austin stores and sold by the bottle at The W Austin.

Many people contend that the only proper way to drink bourbon is straight up, on ice, or with a splash of water. Purists, please avert your gazes at this time. Bourbon is fantastic in a variety of cocktails. Several fine Austin establishments have generously shared their fantastic recipes for National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Drink.Well., The Cat’s Pajamas

  • 2 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel
  • .75 oz. Savory & James Cream Sherry
  • .5 oz. Cynar
  • 2 dashes Barkeep Chinese Five Spice Bitters
  • Apple slices

Add all ingredients together and stir. Pour into a chilled Leopold’s coupe and garnish with fanned apple slices.

Contigo cocktail Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw

  • 1.5 oz. Bulliet bourbon
  • 5 oz. Domain de Canton Ginger liqueur
  • .75 oz. lemon verbena syrup
  • .75 ounce lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Bad Dog Fire and Damnation bitters

Shaken, strained over cracked ice, then garnished with a lemon zest and a lemon verbena leaf.

Put lemon verbena syrup in a saucepan. Add 1 quart water, 1.5 quarts brown sugar, stir and bring to a boil. Then add 3 bunches (handfuls) of lemon verbena leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, bottle and store up to two weeks.

Lucy's Fried Chicken Cocktail Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Texas Whiskey Revival

  • .75 oz. Balcones True Blue Whiskey
  • .75 oz. St. Germain
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water and sugar)

In a rocks glass, add all the ingredients plus ice. Shake and pour back into glass. Garnish with your favorite cherry and citrus combination. Our favorite is garnished with candied orange peel and bourbon cherries when they are in season.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy

  • 1.5 oz. TX Blended Whiskey (Fort Worth)
  • 2 muddled lemon wedges
  • 1 oz. Round Rock honey-fig syrup
  • 3 oz. of Original Sin Hard Cider

Muddle lemon slices and honey-fig syrup in Collins glass. To avoid bitterness, be sure not to overmuddle. Add scoop of ice and whiskey. Top with hard cider (or fill to top). Roll in and out of shaker tin back into glass until fruit is not on bottom.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Eagle Rare Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (JAK’s hand-selected barrel)
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
  • Luxardo maraschino cherry

Place maraschino cherry in bottom of chilled 10 oz. martini glass. In a shaker with ice, stir whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters 10 times with bar spoon. Strain into glass over cherry.


This story originally ran on CultureMap. Photo credits:

DRINK.WELL. The Cat’s Pajamas – Haley Dawson
Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw – Haley Dawson
Lucy’s Fried Chicken’s, Texas Whiskey Revival – Kelly Rucker
Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy – Kenny Braun
Jack Allen’s Kitchen Eagle Rare Manhattan – Kenny Braun

All other photos are mine.

What are you drinking? 

4 after-dinner drink gift ideas for Father’s Day

Blandy's MadieraIn his essay on gifts, Ralph Waldo Emerson poetically asserted that it is better to give a present that reflects the true spirit of the receiver. “… The rule for a gift… is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought,” he wrote.

Father’s Day is a great opportunity to put that concept into action. Why not give Dad the gift of a little extra time to reminisce about fond fatherly memories? There is no better accompaniment for a stroll down memory lane than a fine after-dinner drink.

This Father’s Day present him with a bottle of the good stuff and invite him to loiter after dinner and relish in memories of fatherhood, or at least baby making. Here are four recommendations for lovely evening libations that are bound to conjure fond images. Set the tone for Pops by writing one of your favorite memories on the card, or present him with a bottle that is wrapped in a hand written note that simply says, “Linger.”

Memories of how it all started over a glass of Madeira

Before I had kids, I thought the best part of having kids was the part where we got to make them. I still remember that day and the smell of the nape of her neck; a spirited scent of sun kissed daydreams balanced with unrealized intent.

A glass of Madeira is sure to transport him back to fond memories of how fatherhood began. Like a lover, Madeira has the poignant acidic taste of sweat intertwined with the sweetness of honey. It’s created by inserting grape brandy into the fermenting wine and once made, it rests in the heat, letting the flavors cook together.

The venerable Madeira company, Blandy’s, has four distinct varieties of five year old Madeira ranging from dry to sweet sold for $24 each. While each wine is made with different grapes, they are all aged in the cantiero process where it is stored in oak casks in the hot attic of the family’s lodges in Funchal on the island of Madiera, located about 540 miles off the coast of Portugal.

The driest and highest in acidity, Blandy’s Madeira Sercial, has woody apricot, melon and peach flavors with a long nutty finish. It’s light in color like the sun going down in late summer. The second fortified wine in the lineup, Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho, balances acidity with a little bit of residual sugar. It’s a bit rounder, fuller — full of opportunity. It has floral scents and dried fruit, raisin and butter toffee flavors. Both are typically served slightly chilled in white wine glasses as aperitifs, but they are also great as dessert with an assortment of hard cheeses and Lester Young crooning on old vinyl.

Moving up the sweetness scale, Blandy’s Madeira Bual, has a darker amber color and dried fruit, vanilla and wood scents. The sweet raisin and toffee flavors are balanced with acidity. The sweetest in the batch is Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey. The Malmsey is full bodied, dark brown and full of honeyed raisin and almond flavors. Serve this with dark chocolate cake, a red velvet smoking jacket and Lou Reed on the stereo. Let’s hope you won’t have a new brother or sister in nine months.

Grahm's 20 Year Tawny PortRemembering the firsts with port

There is nothing sweeter than the first time baby coos “dada.” I remember that look in your eyes, that delight on your lips as you stroked my chin and called out to me. I am your dad and you knew it. Nothing will ever compare to that first acknowledged connection. Our bond was forever cemented in that moment.

Bring dad back to the sweetness and simplicity of the baby’s first moments with something equally as stirring and sweet without being overly sugary. Port fits that bill. The classic fortified wine has been revered for centuries for its elegance, hefty structure, complex fruit flavors and round sweetness.

A few ports to consider Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old TawnyCockburn’s Special Reserve Porto, and Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port. The Warre’s Otima, made by the oldest British port company in Portugal, has a lovely rose and tea tawny color with bright cherry flavors rides on top of a racy alcohol engine. It goes for about $26. The Cockburn’s Special Reserve has crazy ripe fruit, lush, velvety texture and is super charged with attitude for $17. If you are willing to spend a little extra — around $63 — go for Graham’s 20 Year Tawny Port.

Graham’s makes this prototypical, classic port with a wine blend that has been aged an average of 20 years in oak barrels giving it vanilla and almond essence layered on top of the raisin and dried orange peel flavors. Serve it slightly chilled in a classic port or white wine glass big enough to let him stick his nose all the way in to breath in the sensuous aromas. The rich tawny loves creamy dessert. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or crème brûlée for a delightful treat that will go well with memories of early parenthood.

The apprentice besting the teacher calls for gin  

He finally did it. Look at him sitting next to the fire with hot chocolate; his smile as bright as the fresh powder and as broad as the first run was steep. He conquered the double black. He did it with grace. He did it 300 yards in front of me. He’s on the edge of being a man. I can’t put him back in the bottle.  

In every father and child relationship, there comes the moment when the child bests the father in skills that the father has taught. That might come first in video games, move into cards and finally into sports and possibly intellectual pursuits. It can be a father’s greatest joy to see his offspring excel. Well, as long as he is manly enough to accept this as a victory.

Gin is a man’s drink that says accomplishment with every sip. It’s the perfect spirit to accompany memories of the first time she beat her dad in chess. Fortunately for us in Austin, Genius Gin is hitting the shelves of local bars and restaurants this month. CEO and president, Mike Groener, is passionate about aesthetics with a tech exec’s attention to detail. He developed a unique flavor profile for Genius Gin using a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Others ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander are heated in the distillation to impart flavor.

Dad should have a standard 94 proof gin or a 114 proof Navy Strength gin on hand for Father’s Day dinner. The Old Fashioned has been synonymous with American whisky since the early 1800s. Drink.Well.’s owner and bar wizard, Jessica Sanders, puts her stamp on the Old Fashioned by making it with Genius Gin instead of whiskey, which helps to accent the beautiful cardamom notes of the gin. She shared her recipe so you can make it at home.

Gin-based Old Fashioned

  • 2 ounces Genius Gin
  • .25 ounce fich demerara simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
  • 1-2 dashes Scrappy’s cardamom bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel

Express an orange peel over a double old fashioned glass and drop it in to release the essential oils over the glass. Add simple syrup and bitters. Stir to combine. Add Genius Gin and ice (preferably a large cube to slow dilution). Stir gently until chilled and serve.

Angle's Envy Rye WhiskeyCelebrate coming of age with whiskey

Watching you throw your cap into the air was such a shared moment of pride in your accomplishment. You did it! Your graduation night was the first time we ever drank a bottle of whiskey together. That was a moment, a shift in our relationship from father and child to father and grown child taking on the world together.

Whiskey just feels right as an accompaniment to major milestones. Its simplicity, its carmely sweetness, its bracing alcohol burn that reminds you of the flame of life. Treat it with respect and it pays you back with a contented grin.

Angel’s Envy has introduced a limited release Rye whiskey just in time for Father’s Day, and it is available in less than a dozen states, including Texas. Master distiller, Lincoln Henderson, uses 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley and ages the whiskey for at least six years in oak barrels. It is then finished for 18 months in Caribbean rum casks, which began as French cognac barrels. The result is a fun mix of the spicy and earthy rye notes along with vanilla, sherry and hazelnut flavors with a touch of sweetness from the rum barrels.

It’s a smooth finished to dinner, even at 100 proof, so serve it neat or with a set of frozen stones rather than ice. This will set you back about $70, but your dad is worth it.

No matter which bottle you choose or which memory you hope to evoke, give your dad the gift of a little extra time to remember why he loves being a father.

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review at no cost and with no expectation of coverage. 

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Discover local booze and brews at Edible Austin Eat Drink Local Week


The Edible Austin farm-to-table culinary tour de force kicks off its Eat Drink Local Week this Saturday, December 3, with more than 50 of our finest local restaurants preparing special dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and events each night designed to showcase the bounty of local farms, the farmers, brewers, distillers. The fifth annual event starts with a proclamation by the Mayor Leffingwell delivered in Republic Square Park and with its ever popular Urban Farm Bicycle Tour. The up to 50 mile round-trip jaunt takes bike riders to local farms where they can sample delectable food prepared by top local chefs using locally grown ingredients.   

Edible Austin, the quarterly magazine that organizes this week-long foodie fest, aims to raise $80,000 with the events, about double what they raised last year. They plan to do this incredible feat in a tough economy by offering more accessible events and by holding an Online Chef Dinner Auction, for people to bid on a prize of a private dinner for eight prepared in their home by one of eight of Austin’s hottest chefs. The starting bid is $2,000 for a chance to amaze your friends with the best dinner they’ll ever have at your place.

Proceeds from Eat Drink Local Week will go to the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) and Urban Roots, which has been a recipient since the first year. SFC was added this year to support their work in increasing access to local food through farmers markets, the Happy Kitchen cooking classes for low income individuals, and its farm to school program, Sprouting Healthy Kids.

 Smack in the middle of this gastronomic gala are two bacchanalian booze and brews bashes to make up the Drink portion of the week: “Drink Local Night” on Thursday, December 8 and “Local Brew Fest” on Saturday, December 10. To do these events justice, maybe we need to create and abide by a new bumper sticker reading “Drink Locally, Act Responsibly.” Get a ride home.

Drink Local Night showcasing Texas distillers

Drink Local Night has moved to larger digs this year and will be held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center Grand Ballroom. Jenna Noel, Edible Austin associate publisher, says they expect to have about 500 people in attendance sampling cocktails and tasting spirits from more than a dozen distilleries as well as noshing on scrumptious snacks from Swift’s Attic, BC Tavern, Lick Ice Creams and The Carillon.   

Drink Local Night is all about introducing local spirits to the community. It has also served to get the distillers themselves acquainted According to Noel, the first event held five years ago was the first time all the Texas distillers were in one room together. This year there are several new distillers introducing their sauce including Cypress Creek Reserve, Ranger Creek, Rebecca Creek Distillery, Republic Tequila, Tenneyson Absinthe and Wahaka Mezcal.

Experiencing new spirits is part of the fun. Graham Wasilition, founder of Tenneyson Absinthe Royale hopes Austinites discover his unique absinthe “Locally owned and produced spirits really can be top quality and create an experience that they will want to share with their friends, neighbors and visitors with pride. I want people to have a little bit better of an understanding of the absinthe category as a whole because it is something that is been misunderstood by many for a long time. We created an internationally acclaimed product and want to share it with our neighbors!”

Dan Garrison, proprietor of Garrison Brothers Distillery is confident in the quality of his whiskey and is putting his money where his mouth is. “The organizers, who I greatly admire and appreciate, requested a financial contribution from each distillery that would go toward a prize for the mixologist who created the best cocktail with their spirit. In addition to my participation fee, I will donate an additional money toward the mixologist award, but only if they promised not to mix my bourbon with anything.”

A highlight of the event is the “Official Drink of Austin Cocktail Contest” presented by Tipsy Texan and the “Crowd Favorite Award” sponsored by Google Places. Some new faces who have not previously competed in cocktail competitions are vying for this year’s prize. Finalists for the Official Drink of Austin Cocktail Contest were announced this week. Here are the finalists and cocktails:

  •  Josh Loving, Baby’s First Punch, FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar
  • Jessica Sanders, Hippie Harvest, Drink.Well.
  • Marcelo Nascimento, Texas Cup #9, Lucky 13 Cocktail Co.
  • Houston Eaves, Smokin’ Gypsy, Contigo
  • Justin Chamberlin, The Pinetop, Sagra

David Alan, aka Tipsy Texan, says finalists were selected by a three-member panel based on their adherence to the contest rules with drinks that featured local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. “Drinks had to demonstrate knowledge of cocktail mixology, and need to show some of the creator’s creativity. I want to see what bartenders do with the spirits and produce and flavors around us, not just what is prescribed in the pages of a magazine or in marketing collateral from some big national or international brand.” 

The winner will be selected at the event by a panel of judges including the Tipsy Texan and past winners, Lara Nixon (2009 winner) and Bill Norris (2010 winner). We get our say on the best cocktails too with the new People’s Choice Award. Bar stations will be set for attendees may taste the handiwork of the contestants. 

Local Brew Fest featuring Texas brewers

For beer lovers, Black Star Co-op and Wheatsville Food Co-op are hosting the Local Brew Fest with 15 of the states finest craft brewers on hand in a big tent outside Black Star Co-op.  Oh, and it’s not just beer. Start-up cider brewers, Austin Eastciders and Texas Sake Co., the first Texan sake producer, will both be on hand as well.  sample their wares at this popular event. The event draws some of the best craft brewers from Austin and the rest of the state, and will have more brewers than previous years including new breweries Austin Beerworks and Hops and Grains.

Participants will be able to sample 12 two ounce tastes while chatting up the local brewers. Each brewer will bring a few selections to try and will have brewmasters on hand to talk about their craft. Wheatsville Food Co-op will provide a fine selection of noshes including Windy Hill Farm, Pure Luck Farm & Dairy, Veldhuizen Cheese and Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery to accompany all of that delicious brew.

Whether you are a foodie, a cocktail connoisseur or a beer geek, Eat Drink Local Week is a great event for to discover local fare and meet the people that bring it to your table. Tickets for Drink Local Night and the Local Brew Fest are $35 and $20 respectively, and can be purchased at

 This article also appears on CultureMap Austin.

All photos were taken by Dustin Meyer at the 2010 Edible Austin Eat Drink Local Week,

What are you drinking?

Participating Restaurants Include:

ASTI Trattoria                  

Barley Swine

Buenos Aires Café

Chez Nous



East Side Pies

East Side Showroom

Eastside Café

Fabi + Rosi

Fête Accompli

Finn & Porter

FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar

Food 4 Fitness Cafe

Green Pastures Restaurant


Home Slice Pizza

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Judge’s Hill Restaurant

Kerbey Lane Cafe (all locations)

La Condesa


Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill



Shoreline Grill

Snack Bar

Tacodeli (all locations)

Tacos and Tequila

The Leaning Pear




Urban an American Grill


Participating Brewers Include:

[512] Brewing Company

Austin Beerworks

Black Star Coop

Buddha’s Brew

Circle Brewing

Hops and Grains

Independence Brewing Company

Jester King Craft Brewery

Live Oak Brewery

Rahr & Sons

Ranger Creek

Saint Arnold

Texas Sake Company

Thirsty Planet


Participating Distillers Include:

Balcones Distilling

Cypress Creek Reserve

Deep Eddy Vodka

Dripping Springs Vodka

Garrison Bros

Paula’s Texas Spirits

Ranger Creek

Rebecca Creek Distillery

Republic Tequila

Spirit of Texas

Tenneyson Absinthe

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

Treaty Oak Rum

Wahaka Mezcal

When You‘re in That Bourbon Mood: tenOak

“You, please bite this apple.”

“You! Bite my ear.”

I gazed into the painting an imagined the woman on the left gently feeding the robotic horse with compassion, while commanding her cyborg lover to bite her harder. Balancing dissimilar dispositions is what makes us human. It’s what makes life interesting.  

Like the provocative paintings that titivate the walls in tenOak, the bar coyly invites you to try on a mood or two and maybe another one later. tenOak is a bourbon house, and nothing stirs the passion to distinct veins than a good whiskey buzz. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The way you dance with whiskey is the way it dances with you.

Sip a fine small batch, single barrel bourbon with reverence and soon enough you’re awash in a reflective, thoughtful, poetic, erudite or maybe even a melancholy mood. Now go and take that same spirit, but in a slightly dressed down, less pretentious form and shoot it with a pickle back. What’s going to happen? You might start off gregarious or flirtatious, then you do a few more shots and you move into rowdy, feisty and yeah even furious.

It’s like listening to a song by Boston, it’s “More than a Feeling.” That’s whiskey. When you’re ready for whiskey to fan the flames of emotion, tenOak is there for you.

It starts before even taking a sip, tenOak envelopes guests in bourbon. The bar is warm and comfortable with rich charred wood paneled walls reminiscent of the inside of whiskey barrels and copper accents on the bar are indicative of copper stills, mightily turning corn into dreams. Cold steel is juxtaposed with soft leather chairs and booths belying its intoxicating wish to have us hover between different temperaments. The design of the bar was influenced by its owner, Michael Girard’s travels and personal taste. I think he has spent some time with a bottle of bourbon.

Mr. Girard, who also owns Austin hot spots Cuba Libre, Imperia and Speakeasy, was kind enough to tell me about his latest business venture. He opened tenOak in March during SXSW and it really got going in April. The bar is situated in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th and Colorado in downtown Austin and has the feel of a causal, neighborhood bar. It draws an after work happy hour crowd looking to dissolve the day with one of the more than 150 North American whiskeys and bourbons and signature cocktails while noshing on creative nibbles like a tempura fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Later the bar attracts a younger crowd ready for a party. To accommodate a livelier mood, tenOak just opened the Elixir Lounge, an extension of bar in the back with darker lighting, louder music and a DJ spinning until 2:00 am. The night club attracts people walking over from Dirty 6th and 4th street clubs.

Whether you go early or late, you won’t be disappointed by the huge selection of bourbon and whiskey. General Manager, Orion Ondriska, has assembled an impressive menu of booze and several signature cocktails based on bourbon, including Martini style drinks and a twist on the Moscow Mule. They are also in the process of making a barrel-aged cocktail, which will be available in about six weeks. It’s made with Gin and orange bitters and other secret, shelf-stable ingredients. It should be worth the wait.

I asked Girard what his favorite drink is, and he chose Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon on ice. tenOak serves its whiskey with a single, solid hand-made 2” x 2” cube of ice so the ice doesn’t water down the whiskey. Ondriska explained that this is a precious commodity. They are pouring bottles from the second batch of Garrison Brothers. They have an annual allocation of 12 bottles, but they’ve been through 19 so far with a long time to go before the third batch is ready.

I was fortunate enough to get a glass of the oldest whiskey distilled in Texas (Dan, I’m angling for a visit to your distillery very soon. This is fair warning.). It was a perfect mood setter to start the weekend.  

Look Deep amber and copper like the evening sun rays streaming into the front of the bar. The iceberg jutting out was a pronounced landmark to guide me in drink after drink.
Smell A gentle sniff produced a nose full of spicy, peaty caramel with enough heat to wake up the senses.
Taste This true Texas lovely has pucker and a touch of sweet with a balance of tannins, spice, caramel, fig and toasted corn flavors. Its glycerin smooth with plenty of alcohol kick to keep the finish going long.  
Price $16 a glass


The Garrison Brothers had me settling into my seat ready to swim through a few moods. To keep it going I tasted a Balcones Brimstone Smoked Texas Whiskey made with 100% blue corn. Holy cow, it’s smoky like a scotch and honey sweet on the end. I’m going to have to go back and drink more of it and wander through the huge list of bourbons. tenOak is Austin’s Mecca for whiskey.

What’s your mood when you drink whiskey? Want to go to tenOak with me and find out?

tenOak provided a sample of Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon for this review.

What are you drinking?

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?

Grown up drinks for grown up tastes: Péché Austin

The mixology movement has hit the country with full force. Cocktail bars specializing in intricate drinks have sprouted up everywhere. Austin, TX is blessed with several gifted mixologists including the folks at Townhouse that I wrote about previously. If you’re hankering for a bar with a broad menu of classic and inventive cocktails and a refined atmosphere, try Péché in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th Street. One look at the long, narrow room with wood floors, dotted with polished marble tables, wood beam ceiling and the richly paneled wood bar with antique absinthe water spouts, and your mood will instantly melt into relaxation ready to sip a sophisticated drink.   

Beautiful Wife and I went there for dinner recently and we were not disappointed by the focus on excellent drinks. Rob Pate, the owner, sidled up to our table the moment we sat down and asked us if we were interested in cocktails. We had barely glanced at the menu of 50+ concoctions of stalwarts like the Moscow Mule, Bees Knees and the Side Car and twists on the Martini and the Manhattan, when we were presented with the delightful opportunity to have an expert guide help us navigate the fun house.

Rob asked if we knew what we wanted or if we would like recommendations? Beautiful Wife wanted a French 77. Done. I was open to exploration and only gave the guidance that I was in the mood for bourbon. He recommend a Rye-based drink called the “Final Say” and I was game to try something new for an aperitif.

Tip: If you know you are in a bar that really cares about its drinks, put yourself in the hands of the bartender.

The Final Say is a blend of Rye whisky, green chartreuse, lime juice, Maraschino liquor and orange bitters all shaken vigorously with ice.

Look A classic martini glass nestling a misty, pastel emerald with a haze of shattered ice crystals glazing its surface.
Smell Pleasing herbal, lime-zest and a hint of honeysuckle like an embrace after he has been drinking Bärenjäger liquor and she is wearing upscale body lotion from a French salon.  
Taste After the first sip I felt like I was in a British bar car riding on the Orient Express. This is a distinguished drink with lush heather grass tempered by savory lime, and brought to life by the warmth of alcohol. It has a long, sweet finish that obscures the sometimes rough backbone of rye.
Price $10

While Péché has only been open for about two years, Rob is no novice in the restaurant and bar business. His twinkling eyes and complexion ratify a life spent both making and consuming lots of drinks well into the night. He got his start in the restaurant business at the tender age of 15 in summer camp and later worked at the Erwin Center while a student at the University of Texas. He has owned the adjacent Cedar Street bar for several years, but Péché is the first restaurant he has owned.

Now we were ready for dinner. Rob explained that his chef du cuisine, Jason Dodd, has a focus on European comfort food with the same commitment to excellence found in the drinks. He sources his ingredients locally and butches his meats in-house. I ordered a rabbit cacciatore and Beautiful Wife chose the carnaroli risotto with applewood smoked Osso Buco.

We didn’t need to look at the wine list. Rob came back with a bottle of Domaine de la Pertuisane le Nain Violet 2007, a lovely Grenache nick-named the “The Purple Dwarf” from Languedoc-roussillon, France. It was a lovely mid-bodied wine with plenty of fruit and acidity to pair well with both rabbit and pork without obscuring either. Looking at the list later, it’s exactly the bottle I would have chosen, but I was happy to put the decision in an expert’s hands. The food and wine were excellent. Our waiter challenged Beautiful Wife to finish her sumptuous portion of risotto and pork, which she gladly attempted. She declared that it was the best risotto she’s had and would be dreaming of the Osso Buco for days. After dinner it’s time for a nice digestif.

Péché is known as an absinthe bar with nine varieties on the menu. Rob was inspired by drinking a Sazerac in New Orleans, the unique, signature drink made with absinthe. He wanted to bring the distinctive absinthe to Austin to help us enjoy a drink that has long been illegal in the U.S. and widely misunderstood. For my after-dinner drink he chose Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, an apple-honey mead brandy-based absinthe made in a small distillery in Mendocino County, Calif. It is served traditionally; mixed with water, but no flame and no sugar to let the full taste come though. 

Look  An elegant Champagne flute filled with the warm glow of breast-milk yellow clouds topped with a creamy ivory mouse. This is an absinthe blanche, meaning it wasn’t infused with botanicals after distillation to give it the traditional green hue.  
Smell Strong nose of anise and fennel with a mild whiff of lemon zest.
Taste The Germain-Robin has a creamy mouth feel and it gently eases into rose and geranium followed by a robust juggernaut of black licorice followed by a velvety junior mint finish. It comes on smoother than Sade and finishes with the cool of a Kool menthol. The haze in the glass will gladly become the haze in your head.
Price $20

I’m embracing the mixology trend. I don’t normally mix complicated cocktails at home because I don’t regularly stock all of the ingredients and don’t have the specialized tools that bring them to life. If you appreciate a well-made drink, whether it’s a classic or a unique original, or you want to have absinthe the way it should be served, try Péché. Grown up drinks for grown up tastes. Stay for dinner. The food is amazing. You can follow their drink specials on Twitter @Peche_Austin.   

What are you drinking?