Category Archives: Alchemy

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

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.

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Cool beans: Aquafaba, or chickpea water, is gracing cocktails and making vegans happy

Hugo Osorio, The Theodore
Bartender Hugo Osorio uses aquafaba instead of egg white to give his mezcal-based cocktail a nice foam layer that he garnishes with a few sprinkles of a beet-ginger cordial.

At The Theodore, at NorthPark Center, bar manager Hugo Osorio enjoys making a good egg white cocktail – from the time and attention it takes to its silky, foam-layered result. But while some of his regulars like to try new things, “when I give them a Whiskey Sour, they’re like, ‘I can’t. I’m vegan.’”

Then he discovered aquafaba, an ingredient that has vegans swooning over its accessibility and versatility. A portmanteau combining the Latin words for bean (faba) and water (aqua) it’s, as Bon Appetit put it, “the translucent viscous goop you probably rinse down the drain when you open a can of chickpeas.”

For most, the typical course of action here is to drain the chickpeas and throw out the liquid. That would be a mistake.

In other words: Chickpea water. Now, in Dallas and around the country, aquafaba is becoming part of the bartender’s toolkit – and while patrons might struggle to tell the difference, bartenders say it offers distinct advantages over egg white.

As detailed on his site Aquafaba.com, it was Indiana software engineer Goose Wohlt who sparked aquafaba’s popularity in 2015 after finding a French chef’s video showing how the liquid from beans, or hearts of palm, could be used, in tandem with starch and gum, to make a vegan meringue for a chocolate mousse. After some experimentation, he found that chickpea liquid could be used all by itself to achieve the same effect – and posted his discovery to a popular vegan Facebook page.

It’s since spawned a fervent vegan following and a persnickety, fast-growing Facebook group with 83,000 members who share and celebrate aquafaba’s culinary possibilities. “Please don’t thank us for adding you to the group!” reads a post pinned to the top of the group’s discussion page. “Posts like that will be deleted, and a comment on this post only clutters up the questions people may have. Thank us by diving into your kitchens and creating something AQUAFABULOUS!”

It’s all good: Drained chickpeas on the right, highly usable cocktail goodness on the left.

At Uptown’s Standard Pour, assistant manager Reid Lewis came across aquafaba after feeling compelled to seek egg-white alternatives “with the surge of veganism and healthy eating and people being conscious of all that.”

She started using it for Whiskey Sours and even the painstaking Ramos Gin Fizz, but it didn’t actually appear on a menu until By Any Other Name, a New Year’s Eve menu option including gin, sweet vermouth, lemon and pink peppercorn.

At Shoals Sound & Service in Deep Ellum, bar manager Omar Yeefoon, who is vegan, has made aquafaba a firmly embedded feature at his classic-cocktails-minded bar. There, it helps make the Pisco Sour – anchored by gorgeously floral Caravedo Torontel pisco – a silky swig of beauty.

In cooking, egg whites are added for texture, generating a mix of airiness and lift that enhance the dish. In cocktails, they produce a layer of velvety foam that’s visually striking and soft on the palate, one that can be garnished with a splash or swirl of bitters, or a sprig of thyme. “The fat from eggs soaks up flavor,” Yeefoon says. “That makes a Sour (cocktail) soft and nice.”

A tale of two Sours: On the left, a Whiskey Sour made with egg white; on the right, the same with aquafaba.

But egg white has its disadvantages, and not just for vegans: One shortcoming is a faint, off-putting aroma that some compare to wet metal or even wet dog. That’s easily counteracted with a splash of aromatic bitters, or an herb or floral garnish, since the foam layer doubles as a convenient canvas. It’s a happy union.

Aquafaba, like egg white, acts as an emulsifier and a foaming agent. But bartenders say it freezes well and offers better consistency and efficiency without altering the taste of the drink.

Shoals Sound & Service
At Deep Ellum’s Shoals Sound & Service, owner Omar Yeefoon, who is vegan, began replacing egg white with aquafaba for drinks like this Pisco Sour.

“It’s almost hard to tell the difference,” Yeefoon says. “The texture is nice, without that fat blocking a lot of the sharp edges. It doesn’t interfere with the other ingredients as much as egg white does, either.”

With an egg-white cocktail, bartenders start with a “dry shake,” shaking the egg white and ingredients without ice to start the emulsification. Some begin by shaking the egg white solo, then adding the other ingredients, except for the ice, and shaking again. Then the ice is added for a final shake before straining into a glass.

With aquafaba, the process is much the same. Osorio actually skips the dry shake altogether, shaking the aquafaba, ice and other ingredients simultaneously. And most say the process doesn’t take as long as egg white, using anywhere from one-third to half an ounce of aquafaba per drink.

Christine Farkas of Canada-based IHeartFood consulting uses aquafaba mostly for cooking, but she’s dabbled in cocktails as well, preparing her foam with sugar before combining it with the rest of the ingredients for shaking. (Her recipe for a Pineapple Pisco Sour, which includes a lime aquafaba preparation, can be found here.)

“When it comes to aquafaba, you can’t over whip it,” says Farkas, who I met at last year’s International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference. “You can whip it up; it has structure. And if it deflates, you just whip it up again. It’s one of those cost-effective ingredients, a byproduct we would normally be tossing out.”

aquafaba
Osorio puts the finishing swirls on a new mezcal drink that features aquafaba in place of egg white to create a smooth foam layer for garnishing.

It’s no coincidence, then, that a chickpea salad sandwich appeared on Shoals’ minimalist menu soon after Yeefoon started using aquafaba. While he prefers canned chickpea water (for the preservatives), Osorio of The Theodore, which also offers hummus, procured raw chickpeas from the kitchen and let them sit in water for a couple of days, oozing proteins, to make his own.

Reaction has been positive. “People find it really cool that you can work around their lifestyle,” Lewis says. “It’s nice to have that flexibility behind the bar and make sure there’s something for everybody.”

Both Standard Pour and The Thedore plan to add aquafaba cocktails to their spring menus. Osorio’s, shown above, features mezcal, lime, agave syrup, Yellow Chartreuse, orange blossom water, tarragon and a few dashes of a beet-ginger cordial.

“People are really surprised,” Osorio says. “Especially the vegans. Because when you make things their way, they get excited.”

Here’s how to make a Whiskey Sour using aquafaba:

INGREDIENTS
2 oz bourbon
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/3 to 1/2 oz aquafaba

Add ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a glass (iced, if you prefer) and garnish with half an orange wheel and a maraschino cherry.

 

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Fancydrank alert: The priciest cocktail in Dallas comes in a silver chalice

James Slater, Network Bar
You could buy a bomber jacket…. or you could buy this cocktail.

There’s a built-in air of exclusivity that comes with opening a pricy membership-only bar, but the people behind Dallas’ Network Bar – which recently launched at Trinity Groves – seem determined not to let that affect perception of their drink prices. And in fact, the cocktails on bar manager James Slater’s well constructed menu do ring in at a respectable $13, which is on the low high-end of what you’ll find around town. (For comparison, drinks at Five Sixty, at Reunion Tower, run $16 apiece.) And there’s a $7 cocktail happy hour.

But there’s one drink you won’t find on Network Bar’s menu that puts even the high high-end libations to shame. Forget that $30 fishbowl Margarita you’re dunking your snout into – and meet the Golden Dawn, which at $150 is decidedly a fancydrank splurge and like the bar itself, a hidden gem that only those willing to fork over the dough can try. (I had the pleasure of accompanying my Dallas Morning News colleague Tiney Ricciardi for a tasting. She wrote about it here.)

James Slater, Network Bar
Slater applies the final touch, a lemon-peel garnish.

The good news is, like many of the drinks on Slater’s menu, the Golden Dawn is pretty delicious – and not just because it makes Gran Patron Burdeos, a so-called “luxury anejo tequila” – the star of the show. You could probably count on one finger the reasons you’d actually mix a spirit like this into a cocktail, and this would be it. Slater’s Golden Dawn, served in what looks like a silver, leaf-laden chalice, expertly layers the aged tequila’s vanilla/raisin nuances with a lovely balance of bittersweet French Amer aperitif, blood-orange liqueur and a touch of absinthe.

James Slater, Network Bar
I’m king of the world.

But slow down there, tiger. Before you can plant your lips on this baby, Slater amps up the spectacle with a few poofs of homemade perfume around the glass – even the stem, so that the experience extends to your fingers – and a final sprinkling of gold flakes.

It’s a big show, of course, which you might expect in a cocktail this expensive – and a good way, as all eyes drift to the what-the-heck-is-going-on-over-there pageant unfolding before you, to set yourself apart from not just a good chunk of cash but from your fellow hobnobbing professionals who, like you, have paid $500 to $1,000 for a year’s Network Bar membership.

Raise that chalice proudly, O intrepid overlord – and whatever you do, don’t chug.

James Slater, Trinity Groves
Greet the Golden Dawn. (Photo by Devin McCullough, courtesy of Network Bar)

Don’t Tell Supper Club aims to make cocktails a feast for your senses

Sam Houghton, Don't Tell Supper Club
Don’t Tell’s Green Eggs and Ham. I would drink it on a boat.

I’ve just sipped from a glass brimming with vodka, fruit puree, lemon and champagne on crushed ice, and the crackle of Pop Rocks is still rocketing around my tongue.

“This is going to be a full sensory experience,” James Hamous says, casting a nod at the room as he takes it all in. “Not the humdrum of your typical restaurant.”

It may look plain on the outside, but inside it’s a sensory wonderland.

Do tell, sir!

Actually it’s the Don’t Tell Supper Club we’re in, but it’s clear from our grand surroundings that the folks behind the curtain want the place to be anything but a secret. The décor is whimsical bordering on outlandish, with designer mirrors, slanted shelves, an array of sexy crossed legs along a wall and a stack of books behind the bar that transform into a flock of flying seagulls.

At Don’t Tell, already in soft opening but which officially launches its dinner menu July 27, it’s going to be all about the show, stage and all. The place transforms from dinner club to nightclub at 11 p.m. and will be open three nights a week, Thursday through Saturday, with former Top Chef contestant Tre Wilcox the architect du cuisine.

Sam Houghton, Don't Tell Supper Club
Houghton’s vodka and fruit puree-powered Contortionist is sprinkled with Pop Rocks.

“It’s going to be socially interactive,” says general manager Hamous, also co-owner of The Standard Pour in Uptown, who prefers to describes his role at Don’t Tell as “facilitator of entertainment” and then, on second thought, as “director of crazy.” He’s thinking maybe geishas in the future, or mermaids in a ginormous water tank.

Yup. It’s going to be that kind of place – a cabaret of contortionists, aerialists and dance revues wriggling and prancing as you devour another forkful of lamb, the sort of spectacle you might find in such clubs in Amsterdam, Miami or New York City.

Likewise, the showy ‘tude infuses the drink menu from bar manager Sam Houghton, formerly of Dragonfly at Hotel Zaza and The Standard Pour. Think dry ice, smoke and fanciful touches like those Pop Rocks in the so-called Contortionist, added, as the drink list says, “to bring the party to your mouth!” (Exclamation point not mine.)

The tiki-esque Trainspotting includes four syringes of rum piercing its icy depths, to be injected upon serving into the highball of orange, lime, pineapple and coconut.

The Most Unusual Tea, a name playing off the brand phrase for Hendricks Gin, is poured from a beaker into a tea cup that bubbles smoke rings like a magic potion of gin, lime, basil and citrus-chamomile bitters.

Sam Houghton, Don't Tell Supper Club
Houghton’s Bumbledypeg, a twist on the classic Bee’s Knees designed for a friend who’s allergic to honey.

One standout is the Green Eggs and Ham (pictured above), a cool mix of tequila, egg white, jalapeno/cucumber puree, St. Germain and spicy Firewater tincture. With a slice of candied bacon crawling from the lime-green surf over the rim of the coupe, I would drink it on a boat, or with a goat. The name even references “Sam I am” Houghton herself.

My favorite may be the Bumbledypeg, whose name recalls mumbledypeg, the old-timey childhood game played with a pocketknife; Houghton says she wanted to make a Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon and honey syrup) for a friend who’s allergic to honey. Her version nicely substitutes almond-y orgeat for honey, but the coup de grace that graces the coupe (boom!) is a Bit-O-Honey speared with a tiny plastic sword.

Drink prices are expected to hover around $12, with many echoing the venue’s theatrical theme: “They’re things that alter and play with your senses,” Hamous says.

DON’T TELL SUPPER CLUB, 2026 Commerce Street, Dallas.

Flaming cocktail at Dallas’ Highland Village gets two people airlifted to a hospital

Armoury DE
Proceed with caution: Fire and alcohol can be dangerous if not handled with care..

Fancy cocktails aren’t for everyone, especially when there’s fire involved: That’s what a couple — and, quite possibly, a bartender — found out Wednesday afternoon after receiving a fiery drink at Shoal Creek Tavern at The Shops at Highland Village.

As The Dallas Morning News reported, emergency crews were called to the shopping center about 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, where they found a man and woman with major burns on their bodies from the waist up.

Sunset Lounge
Pretty to look at, delightful to hold. But if you don’t douse it, don’t say you weren’t told.

The two had apparently gotten a flaming cocktail at the bar, authorities said, when “an additional ignition took place which caused major burns” to the couple.  A medical helicopter was called to take them to Parkland Memorial Hospital; however, their injuries are non-life-threatening.

No telling what cocktail it might have been, since the bar’s online drink menu lists only beer and wine, but suffice it to say things didn’t go as planned.

Blue Blazer
Pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas mixing the Blue Blazer, in an illustration from his classic 1862 tome. (Wikipedia: Jerry Thomas)

Though increasingly popular, cocktails involving fire date back to the grandfather of mixology himself, Jerry Thomas, who included the famous Blue Blazer in his 1862 Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks. But that blend of Scotch, boiling water and sugar, set afire, is all about the show as the (ideally much-practiced) bartender flamboyantly pours the flaming blue mixture from one vessel to another — and then finally into a cup, dousing the flames before serving.

It’s that last part that tends to get people into trouble. Blue flames look cool, especially in low light. But whether atop tiki drinks or bursting out of flaming party shots, the important thing is to put out the fire before drinking them. You don’t want to eat or drink anything that’s on fire, because, you know, it’s on fire.

“There’s absolutely no safe way to consume a flaming food or beverage,” then-Nassau County Fire Marshall Vince McManus told Inside Edition in a program segment on fire-related alcohol mishaps, including a March 2016 incident in which a woman preparing to drink a flaming shot at a Moscow bar instead had her face set afire as the bartender poured from a bottle. Video captured at parties also shows the disastrous results of people attempting to do the same.

In short: Cocktails may be the hot thing to drink these days, but they should never be on fire when you do.

 

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Barrels of fun: Campari competition shows tasty things come to those who wait

Mike Steele, Industry Alley
At Industry Alley, Mike Steele’s barrel-aged Sir Reginald, among the competition’s nine entries.

More than a month has passed since Dallas’ last two cocktail competitions, both coincidentally arranged for the same day in June. While a few ingredients may have been pre-prepared a day or three ahead, the bartenders at both the “Disaronno Mixing Star” contest (won by Smoke’s Mandy Meggs) and the subsequent Pisco Mercenaries’ “Pisco Punch Duel” (won by Rapscallion’s Andres Zevallos) pretty much shook or stirred their cocktails up in real time.

Last week, though, brought a different sort of beverage bout, one that deliciously demonstrated how patience and ingenuity can create liquid gold. The Campari Barrel-Aged Cocktail Competition, organized by local rep Chase Streitz, showed how barrel-aging smooths out liquor’s hard edges while adding beautiful depths of flavor; mixtures are conceived and left to age for weeks in a barrel, the wooden cocoon from which will hopefully emerge a beautiful butterfly of a drink.

Robbie Call, Madrina
At Madrina, Robbie Call pours his beer-enhanced Frenchie cocktail, the base of which was barrel-aged.

The rules were this: Contestants had up to six weeks to age their cocktail in a 5-liter barrel. Each was to be built on a base of Bulldog gin, a London Dry-style spirit featuring several influences not typically seen in gins – lotus leaf, poppy and the lychee-like dragon eye fruit. The final presentation could include no more than seven ingredients, one of which had to be the Italian bitter liqueur Campari or one of its products.

In all, nine bartenders fielded entries. Some concoctions had entered the barrel fully assembled and then reappeared, transformed; others, like Robbie Call’s Frenchie, went into the barrel in partial form and were enhanced with other ingredients before serving.

Call, the bar manager at Madrina, poured out his bright barrel-aged mix of gin, Aperol and herbal-sweet Dolin Genepy and shook it with lemon, simple and egg white; that was then strained into a half-glass of Duvel beer.

The result craftily utilized the egg white, which sat atop the cocktail and gave it the appearance of a frothy summer ale. “It makes a great foam,” said visiting judge Amanda Olig, of Denver’s Meadowlark Kitchen. “It looks like the head on a beer.”

Peter Novotny, Armoury D.E.
Novotny’s Sancho cocktail, at Armoury D.E.

Another notable was Peter Novotny’s Sancho, a play on the classic Martinez and a recent addition to the specials board at Deep Ellum’s Armoury. Featuring gin, orange bitters, roasted-black-pepper-infused cherry liqueur and dry vermouth infused with the cherry-vanilla influence of tonka beans, its unaged version was pleasantly sweet and worth drinking on its own. (One judge, in fact, preferred it over the aged one.)

The barrel-aged drink was boozy and winter-ready, illustrating how the process can take a drink from sunny-weather refresher to winter warmer.

All of the entries evidenced the undeniable influence of wood. These were vigorous barrels. “You’re not going to get rid of the taste of the wood,” said Dee Sweis, who tends bar at The People’s Last Stand. “That’s the whole point of barrel-aging.”

A few bartenders got a rein on those woodsy depths by pre-treating their barrels: For his Churchill Negroni, Michael Reith of Sissy’s Southern Kitchen in Knox-Henderson poured sweet Spanish sherry into his barrel and rotated it daily for a week before replacing it with his classic Negroni combination of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.

Michael Reith, Sissy's Southern Kitchen
Reith rotated his barrel for a week with sweet sherry before setting his Negroni to age.

But Reith also elaborately pre-spiced his gin with goodies including clove, coriander, star anise and dried fruits, his overall goal being to evoke sherry and tobacco, two of Winston Churchill’s favorite ingredients. “Rather than actually using tobacco, I wanted to hit those notes,” he said.

The result was luscious and beautiful, and it took second in the judging. Parliament’s Drew Garison took third with his Summer in SoHo, a mix of pear and white-peppercorn-infused gin, apricot liqueur, Aperol and lavender bitters.

On the top prize, though, we all agreed on an unlikely source: Renfield’s Corner, the high-volume party den in Uptown where Rogher Jeri’s sultry Bulldog and Zen, playing off the gin’s Eastern and Western influences, was all at once thoughtfully presented, bold and well-conceived. He combined the spirit with dry vermouth, a touch of ginger liqueur and herbal Yellow Chartreuse, and a vinegary lemon-lavender shrub. Halfway through the aging process, he added a jalapeño oleo saccharum, a classic sugar oil typically extracted from citrus.

What made Jeri’s effort so intriguing is that in unaged form, there was nothing special about the drink. It was both blond and bland, a little cloudy in appearance, an ugly duckling loosed into the world. But it returned a swan: Tart and nicely balanced, with a handsome amber hue and a just-right singe of jalapeno, which can often be overdone. It was a startling metamorphosis.

Rogher Jeri, Renfield's Corner
Jeri’s remarkable Bulldog and Zen.

“It’s like a wasabi burn,” said judge Austin Millspaugh, local rep for liquor distributor Frederick Wildman and Sons, as he sipped. “It clears your nose and then dies off.”

“It travels through your palate and, just as it starts to heat up, it sweetens,” Streitz added.

To top it off, Jeri gave a nod to the gin’s signature ingredients by garnishing the drink with a lavender stem and a lotus flower sculpted from a jalapeno. It was exquisite. Or as judge Pezhmon Sabet, secretary of the the U.S. Bartender’s Guild’s North Texas chapter, said: “That’s a badass drink.”

Was it Churchill who said good things come to those who wait?

Good times rolling: Cigars and booze are a smoking-hot pair

Oak Cliff
Brandon Fields of DeSoto enjoys his smokes with bourbon at Cigar Art in Oak Cliff.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Freud said, but then again he probably never paired one with Scotch. The two were practically made to go together, and increasingly they actually are: The smokes in C&C’s four-edition Dram line, for example, are each designed to pair with specified whiskey profiles.

As the spread of craft cocktails has given rise to more and better spirits, cigar enthusiasts find themselves awash in options when it comes to enhancing their puffery. It’s not as simple, though, as blindly picking something off the shelf or menu – too strong a spirit or cocktail and it might stomp all over your stogie goodness; too mild and it won’t stand up at all.

“A lot of people think they need to pair cigars with a really robust Scotch, and then they just pick any cigar,” says John Pullo, managing editor of online magazine Cigar Advisor, which has published guides on the subject. “And then the flavors of the drink completely wash out whatever they got out of the cigar.”

Delicia Silva, the so-called “Cigar Vixen” who presented on the topic at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, says it’s all about flavors. “You want to match the body of the cigar with the body of the spirit,” she says. “You want it to be like a marriage. You want them to complement each other.”

Tobacco is enhanced by flavors in the wrapping paper, just as spirits are enhanced by flavors in the barrel or a cocktail itself. As the Tales seminar description put it: ”There are parallels in the production of cigars that align with the creations of spirits and cocktails… The potent flavors of smoke and spirit, in combination, can create a truly unique experience.”

Pairing cigars with booze has been around since your great-grandfather’s grandfather, but Cigar Advisor copywriter Jonathan Detore says the tradition really thrived in the Roaring Twenties, when high rollers smoked cigars wrapped in $100 bills. With time, that nonsense subsided and cigars fell out of popularity, not to rise again until the 1990s.

Their profile has been rising ever since, helped along by the spirits explosion and the continued rise of craft beers. In addition to C&C’s whiskey-ready line, major cigar maker Perdomo earlier this year debuted smokes meant to pair with craft brew.

“What we’re seeing in the industry now is a deep dive into the pairing world,” Detore says. “In the last five years, makers have even started aging cigars in used whiskey barrels to make sure they go well with that particular liquor.”

Glenfiddich
At Dallas Chop House’s “Scotch and Cigars Under The Stars” event in July, attendees sipped several Glenfiddich single-malts with their smokes.

C&C’s Dram Cask #1, according to Cigars International, is designed to go with a milder, lighter whiskey “with notes of citrus and wood.” But absent paint-by-numbers instruction, how’s a cigar smoker supposed to know what to do? While it’s really a matter of personal taste, there are some basic principles one can follow. Generally speaking, the darker the cigar, the darker the spirit or beer best suited for the occasion.

Say, for example, you were smoking a Connecticut cigar, says Cigar Advisor’s Detore from the magazine’s offices in Pennsylvania, where he and Pullo are, of course, smoking cigars. You’d likely want a lighter beer, something like a nice, crisp Harpoon Saison.

“Right now,” Pullo says, “Jonathan is smoking a Partagas 1845 Extra Oscuro, from Honduras. The wrapper is extra fermented to get that dark color. There’s a mix of Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican tobacco in there. If I was a beer guy, I would put that with a stout or a porter; I wouldn’t think twice about putting a Guinness with it. That’s the nice thing about a cigar – it shows you the color.”

As far as spirits, Detore says, the cigar’s spicy, woody, leather notes, would probably go best with an aged rum or maybe the spicy bite of Bulleit Bourbon.

In Dallas, Brandon Fields of DeSoto likes complementing his smokes with Knob Creek. “The spirits that have the most age pair well,” he says as he and friends share a bottle at Cigar Art, in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District. “They have different characters, like oak, dark plum, or chocolate or coffee. It’s almost parallel to what the cigar rollers are trying to show you.”

Cigar Art managing partner Russell Hargraves says it’s similar to how you might pair wines – for instance, not expecting a Riesling or Pinot Grigio to hold up against a big, bold Maduro or Jericho Hill cigar. “With some cigars, whiskey cocktails aren’t a terrible choice,” Hargraves says. “Like a Sazerac, or an Old Fashioned.”

While cigar smokers have long complemented their smoky puffs with solid pours, typically from bottles of Scotch and cognac, aged tequilas and rums are coming into their own, too. The goal is to bring out the flavors and character of each, by complement or contrast. Detore suggests aiming to complement your cigar first, and then, as you learn how each works with the other, to go for more complex, contrasting pairings.

Cigar Art

Silva, the “Cigar Vixen,” says you have to decide what you want from the experience. Do you want the cigar, or the spirit, to stand out? Once she decides, her approach is to start smoking the cigar, and then to introduce the spirit, typically aged rum, about a third of the way in. “Zacapa 23 goes with just about any cigar on the market,” she says. “It especially goes well with a Maduro.

“You’re creating a memory, an experience,” she says. “It’s becoming more popular, especially for people who aren’t necessarily that into cigars.”

With a low barrier to entry, it’s also a trend that doesn’t appear ready to go up in smoke anytime soon. “You can pick up a cigar for five or six bucks,” Pullo says. “It’s cheaper than a movie ticket. And, it lasts longer than the flick.”

Leave it to Barter: A lineup of libations to wrap your holiday noggin around

Barter eggnog flight
Barter’s Juli Naida applying the torch to one of her nog-out drinks.

If you’re like me, the sight of retailers setting out their Christmas merchandise two weeks before Thanksgiving makes you want to gouge out your eyes. But go figure: The folks at Barter in Uptown have figured out a way to break through my grumpy bah-humbuggery, and they’ve done it by highlighting the best thing about holiday season: The eggnog.

A few weeks ago, Barter bar manager Rocco Milano approached bartender Juli Naida with a peculiar notion. The results are even more than he’d hoped for. “This is all her,” he says.

And what is this? An eggnog flight, my friends. A set of mini-drinks evoking the festive holiday beverage. It’s a pre-Christmas miracle!

Best of all, they’re delicious, from the awesomely named Sweet Chai of Mine – which blends tequila, chai tea, honey and agave – to the creamy-rich If Elvis Nogged, an explosion of Irish whiskey, peanut butter, banana liqueur and vanilla pudding mix. Another is fashioned after lemon meringue pie, with a limoncello whipped-cream topping that Naida flames like a brulee. All either taste like eggnog or incorporate egg whites for a frothy eggnog texture.

Barter eggnog flight
The Nogaholic: Eggnog impersonator.

My favorite of the bunch is the Nogaholic, a dark martini-style drink that mirrors eggnog’s flavor with no egg or cream whatsoever. Instead there’s Cruzan Black Strap rum, simple syrup and a house-made tincture of vanilla, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. “I wanted something sweet,” Naida says. “You can hit the eggnog notes without using any egg.”

Under Milano’s tutelage, Naida has quickly and quietly grown into a real talent behind the bar, and while he provided her with background on some of the spirits she was considering – for instance, the Black Strap rum in the Nogalicious – the recipes are straight from her own noggin. “She has the vision to do stuff like that,” Milano says.

For inspiration, Naida looked around her – to fellow bartender Creighten Brown, for instance, whose favorite smoothie involves peanut butter and banana; and to a non-drinking friend who turned her on to chai. The lemon-meringue one came to her, um, in a dream. “That’s where I completely nerded out,” she says. “It’s embarrassing.”

The $15 flight is arranged from lighter to bolder flavors. The drinks are so rich that you might want to consider sharing them with a date. One may even be inspired, after sampling the flight, to order one as a full $12 cocktail. I’m just saying.