The best bars in Austin: 11 cocktail meccas

There is no shortage of places to get a drink in this town. But for the discerning tastes of Austin’s cocktail crazy residents, not just any bar will do. The best bars in town pay attention to every aspect of your happiness with a stellar drink list, proper glassware, excellent ice and an enjoyable atmosphere, capped off with a knowledgeable and passionate staff providing flawless service.

On May 12 at Brazos Hall, the fourth annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards will celebrate the best culinary and beverage talent in Austin. A panel of food and drink experts selected 11 of the finest spots in town that set the bar for excellence. Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards nominees for Bar of the Year.

Bar Congress 

Jason Stevens Bar Congress (2)
The soaring ceilings and sophisticated design make this intimate bar feel anything but small. Tucked between vibrant Second Bar + Kitchen and elegant fine dining restaurant Congress, Bar Congress is one of the more refined cocktail bars in town. Downtown residents, intrepid suburban cocktail aficionados and tourists flock to the bar for its excellent selection of wine, apéritifs and cordials, whiskeys, tequilas, rums and expertly prepared cocktails. Let yourself sink deep into the cozy banquet and pretend you’re Dean Martin. While you can order delicious food, the cocktails are definitely the star of the show.

Don’t miss drink: The Tequila Daisy, made with Siembra Valles plata tequila, Fino sherry, Marolo chamomile grappa, honey, grapefruit and lemon.

Drink.Well.

Negroni at Drink.well.
A jewel of the vibrant North Loop neighborhood, drink.well. is a quintessential neighborhood bar serving American cuisine and skillfully made cocktails to a steady flow of regulars. The bar attracts a crowd with its seasonally rotating menu of inventive drinks, themed drink nights and well-chosen selection of beer, wine and spirits. Husband and wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders impress guests with their cocktail craftiness. The Sanders have also become a power couple among Austin’s bar professionals because of their tireless pursuit of improving the scene.

Don’t miss drink: The Carl Rides Again is a nod to one of drink.well.’s regulars, featuring Bonded Bourbon, a New Orleans-style coffee liqueur, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and smoky molé bitters.

East Side Show Room
Sitting at the bar of this East Sixth Street icon, one feels transported to Paris in the 1920s. The artistic interior design, French bistro menu, vivacious live music and long list of pre-Prohibition cocktails combine for a sublime experience that will leave you smiling. East Side Show Room has been a fixture on Austin’s best of lists since it opened in 2009 and has served as an incubator for some of our city’s best bar and restaurant talent. Led by Bar Manager Julianna Fry the bar team is sure to impress with a huge selection of spirits and drinks made with seasonal ingredients.

Don’t miss drink: The Riverman, a spring sipper that mixes Old Granddad 114, Kronan, yellow chartreuse, lemon, grapefruit and Mint & Abbott’s bitters.

Garage

Chauncy James of Garage
Named for its inconspicuous location hidden inside the spiral ramp of the American National Bank parking garage, Garage is a great place to get lost in a rocks glass for a night. Grab a seat at the candle-lit circular bar, let the music from the record player wash over you and place your trust in the erudite bartenders to guide your drink selection. Helmed by barman Chauncy James, Garage recently won the People’s Choice Award and The Official Drink of Austin 2015 with its Indian Paintbrush cocktail.

Don’t miss drink: The New Orleans-inspired Vieux Carré cocktail, made with Cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters.

Half Step

Chris Bostick
Award-winning drinks star Chris Bostick opened Half Step on Rainey Street in 2014. It quickly picked up accolades and became a favorite among bartenders and the cocktail cognoscenti of Austin. Guests have a choice of bellying up to the indoor bar or an outdoor bar on the patio to order a serious cocktail made with custom cut ice. The vibe is New York cool-meets-Austin relaxed, obscuring the depth of sophistication lurking behind the bars.

Don’t miss drink: The Kentucky Colonel is a balanced, no-fuss drink, with Bourbon, Bénédictine and Angostura bitters.

King Bee Lounge
One part dive bar, one part pizzeria, one part live blues venue and two parts cocktail mecca, the King Bee Lounge located on East 12th Street offers a spacious retreat to dissolve your cares. Owner Billy Hankey and his girlfriend Colette Dein have created a destination for killer craft cocktails in a comfortable, unassuming setting. Hankey’s easy-going smile and the curated jukebox set the mood for a good time. Live music every Monday is a nice touch, but the drinks are the real draw.

Don’t miss drink: The incredibly refreshing frozen Bees Knees, made with gin, lemon and Good Flow honey, served from a margarita machine.

Midnight Cowboy
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll most likely walk right by it. This unassuming den has absolutely nothing in common with its Dirty Sixth neighbors. Make a reservation, ring the buzzer marked “Harry Craddock” to enter, and ease into the dark, narrow bar lined with booths on both sides. Tom Waits would feel right at home ordering a pre-Prohibition cocktail from the rolling cart where bartenders make drinks table-side.

Don’t miss drink: The house-created Gin-Soaked Goy, a twist on the gin julep, made with pink peppercorn-infused Fords Gin, sage gastrique (a reduced sage syrup deglazed with a bit of vinegar), served on crushed ice, julep-style with fresh sage sprigs.

Péché

Peche
Austin’s first absinthe bar, Péché feels like a little touch of New Orleans on Austin’s Fourth Street. Behind the long, dark wood bar adorned with antique absinthe water fountains, tall shelves are crammed with an insane array of spirits, including one the city’s best whisky selections. The brainchild of owner and general manager Rob Pate, Péché is more than a craft cocktail bar, it’s also a damn delicious restaurant serving French cuisine prepared by Executive Chef John Lichtenberger. Whether you come for dinner or just a drink, the lovely cocktail menu and extensive wine list will keep you well into the evening.

Don’t miss drink: A classic cocktail with a twist, the Fig Manhattan, made with rye whisky, sweet vermouth, cherry vanilla bitters and fig foam.

Weather Up
Katherine Weatherup brought a little Brooklyn to East Cesar Chavez when she opened cocktail bar Weather Up in 2012. Known for its custom cut ice and fat book of complex drinks, Weather Up is a cozy, intimate place to chill in a throwback-style interior with stained glass, polished subway tile and a gorgeous copper bar. Breezy spring days draw big crowds luxuriating on the ample back patio. Chef Kristine Kittrell oversees scrumptious brunch and dinner menus.

Don’t miss drink: El Niña is a summer favorite, made with white rum, strawberry shrub (a mix of fresh strawberries, sugar and vinegar), fresh lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and mint leaves mixed in a slushy machine.

Whisler’s

Negroni at Whisler's
Mezcal Negroni at Whisler

The cavernous two-story stone walls bedecked with religious iconography and some of the world’s best spirits give Whisler’s the feel of a cocktail cathedral. Veteran barman Scranton Twohey opened the bar in a 1917 building on East Sixth Street in 2013 to an eager audience. Known for capable bartenders who readily mix off-the-menu drinks to satisfy any thirst, Whisler’s offers plenty of cocktail cred with an east side vibe.

Don’t miss drink: The fresh and smoky drink, The Grifter, made with mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice, grapefruit, sage and celery bitters.

Wonderland
Occupying the former Cheer Up Charlies on East Sixth Street, Wonderland opened its doors in early 2014. Owned by the La Corsha Hospitality Group, the team that owns the decidedly more upscale Bar Congress, Wonderland aims to serve the same quality cocktails in a dive bar setting. Quirky beers, bar food, live music and a comfy outdoor patio keep a down tempo vibe rolling late into the evening.

Don’t miss drink: The Rumble Cup, made with Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber gin, raspberry vinegar, citrus and herbs, served on tap.

Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Judge.

This story originally ran on CultureMap.

What Are You Drinking? 

These 9 Austin bartenders are shaking up the cocktail scene

There are dozens of bars throughout Austin that serve excellent drinks, flawlessly prepared with craft spirits and locally sourced ingredients. The rise of cocktails in Austin is riding the same wave of popularity as our foodie craze, with correspondingly high expectations for quality ingredients and impeccable service.

Austin’s bartenders take their jobs seriously, pouring over books, studying with spirits ambassadors, bringing culinary techniques to the bar and competing — and winning — in national competitions.

Nine of the city’s finest bartenders have been nominated for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards for Bartender of the Year. Meet them below.

Chris Bostick, Half Step

Chris Bostick
After stints at swanky cocktail dens in New York, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles (where he won the Best Cocktail Bar in America award at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail), Bostick returned to Austin dripping with drink cred to start Half Step on Rainey Street. At Half Step, he oversees a serious cocktail program complete with custom cut ice.

“Opening Half Step is by far the biggest accomplishment in my career to date,” says Bostick. “It was such an undertaking that involved an incredible amount of work. The success of Half Step has made all of the hard work extremely gratifying.”

Must try: The Ginger Paloma, on tap at Half Step, featuring Tequila Ocho Plata, fresh lime and grapefruit as well as Jarritos Toronja Mexican Soda.  

Carley Dunavant, JW Marriott

Carley Dunavant
Dunavant has brought a smile to Austinites while working at several top-notch bars including Whisler’s, Drink.Well., Odd Duck and Sawyer & Co. This Memphis native has been bartending since college, and has earned prestige by winning the Bombay Sapphire Competition in Austin, competing in the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in Las Vegas, which was featured in the GQ miniseries America’s Bartender.  She recently took over the helm of the bar program at the new JW Marriott, which has Osteria Pronto, Corner Restaurant, Burger Bar and Lobby Bar.

“My biggest accomplishments are the relationships I’ve built with all the amazing bartenders and industry people in Austin and across the country,” says Dunavant. “I’ve been extremely lucky to get to work side by side some of the best and most talented people Austin has to offer. If it weren’t for all these passionate, creative, and crazy people, my life wouldn’t be the same.”

Must try: A classic margarita made with the large selection of tequila in the Corner Restaurant.

Justin Elliott, Qui

Justin Elliott Qui (2)
Elliott started at The Tavern and has been in the drinks business ever since with jobs at Brooklyn dive bars and now leading the bar program at Qui. Last year Elliott’s Tepache Collins, a traditional Mexican street drink made with barely fermented pineapple agua fresca, was named the Official Drink of Austin.

“The thing I’m most proud of, though, is my staff,” says Elliott. “We’ve created a really great culture at Qui. Really thoughtful, progressive cocktails are hard enough to put out, especially in a fast-paced environment. To be part of creating a team that makes cocktails look and taste great all the time in a super fun environment is incredibly rewarding.”

Must try: The spring cocktail menu at Qui features an Underberg-spiked Death in the Gulfstream with Genever and lime.

Bill Hankey, King Bee Lounge

Bill Hankey
Hankey earned a reputation for making serious cocktails behind the stick at The Good Knight and then as bar manager of Bar Congress. Now he is drawing crowds to King Bee on East 12th Street with killer craft cocktails and delicious pizza.

“When Colette and I first started dating, in fact on our first date, we told each other how much we wanted to open our own place,” he says. “We want to influence everything from fare all the way down to what was on the jukebox. Almost five years later, we have that place. King Bee embodies love and support, the same love and support I get from Colette every day.”

Must try: Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé

Chauncey James, Garage

Chauncy James of Garage
James has honed his impressive bartending skills at damned fine Austin bars such as East Side Show Room, Volstead and Arro. He now leads the bar at Garage, the covert spot tucked inside the American National Bank parking garage. James recently crafted The Official Drink of Austin 2015.

Must-try: The Indian Paintbrush (The 2015 Official Drink of Austin) made with vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, rosemary syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters.

Pam Pritchard, The Tigress Pub  

Pam Pritchard The Tigress
After working for 25 years as a medical technician, Pritchard made a significant career change and opened the Tigress Pub on North Loop in the spring of 2010. The cozy bar packs in cocktail lovers with its ever-rotating menu of classic and Pritchard-made drinks. The tiny bar recently expanded from 20 seats to about 40.

“I feel pretty good about being in business for five years,” says Pritchard. “I’m loving what I do and especially loving all the great people that have come into my life.”

Must try: The White Dove, made with white port, dry vermouth, elder flower, served in a tall glass with ice and fruit garnish.

Ania Robbins, Drink.Well.

Ania Roberts
Robbins has been a fixture behind the bar at Drink.Well. since 2013. She is as deft with a classic Sazerac as she is with a flaming tiki drink.

“I think the importance of a fantastic bar team is very underrated. It’s always been one of my biggest priorities. When people have the right chemistry behind the bar it translates into customers’ ultimate experience, from the drink on their table to the overall atmosphere,” she says.

Must try: The Daiquiri made with Smith & Cross over-proof Jamaican rum and lime juice. 

Jessica Sanders, Drink.Well.  

Jessica and Michael Sanders
Sanders opened the neighborhood cocktail bar and restaurant, Drink.Well. in 2012. Since then, she has made waves in the Austin cocktail scene by competing regularly in national competitions, gathering accolades, and serving as the president of the local chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild.

“When I am behind the bar and I see someone walk into Drink.Well. for the second, third or fourth time … that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating,” Sanders says. “I am proud that I’ve helped create a space where people come to be made happy and feel welcomed to return again and again.”

Must try: Martini made with 50/50 gin and vermouth with a lemon twist.

Jason Stevens, Bar Congress

Jason Stevens Bar Congress
As the director of bars and beverage for La Corsha Hospitality Group, Stevens presides over the drinks at cocktail mecca Bar Congress as well as Second Bar + Kitchen and its second location in The Domain. He also has a hand in the soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in the Seaholm development.

“I’m most proud of convincing my mom to stop making margaritas with bottled artificial mix,” Stevens says.

Must try: Barolo 12 year grappa and a Real Ale Han’s Pils chaser

The Bartender of the Year will be announced at the 2015 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 12 at Brazos Hall. 

This story was originally published on CultureMap

What are you drinking? 

 

Garage wins Official Drink of Austin competition

Austin’s best cocktail bars battle for recognition and bragging rights.

Garage Wins

 

There are a lot of places to get a great cocktail in Austin, but only one bar gets to say it has the Official Cocktail of Austin. To earn that honor, the winners were one of six teams that had to run the cocktail gauntlet at the Official Drink of Austin 2015 event hosted by the Tipsy Texan to benefit the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. Teams from some of Austin’s best cocktail bars, including drink.well., Half Step, Odd Duck, Garage, Licha’s Cantina and the soon-to-open VOX Table, battled it out in front of a panel of judges to earn the title.

Teams from some of Austin’s best cocktail bars, including drink.well.Half StepOdd DuckGarageLicha’s Cantina and the soon-to-open VOX Table, battled it out in front of a panel of judges to earn the title.

The event has changed throughout the years and has grown with the rise of craft cocktails.

“We saw remarkable support for the event this year from the bars: Twenty-six venues submitted menus for the competition, a record for us,” says event originator and founder of Tipsy Texan, David Alan. “Furthermore, many of them were from restaurant bars, not just the usual-suspect cocktail bars you see in many competitions. As the scene matures, it becomes harder and harder each year to narrow it down to just six contestants. This was the best lineup we’ve ever had and we sold out of tickets, and could have sold a hundred more if we’d had them. My voice isn’t loud enough to sing the praises of this community.”

The competition not only shows off the talent of local bartenders, but it also shines a spotlight on Texas spirits. The thirsty crowd sampled drinks from each of the competing bars, as well as various cocktails from locally owned distilleries, including Balcones Distilling, Deep Eddy Vodka, Dripping Springs Gin, Dulce Vida Organic Tequila, Garrison Brothers, Genius Gin, Paula’s Texas Spirits, Revolution Spirits, Tequila 512, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Distilling and White Hat Rum.

Rivers of booze were flowing and people voted for their favorites with the People’s Choice Award. A panel of drink experts, including Chef Jack Gilmore, Gina Chavez, Dan Gentile, Jason Stevens, Jason Kosmas and last year’s winner, Justin Elliott of Qui, cast a critical palate on each concoction.

Kosmas let us in on his judging criteria., “Of course it’s got to be a great drink,” he says. “The scrutiny is if it really represents Austin. We see some great cocktails here that don’t have an Austin feel. You can’t fake it.”

Led by Chauncy James, the team from Garage, the covert bar tucked inside the American National Bank parking garage, brought its A game. In so doing, they won the People’s Choice Award. However, the judges selected the Half Step team led by Chris Bostick as its winner. That set up an onstage shake-off between Garage, with its vodka-based drink, The Indian Paintbrush, against Half Step, with its smoky version of a michelada called the Don Brimstone.

Garage emerged victorious, earning The Indian Paintbrush the title of The Official Drink of Austin 2015.

The Indian Paintbrush Aka, The Official Drink of Austin

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 ounces Dripping Springs Vodka
  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce rosemary syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Directions:

Pour all ingredients into a tin, shake over ice, double fine strain into a Tom Collins glass and add ice and garnish with rosemary.

While it is a ton of fun, the event also raises money for a good cause.

“The purpose of what we do is to raise money and reinvest it in the community,” says Mariam Parker, executive director of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. “Proceeds from the event help provide money for culinary innovation grants. The event also highlights the incredible talent we have in town.”

This story was originally published by Austin Woman Magazine.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to the event. 

What Are You Drinking? 

Where to Drink Right Now: 9 Austin Bars Celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month

Bourbon selection at Drink.well.Sometimes our government gets it right. On August 2, 2007 the U.S. Senate declared September as National Bourbon Heritage Month in a unanimous decision. This came years after Congress pronounced bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964. It makes sipping bourbon feel downright patriotic.

The Scots and Irish argue over who invented whiskey (or whisky as the Scots, Canadians and Japanese spell it), but bourbon is a completely American spirit. If the whiskey bottle says bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. By regulation, bourbon is made from fermented grains including at least 51 percent corn, it must be aged in new oak barrels and cannot contain any additives, colors or flavors.

There may be a lot of rules for how it’s made, but there aren’t many rules on how to enjoy it.  Jessica Sanders, co-owner of the American cocktail bar, Drink.well., recently returned from her second visit to a week-long whiskey camp in Kentucky full of insight on bourbon.

She shared a few tips for selecting a good bourbon, “Look for whiskies that have been aged for six to eight years. That’s the sweet spot. Love takes time. The younger the whiskey, the rougher the flavor and the more aggressive it will taste. Try whiskey from the old iconic distilleries like Weller 12, Makers Mark, and Old Granddad to get an appreciation for the quality that comes with the heritage of distilling year after year after year.”

Austin bars are pulling out all the stops to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month. Here are some of the best bourbon drink specials you’ll find around town.

The Blackheart
The Gentleman Caller

Old Grand Dad 114, Antica Sweet Vermouth, Brothers Black Walnut Bitters  

“Big bourbon, high proof meets black walnut in this a unique twist on a classic Manhattan,” said Jeremy Murray, general manager of the Blackheart. “We serve this in an old fashioned glass with a single large cube.”

The back bar of The Blackheart is studded with more than 100 types of whiskey. Amber sunshine brightens the smile of customers with a stellar selection of bourbons including Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year old and a solid selection of Texas whiskey including Garrison BrothersRed River Texas Bourbon Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon and Balcones Whisky.

Bourbon selection at The Blackheart

Drink.well
Reverend’s Reprieve

Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon, PAMA pomegranate liqueur, baked apple Bitters, Fever Tree Sparkling Lemon Soda, apple slice

“This is an ‘Indian summer’-inspired Highball cocktail,” said Jessica Sanders. “Elijah Craig 12 Year is a small batch Bourbon with a nose and flavor profile that begs for fall — baked apples, toffee, nuttiness—but the anise and mint finish are just bright enough to let the feel of summer linger. The cocktail is long, refreshing and fizzy, but with the warmth and spice of a cooler-weather drink.”

Drink.well. is taking Bourbon Heritage month seriously with a different whiskey offered for half price every day. It’s an impressive list with whiskeys like Four Roses Single Barrel, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Old, Eagle Rare 17 year old and Stag Jr. from Buffalo Trace.

If you want to sample several bourbons paired with food, Drink.well. will be hosting a five course dinner prepared by chef Travis Bennet on Monday, September 15 featuring cocktails and a rare bourbon from the Heaven Hill distillery.

Due Forni
The Drunken Gaucho

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, house made Limoncello, Aperol, Amaro Montenegro, egg whites

This bourbon cocktail with an Italian twist is the perfect way to whet your appetite for a traditional Neapolitan pizza. A perfect balance of booze, bitter and citrus bite with a frothy bit of fun will transport you from the Kentucky hills to the Tyrrhenian coast.

Half Step
Kentucky Colonel

Bonded bourbon, angostura bitters, Benedictine  

Barman, Florian Minier, mixes a variation of an Old Fashioned using 100 proof bourbon and served with a huge, hand-cut old fashioned ice cube. The bonded whiskey gives the drink little more heat to cut through the sweetness of the Benedictine in the cocktail. That huge hunk of ice melts slowly letting the drink mellow as you go.

Half Step has a well selected line up of whiskeys including Michter’s 20 Year Single Barrel Bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year.

Kentucky Colonel at Half Step

Péché
High West Double Rye Old Fashioned

High West rye, lemon peel, JT bitters 

An Old Fashioned is a whiskey lover’s go-to cocktail. This recipe packs a bit of spice to keep you smiling.

Péché may be known for its absinthe, but it has an impressive selection of whiskey including Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, Jefferson Presidential 21 Year Bourbon and Willett 12 Year.

Searsucker
New Fashioned 

Angel Envy bourbon, orange curacao, orange rind, a mixture of Angostura and Peychudes bitters

“We make a ‘New Fashioned’ with our very own Searsucker blend of Angel’s Envy Bourbon that we call the Suckers Blend,” said bar manager Robin Ozaki. “Angel’s Envy blended a specific batch based on three different styles that they let me experiment with. When I dialed in the recipe that I felt best as a base for a cocktail, they bottled 120 specially branded ‘Searsucker’ Angel Envy Bottles, and sent them to Texas!”

The Tigress Pub
Beggar’s Banquet

Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice, Old Speckled Hen ale

“The Tigress loves bourbon,” said owner Pamela Pritchard. “We have just change the menu for September to feature some Bourbon cocktails. The three Bourbon cocktails on the menu are The Scofflaw, The Black Demure and Beggar’s banquet which is our on Tap cocktail. In addition I have some bourbons I don’t normally have on hand like Prichards Double Barreled bourbon, Angels Envy, Elijah Craig 12 year, Willet Pot Still Reserve and Wild Turkey 81.”

You might not get lost in this cozy bar, but it’s highly possible to get lost in thought sipping on one of Pritchard’s elegantly crafted drinks. Stay for a second.

W Austin
The Brother’s Quarrel

St Germain and Canton Ginger, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Laphroaig scotch

The folks at the W Austin share story about the creation of this cocktail. Legend has it that the maker of Chambord liquor challenged his two sons make a liqueur better than his, and better than each other’s. The result of the completion was one made St. Germaine and the other Canton. This drink is an homage to their quarrel with Bourbon and Scotch vying for affection in one glass.

Dustin Courtright, libationist at the W, recommends drinking the layered cocktail with a straw to let ingredients’ flavors evolve as you sip. “The scotch will come down into drink and fuse into it, then you’re left with a bourbon-Scotch marriage.”

While you are there, try the single barrel Eagle Rare that chosen and bottled specifically for the W Austin.

The Brother's Quarrel at the W Austin

Whisler’s
Lion’s Tail  

Bourbon, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lime juice, demerara syrup, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, lime wheel  

“This is not your typical citrus-driven cocktail,” said general manager Cesar Aguilar. “By adding dram and angostura bitters, it makes a bright bourbon cocktail, where the bourbon’s sweetness is highlighted and accented with notes of all spice and clove, and it pairs well with the oaky character of the bourbon.”

Kick back with one of three featured bourbon cocktails at this easy going east side hot spot. The nights are cooling off just enough to enjoy whiskey on the patio.

A version of this story was originally published on CultureMap

What Are You Drinking? 

Texas Tiki Week returns to 10 Austin bars this week

Texas Tiki Week

Break out your coconut bras and Hawaiian shirts, it’s time for the Third Annual Texas Tiki Week taking place Tuesday, June 24 through Monday, June 30.

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Donn Beach (a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber) who established the first Polynesian-themed tiki bar shortly after the end of Prohibition in 1934 in Hollywood, California. The former bootlegger single-handedly created this tropical drink genre in an attempt to bolster interest in lowly rum. He introduced 70 original cocktails, such as the Scorpion and the Zombie, using the recipe for the Jamaican Planter’s Punch as a starting point.

During Texas Tiki Week, bars in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio will pour special tiki cocktails and feature tiki seminars led by cocktail experts from around the country. Participating bars in Austin include Bar Congress, Contigo, Drink.Well., East Side Show Room, Half Step, Péché, Pleasant Storage Room, Red7, The Tigress and Whisler’s.

“Texas Tiki Week was initially designed to be Austin’s contribution to all of the many cocktail weeks that are popping across the country,” says Jessica Sanders of Drink.Well., who is also co-founder Texas Tiki Week and president of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG).

“Austin is a bit eccentric and quirky, which makes it ripe for a week that celebrates Tiki, which is also a bit left of center in the cocktail world. Tiki is fun, whimsical and there is an elevated level of theater watching a tiki cocktail come together. You can’t help but smile.”

This year’s festivities start on Monday, June 23 with the Official Kick-Off Party at Pleasant Storage Room with renowned New York barman and tiki master Brian Miller mixing classic and contemporary tiki cocktails. The event is open to USBG members and invited guests only, but Pleasant Storage Room will reprise the cocktail menu for the public through Sunday. Don’t look for a tired mai thai. The menu will include more interesting classics like Don the Beachcomber’s original Pearl Diver Punch and new drinks like the Na Poli Death Toll.

Here are just a few of the most anticipated Tiki Week events.

Tuesday, June 24
Tuesday, June 24: Drink.Well. will host the Grease 2-inspired “Rock a Hula Luau” with five tiki cocktails, including a tiki twist on the classic Pink Lady and the “T-Bird,” variation of the classic Jungle Bird with rhum agricole, pineapple gomme syrup and aperol. Mindy Kucan from the Hale Pele tiki lounge in Portland will be the guest bartender.

Wednesday, June 25
Bar Congress‘ Tiki Night will feature modern twists and tiki classics including the Flaming Bowl of Cong’s Navy Grog and the Baba Yaga tiki amuse booze’ shot featuring rums, spices and Amaro.

Thursday, June 26
The Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter will host a “Cinema Cocktails” screening of the Elvis Presley classic Blue Hawaii with a tiki menu created by Bill Norris, Alamo Drafthouse beverage director, and the cocktail team at 400 Rabbits.

Saturday, June 28
Red 7 presents V2, a special live performance by Leon Taylor and Bob Spalding of “The Ventures,” one of the most iconic surf rock bands in history. Cocktails from the Red 7 team will feature Sailor Jerry rum. Opening acts will include the Del-Vipers and King Pelican.

If you’d rather sip a tiki-inspired drink at home, Pleasant Storage Room has provided the classic Pearl Diver Punch and Jungle Bird recipes.

Pearl Diver Punch (Don the Beachcomber from the 1930s)
The Pearl Diver screams exotic: spicy, refreshing with a lovely balance of tart with a hint of sweet. The booze isn’t afraid to let you know it’s steering this sailboat. Dive in.

  • .75 ounce El Dorado 8 year Demerara Rum
  • 1.5 ounce Puerto Rican Rum
  • .5 ounce Jamacian Smith and Cross N.S. Rum
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • .75 fresh lime juice
  • 1 dash house-made falernum
  • 1 ounce pearl diver mix – an elaborate mix of sweet butter, nutmeg, allspice and other awesome ingredients

Blended and served over pebble ice in a tiki mug, garnished with mint and lime

The screams exotic. Spicy, refreshing with a lovely balance of tart with a hint of sweet. The booze isn’t afraid to let you know its steering this sailboat. Dive in.

Jungle Bird (Aviary Bar at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton 1978)

  • 1.5 ounces Hamilton’s Jamaican  pot-still blackstrap rum
  • .75 ounces Campari
  • 3  ounces pineapple juice
  • .5 ounce lime juice
  • .5 ounce roasted pineapple juice
  • 1 pinch black salt

Shake ingredients hard over ice. Strain into a tiki mug and garnish with a pineapple frond.

This drink is no joke. While you could try to make it at home, its better to go see an expert during Tiki Week to get the full experience.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

 

 

 

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?