In the south of Mexico, people have been making mezcal – the smoky, agave-based forebear of tequila – for generations. But only on special occasions, like weddings or quinceaneras, would a mezcalero break out one of his rare pechuga mezcals – which unlike traditionally twice-distilled mezcal are distilled a third time, with a protein, typically a chicken or turkey breast, suspended within the heated still. (“Pechuga” means breast in Spanish.)
As the mix cooks, the meat drippings impart more of a savory quality to the finished product than actual meat flavor. “People get this idea that you’re going to taste the meat, and you really don’t,” says Shad Kvetko, co-owner of Dallas mezcaleria Las Almas Rotas. “It’s more of an umami mouthfeel. The flavors that come through are more the fruits and spices you put into it; I’ve had some made with green mole, and that you can really taste.”
With mezcal’s popularity booming, more pechugas are on the market than ever before. Late last spring, as Kvetko and his bar staff chatted with mezcal producer Xaime Niembro about the idea of visiting Oaxaca to see the production process firsthand, Niembro suggested making a pechuga while the group was there. Naturally, the conversation turned to what meat to use.
“We said, let’s do a smoked brisket,” Kvetko said. “You know, make it kind of a statement.”
OK, this is the kind of Tex-Mex I can get behind.
Has a more Texas-style pechuga ever hit the market before? Doubtful. And from 6 p.m. until close Saturday, Las Almas Rotas will celebrate its one-of-a-kind creation, made in collaboration with label Gracias a Dios, at a launch party featuring Niembro and brisket tacos by Oak Cliff’s Brandon Mohon.
It was Mohon who smoked the brisket used to flavor the small, 80-liter batch, and the special-edition bottle’s stylish design, featuring a Dia-de-los-Muertos-style cow head, belies the effort it took to bring it to life: Before it could happen, the brisket first had to be smuggled into Mexico.
Mohon used a smaller-than-normal cut rubbed simply with salt and pepper, making it slightly underdone knowing it would be further cooked in the still. “I wanted to give it some nice color so it would look like Texas brisket when it arrived,” he said.
Mohon vacuum-sealed the brisket, froze it and delivered it to Kvetko, who packed it in ice and squirreled it away in his Mexico-bound luggage. Luckily, he said, no one made a fuss about it.
Once in Oaxaca, Kvetko hit a local mercado and loaded up on other ingredients like prickly pear, corn, squash blossoms, Mexican stone fruit and a bunch of chilies. In they went, along with the brisket, into a cognac-style Charentais still – it looks a bit like a giant onion – that Gracias a Dios was using for the first time.
The initial release of barely 75 or so bottles – a little more than two-thirds of the batch – was snatched up by spirits purveyor Bar & Garden on Ross Avenue, which sold out of nearly all of its supply through pre-orders within 24 hours. This weekend, the store will raffle off chances to buy the remaining few bottles at an event featuring Niembro from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The $80 price tag is well worth it: The finished product, sweet and citrus-y on the nose, is complex and robust, best taken in small sips that deliver smoky spice and citrusy sweetness with a dark, warm undercurrent of savoriness.
“The nose I get is salt-water taffy,” says Bar & Garden’s Victoria Garcia. “It’s candy-esque, incredibly smooth.”
The rest of the batch will be stored in glass vessels for a while, to be released later this year or early next, and while Kvetko is excited to showcase the one-of-a-kind product, it’s the larger context represented in the bottle that warms his heart.
“It’s a symbol of cooperation and friendship between two nations,” Kvetko says. “And any show of friendship right now is great. We love these people. We love Mexico.”
Saturday, Feb. 2
Brisket pechuga launch at Bar & Garden, 3314 Ross Ave., Ste. 150, 1 to 3 p.m.
Pechuga Pachanga at Las Almas Rotas, 3615 Parry Ave. 6 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Bartender competitions are in full swing these days, with The Standard Pour’s epic Bar Brawl having wrapped up a few weeks ago after a two-month-plus run and another tournament set to launch next week at The Lodge. But “The Shake Up,” which kicks off tonight, stands out for one reason: It’s strictly for the ladies.
Armoury DE general manager Rosey Sullivan, who organized the competition, wanted to show that there is plenty of female bartending talent to go around. It didn’t sit right with her that of Bar Brawl’s 14 contestants, only two were female – and pitted against each other in the first round. The situation didn’t so much anger her as open her eyes to an inherent bias she says pervades the profession.
“I thought, the best way to show that ‘male’ and ‘craft bartender’ aren’t synonymous is to showcase all the female talent that exists,” Sullivan said. “What better way than to host another competition?”
Shake Up’s 16 contestants will be matched against each other in teams of two for a weekly $200 prize. There’ll be a speed round, while another will involve a Daiquiri variation. The competition will feature all-female judging panels, too, including local industry veterans like Remy Cointreau rep Amy Florez and bartenders Jones Long and Mandy Meggs. Meanwhile, Armoury’s all-female front-house management team – including Sullivan, Megan Christiansen and Kelsey Hanshew – made the bar a perfect place to host the Monday-night competition, Sullivan said.
Tonight’s match will pit Madison Carney of Ruins (Deep Ellum) and Katie Morgan of The Charles (Design District) against Candy Gaines of High & Tight (Deep Ellum) and Taylor Weidman of 2 Charlies Bar & Grill (Denton).
Part of each week’s proceeds will benefit a women-focused charity such as Altrusa, Genesis House, Dress for Success and the Dallas Women’s Foundation.
What does Sullivan hope to accomplish beyond female visibility? Making the local female bartender’s network stronger, for one. The title round will be held in early February with a $3,000 reward at stake – though not a one of those who Sullivan asked to participate ever even asked about that detail – which may just go to show just how strong that network already is.
Housing prices are falling, the stock market is flailing, but if there’s anything we can count on, it’s craft cocktails: From Dallas to Lewisville to Frisco, from Fort Worth to Trophy Club to McKinney, imbibers in 2018 had an ever-growing bounty of riches from which to choose.
The scene welcomed new destinations like Ruins, 4 Kahunas, 3Eleven and Tiny Victories into the fold, along with solid cocktail programs at new restaurants like Macellaio, Sachet and Bullion in Dallas, and Local Yocal in McKinney. While trying to keep up with it all is a Sisyphean effort, some trends did emerge from within the fray.
This was the year of designer dessert drinks and aguardientes, or sugarcane-based spirits: Rum, the most common, was more widely implemented, and not just at 4 Kahunas, Arlington’s legit new tiki outpost. With the thirst for new and unique liquors reaching ever farther into untapped regions, a pair of lesser-known aguardientes found footing in local cocktails – Oaxaca’s fabulous Paranubes and Michoacan-based charanda.
It wasn’t all sugarland, though: Singani 63, a gorgeous Bolivian brandy similar to pisco, and Italicus, the beautiful bergamot-flavored Italian aperitif, also made welcome inroads, while Spanish sherries flourished and Japanese shochu tiptoed on the fringes, most notably in George Kaiho’s ingenious Earth Wind and Fire at Jettison, which teamed it with mezcal and Green Chartreuse.
Visually, bartenders went the extra mile to create drinks as photogenic as they were tasty, such as Griffin Keys’ Let Me Clarify, a stunning Queen’s Swizzle variation at Bishop Arts’ Boulevardier; Matt Konrad’s fernet-topped Witch Hunter at Thompson’s Bookstore in Fort Worth; Ryan Payne’s captivating Blu-Tang Clan at Tiny Victories; and at the Mitchell, Cody Riggs’ tongue-in-cheek Bitter Marriage, garnished with a faux business card hawking the divorce firm of Ditcher, Quick and Hyde.
Cocktails were also a natural landing zone for turmeric, the “it” health ingredient of the year — for example, Wes Enid’s Turmeric Daiquiri at Atwater Alley in Knox-Henderson. Meanwhile, bartenders more boldly employed nuttiness as a flavor – as in Jones Long’s pecan-infused A Drink With No Name at Bolsa, or Kaiho’s sesame-paste-enhanced Concrete Jungle at Jettison – and increasingly looked to tropical fruits like banana, mango, passion fruit and guava.
As always, the cocktail cornucopia was hard to narrow down, but these were my 15 favorite drinks of 2018.
15. GAUCHO HIGHBALL (Daniel Guillen, La Duni, NorthPark Center)
Glenfiddich 12 Single Malt, Fernet, grapefruit soda
In the summer, the Speyside single malt Glenfiddich launched a campaign pushing its 12-year-old Scotch as the perfect vehicle for a whisky highball, a drink typically supplemented simply with club soda. But Guillen, beverage manager at La Duni, gave the drink Argentinian flair with a splash of Fernet – a darkly bitter Italian liqueur beloved in the South American nation – and a housemade grapefruit soda. “It’s so simple, and yet so good,” Guillen said. “You could drink a few of these, just like that.” With Glenfiddich’s rich pear-apple depths rolling over your palate, held in check by a pull of Fernet’s bitter reins, you might tend to agree – especially at the ridiculous happy hour price of just $6 a pop.
14. DUDLEY DO-RIGHT (Bar team, Brick and Bones, Deep Ellum)
Tomato-infused vodka, basil syrup, lemongrass water
It may be the hardest sell on the menu, but Dudley Do-Right is the low-key star of the Brick and Bones show, where every drink is named for a cartoon character. A delicately flavored triumvirate of tomato-infused vodka, basil syrup and lemongrass water, “it’s like a Caprese salad” in liquid form, said bar co-owner Cliff Edgar. Simple, bright and refreshing, so nuanced is its touch that the vodka, typically content to be the vehicle for other flavors, actually shines in this one – completing a righteous drink worthy of its name.
13. TAI OF SUM YUNG GAI (Eddie Campbell, Parliament, Uptown)
Pyrat XO Rum, lime, pineapple, ginger orgeat, soy sauce reduction
This one’s a bit of a cheat as it was rolled out at Parliament’s one-night pop-up fundraiser at Oklahoma City’s Jones Assembly in July. The event was pure Parliament, with a half-dozen bartenders making the trip along with a dazzling 21-drink menu. (Pop-ups typically sport no more than half a dozen.) “We wanted to keep it low-maintenance,” quipped bar owner Eddie Campbell. The lineup included this deliciously innovative tiki blend of rum and citrus tanged up with a ginger orgeat, then rimmed with a soy sauce reduction. Think sweet tropical meets salted caramel and you get the idea.
12. THE QUEEN IS DEAD (Tommy Fogle, Industry Alley, The Cedars)
Sherry, orange curacao, Licor 43, lemon
At Industry Alley, the low-key cocktail haven in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood, bartender Tommy Fogle found his groove with liquorous treats like the Golden Mylk Fizz, a creamy riot of honey, coconut and turmeric, and the Boys Don’t Cry, a bitter spin on a cocktail from New Orleans’ Cure (hence the name). But my favorite of all was The Queen is Dead, a sherry-forward jewel that adorned the fortified wine with a wreath of lemon, orange curacao and Spanish vanilla liqueur, unleashing a citrus-grape tang that zipped across your palate like Zeke Elliott headed for the goal line.
11. GREENER PASTURES (Cody Barboza, Armoury D.E., Deep Ellum)
Pisco Porton, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino, rosemary, lime, egg white
Armoury’s got a thing for Pisco Sour variations, which is fine with me, because so do I. Having already produced the Hungarian-influenced Speak of the Devil, which showed up on this list two years ago, the Deep Ellum bar this year introduced Barboza’s Greener Pastures, more fragrant and floral with a sprig of smoked rosemary. The herb’s aromas were just muscular enough to cap the cocktail’s botanical brawn.
10. OLD SPICED (Jones Long, Lounge Here, East Dallas)
Coffee-infused bourbon, crème de cacao, Fernet Branca, mole bitters
Jones Long, formerly of Oak Cliff’s Bolsa and Ruins in Deep Ellum, took over the bar program at East Dallas’ Lounge Here earlier this year. She took to her new role with aplomb and creativity, even fashioning faux olives from pickled grapes in her Don Vito, a riff on the classic Godfather. But my favorite was the Old Spiced, a hearty handshake of a drink that was not unlike biting into a bar of spicy dark chocolate, only more refreshing. It’s so satisfying that I can’t even be annoyed that every time I order it, I’m reminded of the Old Spice commercial jingle.
9. FIDELIO (Daniel Zoch, Libertine Bar, Lower Greenville)
The Libertine, on Lower Greenville, was one of Dallas’ early craft mainstays thanks to former bar manager Mate Hartai (now with spirits producer The 86 Co.), and while its cocktail program might not get much attention anymore, it’s still going strong with seasonal drinks like Daniel Zoch’s Fidelio. A dessert-like dance of sweet rum, delicately bittersweet Amaro Montenegro and pistachio, rimmed with ground pistachio dust, the Fidelio is creamy, nutty and lush, with just enough bitter to give it a lovely, nuanced finish.
8. PUESTO DEL SOL (Kayla McDowell/Greg Huston, Bowen House, Uptown)
Espolon blanco, muddled roasted red pepper, rosemary syrup, lemon, black pepper
It’s a joy to listen to McDowell and Huston brainstorm behind the bar, and this savory concoction was one of their many menu collaborations, pairing slightly fruity tequila with roasted pepper for a gently spicy sipper of a cocktail. Peppery citrus on the nose paved the way for a rosemary-forward body and a finish that complemented the drink’s aromas. Looking forward to seeing what this team comes up with in 2019.
7. GRITO! (Henry Mendoza, The People’s Last Stand, Mockingbird Station)
Mezcal, lime, pink/black peppercorn syrup, agave, sage, Boston Bittahs
Mendoza’s Grito had me aay-yai-yai-ing like a joyful mariachi – the sound of which the drink’s name recalls. The first of several libations Mendoza devised in tribute to Pixar’s Day-of-the-Dead-themed Coco, its cool but fiery mix of smoky mezcal and sage, peppercorn syrup, agave and bitters was an otherworldly journey through smoke and citrus spice. Topped with a sprinkling of red peppercorn and cigarillos of dried sage, its pachanga-in-your-mouth mix of pepper and chamomile/citrus bitters was what made this spicy number shine.
6. NUT HOUSE (Josh Brawner, LARK on the Park, Downtown Dallas)
Flor de Cana 7-year rum, Don Ciccio & Figli nocino, Tempus Fugit Crème de Banane, walnut bitters, nutmeg
Hey LARK, it was real: Shannon Wynne’s airy, chalk-art-bathed restaurant shuttered before year’s end, but not before its bar program had returned to the glory of its opening days. Bar manager Josh Brawner’s Nut House was a standout, inspired by his love of banana nut bread. “I’m a foodie, so I always try to replicate things in my drinks,” says Brawner, now at Wynne’s Meddlesome Moth. Built on aged rum, the Nut House was a liquid treat, festive and nutty, awash in walnut and banana liqueurs with a dash of walnut bitters to boot; a shaving of nutmeg added flattering aromatics.
5. AUTUMN IN BRAZIL (Jason Pollard, The Usual, Fort Worth)
Avua Amburana, sherry, Cocchi di Torino, demerara syrup, saffron bitters
A couple of years have passed since cachaca, Brazil’s national spirit, enjoyed a brief moment in the DFW sun, but thankfully The Usual’s Jason Pollard hasn’t let the spirit’s grassy, banana-fruit magic slip into obscurity. His Autumn in Brazil takes Avua’s aged Amburana cachaca and balances its notes of caramel, vanilla and spiced bread with the rich nuttiness of sherry, rounding it out with sweet vermouth and caramel-esque demerara syrup. With hints of raisin, chocolate and cinnamon and the aroma of musky grapes, it’s a sensational seasonal sipper.
On a trip to Chicago’s Pub Royale – an Anglo-Indian-style tavern – earlier this year, Powell discovered the wonder of the mango lassi, India’s traditional mango milkshake. Naturally, as he savored its mix of yogurt, mango, milk and sugar, he thought to himself: How can I make this into a cocktail? Luckily for Dallas, he came through like a champ, structuring its viscous, sour-sweet depths atop a foundation of rum and garnishing the Creamsicle-orange drink with cool mint and a clever rim of Mexican tajin, the chili powder often gracing that country’s mango street snacks. Poured over crushed ice, it was a tasty summer refresher that I still craved in the cold of winter.
3. MONKEYING AROUND (Sam Gillespie, The Mitchell, Downtown Dallas)
Gin, Chareau, Genepy des Alpes, Dolin Blanc
Gillespie originally crafted this exquisite spring cocktail for a special event at the bar featuring Monkey 47, a berry-influenced gin made in Germany’s Black Forest. He accentuated its flavors and feel with rich aloe liqueur, herbal alpine liqueur and dry vermouth, but the gin’s high price-point made it impractical to put on The Mitchell’s standard menu. Instead, he substituted standout Botanist gin, serving the drink in a clear patterned glass that highlighted its see-through appearance. With herbs and white grape on the nose, it’s a gorgeously botanical Martini – all cucumber, spearmint and sweet spice and an herbal sweet-sour finish.
2. SLEEPY COYOTE (George Kaiho/Andrew Kelly, Jettison, West Dallas)
Kaiho and Kelly, the personable one-two punch behind the bar at Jettison, wanted to create a cocktail using horchata, the Mexican cinnamon rice milk. Specifically, as a popular after-dinner destination, they wanted to craft a dessert drink, so as fans of The Big Lebowski they devised this buzzy riff on a White Russian, using a base of banana-funky Paranubes – a Oaxacan aguardiente – infused with coffee, cold-brew style. To that they added cinnamon syrup and a splash of spicy Ancho Reyes liqueur, then poured it over crushed ice for a rich cinnamon coffee with a kick.
Scott Jenkins, Hide’s resident mixmaster, killed it again this year: The Oaxacan Shaman, his mezcal-aguardiente mashup, was masterful, and Quest for the Sun, a sunflower-seed-infused vodka vehicle, was lusciously butternutty. But my favorite of all was his Alpine Blues: He missed the mountains, see; a whirlwind trip had filled him with memories of brisk, chilly air and damp ground covered in foliage. He let his longings inspire this wonderfully balanced reflection of nature’s growth. In his mind, walnut liqueur formed the base soil, deep and rich with decomposing nettles; blueberry-influenced alpine bitter liqueur was the surface – “earthy and fruity; there’s still some life in it;” a quinine aperitif and clarified lemon juice were the new growth, with the bitter citrus of biting into a young stem; Singani 63, a botanical Bolivian brandy, was the blossom. “There were specific slopes and colors in my mind,” he says. “It made me have the blues not to be there.”
Dallas’ cocktail/spirits community is reeling over the sudden loss of two local bartenders, both lost to unrelated illnesses.
Chad Yarbrough of Armoury, D.E., and Josh Meeks of Henry’s Majestic died within hours of each other late Sunday and early Monday morning.
Yarbrough, who had just turned 33, was a gentle soul whose warmth and steady presence at Armoury, D.E., and beyond earned him the affection of colleagues and patrons alike.
The influence of the force known as “The Cobra” was evident in the outpouring of sentiment that filled his Facebook timeline through the night and into Monday morning, from Shoals’ Omar Yeefoon, who was “absolutely gutted to lose someone so amazing so young,” to High and Tight’s Austin Gurley, who called Yarbrough “one of the most genuine and solid dudes I’ve known.”
The local cocktail/spirits community is tight knit, historically driven by a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality, so when loss hits, it cuts deep and wide. Yarbrough’s abrupt passing is the second to befall the cocktail community – and specifically Elm Street in Deep Ellum – this year, following that of beloved Brick and Bones general manager Ian Brooks, killed by a hit-and-run driver in May.
Yarbrough, who died of liver failure, had been with Armoury and its nearby sister bar, Ruins, since its opening days, and the bar had hosted a fundraiser just two weeks ago to help pay his medical bills at Baylor Dallas.
“Our hearts are heavy today,” read the post on Armoury’s Facebook page. “It is difficult to find the words to describe the loss of such a dear friend to so many of us…. It was our absolute privilege sharing the room with you through the years.”
“We all lost a beautiful soul today and heaven gained an angel,” wrote Spec’s rep Brian McCullough, co-founder of The Standard Pour in Uptown. “I’m so sorry we lost you. I love you brother!”
Keisha Cooper of Uptown’s Circo recalled karaoke nights with Yarbrough and his willingness to dress in drag for a charity event.
“You will always remain a light in this often-dark world that will never flicker, never fail,” she wrote. “Catch you on the flip side, boo.”
“This guy had the biggest heart,” said Austin Marc Graf of Henry’s Majestic, who said he was there the night Yarbrough got his first tattoo.
And Shoals co-owner Michael Martensen remembered how Yarbrough would stop by the bar daily on his way to 7-Eleven just to say hi and shake hands.
“Getting to know Chad Yarbrough over the past years was a joy,” Martensen said. “Enjoy the ride, Chad. You earned the respect and trust of many.”
And encapsulating the thoughts of the entire community, he finished by saying, “I am blessed to have known you.”
Meanwhile, on its Facebook page, Henry’s Majestic announced the loss of Meeks, who had joined the bar earlier this year. “He was always happy to serve you and make you feel at home,” the post read.
The way Nico Martini remembers it, one day his wife told him she and the girls were going to hold a White Elephant exchange, and he said, “OK, what do I need to bring?” And she said, “No, no, no – this is just for the girls.”
“So I said, `Oh, OK. Well, me and the guys are gonna do a whiskey exchange, and I don’t even know what that means, but I’m gonna do it,” says Martini, co-founder of Dallas-based Bar Draught, a mobile cocktail business.
Eight years later, Martini’s annual Whiskey Exchange has grown so much that at Saturday’s now-annual event, held at Bar Draught’s Design District offices, he split the gathering into two groups to facilitate the actual exchange, with dozens of attendees picking in pre-ordained random order from a table topped with discreetly wrapped bottles.
Like any good White Elephant party, there was plenty of pilfering and plundering and a handful of premium prizes to be had, and everybody went home with a quality bottle of whiskey. And because the event is now done with charity in mind, the rules were simple: Participants – who each paid $20 admission – had to bring a whiskey worth at least $50 and were urged to bid for a host of donated spirits, concert tickets and tasting and travel opportunities via a raffle, silent auction and live auction.
But before all that happened, guests heard from Tonya Stafford, director of It’s Going To Be Okay, the anti-human-trafficking organization that would benefit from this year’s festivities. A former victim of trafficking herself, Stafford shared her emotional story with the group.
“Hearing that was harrowing,” one attendee said afterward. “I immediately went and bought a bunch more raffle tickets.”
What began as what Martini described as “basically just this little dudes’ Christmas party” is now a serious source of holiday giving – a commitment that began in 2013 after Martini had dinner at the house of a friend with roots in the Philippines. That dinner took place not long after Super Typhoon Yolanda had ravaged the archipelagic nation, and the man’s village had been badly hit. In particular, the roof of a local elementary school had been torn away, so he asked those gathered around the table for any donations that could help, since his brother still lived in the area.
Martini thought: Hmmm. The whiskey exchange was coming up. Maybe there was a way to help. “I said I’d see what I could do,” he says.
He asked his buddies if they’d mind chipping in $20 apiece to take part, to benefit the cause. Everyone was eager to help. Martini also got a few donated items to raffle off, and the event would ultimately raise $800 toward the school’s reconstruction.
Since then, the event has benefited organizations such as The Birthday Party Project and Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Saturday’s 8thannual whiskey exchange raised $12,000 for It’s Going To Be OK. And this year, for the first time, the gathering shed its males-only origins – because, as Martini put it, while he might have felt he had reason at first, that reason no longer made sense. “I’m so glad I saw so many whiskey loving ladies enojying this event,” Martini would say later. “It made the whole thing feel a little more … I don’t know… real? I guess? Regardless, it’s great to no longer be exclusionary in any way.”
As the night wore on and a DJ laid down tracks, participants shared whiskey stories and knowledge while sipping from a collection of donated bottles – including Whistle Pig, High West, Glenlivet and Jameson and locally made standouts like Balcones and Ironroot. The giving of spirits had bred a spirit of giving, which, in addition to a bottle of whiskey, was maybe the best thing anyone could take home.
“I’m glad we raised so much for charity,” Martini would say in a Facebook post, “but I know that the biggest recipent is me. This gives me hope. This event, this group of people, these causes we support. There are so many things in this world we can’t control… but once we come together and set our minds to it, we can change our world. One good cause at a time.”
On Friday, not long after she returns home to Northern California, Sofia Partida will make one last run to the store to pick up some roses and Mexican sweet bread.
Those were among the items cherished by her late mother and father, who were among the farming families who settled the agricultural region around Yuba City, Calif. The items will be placed alongside candles, photos and other items in honor of them and other passed-on loved ones for Dia De Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday celebrating the dead, which Partida has celebrated as long as she can remember.
“All the things they loved go on the altar,” says Partida, national brand ambassador for Partida Tequila, who visited the Dallas area this week. The items are meant to both guide and welcome their spirits back to the land of the living, a tradition that dates back to Aztec times. Naturally, a bottle of tequila adorns Partida’s altar, too, in honor of both her father, who loved the spirit, and her uncle Enrique, whose time-honored agave production gave rise to what would become one of the category’s most beloved brands.
Growing up, Partida recalled her uncle traveling up from his home in Amatitan, Jalisco, to help during her family farm’s busy season. As an adult, after her father had passed away, she wanted to get to know Enrique better, so she traveled to Amatitan, where he introduced her to the rich culture of the Tequila Valley.
“It’s a living, breathing tequila lifestyle,” Partida says. “Like a step back in time. The whole region is based on that.”
Amatitan is just down the road from the town of Tequila, from which the agave-based spirit gets its name. The entire valley thrives with tequila distilleries and fields of blue agave, the variety from which all tequila is derived. Partida was entranced. Together with a marketing guru who wanted to get into the spirits business, she co-founded the Partida Tequila brand, which launched in 2005-06 and whose blanco, reposado and anejo expressions have gone on to earn numerous awards.
She knows she wouldn’t be here without Enrique, which is why she still honors him every year on the Mexican holiday. It heartens her to see that the joyful celebration has entered the American mainstream, overcoming its morbid associations with the help of major cultural landmarks like Disney-Pixar’s Coco.
The yearly celebration, which adopted elements of Catholicism with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, starts Oct. 31 and continues through Nov. 2. Along with her parents, Partida’s home altar also commemorates a niece who died of cancer, “and my husband’s mom, even though she was Mormon. I hope she doesn’t get mad at me.”
Like her mother did years before, she’ll share her memories of those who have passed on. And then probably sip some tequila.
“Death is not sterile in Mexico,” Partida says. “People in Amatitan really do mourn and wear black for 30 days. And then” – she gestures, as if quickly dusting off her hands – “it’s done. They grieve – and then they honor the person’s life.”
Before I tell you about the Fried Elvis cocktail, you have to know that for Marty Reyes and his wife Jen, the State Fair of Texas is an annual rite of passage. Or maybebite of passage is the way to put it, since the two regularly take in the event’s over-the-top creamy and battered delights.
“I love me some Fried Elvis,” admits Reyes, managing partner of Dallas’ Industry Alley, whose in-laws regularly come from San Francisco to enjoy the yearly Big Tex bonanza at Fair Park.
But at the same time, the Fair’s three-week run also takes a regular chomp out of bar revenues – an effect Reyes and his crew say stretches as far as the Cedars, where their low-key cocktail hang is located.
“We thought, ‘How can we combat this?’” says Industry Alley bartender Tommy Fogle. “And it was, like, ‘Well – why don’t we embrace it?’”
Get ready, then, for Industry Alley’s lineup of State Fair of Texas cocktails, with everything from the Candied Apple and Lemon Chiller to the Fried Elvis and a Cotton Candy Old Fashioned. There’ll even be a Corn Dog cocktail for the courageous, and the special menu will run the length of the fair, which starts Friday through October 22.
“I mean, who doesn’t love the State Fair?” says Jen, who goes by the moniker Jen Ann Tonic. “Why not drink the experience?”
The group got to work designing cocktails that would echo some of the event’s iconic treats, and they realized already had a head start: Fogle’s Elote En Vaso (Elote in a Glass), an elotes-inspired drink he’d created for a recent whiskey competition.
Others followed, like the Candied Apple cocktail – a mix of apple-infused port, apple brandy and cinnamon syrup, with a trio of apple slices to sop up the rock-candy syrup around the glass – and the El Churro cocktail, which enriches pisco with butter, pecan, cinnamon and cream, with a churro garnish to boot.
The Fried Elvis cocktail fancies up Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey with banana liqueur, peanut butter powder, cream and egg white, with a strafing of currant liqueur filling in the jelly part of the equation.
“People like that one,” Fogle says, who’s been testing out the drinks on some of his customers. “I think it really works.”
The list will also feature a smattering of saltwater taffy shots, and Fogle’s corn-whiskey-based Elote en Vaso is buttery and salty, with a dash of sour cream and Mexican cotija cheese to complete the effect.
Devising drinks that would evoke the State Fair-style delicacies in liquid form wasn’t exactly a walk down the midway.
“The corn dog one was the most challenging,” Reyes says. “I was almost ready to knock it off the list. Then along comes my mad scientist, Johnny.”
That would be bartender Johnny Maslyk, who Reyes says was able to replicate the taste of corn dog batter without over-thickening the texture of the drink.
The finished product incorporates pork-infused Scotch, corn meal and honey.
“It’s just a matter of whether anyone’s brave enough to order it,” Fogle says.
For all of this, Jen Ann Tonic has designed a menu she describes as “Texas Fair cute,” and in a way, Industry Alley is the perfect canvas for such an experiment, with a laid-back, dive-bar atmosphere untethered to any particular audience.
“I’ve always liked the approachability of this place,” Fogle says. “And I think that gives us the leeway to do something like this.”
For the most part, the bar’s State Fair cocktails are over-the-top and rich – but then again, so are the treats they mimic.
“These are novelties,” Fogle says. “But it’s nice to have the freedom to be weird.”
Industry Alley, 1711 S. Lamar St., Dallas. 214-238-3111
Those people who love gin know that two of the most pleasing ways to enjoy it are 1) straight up, in a martini or one of its classic variations; and 2) paired with oysters.
Those people are in luck this week, with two events in downtown Dallas set to showcase the juniper-accented botanical spirit, both sponsored by Ford’s Gin.
Gin geeks would do well to get their tushies to Monday’s happy hour at the Adolphus Hotel, where Simon Ford – whose very name his gin bears – will be in attendance. Ford, co-founder of spirits brand The 86 Co., which produces Ford’s Gin, is one of the world’s authorities on gin and will share his knowledge over $6 Ford’s Gin martinis from 5 to 7 p.m. at the hotel bar, at 1321 Commerce St.
Can’t make it Monday? Well, there’s always Wednesday in Victory Park, where you may not find Simon Ford, but you’ll find bivalves – 300 of them, to be exact, and all of them on the shucking house. The oyster boisterousness goes down at 5 p.m. at Billy Can Can, 2386 Victory Park Lane. Three gin martini variations will be available for $6 apiece and the special prices will run until the oysters are gone. A portion of martini sales will benefit Youth With Faces, an organization assisting Dallas County youths who’ve been through the juvenile justice system.
On Saturday, the Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum will transform into a virtual city under a roof. Think bodegas, food trucks, a 13-piece band, a shoeshine stand.
In that sense, the always zany Ultimate Cocktail Experience will be no different – and yet very different in its quest to raise money to benefit for needy kids and their families. Each year, dozens of bartenders from Texas and beyond form teams and try to out-do each other as one-night-only pop-ups, churning out cocktails for charity while creating an identity fitting the theme.
“We really create an experience,” says event founder Bryan Townsend, who first created the event to benefit Trigger’s Toys, the charity he started 10 years ago. “I want it to be the kind of thing where people look at their friends and say, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
What began as a modest holiday-season party at an Uptown bar has eclipsed $200,000 in proceeds each of the last two years. Now in its 10thyear, the event has raised $1.2 million in all, moving from the grassy expanse of Klyde Warren Park into the massive Deep Ellum venue.
“It’s turned into this thing,” Townsend says. “I’ve been really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Ten years ago, Townsend was feeling trapped in the corporate job he had then and began to focus on other things – like his dog, Trigger. He and Trigger were at a Grapevine hospital one day when a nurse told him about a little girl in therapy who’d been unable to socialize with others.
Townsend said: Maybe she’d like to give Trigger a treat?
The girl did, and then Townsend wondered if she might want to follow Trigger through one of the play tunnels in the children’s ward. When that happened, the nurse went and got the girl’s mom, because it was so unlike the girl to be so social.
Inspired by the experience, Townsend created Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit providing toys, therapy aids and financial assistance to hospitalized kids and their families. As the proceeds grew, Townsend spread the benefits around, with funds now also providing therapy services at Bryan’s House, a Dallas agency serving kids with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and more.
That’s the mission at the heart of Saturday’s revelry, which runs from 7-11 p.m. at the Bomb Factory, or starting at 6 p.m. for VIP ticket holders. Attendees might encounter breakdancers, drum lines, fortune tellers, even a dog park.
“We want to it be like you’re walking through a city,” says Townsend, vice president and sales director for spirits producer The 86 Co. “What would you see?
Four different pop-ups will vie for top honors:
Elevate, a glam hotel-style bar headed by Megan McClinton and Jason Pollard (The Usual, Fort Worth);
The Lab, a molecular mixology bar led by Fernanda Rossano (High & Tight, Deep Ellum) and Austin Millspaugh (Standard Pour, Uptown);
Corner Bar, a neighborhood-bar concept led by Ravinder Singh (Macellaio, Bishop Arts) and Jones Long (Knife, Mockingbird Station); and
Neon, headed by Zach Potts (Gung Ho, Lower Greenville) and Kelsey Ramage (Trash Collective, Toronto).
A man and woman sitting at the bar eye the glass curiously at Jettison, in West Dallas, not sure what to make of this liquid they’ve barely heard of, which has been poured over ice. The man picks it up and brings it to his nose. “I can smell the sweet potato,” he says.
The vegetal sweetness is evident on the tongue, too – that’s the beauty of shochu, the centuries-old, national spirit of Japan, which is slowly gaining a steady, if still uncertain, foothold in Dallas-Fort Worth as a casual Japanese food scene blossoms throughout the area.
“Because it’s only one-time distilled, you really taste the base ingredient,” says Jettison’s bar manager, George Kaiho, who grew up in Japan until he was 18. “And potato and rice shochu will taste totally different.”
Shochu’s single distillation keeps its alcohol level between 20 and 25 percent, not as strong as most spirits but still heftier than wine, making it a great accompaniment to yakitori and other small dishes over convivial, leisurely dinners at Japanese izakayas.
“I enjoy the nuance and complexity,” says Justin Holt, sous chef at Lucia in Bishop Arts, who plans to feature shochu at his upcoming restaurant, Salaryman. Shochu’s low-proof nature, he says, means more of them can be sampled in a single sitting – typically as a mix of shochu and soda (or juice, or occasionally iced tea) called a chu-hai, basically a shochu highball (hence the abbreviated name).
Besides rice and sweet potato, the spirit is made from things like soba, sugarcane and, most commonly, roasted barley, giving the category a broad range of flavor profiles, from mild to aggressively earthy.
Barley-based shochu is typically dry and spicy, while sweet potato is at the root of many premium shochus prized for their natural sweetness. Some rice shochus have a mild sweetness similar to sake, though some, Kaiho says, can seem nearly flavorless. The types of yeast used in the fermentation process also play a role in flavor profiles.
While shochu began as a working-class spirit, the global craft spirits trend has ushered in higher quality versions fit for drinking on the rocks, or with water. One brand, a sherry-cask-aged sweet potato shochu called Angel’s Temptation, can sell for as much as a fine whiskey.
In addition to Jettison, you’ll find shochu at Niwa Japanese BBQ in Deep Ellum, Plano’s Yama Izakaya and Irving’s Mr. Max. This being America, its rising availability means bartenders are exploring its use in cocktails: In Uptown, Bowen House features the spirit in its delicious Do, Re, Miso, served in a small bowl, while Oak Lawn’s Izakaya RoMan (at which Kaiho consulted) spins several shochu variations of classics like the Negroni and Martini.
At since-closed Yayoi in Plano, in addition to a number of traditional chu-hai combinations, bartender Lyndsy Rausch blended shochu with matcha, yuzu and soda in her Meet Your Matcha cocktail as well as in a wasabi-spiced Bloody Mary.
“It’s a wonderful liquor that unfortunately is still a little hard to find in Dallas,” Rausch says. “Adding matcha to it was really the first thing that came to mind, because I wanted something earthy to match its complex flavors.”
One reason shochu hasn’t yet found popular footing in the U.S., Kaiho believes, is because there’s no definitive shochu-based cocktail. He sees shochu following a path similar to pisco, the national spirit of Peru, in that it’s easily subbed in cocktails for spirits like vodka or gin – except that it offers the added benefit of being low-proof, a slower-paced option that’s trending around the country.
“In order to popularize shochu, there needs to be a cocktail,” Kaiho says. “If you can make a good cocktail with potato shochu, you’ve got yourself a good cocktail.”
Kaito’s latest shochu cocktail wouldn’t be a bad place to start: His Earth Wind & Fire supplements Shiranami’s sweet potato shochu with a harmony of smoky mezcal, the sweetly vegetal backbeat of Green Chartreuse and a citrusy yuzu tincture. The mezcal and Chartreuse boost the drink’s alcohol content while still allowing the earthy shochu to take the lead.
Thankfully, the sweet potato flavor is strong enough to meet the task, since, as bartender Tommy Fogle of Industry Alley in the Cedars notes, many shochus are so subtle that they’re better off being consumed straight.
“I feel like shochu is so light and delicate, it gets lost really easily,” Fogle says as he pours a sample. “Why put it in a cocktail? The point of this is to buy a bottle with a buddy and just take shots until the bottle is gone.”
Booze news and adventures in cocktailing, based In Dallas, Texas, USA. By Marc Ramirez, your humble scribe and boulevardier. All content and photos mine unless otherwise indicated. http://typewriterninja.com