For this tequila rep, Dia de los Muertos is a time to celebrate spirits both here and gone

Partida tequila, Sofia Partida, Ruins, Deep Ellum
Partida’s Sofia Partida enjoying a flight of the eponymous brand’s various expressions at Ruins, in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood.

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.

The brand is rooted in the agave growing methods practiced by Partida’s uncle, among the loved ones she honors on Dia de los Muertos. Here she holds the brand’s premium expression, Elegante.

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.”

Say howdy to churros, elotes and Fried Elvis in a glass: Industry Alley’s State Fair cocktail lineup

Industry Alley State Fair cocktails
Can’t get enough of those State Fair treats? Industry Alley’s got you covered in liquid form. Above, the El Churro cocktail. (Photo by Tommy Fogle)

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 maybe bite 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.

Industry Alley State Fair cocktails
Try Industry Alley’s Fried Elvis cocktail and you may have found a new place to dwell.

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?”

Tommy Fogle, Industry Alley, State Fair
Reyes and his crew had a head start on their State Fair cocktail lineup with Fogle’s Elote en Vaso cocktail. (Photo by Tommy Fogle)

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.

Industry Alley State Fair cocktails
The Candied Apple cocktail includes a trio of apple slices to sop up the caramel syrup. (Photo by Tommy Fogle)

“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.”

Industry Alley State Fair cocktails
You must be this tall to ride: The Corn Dog cocktail proved the most challenging drink of all. (Photo by Tommy Fogle)

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

Martinis and oysters are on deck as Ford’s Gin co-founder visits Dallas

Ford's Gin
Gin and oysters are besties, and on Wednesday, you can experience it firsthand. (Photo by Rebecca Peplinski)

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.

Saturday’s Ultimate Cocktail Experience will turn Deep Ellum space into a city under a roof

The Ultimate Cocktail Experience, coming Saturday to the Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum. (Photo by Don Mamone)

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.”

A scene from 2016’s Ultimate Cocktail Experience at Klyde Warren Park. (Photo by Don Mamone)

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).

Tickets run from $68 to $128 and are available here.

You can handle the proof: Shochu, Japan’s national spirit, making inroads in DFW

Shochu, once a spirit of the Japanese working class, is becoming increasingly available as the craft-cocktail renaissance prompts interest in global spirits.

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.”

Bowen House, shochu
In Uptown, Bowen House’s Do, Re, Miso cocktail supplements delicate rice shochu with fennel flavor and white miso paste

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.

At since-closed Yayoi in Plano, bartender Lyndsy Rausch featured shochu in its traditionally popular highball form, mixed with tea or soda.

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.”

At Jettison, in West Dallas, George Kaiho’s Earth Wind and Fire is a fine example of how shochu’s delicate flavor can be used effectively in a cocktail.

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.”

For those long aching for tiki, Arlington’s 4 Kahunas is a painkiller

J.P. Hunter and Chris Powell, two of the four kahunas, confer at the bar with bar manager Brad Bowden at newly opened 4 Kahunas, a tiki bar in Arlington.

Step past the industrial park-like façade of 4 Kahunas in Arlington and you’ll find yourself in the likes of something the Dallas-Fort Worth area hasn’t had in some time: A real live tiki joint, one that even the most ardent tikiphile can enjoy.

“I never thought I’d work in a place where patrons were battling with little pirate ships and shark mouths,” said bar manager Brad Bowden of one evening’s crowd. “They were like little kids.“

With a four-page tiki drink menu backed by a thatched-roof bar, island-inspired wall art and a soundtrack infused with surf and exotica, 4 Kahunas embraces the tiki aesthetic with a fervor not seen in DFW since the days of Trader Vic’s.

Tiki-philes know that its culture extends far beyond cocktails, but ever since Vic’s sailed off into the horizon, those who’ve carry a torch for tiki have only marginally seen their daiquiri dreams fulfilled, from Proper’s ongoing three-month “tiki pop-up” in Fort Worth to, in Dallas, a short-lived tiki reboot of Sunset Lounge in 2013 and the confused clubbiness of Pilikia.

Otherwise, tiki has been relegated to a random once-a-week or off-menu exercise, with its fruity coconut libations periodically surfacing at places like Lower Greenville’s Rapscallion, East Dallas’ Lounge Here and The People’s Last Stand in Mockingbird Station.

4 Kahunas, Arlington
Bowden is a long-time practitioner of the tiki craft, including drinks like Don the Beachcomber’s classic 1930s cocktail, the Missionary’s Downfall.

Now, in a budding commercial complex behind a stretch of Division Street car dealerships in Arlington, 4 Kahunas – which marked its grand opening on Sunday – has planted its tiki flag, with a modest but lovingly appointed space with a half-dozen or so stools at the bar, a couple of high-tops and several large booths.

“I’ve had more people ask for Singapore Slings here in Arlington than I ever did in Dallas,” Bowden says – and the tiki classic isn’t even on the menu. “I had no idea there was so much interest in the Mid Cities.”

Among the drink’s fans is Marc Davis, a Hawaiian-born Filipino/Pacific-Islander who runs a local food truck called Smoke and Pickle. Having stumbled onto 4 Kahunas while seeking a parking spot at Arlington’s 4thof July celebration, he was suddenly gripped by memories of his island upbringing and his dad’s love for Singapore Slings and Marlboros. “I like the low-key vibe,” he says.

Tiki’s laid-back Polynesian flavor flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, with Trader Vic’s and its Zombies and Mai Tais leading the way. Though the trend would fizzle within a few decades, the ongoing re-emergence of craft cocktails revived interest in its tropical tipples, with places like Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and PKNY in New York among the first to resuscitate its rummy riches.

Several years ago, on a visit to Vegas,4 Kahunas co-owners J.P. Hunter and Chris Powell visited the venerable Frankie’s Tiki Room, and it was enough to revive Hunter’s California childhood memories – the L.A. beaches, the plastic monkey cocktail garnishes his mom would give him off her drinks.

Hunter, a University of Texas-Arlington grad nearing retirement in the construction business in Houston, was already eyeing a third act. Why not do something he really enjoyed? He and Powell recruited two other college friends as investors, their four caricatured faces now represented by large carved wooden tiki heads behind the bar.

“Our only missing link was a bar manager,” Hunter says. “And lo and behold, there’s Brad.”

The bar teems with tiki touches like island art pieces and mermaid bag hooks, fully embracing the culture’s Polynesian vibe.

Bowden, already spinning tiki classics and variations at Lounge Here in East Dallas, was more than ready to crank out Painkillers and Headhunters (as well as my personal tiki favorite, the flaming-lime-boat-topped Jet Pilot).  With Bowden on board, 4 Kahunas quietly opened on June 9, but it wasn’t long before word spread among fanatical tikiphiles, never mind the out-of-the-way location.

“We’ve already had people coming in from Chicago, Atlanta, Florida,” Hunter says.

It’s a decidedly unchain-y place in a bar-and-grill-leaning city that Hunter says finally has greater ambitions – and affordable Arlington represented a chance to be part of a scene that’s just starting to grow.  Says Hunter: “The train is just leaving the station.”

Fight triple-digit temps with these 5 Dallas cocktails

Hey, guys! It’s more than a hundred degrees outside. And with triple-digit temps looming the rest of the week, we’re officially in the thick of the summer, the part where even the diehards who insist they love North Texas summers crave cold showers, whip out their heat shields and seek shelter from that infernal orb in the sky.
Chances are they, like the rest of us, yearn for brisk and brawny adult beverages, and lucky for everyone involved, the bartenders of Dallas-Fort Worth have got this need covered. From cool afternoon refreshers to evening energizers, here are six DFW cocktails to get you through the rest of the sweltering season.
Zatar’s Cardamom Limeade: Like Sonic happy hour for grown-ups.
Zatar’s Cardamom Limeade is a simple and perfect antidote to a stiflingly hot afternoon, and if it were any more friendly you might get suspicious.
A blend of gin, lime, soda and cardamom bitters, it’s a no-fuss cooler with exotic flavor and I would gladly drink these well into a summer night were it not for the fact that there’s so many other great drinks out there.
Zach Smiegel, Billy Can Can, Victory Park
Billy Can Can’s Card Shark gives the Queen’s Park Swizzle the glass-booted deep freeze.

CARD SHARK, Billy Can Can, Victory Park

When it’s this hot, one word comes to mind: Slushie. My friends, Billy Can Can will hook you up. The mythical journey of this mysterious man of the West is chronicled in the cocktail lineup at this newly opened establishment in Victory Park, and the Card Shark sits near the end of that trail. A frozen variation of the classic Queen’s Park Swizzle — a Trinidadian mix of rum, lime, sugar, mint and bitters — it’s served up in a glass boot, so despite the drink’s name, the only thing you’ll need to worry about with this Card Shark is tipping it over.
Jesse Powell, Parliament
Jesse Powell’s boozy play on the classic Indian refresher will have you screaming, “Lassie, come home!”

MANGO LASSIE, Parliament, Uptown

Parliament’s Jesse Powell was introduced to the traditional Indian mango milkshake during a recent visit to Pub Royale, an Anglo-Indian style tavern in Chicago.
Savoring its mix of yogurt, mango, milk and sugar, he naturally wondered — as he often does, when it comes to these things —  how he could translate its pleasures into a cocktail. He structured its viscous, sour-sweet depths on a dark rum foundation, garnishing the Creamsicle-orange drink with cool mint and a clever dash of Mexican tajin, the chili powder that often graces that country’s mango street snacks. Complete with crushed ice, it’s one of the tastiest summer cocktails you’ll ever have.
Christian Rodriguez, ABV Lounge
Her Name is Hazel, but you can call her summer relief.
HER NAME IS HAZEL, ABV Lounge, Lower Greenville
The Pimm’s Cup is the seasonal warm-weather classic, and ABV Lounge’s Christian Rodriguez has added ginger and spice and everything nice, by which I mean gin.
For the summer, Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, cucumber and lemon have welcomed saucy Allspice Dram,  the bite of ginger syrup and Aviation gin over to their house and hey, it’s everybody into the pool.
Henry Mendoza, The People's Last Stand
Henry Mendoza’s peppery nod to “Coco” gives summer flavors a smoky boost.

GRITO!, The People’s Last Stand, Mockingbird Station

Finish your night with this spicy number, one that might have you aay-yai-yai-ing like a joyful mariachi — the sound of which the drink’s name recalls.
The first of several concoctions Henry Mendoza of The People’s Last Stand has devised in tribute to Pixar’s Coco, it’s a cool but fiery mix of smoky mezcal, peppercorn syrup, agave, sage and summery bitters. The pachanga-in-your-mouth mix of pepper and citrus/chamomile-heavy “Boston Bittahs” is what makes this one shine. Bring on the sequel!

What’s the buzz? Dallas bartenders use mouth-tingling Brazilian bud to jazz up cocktails

buzz button, Scott Jenkins
In Deep Ellum, Hide’s Green Tara may drink crisp and refreshing, but a little bit of buzz button changes everything.

At Hide in Deep Ellum, the Green Tara is a lovely, lemonade-hued cocktail, dressed with dehydrated citrus and an eye-catching yellow bud that looks like a little knit gumdrop.

The drink – a vodka-based number flaunting pear, jasmine green tea, vanilla bean, lime and lemon – is tart, crisp and refreshing, with soft, herbal notes. But take a crunch of that fuzzy little bud and within seconds, your mouth lights up like a state fair midway.

And, notes bar director Scott Jenkins, “it totally changes the dynamics of the drink.”

The Brazilian jambu goes by many names, but here in the U.S., it’s most commonly known as the buzz button. The flowering part of an herb known as Acmella oleracea, it’s less known for its looks than its effects on the palate, caused by the release of a natural chemical compound called spilanthol.

“It’s like putting a nine-volt battery on your tongue,” says bartender Spencer Shelton of Ruins in Deep Ellum, which uses buzz buttons – referred to on the menu as “Brazilian bud” – in Armando Guillen’s appropriately named Cojones! My Tongue! “It’s kind of Pop-Rock-y.”

buzz button
At Ruins in Deep Ellum, Armando Guillen’s Cojones! My Tongue! features rum, soursop syrup and lime, but it’s the buzz button that gives the drink its exclamatory name.

The bud’s initial taste is grassy, almost straw-like, before the electricity kicks in – a hint of sour as it prompts salivation, then a prolonged carbonated tingling on the tip of your tongue. The sensation is almost numbing. “There’s a slight analgesic quality to it,” Hide’s Jenkins says.

And it’s one more way to perk up the cocktail experience. The first time I ever encountered one was in 2012 in Las Vegas, where a buzz button graced an Asian-influenced Margarita variation at The Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan. Guests were urged to drink half the cocktail before eating the bud to experience the drink’s altered state: The tingle on the tongue lent a jolt of effervescence.

At Hide, the Green Tara starts with a burst of green tea and citrus, followed by the soft sweetness of pear. A bite of buzz button bumps up the drink’s floral components, sweetens the citrus and creates a bubbly sensation as you drink.

I also saved a bite of buzz button to try with Hide’s tequila-based Yellow Belly, which features yellow bell pepper, Yellow Chartreuse, lemongrass and coriander; it beautifully boosted the pepper’s sweet, vegetal brightness.

In a way, the buzz button experience is a micro version of the flavor tripping parties that were trendy a decade ago, where people gathered to chomp on miracle fruit berries and then marvel at how Tabasco suddenly tasted like doughnut glaze or cheap tequila like, well, really awesome tequila.

Bartenders say jambu’s sensation works best with citrus and clear spirits like gin, vodka and tequila, “really any kind of patio drink,” Ruins’ Shelton says. “It’s mouthwatering and refreshing. It just begs you to drink more.”

Jambu, Szechuan button
A sampling of Brazilian jambu, also known as buzz button, from Dallas’ Mulcahy Farms in a shot from 2014. (photo courtesy of Mulcahy Farms)

Several years ago, when Shelton worked at Bolsa, near Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District, he and then-bar manager Kyle Hilla were researching herbs when they came across jambu.

Curious, they turned to Cynthia Mulcahy of Mulcahy Farms, who’s grown herbs and edible flowers for Bolsa for years. “She was pretty much our personal botanist,” Shelton says.

As it turned out, Mulcahy was already familiar with the plant, having traveled to Brazil annually for 15 years. “It’s something you find in Rio de Janeiro and other places,” she says. “They have herb farms in the hills that ring the city. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. It’s like the Italian countryside.”

Mulcahy started growing buzz buttons for Bolsa, where Shelton and Hill – now beverage director for the Statler Hotel – used them on drinks and randomly handed them out to unsuspecting patrons to see their reaction.

“Sometimes people freak out,” Shelton says. “Everything from curse words to just saying, ‘Ow!’ It’s one of a kind, and you don’t expect it. It’s just fun, that’s my favorite thing about it.”

This West End spot’s festive Cinco de Mayo cocktail will have you saying, ‘YO quiero’

Nicole Hester, YO Steakhouse
Viva the West End: YO Steakhouse’s Tex Mex is a fiesta in a glass.

If you’re looking for somewhere to mark Cinco de Mayo, you could do worse than Dallas’ West End, where the day happens to coincide with Dallas Fest, the neighborhood’s annual showcase of artists, musicians, brew masters and chefs.

You’ll find plenty to drink at the outdoor extravaganza, but you aren’t likely to guzzle anything more guapo than the Tex Mex at Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse, a nod to a holiday that isn’t authentically feted much anywhere in Mexico except in Puebla, the site of the battle it commemorates.

Here in the U.S., though, Cinco de Mayo has become a convenient excuse to swill, even if nobody knows why – and to market drinks to said imbibers, which explains how, when Y.O.’s s front-of-the-house manager Nicole Hester realized the double dose of action going on in the area, suddenly had the idea for a drink with a red, white and green ice cube.

Hester’s inspiration came from a Pride Day cocktail she’d seen at a bar in New York City, where she worked before returning to Dallas. That drink, she explained to her fellow Y.O. managers, featured an ice cube layered in the colors of the LGBT movement’s rainbow flag. “I said, this should be easier because it’s only three colors instead of seven,” Hester explained.

Given the owner’s go-ahead, Hester set to work developing the tri-color Cinco de Mayo cube as well as a Margarita-like drink to put it in. Her first version, using pureed jalapeno and water for the green and Godiva white chocolate liqueur for the white, was too spicy – and as the cube melted, white flakes developed in the drink. Not a good look. “I had to start all over,” she said.

She tried a new version, again freezing the bottom layer before adding the middle one, and again before adding the top. This time, she infused the tequila with jalapeno for heat, crafting the cube with strata of pureed mint, coconut milk and a strawberry/prickly pear mixer boosted with pomegranate.

The finishing touch to the drink – a mix of house tequila, Cointreau, lemon, agave and soda – is a Mexican flag and a rim of red, white and green colored sugars. Its orange-y charm is drinkable enough, and it’s best swigged through the straw; consider the rim purely decorative, since the drink is already sweet.

It’s a fiesta in a glass – and while the $10 drink will be served only on the patio during Saturday’s Dallas Fest, it’s also Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse’s cocktail of the month, meaning you can throw this Tex-Mex party in your mouth all May long.

Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse, 702 Ross Ave., Dallas. 214-744-3287.


Parliament, in Uptown, breaks new ground with ‘Arbor Day Eve’ party

Jesse Powell, Jermey Elliott
Bartenders Jesse Powell and Jermey Elliott weren’t so much in the weeds as they were the trees at Parliament’s Arbor Day Eve party Thursday night.

It’s probably fair to say that no other craft-cocktail bar in America has marked Arbor Day in the way that Parliament did last night in Dallas.

That’s because the Uptown bar’s celebration started on Arbor Day Eve, which you might not know was a thing, because it really wasn’t until Parliament somehow made it one. With Eddie “Lucky” Campbell’s able cocktail crew managing a typical cacophony of drink orders, you could barely see the chorus for the trees towering over the bartenders like a rowdy Rainforest Café.

Jesse Powell
You could be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a cocktail-infused Rainforest Cafe.

Leaf it — ahem — to Campbell, whose flair for showmanship has made him one of the most familiar bartenders in the city. The vest and fedora might be gone, but as he showed Thursday night, he’s still willing to clamber atop the bar top to lead a New-Year’s-Eve-like countdown through the branches as the seconds ticked toward midnight.

“Happy Arbor Day!” everyone shouted in unison, a little unsure whether to take it all seriously or not. (A few found it hard to believe the trees were even real.)  And admittedly, Arbor Day, a day on which Americans are encouraged to plant trees, might be the nation’s most unsung holiday.

SungJoon Bruce Koo
Bartender SungJoon Bruce Koo delivers a drink from beneath the canopy at Parliament’s Arbor Day Eve party.

Bartender Jesse Powell had been a little uncertain himself a couple of days earlier when Campbell informed him that he had bought a pair of 13-foot-tall red oaks to mark the day. “It’s such an underappreciated holiday,” Campbell observed.

“Then Lucky was, like, ‘Can you go buy 200 coconuts?’ ” Powell said, and the next thing he knew he was marching out of H Mart with two shopping carts full of them.

A lineup of tree-themed drink specials featuring the aptly chosen Greenhouse Gin was designed for the occasion, including the Cocos Nucifara, a mix of gin, fruit and coconut water served in a coconut. That joined a pair of other delicious cocktails including the lychee-pearl-topped Weeping Willow and There’s A Tree In Your Bar?, enhanced with turmeric.

You could say that Parliament’s Arbor Day Eve celebration was off the hook.

And on the fly, Powell even renamed the bar’s popular smoke-infused Old Fashioned variation the “Forest Fire” for the night.

The trees, adorned with glowing green rings, were positioned behind the bar so that the crew could maneuver beneath the canopy, though Powell finally tired of bumping his fedora and ultimately hung it on a branch.

When the night was over, there naturally remained one challenge: What to do with the trees.

With that, Campbell and Powell got to the roots of the holiday: On Friday, they procured a trailer and one of the trees was taken to and planted in a location undisclosed “for his safety and well-being,” Powell said. “We look forward to taking care of him and watching him grow…. We really hope he gets along with the other trees.”

On Friday, Arbor Day, the largest tree was taken away and planted, to live on to see many more Arbor Days — which is what the holiday is all about.
(Photos by Jesse Powell)


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