Category Archives: Seasonal

Best cocktails 2017: DFW’s revitalized scene shows it can handle the (low) proof

Kyle Hilla, Chad Solomon, Brittany Day, Austin Gurley, Gabe Sanchez
Some of the year’s best, clockwise from upper left: Kyle Hilla’s Undercut; Chad Solomon’s Screwpine Fix; Hugo Osorio’s Big Stick Mojito; Brittany Day’s Prolific Poet; Austin Gurley’s Smokey Bandit; Gabe Sanchez’s Calvados Sidecar.

As 2017 got underway, it wasn’t insane to wonder if the local craft-cocktail scene had lost its mojo despite its expanding influence around the region. Sure, Hide had just opened in Deep Ellum, with its fancypants behind-the-scenes gadgetry elevating its ambitious alchemy, and well-etched torchbearers like The Standard Pour, Atwater Alley, Bolsa, Jettison, Black Swan, Bowen House, Thompson’s Bookstore and Industry Alley (to name a few) powered on, doing what they do.

But even as cocktail lists sprouted like bluebonnets throughout North Texas – in Frisco, in Lewisville, in Trophy Club, for god’s sakes – too many of the area’s proliferating iterations emerged uninspired or even unhinged, seemingly designed more to ride the trend than to propel it forward. Overall, creativity seemed stifled by malaise. Had things finally peaked?

Then July brought Shoals, the soulful, back-to-basics cocktail lounge in Deep Ellum, and Fair Park’s Las Almas Rotas, whose heartfelt ambience admirably sated Dallas’ growing thirst for mezcal. And as the year pulled to a close, Bourbon & Banter appeared down the rabbit hole of downtown Dallas’ Statler Hotel, sprinkling its craft savvy with photogenic dashes of Wonderland whimsy.

Scott Jenkins, Nick Backlund
Hide, Deep Ellum’s science-y cocktail lab, gave life to some of 2017’s best cocktails.

DFW did get its groove back, and then decided to make a night of it. In 2017, a wave of low-proof cocktails met the need for an evening’s worth of social nectars without the boozy kick that might send one home early. Low-alcohol cocktails dotted menus at Hide, Uptown’s Standard Pour and sherry-focused Jettison in Oak Cliff; Yayoi, in Plano, made its Wasabi Bloody Mary with Japanese shochu, while Bourbon & Banter’s excellent Undercut put Cynar, an Italian bitter liqueur, in the spotlight.

Hide also blazed tasty trails with savory cocktails, employing mushrooms in its magnificent Champion, bananas in its Tally Man and chicken stock in – well, more on that later. At Bourbon & Banter, Kyle Hilla topped two of his stellar cocktails with small spoonfuls of savory goodness. Meanwhile, green chilies surfaced as a popular flavor as bartenders toyed with a pair of newly arrived ingredients, poblano-driven Ancho Reyes Verde and St. George’s multi-peppered green chile vodka;  elsewhere, Hatch green chile syrup ignited Skyler Chastain’s Santa Fe Smash at The People’s Last Stand at Mockingbird Station.

Sprezza
Sprezza’s Julieta. Get to it, Romeo.

Ever-flourishing agave-based spirits drove some of the year’s best drinks. Smoky mezcal danced with Ancho Reyes Verde and lemon liqueur in Brittany Day’s Prolific Poet at Thompson’s Bookstore in Fort Worth; at High and Tight in Deep Ellum, it partnered with cinnamon-infused whiskey to amp up the smoke in Austin Gurley’s solid Smokey Bandit. And at East Dallas’ Lounge Here, Brad Bowden flexed aged tequila’s guns in Dirty D’s Thang, his tribute to an aging dive-bar ladies man in long-ago New Orleans.

Gin sparkled in Sprezza’s Julieta in Oak Lawn, in George Kaiho’s Sylvan at Oak Cliff’s Jettison and in Chad Solomon’s remarkable Screwpine Fix at downtown’s Midnight Rambler, where it was infused with lemongrass and paired with Bolivian pisco. And Robbie Call used Gracias A Dios’ agave-based gin and his own vanilla-spiced tonic for a smoky Spanish Gin Tonic, a short-lived gem at since-shuttered Filament in Deep Ellum.

Finally, the force was strong in 2017’s classic covers, with solid spins on drinks like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Bijou, Last Word and Pina Colada. At Black Swan, Gabe Sanchez’s Calvados-anchored Sidecar was a thing of beauty; Scandinavian aquavit fancied up The Keeper’s gimlet in Plano; and at the Theodore in NorthPark Center, Hugo Osorio’s falernum-spiked Bee’s Knees and Big Stick Mojito, juiced up with raspberry coulis, were as pretty as they were delicious.

My tastes are my own, of course. I love the botanicals of gin and the smoke of mezcal, the warm comfort of whiskey and the bittersweet beauty of European amari; I’m drawn to flavor combinations that lure me to unfamiliar territory and drinks that go down like great train rides, where every ingredient is visible along the way.

Here were my 15 favorite cocktails of 2017.

Jason Long, Abacus
Long’s lush La Joya showed you can still count on Abacus.
  1. LA JOYA (Jason Long, Abacus)

Tequila reposado, Green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, Port, orange bitters

At this cozy upscale lounge welcoming patrons of the celebrated Knox-Henderson restaurant, Long’s agave-driven play on a classic Bijou (French for “jewel”) was a bouquet of caramel, grape-y sweetness. Eager to make a drink honoring a tequila-loving colleague, Long tinkered with the floral Bijou, subbing smooth, aged tequila for gin plus a touch of Port. The name is the classic’s Spanish translation and an equally perfect gift for somebody special.

Jeremy Koeninger, Parliament
When you needed to cool off in Uptown, it was time to go Due South. (Photo by SungJoon Bruce Koo)
  1. DUE SOUTH (Jeremy Koeninger, Parliament)

Rum, coconut, pineapple, orange, jalapeno, nutmeg

At Parliament, Koeninger put a Texas spin on the tropical Painkiller, itself a spin on the Pina Colada. “I wanted something a little less tiki,” he says. “And being from Texas, I like the combination of spicy and sweet.” So he added jalapeno and called it the Due South for the happy coincidence that any south-of-the-border spirit works as well as rum – except for, apparently, cachaca. (What up, Brazil?) Pisco in particular is fantastic. As you might expect, it’s a great warm-weather refresher, with its creamy pineapple, cool citrus and nutty spice, with some lingering heat on the tongue to boot.

  1. MAMBO MORADO (Jonathan Garcia, Jose)

Blueberry/lavender-infused sotol, sunflower seed orgeat, lime, Campari, Crème de Violette

The drinks at this Highland Park gem naturally lean agave, and Garcia drew upon a pisco-based concoction he’d made for a local competition and funked it up by subbing little-known sotol, distilled in Chihuahua from desert Spoon, an agave cousin. Hacienda de Chihuahua’s delicately smoky sotol gets the tiki snow cone treatment here, draped it in floral, fruity and slightly nutty tones with a splash of bitter Campari to rein in the sweetness.

James Slater, Network Bar
At members-only Network Bar, James Slater’s Malta was berry berry good.
  1. MALTA (James Slater, Network Bar)

Fernet, Amer Gingembre, turbinado syrup, blackberries

A few years ago when Slater was helming the bar at Spoon (now closed), he wowed with an off-the-cuff, darkly bittersweet creation he ultimately named Blue Moon, and he’s been riffing on it ever since. Though he’s since left his brief post as bar director for the members-only club at Trinity Groves, his latest spin on the drink was a winner: Still mining the bitter mint depths of Fernet, it subbed blackberries for blue and a ginger-forward bitter liqueur for less aggressive Averna, taming Fernet’s harshness while retaining its flavor; gorgeous Amer Gingembre does the same with ginger. Think of the Malta as a boozy berry detox juice with a dollop of licorice-like sweetness.

Hugo Osorio, The Theodore
New Orleans meets Oaxaca in Osorio’s classic spin, and now I can’t wait to have a chicken mole po’boy.
  1. MEZCAL SAZERAC (Hugo Osorio, The Theodore)

Mezcal, tawny port, Peychaud’s bitters, tiki bitters, absinthe

It was actually Sam Gillespie of The Mitchell, in downtown Dallas, who recently introduced me to the notion of a Sazerac built on smoky mezcal rather than the classic rye or cognac. His simple switch of spirit was solid and satisfying – but then, the very next day, I happened to drop by the Theodore, the NorthPark Center lair where barman Hugo Osorio has been unspooling impressive off-menu creations in his spare time. When I asked for something new, he said: “How about a mezcal Sazerac?” Osorio made the drink his own by adding the wintry cinnamon spice of tiki bitters and replacing sugar with a bit of sweet tawny port, serving up a spectacular sipper for the season.

Jesse Powell, Parliament
At Parliament, Jesse Powell’s Osage County is built on childhood memories.
  1. OSAGE COUNTY (Jesse Powell, Parliament)

Sarsaparilla/vanilla-infused rum, Mexican fernet, demerara syrup, lime, cola, absinthe

God bless Jesse Powell’s grandparents in small-town Osage County, Oklahoma, for supplying him with all the sarsaparilla sweets a little boy could eat, because otherwise we might never have had this bodacious burst of root beer candy in a glass. When Powell visited them again not so long ago, “they had the same exact candy, and I was like, I want to come back and make a cocktail like that.” The infused rum pairs with earthy fernet and cola to echo herbal vanilla root beer with a hint of licorice and a drink that makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.

Scott Jenkins, Hide
At Hide, Jenkins’ Winner Winner was chicken soup for the cocktail soul.
  1. WINNER WINNER (Scott Jenkins, Hide)

Ford’s gin, chicken broth, clarified lemon, thyme

Why did the imbiber cross the road? To get to this drink at Hide. Though the bar’s beverage director, Scott Jenkins, is a fan of savory cocktails, he knows consumers don’t always warm to the idea. But once the menu’s magnificent mushroom-driven Champion earned a following, he knew he had license to do more. One day, as he was looking for something to complement gin and thyme, a thought occurred: What about chicken stock? “I gave it a try,” he said, “and I was, like, yeah. It’s got that saltiness.” Before you pooh-pooh the idea, know that Brits drink something called a Bullshot, a Bloody Mary alter-ego mix of vodka and beef consommé. (Midnight Rambler’s Pho King Champ shot is not far off, either, with a little oloroso sherry thrown in.) In Jenkins’ yummy Winner Winner, the broth grows more robust as you drink – offering a much-needed remedy for flu season.

Brick and Bones
Its namesake might not have the fastest run in the west, but Brick and Bones’ Slowpoke Rodriguez is a rush of sweet and heat.
  1. SLOWPOKE RODRIGUEZ (Dre Cantu, Brick and Bones)

Hibiscus-infused tequila, blood orange liqueur, amaretto, jalapeno syrup

All the drinks at Brick and Bones are named for occasionally obscure cartoon characters, and this one pays homage to Speedy Gonzales’ acceleration-challenged cousin. While its namesake might be slow, this drink is a carefree rush of floral sweet with a dash of heat, with exuberant hibiscus the life of the party. With citrus-y blood orange liqueur and sweet amaretto, “it’s like a Margarita without the acid,” Cantu says.

Michael Sturdivant, The Cedars Social
Sturdivant draws on Angus Winchester’s No. 4 and takes it up a notch.
  1. NO. 5 (Michael Sturdivant, The Cedars Social)

Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, celery heart, lemon, honey, burnt Green Chartreuse

At The Cedars Social, the pioneering craft-cocktail joint just south of downtown, bar manager Sturdivant is always up for a challenge. For a good while, the bar menu featured a terrific drink called the No. 4, a creation of former Tanqueray Gin rep Angus Winchester. “People would order it all the time,” Sturdivant says. Then, this year, “I was trying to impress a girl at the bar who ordered one, and I told her I could do one better.” His botanical re-do, poured over flamed floral Chartreuse, is somewhere between the original and the classic Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon and honey): On the palate, it’s candied lemon tailgated by a mambo of lush botanicals, aromatic sweet celery and a pleasant, lingering burn.

Austin Millspaugh, The Standard Pour
At Standard Pour, Millspaugh’s Fleur de Feu is like an after-dinner treat  around the campfire.
  1. FLEUR DE FEU (Austin Millspaugh, The Standard Pour)

St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Ancho Reyes Verde, Angostura bitters, cream

Austin Millspaugh, you so cray. This creamy off-menu knockout at Uptown’s Standard Pour, with a name that means “flower of fire,” is a low-proof treat, a deceptively sweet drink that actually turns out to be more savory. After the first three ingredients are mixed and poured into a nifty Nick and Nora glass, Millspaugh tops it all with a thin layer of cream, then torches it for a burnt marshmallow effect and a stunning contrast between the foamy top and wine-clear body below. “You think it’s going to be sweet,” he says. “But your notions are debunked the second you sip it.” The creamy fats add texture and depth to a beautiful mix of floral and spicy flavors with smoky overtones.

Kyle Hilla, Bourbon & Banter
Hilla merged two of his favorite ingredients — Suze and turmeric — in Bourbon & Banter’s savory Rat Tail.
  1. RAT TAIL (Kyle Hilla, Bourbon & Banter)

Tequila, mezcal, Suze, lime, agave syrup, turmeric

A fan of the bitter spice turmeric, Hilla wanted to feature it in a cocktail at the speakeasy-style bar where each of his house cocktails features  a little razzle-dazzle. He muddled actual turmeric root rather than using the familiar powder, but its tannic earthiness was too overwhelming for tequila, and smoky mezcal was too strong, so he went half and half and added bitter Suze for some botanicals. As with all the bar’s hairstyle-themed drinks, Hilla put some thought into the Rat Tail’s picture-perfect presentation, serving it in a capita and capping it with a spoonful of avocado, cilantro and Basque Espelette pepper, whose mix of flavors both complement and counter. Marked by turmeric’s orange-yellow hue, it drinks like an earthy, slightly bitter Margarita.

John Ruiz, Hide
It’s high time we had more low-proof cocktails like Hide’s No Scurvy Here.
  1. NO SCURVY HERE (John Ruiz, Hide)

Suze, Italicus, orange, lemon, egg white, maple, eucalyptus tincture

Texas this year saw the coming of Italicus, a lovely bergamot-forward liqueur from Italy, and in this low-proof libation it pairs with Suze, an equally lovely French gentian liqueur. Ruiz initially set out to produce a Suze “sour” – a category of cocktail built on spirit, citrus and sweetener –and when bar manager Scott Jenkins brought Italicus to the shelf, Ruiz had his tools in place. With a few tweaks brainstormed with his colleagues, Ruiz’s result is soft bitter orange: Bittersweet bergamot and sweet maple balance Suze’s earthy bitterness with the abundant citrus – hence the name – playing off the drink’s orange notes.

Chad Yarbrough, Armoury DE
If your mouth likes pina coladas and getting caught in a rain of fizzy tang, Yarbrough’s Colada No. 2 is your escape.
  1. COLADA NO. 2 (Chad Yarbrough, Armoury)

Cachaca, lime, orgeat, soda, coconut balsamic

This tangy tiki tipple, an obvious nod to its classic predecessor, was conceived as Yarbrough was browsing 1890 Marketplace, the most excellent olive oil and vinegar shop that at the time had just opened a few blocks away on Main in Deep Ellum. Having discovered the shop’s coconut balsamic vinegar, “I tried it and I was, like, we have to do something with this,” he said. Thus was born the Colada No. 2, a sweet and nutty mouthparty tempered by a tantalizing tang. Tangs a lot, Mr. Yarbrough. Tangs a lot.

Deep Ellum
This ain’t rocket science: Hide’s Delight is perfect for your afternoon.
  1. DELIGHT (Scott Jenkins, Hide)

Aperol, Cynar, clarified grapefruit, elderflower liqueur

Nothing at Hide is simple. They just make it look that way. Mostly when you’re not looking, spirits are “milk washed” and relieved of their harshness, citrus juices are clarified for a pure veneer and soda and tonic water are eschewed in favor of a lighter-handed carbonating device. The radiant Delight – Jenkins’ low-proof, bittersweet ballet of Italian aperitifs tamed with soft grapefruit and elderflower – is perfectly crisp and flavorful, whirled in a Perlini device for a delicate fizz that curls up on the roof of your mouth like a cat settling onto a sunny windowsill.

Jeff Trevino, LARK on the Park
This time around, Johnnie gets the Last Word.
  1. JOHNNIE’S WORD (Jeff Trevino, LARK on the Park)

Johnnie Walker Triple Grain Blended Scotch, Yellow Chartreuse, apricot liqueur, lemon

For a time, LARK drifted into a bit of a tailspin, but with Trevino at the helm, the drinks, at least, have regained their footing. This was the finest of his new additions to the menu, a play on the Last Word – a classic which, full disclosure, I adore – that drinks like candied apricot in a glass. Trevino says when he first tasted the fruity, spicy notes in this American-oak-aged whiskey, part of Johnnie Walker’s Blenders’ Batch series, “I immediately thought of apricot,” he said. “We didn’t have anything on the menu that was like a Last Word, so I built it that way.” With whiskey standing in for gin, lemon for lime, Yellow Chartreuse for Green and apricot liqueur for maraschino, it’s a handsome, honey-gold humdinger with bold autumn flair.

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Aged and consumed: Vintage and small-batch spirits can be a real gift

Tales of the Cocktail 2017
When the genie in the bottle hasn’t been loosed for a quarter-century, everybody wants a piece. The pouring of a 25-year-old bottle of Mandarin Napoleon, at Tales of the Cocktail 2017.

NEW ORLEANS – The oversized bottle of Mandarine Napoleon, perched atop a pedestal, had gone unopened for 25 years when it arrived at New Orleans’ Napoleon House in July. Here, ambassadors of Belgium-based Mandarine Napoleon had chosen Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry’s largest annual gathering, to unveil a taste a quarter-century in the making. Because some things, you know, are worth waiting for.

Tales of the Cocktail 2017
The unveiling took place on the second floor at New Orleans’ Napoleon House.

Nearly 200 years ago, New Orleans’ mayor had offered this French Quarter residence as a refuge to exile-threatened General Napoleon; hence the name of the classic bar downstairs. Now, a small crowd swirled and sipped cocktails in anticipation of this unique aged offering of Napoleon’s treasured blend of cognac and mandarin orange liqueur.

At last, the cork was loosed and glasses were filled, in carefully measured amounts. The notes of sweet orange were exquisite – and the coterie cooed in excitement, aware that the experience was both rare and unrepeatable.

**

rare vintage spirits
Priced at $30,000, only 74 bottles of Bowmore’s limited-edition bottling exist — and they come in a really cool box.

With Christmas just around the corner, makers of rare and vintage spirits are pimping their wares with the subtlety of Paul Revere on his midnight ride. But while few have the bling to splurge on these liquid unicorns– say, one of just 74 bottles of Bowmore 1966 Scotch (priced at $30,000) or even a more fathomable $400 bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label “Ghost and Rare” – last summer’s Tales festival offered the chance to try a few gems that would be soon available to the general public.

Along with the 25-year-old Mandarin Napoleon, there were vintage releases from London-based Last Drop Distillers – which, despite the name, is not actually a distillery. “We describe ourselves as the antique dealers of the spirits world,” said joint managing director Beanie Espey.

TOTC 2017
Last Drop’s Beanie Espey displays a mini bottle of the precious liquid at Galatoire’s.

The intimate lunch tasting unfurled on the lively second floor of iconic French Quarter restaurant Galatoire’s, where Espey had brought along Last Drop’s two most recent releases, keeping them carefully at hand like a femme from a Bond film ferrying a briefcase full of jewels.

A decade ago, Espey’s father James and his business partner Tom Jago – creators of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Malibu Rum – realized there were prize liquids out there going unenjoyed, the forgotten or neglected creations of quality distilleries willing to pass them on to others for proper care. The two formed Last Drop Distillers to gather what rare rosebuds they could. “These whiskeys really shouldn’t exist,” Espey said. “They’re all happy accidents.”

TOTC 2017
A pour of Last Drop’s 1971 Blended Scotch. The company describes itself as the antique dealer of the spirits world.

In nine years, the company has launched six products, producing an exclusive 5,000 bottles presented in leather cases complete with a Last-Drop-monogrammed cork stopper. “We want to curate and collect the world’s finest spirits,” Espey said – and not just Scotch, either; cognac, rum and fortified wine are all in the works or under consideration.

As a dapper old gent marked his birthday a few tables away flanked by cackling ladies in fine hats, Espey poured a sample of Last Drop’s 50-year-old “double-matured” Scotch whisky, released in 2015. A blend of more than 50 malt and grain whiskies, the batch had been first aged in bourbon casks, intended to be marketed in Asia as a 30-year-old whisky. A portion, however, lived on to be transferred to oloroso sherry casks for two decades, forgotten in the Scottish lowlands – and then rediscovered, Last Drop says, at just the right moment for bottling.

TOTC 2017
Last Drop’s 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky was named Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year in Jim Murray’s 2017 Whisky Bible.

Only 898 bottles had been produced, and few remain available; before us sat bottle No. 193. The 50-year-old whisky still packed a firm handshake, with notes of autumn fruit and spice.

Espey then gingerly poured a dollop of last year’s highly acclaimed release, Last Drop’s triple-distilled, 45-year-old 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky ($3,999), named Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year by Jim Murray in his 2017 Whisky Bible and still available at select retailers. The allotments were generous considering the bottles’ price tags, making them worthwhile gift splurges for big spenders. “That’s a hundred dollars in that glass,” Espey said.

Having first been aged in bourbon casks for 12 years, the blend had been moved to sherry casks for nine years before being returned to bourbon casks for 24 more restful years. Slightly nutty and fruity on the nose, its taste was smoky and subtle, with notes of dried apricot. “It’s a very classic 1970s blend,” Espey said. “It’s quieter, but it wins you over. It’s quite charming.”

Next up for Last Drop? A nearly 150-year-old Tawny Port.

Hennessy, TOTC 2017
Hennessy’s master of distillation, Olivier Paultes, describes the single-batch project to attendees at Tales of the Cocktail 2017.

A day earlier, a few dozen attendees had gathered in the naturally lit back room of Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights, a 72-year-old French Quarter fixture, for a preview of Hennessy’s Master Blend No. 2, a limited U.S.-only offering ($75 at Total Wine; also available at other retailers) that finally hit shelves in late October.

Renowned cognac authority Olivier Paultes, the brand’s 53-year-old director of distillation, explained how more than a decade ago, Hennessey launched the single-batch project in which eaux de vies, or unaged grape distillates, are aged 18 months in young French oak barrels before being moved to older ones — for a total aging of at least 10 years.

TOTC 2017
Hennessy’s Master’s Blend No. 2 is the second in a single-batch series initiated by the brand’s former master blender, Yann Fillioux.

Along the way, the barrels are moved to damp or dry cellars, depending on the desired effect; each blend is bottled only when and if Hennessy feels it has something interesting to say, introduced to the world when deemed worthy.  The wonderfully spicy Master’s Blend No. 1, released in 2016, was a blend of between 80 and 100  eaux de vies between 5 and 15 years old.

“Maybe (a particular blend) doesn’t have the profile of (traditional) Hennessy, but it has its own worthwhile notes,” said Jordan Bushell , the brand’s national ambassador. “Maybe we don’t do it one year. It’s all based on the grapes and how they speak to us. If they don’t tell an interesting story, there’s no point making a blend.”

Luckily for those gathered at Bevolo, Hennessy had indeed chosen to issue the series’ second release. Barely a handful of humans had sampled the Master’s Blend No. 2 before our group, only one of them unconnected to Hennessy. The 86-proof blend veered rye-like, spicy and bold and velvety, with notes of pepper, clove, nutmeg and licorice combining for an extended finish. An elixir made for sipping neat or on the rocks, the cognac is sold in a gorgeous, artist-designed bottle.

Josh Hendrix
Dallas’ Josh Hendrix describes the Master’s Blend No. 2 as “history in a bottle.”

And once they’re gone, they’re gone. “You will never taste it again,” said Paultes, who became the youngest master blender in France when he was just 25. Or as Josh Hendrix, a Dallas-based Hennessy rep, puts it: “This is history in a bottle.”

Bushell, the brand’s national ambassador, said the single-batch project offers “freedom, in a way, to create something that’s just… a taste of the moment. And to not have to recreate it again. There’s that freedom of expression to show off cognac in a different way. It’s all about the celebration of the moment.”

At a time offering plenty of celebratory moments, it might be worth adding one of these sippers to your own collection – or wrapping one up to pass along the love.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Last Drop Distillery’s co-founder, James Espey, as David Espey.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Fall is here, but it still feels like summer. Here are some cocktails to help with that.

Yes, it might be fall, but summer don’t care. It’s decided to linger around North Texas and deliver one last beatdown, with temps in the mid-90s until early next week.

You don’t have to sit there and take it. Because when life hands you lemons, you make Sidecars, and when it hands you unbearably hot weather, you’re going to fight back with cool, refreshing cocktails.

Here are six drinks you should enjoy before autumn finally sets in.

BIG STICK MOJITO, The Theodore, NorthPark Center

Hugo Osorio, The Theodore
At The Theodore, Hugo Osorio’s Big Stick Mojito is nothing to speak softly about.

First of all, just look at this. This is a gorgeous drink. And the Big Stick Mojito – the “big stick” a reference to the famous “speak softly” quote from the president this NorthPark Center restaurant is named for – is as fun and delicious as it appears, a visual feast of green, white and red from bartender Hugo Osorio.

This mojito sweetened with tropical pineapple features a brilliant raspberry coulis that rests at the bottom of the glass, perfect for slurping through a straw while simultaneously offering balance in taste and texture.

“We wanted this cocktail to be super approachable,” says Kyle Hilla, bar director for Turn The Tables Hospitality, the group behind The Theodore as well as Bolsa, Smoke and other restaurants. “And on top of that, we wanted something incredibly stunning to look at.”

Mission accomplished, sirs.

RASPBERRY-WATERMELON FREEZE, Fat Chicken, Trinity Groves

Stephen Halpin, Fat Chicken
When it’s hot outside, your body naturally craves snow cones. It’s science.

You’re probably not surprised to see a snow cone on the list. When it’s hot out, your body naturally craves snow cones. It’s science.

However, you may be surprised to know this snow cone comes from Fat Chicken, the fried chicken joint at Trinity Groves. One of a trio of frozen drinks designed by Stephen Halpin, global mixologist for Patron tequila, the Raspberry-Watermelon Freeze is summery and fruity with a bit of DIY mischief: The mix of Patron silver, watermelon and lemon juices and muddled raspberries is presented in a small carafe that you get to pour into the heaping glass of Hawaiian shaved ice presented alongside. (Though I’d recommend first using your straw to dig out a shaft into which the liquid can descend so it doesn’t end up all over your table.)

“I wasn’t sure when I got here if people would want to drink their drinks out of a snow cone,” says manager Christopher Garrison. “But they love it.”

MEET YOUR MATCHA, Yayoi, Plano

Lyndsy Rausch, Yayoi, Plano
Shochu: It’s big in Japan.

When Lyndsy Rausch took over the bar program at Yayoi in Plano, shochu – the featured spirit at Japanese izakayas – was a natural starting point. “Adding matcha to it was really the first thing that came to mind,” she said, “because I wanted something earthy to match the complex flavors in shochu.”

A low-proof liquor distilled from rice, barley or sweet potatoes, shochu likewise is earthy; Rausch paired Iwai barley-based shochu with matcha powder, added citrus-y yuzu and mint to cut the bitterness, and topped it off with club soda. The result is radiantly green and highly drinkable, a liquid hammock to lay your thirst in when temperatures climb.

FROZEN GIN AND TONIC, Harlowe, Deep Ellum

Harlowe, Deep Ellum
This is probably why Billy Joel wrote the lyric “makin’ love to his tonic and gin.”

It’s got gin.

It’s got tonic.

And it’s frozen.

There’s much to like about Deep Ellum newcomer Harlowe, including the brunch-time lobster waffle and an expansive rooftop bar, but the simplicity of the Frozen Gin and Tonic is nothing short of genius on a 90-degree day. With nothing but a bit of star anise stranded atop the blindingly bright tundra of its surface, it’s a stone-cold certain way to punk that nasty summer-like warmth.

DUE SOUTH, Parliament, Uptown

Jeremy Koeninger, Parliament
If you’re wondering how to cool off in Uptown, I will point you Due South. (Photo by SungJoon Bruce Koo)

Another way to beat the heat is to fight fire with fire. At Parliament, bartender Jeremy Koeninger’s Due South puts a Texas spin on the tropical Painkiller, adding jalapeno to the tiki staples of rum, coconut and pineapple with a dash of orange and nutmeg.  “Being from Texas, I like the combination of spicy and sweet,” he says.

Presented with a jalapeno coin atop the foam, Due South is a terrific hot-weather refresher, showcasing creamy pineapple, cool citrus, peppery heat and a nutty finish. (I’m always surprised at how well coconut and jalapeno pair up, which is probably the one reason I never get tired of watching Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in Lost In Translation.)

The name of the drink, Koeninger says, refers partly to the happy coincidence that any south-of the-border spirit – except for cachaca – works in the drink; pisco, in particular, is excellent.

ABSINTHE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER, The Cedars Social, The Cedars

The Cedars Social
If you’re both in need of refreshment and absinthe-minded, this drink is for you.

It might be hard to imagine absinthe as the basis of a soothing refresher, because unlike shochu, it’s notoriously anything but low proof. The Cedars Social’s Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder is a drink to ease the pain of a sweltering summer night, or a starry starry night, or in this case, an autumn night that still feels like summer.

Copper & Kings’ 130-proof absinthe is the star of this show, backed by a remarkable pecan-based orgeat and a chorus of soda. A fortifying fusion of licorice and pecan, it’ll almost make you wish the hot weather would linger a while longer. Almost.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Massive charity pop-up back for sixth time to help hospitalized kids

The Ultimate Cocktail Experience, coming soon to a Klyde Warren Park near you. (Photo by Don Mamone)

Oh, Cocktails for a Cause. My, how you’ve grown.

Four years ago, the annual, bar-industry-driven fundraiser for Triggers’s Toys was a modest Christmas-season party at The Standard Pour, with 50 bartenders in Santa hats raining cocktails upon their mirthful elf minions. These days… well, look at it: Repositioned in the expansive savanna of Klyde Warren Park, this benefit behemoth, now dubbed the Ultimate Cocktail Experience, last year raised more than $200,000 and aims to exceed that this time around. Naturally.

The 2017 version of the Ultimate Cocktail Experience is set to go down on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 6:30 to 10 p.m.  There will be food trucks and a charity casino area. Tickets, which range from $65 to $125 for VIP status, are available here. Or you can get your tickets for $80 at the door.

This big boy pop-up is the brainchild of Bryan Townsend, vice president and sales director for spirits producer The 86 Co., who a decade ago was a corporate wonk who didn’t like his job very much. In 2008, he left his job and began to focus on other things – including his dog, Trigger.

One day he was a Grapevine hospital with his newly trained dog when he met a nurse distressed about a young girl who’d been in therapy for a year, unable to socialize with others. Townsend suggested that maybe the girl would like to give Trigger a treat.

The girl did, and Townsend wondered if she might follow the dog through one of the hospital’s children’s ward play tunnels. Then that happened too. The nurse retrieved the girl’s mother. “It was the first time she’d ever crawled,” Townsend remembered.

Inspired by the experience, Townsend launched Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit that provides toys, therapy aids and financial assistance to hospitalized kids and their families. That’s the organization at the heart of the revelry that now includes bartenders, brand reps and spirits distributors from Texas and beyond who come to lend their shaking, stirring hands.

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

Recast as a global throwdown, the Ultimate Cocktail Experience puts forward six unique bar “concepts,” each representing a different part of the world with drinks to match. This year’s showcased locales are Mexico City, London, New Orleans, Hong Kong, Havana and Casablanca, and each station’s drink lineup will include a classic drink and a non-alcoholic selection.

In the mix this year are bartenders Ash Hauserman of New York’s Havana-themed Blacktail, named Best New American Bar at this summer’s Tales of the Cocktail festival, and Iain Griffiths of London’s Dandelyan, which won the honor of the world’s best cocktail bar.

This year’s teams, classic drinks and team captains are as follows:

  • Casablanca (Mule): captain Andrew Stofko (Hot Joy, Uptown)
  • Havana (Daiquiri): captain Ravinder Singh (Rapscallion, Lower Greenville)
  • Hong Kong (Rob Roy): captain Robbie Call (most recently of Filament, Deep Ellum)
  • London (Gin & Tonic): captain Omar Yeefon (Shoals Sound & Service, Deep Ellum)
  • Mexico City (Margarita): captains Brad Hensarling (The Usual, Fort Worth) and Megan McClinton (Thompson’s, Fort Worth)
  • New Orleans (Sazerac): captain Keisha Cooper (Shoals Sound & Service, Deep Ellum)

For more information about Trigger’s Toys or to donate, visit www.triggerstoys.org.

What you should be drinking now: Midnight Rambler’s magnificent tiki mashup

 

Chad Solomon, Midnight Rambler
The Tiger Style is a blast of creamy orange spice, among a stellar lineup described as “gritty tiki.”

Ever since it burst onto the scene nearly two years ago, Midnight Rambler has regularly offered up one of the more ambitious cocktail rotations in Dallas. That can be largely credited to co-owner Chad Solomon, the New York City-trained bartender – and veteran of such places as the famed Milk & Honey and Pegu Club – whose bold and borderline geeky creations are always thoughtfully composed, conceived and curated.

Rambler’s glorious setting, in the lower level of the Joule Hotel, is stunning, and while I wasn’t blown away by the bar’s inaugural drink menu, Solomon’s lineups have proved increasingly sublime with each seasonal reboot.

Chad Solomon, Midnight Rambler
Despite its delicate looks, the Neon Lilikoi is a passionfruit thundercat waiting to pounce.

The current summer lineup is his best yet: It lassoes the ongoing tiki trend and wrenches it into dark and adventurous places, infusing the genre’s cheery Asian South Sea island vibe with hard edges and soulful energy tracing the global Ring of Fire and beyond.

“It’s a gritty tiki,” Solomon says. “We wanted to do something more global, with tropical regions around the world touched by colonialism, man-eating animals and African rhythms.”

In other words, this ain’t your daddy’s Mai Tai. This is dark spice and jungle heat fueled by a soundtrack of steel drums and surf guitars. Take the Samoan War Club, a mix of aged spiced Jamaican rum, agricole rum, West Indian bay leaf, lime sugar oil and the lime-almond influence of falernum, sweetened up with a rich syrup made from gula jawa. Made from coconut sap, it’s one of the world’s oldest sugars, Solomon says, with “sort of a meaty umami-ness.” The drink is also the menu’s most “woodsy,” making up for the absence of any whiskey cocktail in the lineup.

Chad Solomon, Midnight Rambler
The lingering taste of poblano puts a hellfire finish on the Purgatory Lost.

The Purgatory Lost is another standout, incorporating poblano for an appropriately hot finish; so, too is the Neon Lilikoi, a radiantly presented blended-Scotch beaut whose passionfruit rush is held in check with a hint of black cardamom tincture. While Asian flavors — criminally underused in cocktails — are prominent, as in the Savory Hunter, which incorporates lemongrass, cilantro and Thai chili, there are also nods to South America, Africa and the coffee-growing regions of Hawaii.

Make the rich Grasshopper-inspired Komodo Dragon your last drink of the night; its traditional mix of minty Fernet Menta and cacao is supplemented not with heavy cream but with coconut milk and a syrup made from tantalizingly sweet Southeast Asian pandan leaf.

But my favorite of the bunch is the Tiger Style, built on a platform of Batavia Arrack, a rum-like, sugar-cane-based spirit from Southeast Asia. Featuring calamansi (an acidic blend of citrus and kumquat), rich palm sugar, Indonesian black pepper tincture, egg white and earthy cassia spritzed atop a dehydrated lime, it’s a triumph of creamy orange spice dashed with a hint of Fireball cologne.

Co-owner, Midnight Rambler
Solomon on a rare night of bar duty, pouring Tiger Style.

“It was, like, how do we put Indonesia and the Philippines into a glass?” Solomon says. “The more you drink it, the more your lips tingle.”

It’s a hefty, not dainty, drink, a psychedelic Snickerdoodle – or at least that’s what my quivering fingers wrote as I pearl-dove into the cocktail’s delicious depths.

“It takes you into the exotic,” Solomon says, “and intentionally so.”

Wild things, you make my heart sing.

Saturday’s Off to the FARM: Cultivating cocktails and cuisine for a good cause

Caledonia Spirits
Farm-fresh-minded Amber West, in her days at Central 214, will be back behind the bar at Saturday’s benefit event.

It’s been way too long since the vivacious Amber West has loosed her earthy mixology mettle upon the world, but that’s all going to change on Saturday with Off To The FARM, an epicurean event benefitting Project Transformation, an education-oriented agency serving low-income kids throughout North Texas.

There will be goats. And aquaponics. And hors d’oeuvres from chefs like Hibiscus’ Graham Dodds, Garden Café’s Mark Wootten and Adam West of The Porch. And of course, drinks from Amber West, whose talents once shone behind the bar at Central 214 (where Dodds was chef) before she took a job as Texas rep for Vermont-based Caledonia Spirits.

Off to the FARM runs from 2 to 6 pm Saturday at 314 W. Belt Line in Desoto, just outside of Oak Cliff. The farm facility houses both FARM (Farmers Assisting Returning Military) and Eat The Yard.

Project Transformation, a non-profit education organization offering after-school and summer programs to low-income youth, is putting on the event in partnership with FARM. Participating chefs will create their hors d’oeuvres using the farm’s locally grown produce, and it’s a fair bet that Amber’s cocktails will include some of that fresh stuff, too: As bar manager at Central 214, she had a particular knack – and an undeniable passion – for highlighting seasonal fruits of the land in her cocktails. But then Caledonia stole her away, and then she became even busier still, taking time off to have her second daughter, Sage.

“I’ve supported Project Transformation for the last three years,” she says. “Being a mom, my heart just went out to these kids who don’t have anywhere to go after school. This really saves them from being on the streets.”

This drink at Central 214 benefits literacy programs. Get over there immediately and order one.
Some of West’s previous handiwork, this one for a 2013 Derby Day event.

And with part of Project Transformation’s curriculum including cooking and gardening workshops, she was sold.

West’s cocktails will celebrate springtime and complement the event’s Southern-style menu. And of course, they’ll feature Caledonia’s honey-kissed Barr Hill Gin. And probably herbs and honeysuckle too.

All proceeds will benefit Project Transformation. Tickets for the all-inclusive event are $35 in advance or $40 at the door and can be purchased here. More information is available here.

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.

The funnest way to help veterans grow organic produce involves pumpkins and cocktails

Caledonia Spirits
Sweet on you: Caledonia incorporates raw honey into its distillation process.

It’s pumpkin-carving season and as long as you’re going to handle a big knife, you may as well do it with cocktails – and for a good cause, besides.

Fort Worth’s Pacific Table is teaming up with Caledonia Spirits to host a Halloween-themed happy hour and pumpkin-carving contest to benefit veteran-based farming programs, including Dallas’ Eat The Yard, a veteran-owned urban farm that I profiled in The Dallas Morning News last year.

The Oct. 30 event runs from 5:30 to 7:30, with $6 Halloween-y libations from bartender Maria Ortiz showcasing Caledonia’s Barr Hill vodka, gin and barrel-aged gin – for instance, the Pumpkin On A Hill, with vodka and house-made pumpkin-spice syrup. Vermont-based Caledonia, which made its Texas debut six months ago, incorporates raw honey in its distillation process.

For $12, you’ll get a pumpkin and carving tools — with a cocktail included. Or bring your own pumpkin and pay just $6 to enter the contest. (Prizes include dinner for two at the Pacific Northwest-themed restaurant.) Not into carving? Just come and enjoy the spectacle along with $6 cocktails — and maybe drop a little donation in the “Cash-O-Lantern.” So many options: The world is your pumpkin.

Reservations and Halloween costumes are encouraged but not required.

Oak Cliff-based Eat the Yard is a veteran-run urban farm that uses commercial properties, residential properties, community gardens and the occasional rooftop to sustainably grow organic produce.

PACIFIC TABLE, 1600 S. University #601, Fort Worth. 817-887-9995.

Standard Pork: Uptown cocktail bar celebrates spring with a roast-pig luau

The Standard Pour
The Standard Pour makes some tropic thunder this weekend. (Image courtesy of The Standard Pour)

Spring: A time of renewal, of singing birds and blooming flowers, of tiki drinks and roasting pigs.

Yes, it’s spring luau time, and if you need any more explanation than that, here’s Brian McCullough.

“We just wanted to do something fun and cook a pig,” said McCullough, co-founder of The Standard Pour in Uptown. “It’s springtime and we figured this would be fun.”

And there you have it.  The party begins at 6 pm Sunday, April 27. There will be $5 drink specials. If you need more encouragement than that, I can’t help you.

THE STANDARD POUR, 2900 McKinney Ave., Dallas. 214-935-1370.