Taking a long drink from his margarita, David Alan, founder of the Tipsy Texan consultancy, cooed, “Tastes like childhood.” In one of the most spirited sessions of the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival, Alan described the history, ways to mess up and proper ways to make a margarita in “Rescue the Rita.”
A proper margarita has only three ingredients: tequila, orange liqueur such as Cointreau and lime juice. Oh, and perhaps a touch of sugar. According to Alan, there are “five ways to fuck up a margarita:”
Bad tequila. Avoid anything that says “gold” or is does not say 100 percent agave on the label.
Sweeten it. The trend of “skinny” margaritas takes out the sweetness of the classic by adding lots of water. Skip it.
Margarita mix. The premade mixes are loaded with all kinds of unpronounceable ingredients, but absolutely no lime juice. Yuck.
Not cold or diluted enough. Put it on ice and shake it like you mean it. Make sure that shaker makes noise.
Crappy lime garnish. There is nothing worse than a hard lime that is brown around the edges. Throw it out.
The crowd was provided with a shaker, a juicer and all the ingredients to make their own classic rita. While they were shaking things up, a spirited mariachi band marched onto stage to end the festivities in style.
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I had the privilege of hosting Treaty Oak Distilling’s first ever media event to announce that Daniel Barnes has received the prestigious 2014 Distiller of the Year award by MicroLiquor. He was selected among a field of more than 400 distinguished craft distiller entrants in the United States.
The event felt like a party with friends as a group of bloggers and journalists were greeted on the front porch with a refreshing La Mariquita cocktail made with Graham’s Texas Tea mixed by David Alan, the Tipsy Texan. The group then gathered in the cozy Lenoir dining room to nibble on incredible charcuterie, like octopus pastrami, prepared by Chef Todd Duplechan.
Barnes shared the news of a few more awards that Treaty Oak has collected. It has won:
1. Triple Gold medal in the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards competition for Treaty Oak Barrel Reserve Rum. Treaty Oak Rum is made with molasses sourced from the last sugar mill in Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley that is brewed into rum beer with an initial fermentation that takes four days and then distilled. The Platinum Rum is aged for two years in 60 gallon new American white oak barrels to make the Barrel Reserve Rum.
2. Triple Gold medal in the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards for Waterloo Antique Gin, a barrel aged gin. Waterloo gin was one of the first modern Texas-made gins when it was released at the end of 2011. It’s made with 11 botanicals including juniper, lavender, rosemary, pecans, grapefruit, lemon, and orange zest, coriander, ginger root, licorice root and anise in is a juniper-forward London Dry style gin with a Texas twist. Waterloo Antique Gin is made by aging the original product for a full year in a first-use heavy-charred barrel, giving it rich whisky notes of cinnamon, clove and anise flavors, while letting the juniper and floral flavors come through.
3. The Fifty Best awarded a Double-Gold medal to Graham’s Texas Tea Vodka in the “Best Flavored Vodka” awards for 2014. Graham’s Texas Tea is made with premium Nilgiri tea blended with turbinado sugar, Hill Country water and vodka. Barnes tasted around 50 different teas before picking and Nilgiri because of its intense flavors, strong fragrance and balanced body. It’s starkly different from the American and English breakfast teas.
After describing the awards and how the spirits are made, we all had the opportunity to sip both the Platinum and Barrel Aged Rum side-by-side, followed by the Waterloo Gin and the Waterloo Antique Gin. Good stuff.
David Alan showed off his cocktail acumen by preparing a classic daiquiri with Treaty Oak Barrel Aged Rum and a twist on the Old Fashioned made with Waterloo Antique Gin. Both were fantastic.
Treaty Oak Distilling partner, Nate Powell, ended the evening by sharing a little glimpse at what’s next for the distillery. The current Treaty Oak distillery in north Austin is bursting at the seams. To keep up with demand, Treaty Oak needs a lot more space and a lot more capacity. The company recently broke ground on new facilities that will be located on the 30-acre Ghost Hill Ranch near Dripping Springs right up the road from Jester King Brewery. Its going to be quite the booze tourism destination featuring a state-of-the-art distillery capable of increasing production allowing the brand to continue to expand nationally, along with a brewery, tasting room and cocktail house.
Thanks Treaty Oak for a fun night of cocktails, nibbles and news.
Disclosure: Treaty Oak Distillery hired me to organize the media event and to provide PR consulting. They did not request this post and are not sponsoring it.
In its third year, the Austin Food & Wine Festival drew some of the biggest names in the culinary world to demonstrate their talents. It wasn’t just the national celebrity chefs who drew applause. Homegrown beverage experts had the juice to attract crowds in Butler Park.
True Texas Spirits
At mid-day Sunday, cocktail expert and author David Alan, aka the Tipsy Texan, hobbled on stage with a crutch and his foot in a medical boot. He swore the injury was from a skiing accident rather than a drink-induced mishap. A likely story.
He quickly changed the subject by offering a birthday toast to his sister with a mixed shot made with Treaty Oak barrel-aged gin for the crowd. It was a fantastic way to start his session.
Alan shared anecdotes about Texas spirits pioneers and cocktail recipes from his recently published book, Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. The Texas spirits industry is just a baby. Despite prohibition ending in 1933, the state did not have a legal distillery until Tito Beveridge started Tito’s Handmade Vodka in 1996. When he applied for a distilling permit, there wasn’t even a process in place to get one. Beveridge had to work with state and federal regulatory bodies to get it going. Alan lauded Beveridge for inspiring other distilleries to follow.
“He is the one that got the industry started,” Alan said. “He is the reason we are here today. Independent distilling is one of the biggest movements in the beverage industry. There are now more than 50 licensed distilleries in Texas and business is booming. In 2013, Tito’s hit a milestone that few independents will ever hit. The distillery sold more than a million cases of vodka.”
Tito’s was the lone distiller in the state for a decade. In 2006, Daniel Barnes started a distillery to make Treaty Oak Rum, which Alan described as “quintessentially Texan” because it is completely made in Texas, starting with the raw materials. Treaty Oak Distilling now makes rum, aged rum, Waterloo Gin and barrel-aged gin, and bottles of Red Handed Texas Bourbon.
With the rapidly growing thirst for local, independent distilleries, there are bound to be some corners cut to meet consumer demand.
“Some Texas spirits are all hat and no cattle,” Alan said in an impassioned discussion of the virtues of authenticity versus marketing shenanigans. “How many people believe that when you buy a product, you should know what the hell it is? Nobody wants to be misled.
“If a bottle says ‘Texas whiskey,’ we expect it to be from Texas. The problem is that about half the whiskeys on the shelf that say Texas aren’t from Texas. Balcones, Garrison Brothers and Ranger Creek are all made right here with Texas ingredients. We need to support the folks who are actually making a product here. To make sure its Texan, check the bottle to make sure it says ‘distilled in Texas’ rather than just ‘produced’ or ‘bottled.’ ”
Alan describes the cocktail culture in Texas as being very similar to our culinary influences in that it is a melting pot of Tex-Mex and Southern, with bold flavors, spice and smoke. He encouraged the crowd to be adventurous in their choice of drinks and to use local ingredients in season like grapefruit, homegrown mint and watermelon.
“You wouldn’t eat the same food every day or listen to the same music every day,” Alan said. “So why would you drink the same thing every day?”
To demonstrate fresh approaches to cocktails that feature Texas spirits and seasonably appropriate local ingredients, Alan created two refreshing summer cocktails.
2 750-milileter bottles of sparkling rosé wine
1/2 bottle Tito’s Handmade Vodka
2 cups St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 quart cut up melons (watermelon, honeydew) and seasonal fruit
Large block of ice
1 cup of carbonated water
Marinate the fruit in the booze for several hours, then it’s ready to serve.
4 large sprigs fresh mint
1/2 cup cubed and seeded watermelon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounces Treaty Oak Rum
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce carbonated water
Watermelon wedge for garnish
Gently muddle three of the mint springs and the watermelon with the simple syrup. Add the rum and lime juice, and shake the hell out of it. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with carbonated water and garnish with mint and watermelon.
The final wine seminar of the Austin Food & Wine Festival featured Austin’s only Master Sommeliers, Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. In their third year presenting at the festival, the renowned wine experts chose to showcase a wine region that they feel is experimenting with non-traditional grapes and new methods in winemaking: California.
“California is one of the regions leading the charge for a new revolution in wine,” said Collins, the beverage director for Arro and ELM Restaurant Group. “In the 1960s and ’70s, Robert Mondavi and others were experimenting with making new wines but retaining European influences for making wine with balance and quality. In the 1990s, the region gained notoriety for pursing big, bold, fruity wines with high alcohol. Now we have pioneers in the industry making sophisticated wine with less prominent grapes with lower alcohol.”
The sweaty and slightly intoxicated crowd at the California Enlightenment session was treated to a tasting of six wines that were selected for new approaches to a well-known grape variety or unheralded grapes. There was one other factor in the wines’ selection.
“The criteria for wines in this tasting is they had to be wines that are loveable,” said Broglie, the Whole Foods Markets associate global beverage buyer. “We’re talking about wines that after you have slammed back half a glass, you stop and realize, holy shit, I love this wine. We wanted to present wines that are enjoyable and that are drinkable with food.”
2010 Seghesio Arneis
The Seghesio family settled in California from Italy in 1895 and has been producing wine ever since. Seghesio is well known as a pioneer and major producer of Sonoma County Zinfandel, but less known for its Italian white wine varieties. Arneis is a white grape from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy that makes clean, crisp wine that is high in minerals. Seghesio grows its grapes on small acreage in the Russian River Valley, which has a cool climate. The result is fresh, bright, medium-bodied wine with guava and tropical flavors that is perfect for a summer picnic. It’s available for about $23 at Austin Wine Merchant or Whole Foods Markets.
In 2008, Matt Licklider, a wine importer, and Kevin O’Connor, wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, partnered to start an urban winery to make pinot noir and chardonnay that reflect the terroir of California. They chose to break the mold of California wineries making overblown wines. Rather than age the wine with new oak barrels that can hide the flavor of the wine with vanilla flavors, Lioco uses stainless steel and neutral barrels to create a full yet crisp wine that lets fruit and acid shine through, for a citrusy wine with grapefruit and lemon flavors that pairs well with shellfish. The Sonoma County chardonnay is available for $22 on the Lioco website.
“Cappellet is one of the founding fathers of the Napa Valley, starting the winery in 1967 in storied Pritchard Hill vineyards,” Collins said. “The area is considered a grand cru of Napa because the magical mountain makes the cream-of-the-crop wines.”
The volcanic soils stress the grape vines, and the high elevation allows for a large swing between nighttime versus daytime temperatures, which helps grapes ripen better. Not only is Chappellet making wine with a less popular grape, chenin blanc, it is also taking a non-traditional route to make the wine. It is fermented in a combination of neutral French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and a concrete “egg” that gives the wine extra weight and richness while retaining high acid levels that give it massive zippiness. It has vivacious floral scents and honeydew, lemon zest and hazelnut flavors that bring roast quail to life. It goes for about $30 a bottle.
Everything about Donkey and Goat is non-traditional. The winery got its start when Tracy and Jared Brandt decided to make natural, Rhône-style wines with minimal intervention.
“They put 50,000 miles on their Toyota Prius looking for the right grapes to make wine in an urban winery in a warehouse in Berkeley,” Broglie said. “This is an example of a new trend in California winemaking where the winery doesn’t need vineyards or a fancy château.”
The grenache was made with grapes grown in El Dorado County using natural yeast to ferment them, and it was left unfiltered, giving it a slight haze. The red berry flavors and earthiness will go well with grilled meat.
“This wine makes me want to bury a goat in the yard and roast it in the pit,” Broglie said.
The Food & Wine Festival was fortunate to land a handful of cases to serve, but the 246 cases made have sold out immediately.
California zinfandel has earned a reputation for being inky dark with enough alcohol to give you a buzz by just smelling it. Broc Cellars throws that playbook out the window. The Vine Starr zinfandel is true to its intended character, a gorgeous translucent ruby color, bold aromas of ripe fruit, cream strawberry flavors and the zip of black pepper on the finish. And its only 12 percent alcohol.
“It’s all of the things I like about zin without the things I hate,” Collins said. “I like the bold aromatics and ripe fruit, but not the high alcohol.”
Broc is another one of the small-production urban wineries and only 800 cases of this juice were produced. It sells for about $30.
The last taste of the day, which I’m sure some of the drunks in the tent downed in one lustful gulp, was Stony Hill Napa Valley cabernet 2010 from Spring Mountain. Stony Hill Vineyard has been making wine since 1952. They are predominantly a chardonnay producer. No matter the type of wine, they have not chased the big scores of some wine reviewers by making wines with big flavors, and instead have stayed true to their heritage of making refined, balanced wine. The 2010 cabernet is only the second vintage of cab Stony Hill has produced. It has blackberry, ripe, juicy red fruit, green pepper and herb flavors with a subtle earthiness. Less than 400 cases of this wine were made and only six of those cases made their way to Texas, one of which was poured at the festival. This was my favorite wine of the entire festival.
Whether you are in to obscure grapes, natural wine or inventive approaches to winemaking, Collins summed up a solid maxim for drinking wine (and maybe for life).
“What do you want to put into your mouth now?” he asked. “It’s not about what is right. It’s about what is going to make you happy.”
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.
“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.
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
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.”
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
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 CultureMap. The Tipsy Texan cocktail book photo courtesy of Tipsy Texan.