Austin’s 10 Best Drink Slingers: Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Award Nominees for Best Beverage Director

What is the right cocktail to drink while listening to Gary Clark Jr.? What wine will bring out the best in braised rabbit? The 10 nominees for the CultureMap 2014 Tastemaker Awards in the Best Beverage/Wine Program category keep Austin at the forefront of trends in craft cocktails and fine wine.

Whether working at a cozy wine lounge or a fine dining restaurant, this year’s nominees share a passion for constantly studying beverages to ensure they buy and serve the very best drinks available. (They’re also sharing with us the best beverage options for spring.)

CollinsbyNilsJuul-Hansen (1)Craig Collins, Beverage Director, ELM Restaurant Group
Craig Collins became enamored with wine while working at a Texas winery during college. He is currently the beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group where he oversees the programs at 24 DinerEasy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden and Arro. In 2011, he passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, joining an elite club of less than 200 people worldwide at the time. He is an active member in the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently serves as a featured speaker at wine and food festivals across the country.

What was your first memorable wine? I experienced my “aha” wine while living in Italy with Chef Andrew Curren. It was a bottle of 1998 Brancaia Il Blu, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that opened my eyes to the rest of my life.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? My guilty pleasure is an ice cold can of beer when I get home at the end of the night. Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap always does the trick.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The acid of the goat cheese balances out the saltiness of the cheese and cuts through the fat. It is one of the classic pairings that works every time.

What should Austinites drink right now? It sounds a bit cliché at this point, but rosé. We are moving into the hot time of the year and there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of pink wine.

Sam Hovland, Wine Consultant, Swift’s Attic
Sam Hovland has worked at The Austin Wine Merchant, Headliners Club, Sardine Rouge, Demi-Epicurious, Mars Restaurant and Bar and Twin Liquors. Hovland became the wine buyer for East End Wines in 2010 and continues in that role today. He worked with Mat Clouser, the chef at Swift’s Attic, to develop and maintain the Swift’s Attic wine list. As an extension of that partnership, he is looking forward to buying wines for Clouser’s new restaurant, Wu Chow.

What was your first memorable wine? My first experience was with wines pilfered from my father when he was hosting art openings at the Austin Conceptual Visual Artists Association. I then made wine in the early 1980s, and distilled it (thanks, Science Academy). I was really blown away by a 1967 Richebourg, older vintage Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Henri Jayer Pinot Noirs and Domaine Huet Vouvray sweet Chenin Blanc early on in my sommelier career.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? I like very cold tallboys of cider after a day of drinking wines for work, vermouth and Cava and 10,000 beers. I once ran out of wine, and had Sauternes poached foie gras on Ritz crackers with ice cold Budweiser standing in a friend’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My four favorites are Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with duck (Doritos crusted for extra naughtiness); Alsatian Riesling with escargot soup; Muscadet and oysters; and the classic vintage Port and Stilton.

What should Austinites drink right now? Bubbles, Mondeuse, Sherry, pink wine, orange wine, natural wines and food-friendly wines that are funky with higher acid, lower tannin and lower alcohol.

josh_lovingJosh Loving
Josh Loving has worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such notable Austin restaurants as Fino, which he helped open in 2005, Vino Vino, Asti and East Side Show Room. Most recently, Loving was part of the opening team at Josephine House & Jeffrey’s, where he served as beverage director. He left Jeffrey’s this year to focus on his own project, and is currently tending bar at Half Step.

What was your first memorable wine? I think it was 2003, I was working a private party for wine collectors and they gave us the rest of their wines including a vertical from the 1970s of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. I didn’t know what they were, but I remember telling myself to remember the labels so someday I could recall what they were.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Cheap beer: Coors, Miller High Life, Tecate, etc. I try to stay away from cheap wine, but I crush cheap beer.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? It’s a tie between Champagne and raw oysters, and fried chicken and Riesling.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sherry. I feel like I say this every year, and every year it gets a bit more traction. But yeah, Sherry.

Bill Norris, Alamo DrafthouseBill Norris, Beverage Director, Alamo Drafthouse
For 20 years, Norris has poured drinks in venues across the country, winning numerous awards and cocktail competitions along the way. He was on the opening staff at Fino, where, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he “planted the sacred seeds” of the modern cocktail in Austin, before creating the nationally recognized bar program at Haddingtons. Norris is currently the beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse, overseeing the cocktail and beverage programs at Midnight Cowboy400 Rabbits and other Alamo properties.

What was your first memorable wine? It was probably a Chablis Grand Cru. One of my early jobs was at a restaurant in New York City where all the wines were from Skurnik’s book, and he led a tasting. I just remember thinking, “So, this is why people like white wine!”

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Vinho Verde from the lobster bottle (Santola). There is nothing better for an Austin summer Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Vintage Champagne and potato chips. And I’m not joking.

What should Austinites drink right now? It’s springtime in Austin, so I recommend rosé, preferably Provençal or Spanish. Or Champagne. Champagne is always good.

Paul Ozbirn, Olilve & JunePaul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Parkside Projects  
Ozbirn got his start in Austin’s restaurant industry in 2006 as a server at Vin Bistro, which sparked his passion for wine. He held various positions at Botticelli’s, Wink Restaurant and Paggi House while studying to attain Certified Sommelier status through The Court of Master Sommeliers. Ozbirn became the Beverage Director for Parkside Projects to hone the predominately Italian wine list at Olive & June. He is expanding his role to manage the beverage and wine programs at The BackspaceParkside and Chavez.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2002. My dad couldn’t find it in Birmingham and asked me to buy it at my local wine shop in Huntsville. It was the start of a long relationship with said wine shop and my love for the balanced, lush and fruit-forward wine. I still love the wines today despite the fact that I’ve really moved away from buying and drinking that style.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? After a long day of tasting and discussing nothing but wine, the last thing I crave is wine. If I’m at a bar, I’ll drink Hops & Grain ALTeration, but I’m always up for a Lone Star with a lime. Another guilty pleasure is chilled Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka!

Your favorite food and wine pairing? A big glass of Lambrusco with the new late-night burger at Vino Vino is a pretty stellar meal. I’m always up for Riesling with just about anything.

What should Austinites drink right now? We’re really diving into the orange wine thing at Olive & June. We serve an abundance of small bites like quail, pork and meatballs that pair really well with either full-bodied whites or lighter style reds. Orange wine is perfect for those plates and introduces tannin to white wine drinkers in a much more approachable way. My favorite at the moment is Ezio Trinchero Bianco 2007.   

Brian Phillips, Eddie VsBrian Phillips, Manager and Sommelier, Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
Over the past 14 years, Phillips has worked in venerable Austin establishments such as The Driskill Hotel and Haddingtons and currently manages the beverage program at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. He not only serves wine, he also makes wine called “Ground Up” from Texas Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes tended and harvested by the team at Pedernales Cellars.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was a sip of my mom’s Beringer White Zinfandel when I was around 10 years old. It was memorable because it was so bad. I can’t quite recall one wine that sent me down the rabbit hole. It was a natural progression with an endless quest to find wines that make me stop and look both inward and outward at the same time.   

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Like all somms, at the end of a long day serving our guests we want something clean and simple like beer, or a cold, classic martini. My guilty pleasure is a shot of really cold silver tequila (no salt, no lime, no mixology). 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My go-to wine and food combo is spicy and sweet Asian with the classic off-dry wines of the world. I am super happy with Thai food and an assortment of Loire Chenin Blanc, German Riesling and fungus infected Alsatian beauties. 

What should Austinites drink right now? Everyone should be drinking wine, period. There has never been a better time in the history of wine to drink it in terms of quality and world representation. When treated right, wine is restorative, contemplative and, in turn, good for society. Every region and corner of the globe produces something special and we owe it to those producers to try it and give it its moment of silence.    

Nathan Prater, The Red Room LoungeNathan Prater, Sommelier and General Manager, Red Room Lounge
A native Austinite, Prater is currently the general manager of the Red Room Lounge, a hidden gem of vinous solitude. He began his education with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007, and after six years of dedicated study and practice, he sat for the Masters Exam in 2013, passing the service portion. He plans to take the other sections of the Masters Exam in Aspen, Colorado in mid-May. Part of his study is the pursuit of the perfect gin martini, which he calls the “elixir of quietude.”

What was your first memorable wine? A bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages sparked my interest for wine, while a 1978 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea inspired the drive to become a sommelier. 

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A third gin martini.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? French rosé and escargot.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sidecars, Aviations, Micèl Prosecco, Domaine Houchart rosé or a Gibson with three onions.


Paula Rester, CongressPaula Rester, Wine Director, Congress

Paula Rester worked at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager of Vino Vino. In October 2012 Paula rejoined the Congress team as the Sommelier. Rester draws on her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

What was your first memorable wine? Travaglini Gattinara, for the shape of the bottle and the aromatic nature of the Nebbiolo.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Rye whiskey manhattans.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne and French fries.

What should Austinites drink right now? Rosè! Because (in my best Game of Thrones voice…) summer is coming. My favorites include Inman Family Endless Crush Olivet Grange Pinot Noir Rosè 2013 and Clos Cibonne Cotes du Provence Tibouren Rosè 2012.

June Rodil, Qui

June Rodil, Director of Operations, Qui
Rodil leads operations of Paul Qui’s flagship restaurant, Qui, and the multi-location casual concept, East Side King. She has an extensive wine background and has served as the beverage director for the Uchi Restaurant Group and Congress Austin. Rodil relishes the perfect pairing and believes that this can be accomplished when a chef and sommelier have mutual respect for each other and have the same goal: happy guests.

What was your first memorable wine? I first started really getting into wine and food when I was a server at the Driskill. I went in to dine there for a birthday celebration to see what the tasting menu was all about. I scoffed at the buttery Chardonnay that was on the tasting menu, but the simple butter poached halibut with tomatoes was transformed into something else altogether by the wine … It always reminds me not to turn my nose at a wine. There are definitely moments for each wine, and if not moments, then at least dishes that go well with it.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A Lone Star tallboy and a shot of bourbon after a long shift. It gets me every time.

Describe your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne, Champagne, Champagne, and anything! Champagne and French fries are a must. For complete dishes and something that I like to do at Qui, I suggest a red Burgundy with saba. It’s really a stunning pairing and one that I love introducing to people.  

What should Austinites drink right now? This is the season for rosé! Rosé in any style to satiate any palate. The range of grape flavors, texture and fruit concentration is huge. It’s available in everything from bubbles, to a salty, barely pink Côtes de Provence.

Dhal Smith, UchiDhal Smith, Beverage Director, Uchi/Uchiko
Smith joined Uchi in 2009, where his extensive travels in Asia fueled a fascination with the history and culture of the wine and sake on the menu. Rodil, who was beverage director at the time, encouraged Smith to become a certified sake professional. That education was the beginning of his passion for food and beverage pairings and how the right match can elevate the experience.

What was your first memorable wine? It was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape about six years ago with a former roommate who was a wine rep. I was struck by all that it had going on. There was great depth of fruit, leather, tar, savory, and it had this really meaty texture. They are still some of my favorite wines.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Jameson. 

Your favorite food and wine pairing? I really love pairing sweeter wines with meat. Instead of red wine, choose Riesling Spätlese or Chenin Blanc that has some richness that goes great with beef, lamb and pork. The acid cuts right through the fat and the ripe fruit balances the savoriness. A pairing that I love to do at Uchi is a Norwegian mackerel with truffle oil and yellow tomato on top with Royal Tokaji dessert wine. The mackerel is quite gamey and savory along with the truffle and the fruit and acidity of the wine is a perfect match.   

What should Austinites drink right now? Craft beer is blowing up right now and I think that brewers are really pushing the boundaries seeking out new and different nuances. Whether it’s barrel-aging or the use of some indigenous yeast, beer is becoming so varied — and almost wine-like in some instances. For wine, I choose Riesling because it is so versatile and it’s possible to find one that will pair with almost anything. They will age for decades and continue to gain complexity.

Tickets for the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which take place May 7 at Brazos Hall, are available here.

This story was originally published on CultureMap. Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Judge.

Photo Credits:

  • Craig Collins – photo courtesy of Nils Juul-Hansen
  • Josh Loving – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • Bill Norris – photo courtesy of Bill Sallans
  • June Rodil – photo courtesy of Qui
  • Dhal Smith – photo courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko
  • All other photos by me.

What are you drinking? 

 

Tipsy Texan’s new cocktail book celebrates the spirits of the Lone Star State

In Texas we have long growing seasons for a wide range of succulent produce, a burgeoning local spirits distilling industry and a hot craft cocktail scene. Now we also have a cocktail book written just for us: Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. What else could we possibly need to make a well mixed drink in Texas? Nothing. Let’s secede!

Not so fast. Author David Alan, also known as the Tipsy Texan, published this book of cocktail history, locally-inspired recipes, and vignettes of Texas spirits pioneers as a way to celebrate Texas cocktails, but its influences go beyond our borders.

Rather than writing a book about the definitive Texas cocktail, Alan set out to capture the flavors of southern and southwestern cuisine, the local cocktail culture, and the strong spirit of hospitality that permeates the state. He also embraces the fun-loving vibe of Texas bars in what he calls a “yee-haw spirit.”

“We are in the throws of something we’ve never seen before. The number and the quality of spirits coming across the bar is amazing,” said Alan. “It’s important to source and support local ingredients where it makes sense, but being a strict locavore doesn’t make for an exciting bar. That ignores the reality of very robust spirits industry. A good cocktail bar is about diversity and in-season ingredients.”

In the early 2000s, Alan turned his attention to cocktails, began authoring the Tipsy Texan blog, and along with Lara Nixon founded Tipsy Tech, a cocktail education program.

David Alan Tipsy Texan“I’ve always been a drinking person even before I was into it professionally. The recreation side is attractive to me,” he said. “When I was in my twenties I found out about cocktails and it fanned a passion I had for service. It just gave me more things to obsess about with ingredients, garnishes, tools and such. It has been fascinating to get into it.”

The opportunity for the book arose from a chance meeting with a publisher while Alan was tending bar at an event in Marfa, Texas. Written for people who enjoy mixing cocktails and desire an approachable, fun source for home entertaining, the book is a staple guide for home bars.

In addition to cocktail recipes from prominent Texas mixologists like Bill Norris, Bobby Heugel, Jason Stevens and Houston Eaves, there is a helpful Tools and Techniques section with up-to-date technical information about glassware, tools and garnishes. The book is also as gorgeous as it is useful, featuring portrait photography by Michael Thad Carter and the mouth-watering cocktail photos by Aimee Wenske.

“The book has a mix of recipes ranging from classics, to classics with Texas twists, and our own [recipes], along with recipes from our friends,” said Alan. “These are drinks that we like to serve. The book is organized to whet your whistle with prompts for drinks to meet the situation. If it’s a hot as balls July day, look through the Light, Bright and Refreshing section and find something that tickles your fancy.”

To quench your thirst, here are a few of Alan’s own recipes from the book.

David Alan Tipsy Texan book signing Corpse Reviver 3000
Alan calls on a pair of Texas spirits to create a hair-of-the-dog style drink to wake the dead. This twist on the classic cocktail Corpse Reviver No. 2 is sure to put the color back in your cheeks the morning after a long night. “I took the traditional Corpse Reviver, which is a classic gin cocktail, and I switched the gin for Tenneyson Absinthe,” said Alan. “Tenneyson is kind of gin-like. Instead of Lillet I used St. Germaine.”

  • ¾ ounce Tenneyson Absinthe Royale or other blanche absinthe
  • ¾ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • ¾ ounce Paula’s Texas Orange or other orange liqueur like Cointreau
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Orange “coin” for garnish

Combine the absinthe, St. Germain, orange liqueur and lemon juice in a mixing glass and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the orange “coin.”

Abbeville Daiquiri
Alan’s partner, Joe Eifler, is fond of mixing this Louisiana-inspired sugar and spice rimmed variation of a Hemingway Daiquiri. Named for the town in Louisiana where the C.S. Steen sugar refinery makes its Pure Cane Syrup, it’s a refreshing cocktail to make when Texas Ruby Reds are in season.

“I discovered Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup when I was in New Orleans for the Tales of the Cocktail conference,” said Alan. “When I came home, I wanted to work with it. I like this daiquiri a lot because it’s really balanced and really delicious. It doesn’t work well with other rums, but it’s great with Treaty Oak Platinum because it’s pretty funky.”

  • 1 ½ ounces Treaty Oak rum
  • ¾ ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters, for floater
  • Cinnamon-sugar-cayenne rim

Combine the rum, maraschino liqueur, lime juice, syrup and grapefruit juice in a mixing glass and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with a cinnamon-sugar-cayenne. Finish with the dash of Peychaud’s Bitters floated on top of the cocktail.

Watermelon Whiskey Sour
The easy sway of a porch swing, a lazy dog at your feet, and a slice of cold Texas watermelon are great ways to glide through a hot summer day. A cold drink made with that in-season watermelon makes the day better. Alan concocted this revitalizing cross between a sour and a julep to put summer in your hand. “Texas watermelons are definitely rockin’,” he said. “Mint, watermelon and bourbon are great together.”

  • 1 cup watermelon chunks, or 2 ounces pressed watermelon juice
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • 2 springs fresh basil
  • ¾ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 1 ½ ounces bourbon
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a mixing glass, muddle the watermelon with one of the mint springs, one of the basil sprigs and the St. Germain. Add the bourbon and lemon juice. Shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain onto crushed ice in a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with the remaining sprigs of mint and basil.

David Alan’s serious passion for a proper cocktail and his mischievous wit both come to life in this book. Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State is a fantastic collection of cocktail ideas to erase drinker’s block, whether you have a preference for simple drinks or want to make use of an elaborate home bar.

This story originally posted on CultureMapThe Tipsy Texan cocktail book photo courtesy of Tipsy Texan.

What are you drinking?

For the Love of Beer at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Beer Panel at Austin Food & Wine FestivalWhat do you get when you want to talk about craft beer at a wine festival? An audience salivating to hear about brewers’ inspiration and latest brews. Bill Norris, beverage director for the Alamo Drafthouse, hosted a panel of craft brewers. Adam DeBower, co-owner and brewer at Austin Beerworks; Brad Farbstein, owner of Real Ale Brewing Company; and Terry Nance, of Alaskan Brewing Company, discussed their beers and what got them into the industry.

Real Ale, one of Austin’s oldest craft breweries poured 4-Squared, a dry hopped version of its wildly popular Fireman’s Four released for 16th anniversary of the brewery, and Blonde Barleywine Ale, a dry-hopped American and English style ale that is part of the Brewers Cut series.

Norris acknowledge Real Ale’s role as one of the pioneers of the Austin craft beer industry, having started in 1996. He asked Farbstein how business has evolved since he joined the brewery in 1998.

“We have seen the level of interest in craft beer blossom in the last five to seven years and our customers’ knowledge has increased significantly. They know what they want,” said Farbstein. “Our beers were very aggressive for the market in 1996. We made beers for beer drinkers. We realized a few years ago that we were still making the same beers for 15 years and the market was moving on. We have released more than eight new beers in the last three years to provide our customers with new styles. We want to stay current, hence the 4-Squared and Brewers Cut series.”

Beer at Austin Food & Wine FestivalAustin Beerworks, which is celebrating its second anniversary on May 4, poured its Pearl Snap Pilz, German style lager, cold fermented European hops and Fire Eagle IPA American IPA. “This was the most successful brewery launch I’ve ever seen. You started with four beers and overnight it was in every craft brew bar in town,” said Norris.

DeBower humbly acknowledged their fast success, “I give credit to everyone that came before us and created a lot of demand for craft beer. We have four partners and who each have extensive personal networks. We drink a lot, so we have a lot of relationships with bars and restaurants.”

He credits his love for beer as the reason he entered the business. “I like to work. I like to work hard, and I don’t like to get paid well. I know how to make things work on a shoe string. I used to work eight hours a day and then go to the bar and spend six hours drinking and talking about beer. I realized I didn’t want to do my day job. I just wanted to make beer,” said DeBower.

Alaskan Brewing makes its Texan brothers look downright young. The brewery, which opened in 1986 was just the 16th licensed craft brewery in the U.S. has only just ventured out of Alaska in the last 10 years. The well established northern beer outpost poured Alaskan Amber, its best selling German Alt style beer made with a gold rush recipe and Alaska Freeride APA, which brewed with Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops.

“Brewing in Alaska presents challenges. There are no roads in or out of Juneau,” said Nance. It’s also really damn cold, which can present challenges for brewing. “We generate steam to keep the brewery warm enough to ferment. We call it ‘beer powered beer.’ We use spent grain from the brewing process. We dry it and burn it in our boilers instead of fossil fuels.”

Norris turned the topic to the use of cans, which is beginning to be a more popular choice for craft brewers. Half of the beers served in the session were packaged in cans. Austin Beerworks hasn’t put any beer in glass. Real Ale just installed a canning line and packages with both bottles and cans.

DeBower thinks the stigma that cans are for lower quality beers is starting to fade. “Cans protect beer better,” he said. “Light is the second worse spoiler of beer after oxygen. We need to give our beer a fighting chance by protecting it.”

Farbstein likes the flexibility that cans provide. “We chose to use cans because there was a demand for our product in areas where you can’t take bottles, like the beach, the river or on a boat. It’s a keg that fits in a koozie.”

This story was originally posted in a different format on CultureMap.

Disclosure, I was provided a press pass to cover the festival.

What Are You Drinking? 

The Best Damn Gin and Tonic: Haddingtons

Oh my god, there’s Bill Clinton. I have no idea how he did it, but he has teleported himself straight out of the Arkansas Governor’s mansion from 1978 to right f’ing now. He’s sitting at the table right behind you. No seriously! Don’t look now, but I’m pretty sure he’s here with Deborah Winger. And two other couples that are also from the past and in way too conservative suit and Windsor knotted tie get ups.

That’s a conversation I had with Beautiful Wife at Haddingtons, the new American tavern on west 6th street in Austin. She didn’t even turn around. Instead she challenged me to name two movies that Deborah Winger has been in. “Schindler’s List and Days of Thunder. Duuuuh!” Alright, so I don’t really know who Deborah Winger is for sure, but that chick had ‘80s hair and a dress that Deborah Winger could have worn in Top Gun.

What I do know is that less than two weeks after it opened, Haddingtons had a fat crowd in that blurry time between happy hour, dinner and get ready to go to an early event hour. We looked around and most people were sucking down signature cocktails or beer. The big digit wine list wasn’t getting many takers despite a respectable selection.

The cocktails are where it’s at. Bill Norris, the top mixologist at Haddingtons, has gained quite a bit of notoriety for his inspired drinks at Fino. Now at Haddintons he’s put together a good list of nine inventive house cocktails and six classic cocktails.

What do I mean by an “inventive house cocktail”? How’s this treat ya? The Duck Fat Sazerac is made with duck fat infused rye, Peychaud’s bitters and an absinthe rinse. It’s served cold and neat for a tidy $9. What the duck! That’s as decadent as anything you’ll find on Bourbon Street. Well, maybe not. Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .

The classic list has some of my favorite cocktails like the Moscow Mule made with vodka, house-made ginger beer, and fresh lime for $9. We chatted up our waiter to get suggestions for our drinks. He was a knowledgeable guy and gave us some good tips. Beautiful Wife ordered the Aviation, a concoction of gin, maraschino, lemon, crème de violet poured in a little Helsinki Martini glass for $10 crackers. She didn’t warm to it, so I got to drink it. Lucky bastard, I am.

After waiter boy’s description of the classic Gin and Haddingtons Tonic, I had to have it. They mix Citadelle Gin with homemade tonic. That’s right, they make their own tonic with quinine. Quinine is the stuff in tonic that gives it a bitter taste. Typically it is a white powder from the bark of the cinchona tree that grows in the Andes mountain range of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Juan Valdez’s brother personally stripped the bark for the Haddingtons quinine and because it’s fresh it gives off a slightly pinkish hue. This is no run of the mill highball. Here’s what you get.

Gin and Haddingtons Tonic

Look Sunset over the north Atlantic, salmon belly pink, slightly hazy and prominent cubed ice, garnished with a lime wedge.
Smell Kate Middleton after a bath; fresh ginger, grapefruit and lavender softly wafting as I bend closer for a deeper sniff.
Taste This tasted unlike any gin and tonic I’ve ever had. The fox hunt can wait. I’ll sit right here in my lodge a savor the mild grapefruit and lime zest mingling in a gentle effervescence before easing into a long pine sap finish that ends in a clean mint leaf close.
Price $9

Haddingtons is a cozy place, but deceptively large. There are two bars and nice nooks to slip into for private, lurid conversations over drinks that melt away your cares. The décor is supposed to invoke British-influenced turn of the century America, but it just feels like a London gastro-pub to me. Wide plank wood floors, dark wood wainscoting on the walls, enough stuffed, ceramic and painted pheasants to make any hunter salivate and stylish light fixtures all set a mood of an upscale, yet drunken Brit pub.

Oh, and we ate some food. It was decent. The service was fine. We’ll go back for those fantastic gin and tonics.

What are you drinking?