What are you doing on Thursday night? Do you want to go watch some of the most talented bartenders in Austin mix amazing cocktails in hopes that their concoction is crowed “The Official Drink of Austin”? Do you want to taste everything they make? Do you want to do it for free?
Now, this’ll be a straight cocktail-off, old school rules. First bartender mixes; second bartender duplicates, then elaborates. Okay, boys – let’s go to work! … or something like that.
It won’t be David Bowie judging this competition. Nope. The esteemed judges include Jason Kosmas, co-founder of The 86 Company; Jack Gilmore, chef and owner of Jack Allen’s Kitchen; Justin Elliott, last year’s Official Drink of Austin winner and bartender at qui restaurant; Dan Gentile, writer for Thrillist; and Austin singer/songwriter Gina Chavez. Like Bowie, many of the judges will be wearing leather pants and excessive makeup and trying to make it with David Alan.
Did I mention the drinks? There will be gallons of delicious Texas booze poured from the generous distillers at Dulce Vida Organic Tequila, Treaty Oak Distilling, Balcones Distilling, Garrison Brothers, Deep Eddy Vodka, White Hat Rum, Dripping Springs Gin, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Genius Gin, Revolution Spirits, Paula’s Texas Spirits,Tequila 512, and more. Plus you can wiggle your tushy to the groovy cuts spun by DJ ulovei.
Its not just for braggin’ rights. These selfless bar heroes are raising money for culinary grants too. The Austin Food and Wine Alliance raises fat sacks of cashfor culinary grants, giving away $75,000 since 2012.
Tickets are $55, but here is your chance to win a pair. All you have to do is answer the following question:
“What Texas spirit was included in the winning cocktail recipe from the 2014 Official Drink of Austin?”
Submit your answer in the comment section below. One winner will be chosen at random from all correct submissions.
Updated Tuesday, Feb 24, 7:40 pm: Thanks to everyone who entered! Bryce Boltjes had the correct answer, Balcones Rumbles was the Texas spirit used in the Tepache. Many of you had the right answer, and Bryce’s response was chosen by drawing a random number. I hope to see you there on Thursday!
It’s not exactly a completely male-dominated profession like NFL football or Chippendales dancing, but if you look at the most celebrated mixologists in town you’ll note that most are men. The tide is turning in Austin.
Two talented classic cocktail creators, drink.well owner Jessica Sanders and bartender Tacy Rowland, competed in the third annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic this weekend in New York. I guess we are maturing from a town with only tied t-shirt and Daisy Duke wearin’ bartenders slinging a shot and a beer to a town that embraces both genders making creative craft drinks.
To get a spot behind the bar in the national competition, both Jessica and Tacy won preliminary regional challenges. Contestants in in 29 local chapters of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) battled for a spot in the Manhattan Cocktail Classic mixing drinks with specific main ingredients. Participants are judge not only on the quality of their cocktails, but on service and elegant presentation as well.
Jessica competed in the search for the best aperitivo cocktail hosted Campari. The test was to create a before-dinner drink that contains at least one ounce of Campari and to use spirits from the company’s brand portfolio.
To add to the challenge, USBG guidelines forbid the use of house-made ingredients or anything that isn’t replicable. That removed several creative twists from the contestants’ bag of tricks and made them rely on other methods to make the spirits play well together.
Jessica relished the challenge of working with a bitter and sometimes intimidating spirit like Campari and upped the ante by choosing Scotch as the base spirit for her drink called the Civetta in Islay.
She said, “Both Campari and Scotch have overwhelming flavor profiles, so I added sherry to restrain the peatiness of Scotch and bitterness of Campari while allowing the integrity of the spirit to come across. My preference for cocktails is to have it so balanced that you can’t tell what’s in there. I think of this one as a twist on the classic pre-dinner drink, the Negroni. This is a sexy and alluring cocktail that will impress your date on a romantic night out.”
Did she succeed? Hell yes! This is no pre-dinner drink. It’s a pre-danger drink. I took one sip of the Civetta in Islay and muttered, “I have dirty thoughts,” when Jessica asked me what I thought. I could only give her a mischievous smile as I savored the smooth bitter sweetness. The Burlesque Bitters has a pepperiness that wakes up the palate and plays well with the orange sherry. I needed a moment. The drink isn’t on the menu, but drink.well offers it as a special for $12. Order it just to see Jessica in action — oh and to get that feeling you shouldn’t have in polite company.
Tacy tested her skills in Don Q Rum competition challenging USBG members to mix an island cocktail that embodies the spirit of Puerto Rico. About 20 bartenders competed locally to go on to the national competition in Manhattan and the top five finals winners will go to Puerto Rico to tour the distillery.
Tacy was eager to gauge her bartending skills in the Don Q 2012 Mix It Up Ultimate Mixology Challenge. She said, “I like to compete. It’s a great way to learn more about the cocktail scene and grow my skills.”
With strong competition, Tacy wanted to create a grown-up variation on a classic tiki drink with plenty of spice, which she called Espirita de Vida. She said, “The easiest way to make an island rum drink is put fruit and juice in a glass and call it fun. I wanted more depth and flavor, so I start with a Don Q Gran Anejo base. I then add two more types of rum and simple ingredients. The result is a balanced drink with an earthy tone from aged rum that you can enjoy outside on a summer day.”
Tacy’s drink is no sugar bomb with fruit flavors that boost the rum rather than obscuring it. It’s both elegant and clean and with the smoky caramel gusto that will appeal to whiskey drinkers. Tacy whipped the mint, ground the cinnamon and sprayed the Absinth for absolute freshness of flavors. The drink is served over crushed ice in frosted glass that brings the refreshing and clean cocktail to life. I was immediately transported to a beach, listening to the surf and feeling the sea spray. Can you put a little lotion on my back?
While Jessica and Tacy won the regional shows, neither placed in the national competition. Despite that, they showed that there are top-notch female bartenders in Austin worthy of the national stage. They also learned a lot about the importance of “Bring It On” style at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and can’t wait to bring it next year.
Here are the recipes so for you to try your hand at making the regional winning cocktails.
Civetta in Islay: Jessica Sanders, Winner of Campari regional competition
1 oz. Bowmore 12 Year Single Malt Scotch
1 oz Campari
1 oz Duque de Carmona Orange Sherry
2 drops/dashes Bittermen’s Burlesque Bitters
Espirita de Vida: Tacy Rowland, Winner of Don Q Rum regional competition