Tag Archives: Chris Dempsey

Ever tried pisco? Cocktail event Monday gives you a dozen ways to try

If February's Pisco Sour competition offers any clues, you're in for a treat Monday.
If February’s Pisco Sour competition offers any clues, you’re in for a treat Monday. 

The Pisco Mercenaries want your love. More to the point, they want you to learn to love pisco, the national spirit of Peru – so much so that they’ve put aside their differences in pursuit of that higher goal.

On Monday, you’ll have a chance to see what eight local bartenders can do with the light-colored brandy when the group holds its second pisco cocktail competition at Dallas’ Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The Pisco Mercenaries are four Peruvian-born gents: Neighborhood Services’ Ivan Rimach; Daniel Guillen and brother Armando, most recently of Parliament and The Standard Pour; and food and beverage consultant Pablo Valqui. They represent four pisco brands eyeing major inroads in the U.S., a market even the Peruvian government supports going after. But rather than fight each other for market share, the brands are joining forces to raise pisco’s profile as a whole.

Queirolo and Intipalka will be among the pisco brands represented at Monday's competition.
Queirolo and Intipalka will be among the pisco brands represented at Monday’s competition.

Through this ongoing series of competitions, they hope to demonstrate pisco’s versatility and earn it a place on bartenders’ shelves. “This is our way of introducing it to the U.S. market and showing there’s way more things you can do with it,” says pisco mercenary Armando Guillen, who is on his way to London after a stint as bar manager at Uptown’s Standard Pour.

The group held a Pisco Sour competition at the Westin Park Central in February. Monday’s contest, set for 6 p.m. at Dallas’ Crowne Plaza Hotel, will feature variations on the classic Pisco Punch. In addition to their cocktails, bartenders will be judged on presentation, use of Peruvian ingredients and the stories behind their concoctions.

The classic Pisco Punch came to life during the go-for-broke days of the Gold Rush in San Francisco, where pisco shipments arrived on South American cargo ships that regularly posted up in the Bay, as author Guillermo Toro-Liro has noted. That made pisco easier to get at the time than whiskey, which had to be brought in by wagon from the Eastern U.S.

Tim Newtown of Henry's Majestic pours his chirimoya-inflected drink at February's event.
Tim Newtown of Henry’s Majestic pours his chirimoya-inflected drink at February’s event.

No one knows for sure exactly what comprised Duncan Nicol’s recipe that rose to popularity at San Francisco’s Bank Exchange Saloon, but today it’s evolved as a tropical blend of pisco, pineapple, citrus and sweetener. A supposed secret ingredient, which may or may not have been cocaine, has been lost to the ages – but for that reason, it’s an openly malleable cocktail.

Monday’s competitors include Andres Zevallos of Rapscallion; Ricky Cleva of Henry’s Majestic; Chris Dempsey of the Four Seasons; Jorge Herrera of The Standard Pour; Ryan Kinkade of TBD; Justin Payne of The Theodore; Cody Riggs of The Mitchell; and Chad Yarbrough of Armoury D.E.

The winners of Monday’s contest – both a judges’ and a people’s choice – will win cash and the chance to compete in a fifth and final round planned for November. That winner will be on his or her way to Peru, which according to Pisco Porton rep Michael Turley boasts 300 distilleries and 471 registered brands – the most popular of them being Queirolo, the one you’ll find even at Peruvian gas stations.

If the February competition is any indication, you’ll be in for a treat: That event offered the chance to sample various piscos on their own or in mini-versions of the competing cocktails, and to crown a people’s choice winner.

Each competing bartender made mini versions of their drinks for attendees.
Each competing bartender made mini versions of their drinks for attendees.

Tim Newtown, of Henry’s Majestic, employed chirimoya, a Peruvian highlands fruit, in his cocktail, while Quill’s James Slater tipped his cap to Peru’s Japanese influences with additions of sencha tea and yuzu citrus.

Ida Claire’s Alexandrea Rivera dropped a hint of Malbec into her pisco drink, while Parliament’s Drew Garison accented his concoction with muddled grapes and a ginger-saffron marmalade.

In the end, though, it was Bolsa’s bar manager Spencer Shelton who the judges crowned winner. (Full disclosure: I was among the panel.) Shelton’s garden-fresh “Cease Fire,” made with mellow-earthy Cuatro Gallos quebranta pisco and a bit of the Italian bitter liqueur Cynar, included lemon, bell pepper, fennel, dill, Peruvian yellow chili pepper and Peruvian olive brine. Or as he described it: “Peruvian cuisine in a cocktail.”

Shelton Spencer, Bolsa
Spencer Shelton’s winning cocktail at February’s contest, the Cease Fire.

Unlike most, Shelton skipped the drink’s signature egg white, which provides lightness and a silky texture. That’s where the olive brine came in: “The brine adds viscosity and mouthfeel,” he explained. An olive branch garnish added the final touch, signifying the unity of the four pisco brands; he served it with tapenade and plantain chips.

Peruvian yellow pepper and olive brine? That brought a smile to pisco mercenary Rimach, who dreams of a day when pisco is a staple spirit behind the bar along with gin and whiskey and vodka and rum. The Pisco Mercenaries partnership, he hopes, is just the start.

“When you have more variety, it’s easier for people to understand and enjoy something,” Rimach says. “We’re trying to create a whole new category.”

Enjoy craft drinks, help make kids’ wishes come true at Sunday’s Cocktails For A Cause

Cocktails for a Cause: And a good one, at that.
Cocktails for a Cause: And a good one, at that.

It’s holiday season, and that means you’ve added a few more things on your to-do list.

  1. Give to charity
  2. Have a holiday cocktail or two

Well,  joy to your world: Now’s your chance to do both at once at the second annual Cocktails For A Cause, happening this Sunday at The Standard Pour in Uptown from 6 p.m. until close.  The evening’s “ultimate pop-up bar” will feature $10 cocktails made by a rotating, ridiculously rife assortment of local bartenders, with all proceeds going toward Trigger’s Toys, a charity benefiting hospitalized children.

The cool thing, says charity founder Bryan Townsend – who named the organization after his golden Lab – is that bartenders have been clamoring to join in on the reindeer games. “It’s been overwhelming, the response,” he says. “People were actually really upset that they missed out last year.”

And not just because they might have missed the inaugural event’s spectacle of bar man extraordinaire Michael Martensen in a Santa suit: No, this is a chance to help make children’s wishes come true, to help create awwwww moments like the night when Townsend and his pals get to deliver a truckload of toys to kids Baylor Medical Center. “My favorite night of the year,” Townsend says.

Last year’s event, which Townsend coordinated along with Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough and Sean Conner of Whiskey Cake in Plano, raised $17,000. He’s hoping that Sunday’s event, combined with what sponsors have already donated, will raise as much as $50,000 to help fund the charity’s efforts in the coming year.

And so, 45 of your favorite drink crafters will be taking turns behind the bar, which as you might guess is just about every bartender in Whoville. In addition to Conner, McCullough and Martensen, the lineup includes Abacus’ Lucky Campbell, Alex Fletcher and Chris Dempsey of Victor Tango’s, Central 214’s Amber West, Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla, Bonnie Wilson of The Ranch at Las Colinas, Windmill’s Charlie Papaceno, a smattering of bar peeps from Fort Worth’s The Usual – the list goes on and you’ll be checking it twice to make sure you’re not just seeing things.

At Standard Pour
Brian McCullough, Mike Martensen and Charlie Papaceno will be among the all-star lineup at Sunday’s event.

“It gives us a chance to get together and have some fun and not compete,” Conner says. “To just throw out some really good drinks and raise money for the less fortunate around holiday time.”

They have fun. You drink craft cocktails from an all-star lineup of bartenders. Children’s wishes come true. Everybody wins.

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


Sending out a yes-oh-yes: Manhattans in a bottle


At Bowl & Barrel, the Manhattans go right from the bottle into your glass.
At Bowl & Barrel, the Manhattans go right from the bottle into your glass.

I’m the kind of guy who goes into a place and sits at the bar. I appreciate the interaction with the bartender, seeing the way he or she practices the craft, knowing that the drink I’ve ordered is being made just for me. That personal attention, and the work that goes into it, is part of the experience.

That’s why I’ve been reluctant to embrace the idea of bottled cocktails, and Francisco Terrazas, who manages the bar program at Austin’s Fino, knows my pain. The idea of pre-made batches of drinks theoretically annoyed him, even though he knew it was a trend — one that actually dates to the early 1900s — that would come sooner or later as Austin bartenders began looking for innovations.

Terrazas grappled with the idea until one day he began to see it in a new light. He’s how he puts it: When you buy clothes, you generally don’t expect to have the fit exactly right or know who made your outfit; you just grab something off the rack. If you want it just so, you go to a tailor.

Bartenders are the tailors of the drinking world. “If someone really wants a drink tailored to their specifications, they’re going to go sit at the bar,” he says. “Meanwhile, people on the dinner floor might want a good drink, but they’re willing to sacrifice a bit of the experience.”

And though it’s not something he’s tried yet, he realizes that for bartenders, it’s a good way to produce quality drinks more efficiently.

Two of the bottled cocktails available at The People's Last Stand
Two of the bottled cocktails at The People’s Last Stand: A Time Bomb and a Harvey Wallbanger.

That’s the idea at The People’s Last Stand in Dallas, where bartender Chris Dempsey says the three cocktails produced daily have been selling well.

By the time I and a friend showed up late Saturday, the bottled Dark and Stormy’s were already sold out. Instead we tried the Harvey Wallbanger and something called a Time Bomb: Each was $7 and came in an old-fashioned-style soda bottle; drinking it reminded me of drinking fruity pop as a kid. Though I missed the ice shards that lusciously grace the first sips of a freshly made drink, each went down smooth, maybe too much so.

“I’m partial to this,” my friend said, indicating the Harvey Wallbanger (vodka, Galliano and OJ). “But I think it could be dangerous. It kinda reminds me of a wine cooler.”

But People’s thinks it’s on to something. “The fact that they sell out every day says something,” bartender Anthony Polo said.

I protested, citing my desire to know a bartender had made something just for me.

“But in a sense, I did,” Polo said.

Bottled cocktails are a practice that date back to the early 1900s
The practice of bottling cocktails dates to the early 1900s.

Meanwhile, over at Bowl & Barrel, Ian Reilly is offering Manhattans and other cocktails in barrel-aged-and-bottled form.

It’s something the bar, owned by Free Range Concepts, plans to make a staple in coming months. As Reilly tells it, Josh Sepkowitz of Free Range Concepts, which owns Bowl & Barrel, called him over one day to see what he knew about barrel-aged cocktails, a practice that has gained steam over the last couple of years. (As far as I know, it was Sean Conner, of Plano’s Whiskey Cake, who first tried it around here, and since then several others have given it a whirl, pre-batching Negronis and Tridents and more.)

Barrel-aging cocktails can alter their character by infusing oak and/or other flavors into the drink; the process can also soften the sting of strong flavors; the barrel-aged Negroni I had at Whiskey Cake had a mellowness that enhanced the drink without reducing its charm.

As it turned out, Reilly did know a thing or two about barrel-aging, and he knew that not only could the practice affect taste, it could also promote efficiency on crowded bar nights. He was also able to get his hands on some stylin’ clear bottles, as well as someone able to etch them with the Bowl & Barrel logo. Everything fell into place.

He decided on the classic Manhattan as his first cocktail, one that would appease his Old-Fashioned-leaning customers with its mix of rye whiskey, bitters and sweet vermouth. (Cocktails without natural products that can go bad, like citrus, are preferable when barrel aging.) He then added two others – the white-whiskey-based Slow Hand and the Lucien Gaudin, a cocktail that Reilly named after a fencer when he himself worked at The People’s Last Stand; it features gin, Cointreau, Campari and dry vermouth. “It’s somewhere between a Boulevardier and a Martinez,” he says.

A fourth cocktail is on the way. So far Reilly has produced 31 liters worth of pre-batched cocktails, and he’s working on another 26. “We want to have the shelves lined with product ready to go,” he says.

Since launching a week ago, he’s sold nine or 10 bottles’ worth of cocktails in all. The mixtures have been bottled, sealed with wax and stored in the freezer behind the bar. Order a Manhattan and it’ll show up in a fluted martini glass. “You pour four ounces and put a maraschino cherry in there and you’re ready,” Reilly says. Speed.

Bowl and Barrel's Manhattans. Bottled cocktails offer quick service for customers and efficiency for bartenders.
Bowl and Barrel’s Manhattans. Bottled cocktails offer quick service for customers and efficiency for bartenders.

The drinks are $10 apiece, and a group can spring for a whole bottle at $75. Last week, I and some friends took the Manhattan plunge even if the hot June weather didn’t exactly make us pine for dark spirits. The verdict was largely positive, though the fluted glass took me by surprise; I also missed the feeling of knowing the bartender was behind the bar making a drink just for me.

Had I been there on a packed night, well into my evening with service markedly slowed, I would have had a much different reaction: happy to get my perfectly fine and chilled Manhattan while others around me growled and waited for their craft cocktails to be made, giving me the evil eye while I preened with Brad Pitt-celebrity satisfaction and — well, now I’m getting carried away.

Reilly, too, has gotten carried away, and for that you might be grateful. Share in the experiment: He’s got a fancy algorithm “that a much smarter friend” made for him, telling him how long each batch has to sit in each differently-sized barrel to achieve his desired result. A three-liter barrel might correctly age in a month, for instance, but a 10-liter one might take more than twice that long. He’ll test them along the way.

“It’s fun,” Reilly says. “I get to be the cellar master here. When I bottle everything, I’ll imagine I’m some guy in Cognac…. I don’t have millions of dollars for a still, so this is the next best thing.”

THE PEOPLE’S LAST STAND, 5319 E. Mockingbird Lane #210, Dallas. 214-370-8755

BOWL AND BARREL, 8084 Park Lane #145, Dallas. Phone: 214-363-2695