We all know that the people who make your cocktails can be right up there with your doctor, your shrink, your spiritual leader and your favorite podcast host when it comes to simple week-to-week survival. Sometimes they’re kind of all of those things rolled into one, except that they can also knock out a good drink – which might make them the most important people of all.
So when the best of them move on to new places, you want to know. Here’s a roundup of some of Dallas’ craft-cocktail peeps who’ve found new digs.
If you haven’t seen Eddie Eakin mixing things up at Bishop Arts’ Boulevardier lately, it’s for good reason: The buff barman has been busy readying beverage operations at soon-to-open Rapscallion, the new Lower Greenville venture from the folks behind Boulevardier.
With Eakin at the helm and one wall pretty much entirely devoted to bar space and storage, you know it’s going to be serious.
In Eakin’s absence, former Meddlesome Moth mixmaster Austin Millspaugh has stepped in to fill the void. The man who once incorporated foie gras into a cocktail is now overseeing Boulevardier’s bar program and is already in full tinker mode; if your tastes lean toward bitter, try his smoked Negroni with Fernet, thyme and Green Chartreuse. His ambitious alchemy should be interesting to watch as the year goes on.
Oak, in the Design District, is another place to put on your radar: The high-end restaurant has gotten double-barrel-serious about its cocktail program by bringing on both Michael Reith and James Slater, who between them produced three of my favorite cocktails of 2014.
One night, Reith was working his last night at the venerable Windmill Lounge in T-shirt and jeans, and the next he was pouring fancydranks in Oak’s signature white button-down shirt, black pants and tie. “I love it here,” he says. “It’s going to be a chance to shine again.”
Slater, formerly of Spoon, is likewise happy about the move; the dynamic duo have already put their formidable imprint on Oak’s cocktail menu with classic variations that include a killer Negroni and an Old Fashioned made with Old Tom gin. Though the two are different in style, their philosophies are simpatico, and the Panamanian-born Slater aims to inspire patrons to consider them as much of an accompaniment to dinner as wine.
“We’re going to change the bar program,” Slater says. “We’re like Batman and Robin.”
Meanwhile, it’s been six weeks since the much decorated Daniel Guillen left La Duni, for … well, for what no one was exactly sure – but after more than nine years with the operation, whose cocktail operations had become synonymous with his name, it was time to make a change.
It turns out there was a beast waiting to explode: The proudly Peruvian-born bartender has been unleashing his passions for Central and South American drink culture at places like Proof + Pantry and pop-up events – like next week’s cocktail dinner with Chef David Anthony Temple at Twenty Seven.
“Most bartenders focus on classic American cocktails, maybe a few from Europe,” Guillen says. “In my case, that doesn’t make sense. I would be one of many. So I thought, what can I bring to the table?” Look for more of the same while he and cocktail guru Sean Conner, he of the metroplex’s northern hinterlands, work on an upcoming project set to launch this fall.
At Blind Butcher, Ian Reilly is putting his own spin on things after joining the meat-forward establishment a couple months ago. “He’s the shit,” a departing and obviously happy patron says one evening. “He educates you and he makes you a badass drink.”
Reilly’s variation on the Old Fashioned, which he calls the Hubris, features whiskey with a hops-based syrup, because, “If I had to envision something that men here would want to drink – guys on the prowl, out celebrating, maybe going from beer to cocktails – what better way than to use hops as the sweetener?”
It’s one way that the bearded bar man is easing his way in at a place that has carved out a niche on busy Lower Greenville. “The formula here is working,” says Reilly, formerly of Bowl & Barrel and The People’s Last Stand. “I don’t want to stomp on that.”
Barter’s closing in January dispersed a number of souls to the winds – and one of them was the understated Creighten Brown, who has resurfaced at Tate’s in Uptown. (Juli Naida, as noted in 2014’s end-of-year post, has joined Mate Hartai’s team at Remedy.)
The talented tipple maker – whose Black Monk was also among my favorite cocktails last year – went from bar-back to bartender at Barter and is already hyped to be among Robbie Call’s team at Tate’s, along with Pro Contreras and Ryan Sanders. “The whole gang, man,” he says. “Good times, good times.”
Finally, Dallas recently bid farewell to two budding talents – Lauren Loiselle, who headed the bar program at Meddlesome Moth, and bartender Damon Bird of LARK at the Park. Both also figured prominently in my 2014 list but found themselves drawn to the Bay Area (and who can blame them?). “Two of our real good friends live in San Francisco,” Bird told me before they left. “We talked about it a long time and just decided to give it a go.”
Leaving Dallas was bittersweet, but both are excited about their new opportunities: Loiselle has joined the bar team at Café Du Nord, the new venture from the owners of Trick Dog. The team knows what it’s doing: Trick Dog is among four finalists for Best American Cocktail Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, to be awarded next month. “I’m super stoked,” she says.
Bird, meanwhile, has nested at Mikkeller Bar, a beer-centric spot near Union Square featuring the best of brews from around the world. While he misses the craft-cocktail world, you can tell the easygoing drink-slinger has found his people. “This was my choice place,” he says.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified Tate’s Ryan Sanders as Ryan Frederick.
With Dallas’ craft-cocktail cogniscenti waiting on Pimm’s and needles for the long-anticipated official openings of Michael Martensen’s Proof + Pantry and Eddie “Lucky” Campbell’s Parliament, even a practiced imbiber could be forgiven for failing to notice the other libationary locales making marks around town. And as it turns out, some of them have Martensen’s and Campbell’s DNA on them anyway.
Here’s six places worth putting on your cocktail radar while you wait.
It would be easy to get lost in the charm of this little house of a bar. A one-time vintage clothing shop off McKinney in Uptown, Bowen House evokes a Prohibition-era estate with its bookshelves and old photographs and your great-grandmother’s precious furniture. Don’t look for a cocktail menu beyond the pair of specials scrawled on the blackboard; there isn’t one. Instead, cite your tastes and preferences to steady bartenders Erikah Lushaj or Brandon Addicks, who are eagerly devouring cocktail knowledge as they strive to build a quality bar program. They’re also capable of devising their own creations – like Lushaj’s lusciously sweet 1874 (a nod to the year the house was built), a mix of rum, Galliano, vanilla and pineapple puree that she came up with for Dallas’ recent Tiki Week celebration.
In case you haven’t been keeping your ear to the ground, Dallas now has an absinthe bar – and it’s right there in the reinvented space at Driftwood, the Oak Cliff seafood restaurant on Davis. The minimal bar that once felt more like a holding area for diners awaiting tables has been expanded into a formidable L-shape that proudly proclaims its own identity. More importantly, bar manager Ryan Sumner’s spirit selection has been pumped up with anise-flavored concoctions from around Europe and the U.S., including 14 absinthes and three versions of French pastis. The absinthes – with notes ranging from juniper to honey-plum – can be enjoyed in the traditional louche style (slowly diluted with ice water and sugar); there’s also four related cocktails, including Hemingway’s classic mix of pastis and sparkling wine, Death In The Afternoon. Menu creator Michael Martensen says the idea of pairing absinthe with seafood occurred to him the more he researched seafood. “We’re doing like they do in the south of France,” he says. You’d do well to take in your Van Gogh experience with a round of fresh-shucked oysters – and even if you haven’t been keeping your ear to the ground, you can still keep your ear.
John Tesar’s new paradise of meat in Central 214’s old space in the Palomar Hotel comes with a solid bar program, too. Another project from barman Michael Martensen, it includes nods to often disregarded “retro classics” like the Long Island Iced Tea, Harvey Wallbanger and Sex on the Beach, the idea being that if the drinks are properly made with high-quality ingredients, they’re actually quite good. For the most part, that’s true – but it’s some of the bar’s other innovations that brighten my day, including the choose-your-own-ingredient Negronis or Gin and Tonics and a smooth, floral olive-oil gin martini softened with a hint of Green Chartreuse. The delicious, slightly salty Planter’s Punch was influenced by Martensen’s recent visit to Martinique: Among a group of bartenders there to learn about the island’s rum industry, the group was enjoying Planter’s Punches on a rollicking boat ride as the craft bobbed in the rough surf. “We were getting salt water in our drinks,” Martensen said. “I tasted it and thought: This is better.” He came back and made Knife’s version with a hint of house-made salt water. He says: “Dude, once you put the salt water in there, it’s like – bam! It takes me right back to the boat.”
There are probably two things you think about when you hear Meddlesome Moth: 1) the flutter and thump of a lepidopteran under the shade of your bedside lamp; and 2) beer. While there are indeed a mighty number of quality brews to be had at this Design District mainstay, cocktail program director Lauren Loiselle, with the help of beverage director Larry Lewis, has compiled a formidable selection of craft drinks, too, from a lineup of seasonal drinks (including dandy spins on the Margarita and Moscow Mule) to a top-notch supply of barrel-aged concoctions. One recent highlight: Loiselle’s divine barrel-aged Negroni, uncorked in time for last month’s National Negroni Week, with Ford’s gin, Aperol and Dolin Dry and Dolin Blanc vermouths.
Hump Day is already worth the trip to Tate’s in Uptown for half-price specials on most of their extensive whiskey selection, but even more so now that craft bartender Ian Reilly has joined the team on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Reilly, a one-time People’s Last Stand stalwart who’s also played significant roles behind the bar at Bowl & Barrel and Chino Chinatown, is a bit of a whiskey connoisseur who has written about Japanese whiskey for both CocktailEnthusiast.com and The Dallas Morning News. With the addition of Reilly to GM Robbie Call’s crowd-pleasing squad and a stable but solid cocktail list, Tate’s is golden right now.
The former J. Pepe’s space on Greenville has been reborn as a neighborhood bar with bocce ball and a quirky array of local art. (My favorite is the one of the dog that reminds me of a Chihuahua mix my family used to have.) So yes, come to Vagabond for the art and the kitschy bar-top lamps. Come for the quality food, like excellent beef tongue pastrami. But you should also come for the drinks: The house menu devised by mixologist Eddie “Lucky” Campbell includes delicious versions of under-recognized vintage cocktails like the Bijou and Scofflaw as well as tasty modern ones like the red-pepper-influenced HydroTonic and the rum-and-white-wine-combo Ninja Sangria. (In a nod to GM Stewart Jameson, there’s a handful of Jameson whiskey cocktails, too.) Cocktail director Stephen Vasquez plans to roll out a revised menu by next month, including the excellent Aurelius, a slightly bitter, refreshing drink featuring apricot-infused Aperol that he first made for me while doing time at downtown’s LARK on the Park.
The sugar peas were looking exceedingly delicious this spring, and right away Alex Fletcher knew it was time to take a stab at the idea that had been percolating inside for a year.
Fletcher, bar manager at Victor Tango’s in Knox-Henderson, had in mind a sugar-pea-infused gin, but he also knew that green vegetables tended to wilt in booze. “Like cucumbers — they’ll be good one day and then the next day, it’s like they’re pickled,” he says. “That’s gross. I learned that the hard way.”
Instead, he turned to one of the culinary world’s more modern trends: sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”), a vacuum-sealing method industrialized in the 1960s and then increasingly adopted by chefs like Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria and Dallas’ John Tesar as part of the molecular gastronomy movement.
Fletcher is among a handful of Dallas bartenders experimenting with the technique – in which ingredients are usually vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag – or its variations to create infusions or to enhance other cocktail ingredients, further fogging the lines between bar and kitchen.
Chefs typically cook ingredients in the bag, often at low heat for long periods of time, to juice up flavor and moistness. Bartenders do the same using bags or even mason jars kept in a water bath temperature-controlled with a sous-vide circulator. There’s also “Cryovacking,” as some call it, playing off the brand-name airtight plastic-bag manufacturer, which can be used to quickly infuse pressurized contents with added flavors or heighten flavors already present.
That’s what Jacob Boger, lead barman at Knox-Henderson’s Origin Kitchen + Bar, was doing with lemons and limes and hoping to echo with strawberries earlier this month. He figured five minutes’ worth of pressure could help siphon sweetness from the not-quite-ripe strawberries. “Just the fact that they’re in their own juices, you know…. Maybe I’ll put some raw sugar in there to really draw it out. It’s an easy enough thing you can do to make a better drink.”
At Driftwood in Oak Cliff, bar manager Ryan Sumner is eyeing the method to create infused simple syrups, while Ian Reilly at Trinity Groves’ Chino Chinatown has made oleo saccharums, or sugared citrus oils, the same way. Meanwhile, at Barter, the wheels are always spinning. “We’re basically just playing the game, `Can we sous-vide it? Yes, we can,’” says the Uptown bar’s Stephen Halpin.
Hey, we’re all busy these days. So for bartenders, one of sous-vide’s advantages is the speed with which such ingredients can be ready for use depending on the desired flavor potency. Barter’s deliciously fruity Singapore Sling is made with gin heated at 62.5 degrees Centigrade along with pineapple, cucumber, white peppercorns and orange peel. But where a typical infusion might take 30 days of thumb-twiddling, Barter’s gin preparation, once bagged and sealed, can be ready in 90 minutes.
Put that in your agave pit and smoke it.
Barter’s Halpin also does a sous-vide gin infused with blood orange for an hour; the process allows him to incorporate the fruit’s flavorful zest, which wouldn’t work in a traditional infusion. “You can’t leave in too long,” he says. “It gets too bitter. You can’t dial that back.” The piquant mix shines in the bar’s off-menu Please Give Gin Another Chance, which Halpin offers to those who’ve felt burned by gin in the past.
As Nonstop Honolulu reported early last year, bartender Dave Newman of Honolulu’s Pint + Jigger has used sous-vide to evoke the effects of barrel aging, replacing the typical weeks-long oak-cask soak with bourbon and barrel wood chips sealed in mason jars kept in a 120-degree bath for two days. Does it work? The author thought so: “The sous vide cocktail was much smoother with an added oaky complexity that would normally require several weeks of barrel aging to achieve,” he concluded.
In recent years, sous-vide or Cryovac cocktails have appeared elsewhere across the U.S. – at Seattle’s Tavern Law, San Diego’s Grant Grill, The Aviary in Chicago and Atlanta’s Seven Lamps, where bartender Arianne Fielder “hypothesized that slowly cooking the sugars in alcohol but not allowing the vapors to escape would make colors darker and flavors more intense,” according to an Eater Atlanta article. And three years ago, during his brief reign at Bailey’s Prime, Dallas’ Eddie “Lucky” Campbell featured cantaloupe-infused tequila made Cryovac-style in a cocktail called High Maintenance.
The more heat, the faster the infusion – but don’t get too excited yet: As Oregon bartender Ricky Gomez cautions, ingredients can give off different flavors at different temps. Other variables may also affect potency or longevity. Tweaking may be required.
When Fletcher became bar manager at Victor Tango’s, he suddenly had access to a vacuum sealer at a neighboring restaurant. “My grandmother used to make English peas all the time, so I sometimes have a craving for them,” he says. “And whenever I have a craving for something, I try to make a cocktail out of it.”
He mixed a quarter-pound of slightly crushed peas with a half-bottle of gin. He chose Hayman’s Old Tom gin – the sweeter style of gin popular in 18th-century England before today’s more prevalent London Dry came along – for its more subtle botanicals. Into the bag they went, sealed tight – pooosh – with a Vac Master machine. “That’s the big boy of Cryovac machines,” he says. “It sucks all the air out of the bag.”
Two hours later, the pea-infused, light-green gin was ready to go. And if peas in liquid form make you think of split-pea soup, then we’re all on the same page: The soup is usually boosted with pork flavor, so Fletcher made a genius move to complete the cocktail. He gathered up some tapioca maltodextrin, a light-as-air, fat-soluble starch that absorbs flavors but has no odor or flavor of its own. He then threw some of that into a food processor along with a little bacon fat and a pinch of salt… and out came a unicorn. Okay, not exactly, but if you can imagine bacon-flavored confectioner’s sugar, this was it.
His tasty Swee’Pea cocktail, now on Victor Tango’s’ spring menu, mixes the gin with lemon and demerara syrup, served up in a coupe rimmed with the bacon powder and garnished with a sugar pea.
Fletcher would eventually find his vacuum-sealer access limited, so for the time being he’s using extracted pea juice instead, not introducing it to the gin until ordered. Unfortunately, it lacks the vibrancy of his sous-vide version. But sometime this week, he says, he plans to get Victor Tango’s a vacuum-sealer of its own. When and if that happens, I’d highly recommend the Swee’Pea as a great way to round out your daily vegetable requirement.
A great cocktail should take you on a little journey, and one benefit of DFW’s thriving craft-drink culture is the growing number of bar-peeps able to put you aboard that flavor train. The year 2013 was a highlight reel of riches: There was Amber West’s Wild Weeds – a Scotch-and-beer blend rimmed with smoked-almond salt – at Central 214; Chase Streitz’s nectarine-and-Fresno-chile-syrup-influenced Honey Bee Sting at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen; and the just-right, savory bacon-infused bourbon goodness – not an easy feat to pull off – that Tamsin Gray (now at Barter) achieved with the Bull Lejeune at Ser.
La Duni’s stalwart Lemon 43 spoke to my inner adolescent with its lemon fruit-gem sweetness, while Belly & Trumpet’s Scorched Belly cocktail (pictured at right) was certainly one of the year’s prettier drinks. Last summer at Bar Smyth, former bar chief Michael Martensen introduced me to the excellent Smoky Negroni, a twist on the classic cocktail (attributed to Austin’s Rob Pate) that subs mezcal for gin. Asian flavors surprised, too: At Bowl & Barrel, former bar manager Ian Reilly – now at Chino Chinatown – cleverly used hoisin sauce in a pisco-based drink called the Passerine, while Victor Tango’s Alex Fletcher incorporated miso into his gin-fueled Art of War.
I could go on. Some of my year’s favorite drinks are still on menus, some aren’t; some never were. Some can be rekindled from memory at their original locations, some have been lost to posterity. As the last year has shown us, places close, others open, sands shift. But it’s the people who make the scene: Follow them and you won’t go wrong.
My tastes are partial to the bitter and the botanical – show me a bottle of Suze behind the bar and I’m in – and classic browns like the Old Fashioned and the Sazerac. That said, here are my 15 favorite DFW cocktail discoveries of 2013.
Campbell’s hiring at the five-star restaurant showed that Abacus was as serious about its cocktails as it was about its food. This was among the first of his new additions to the menu, a gorgeous concoction of bourbon and muddled blackberries, full-bodied and smooth with echoes of grape that give this luscious drink cache beyond whiskey’s typically male demographic. “It’s delicious,” my friend Susan said after a sip or two. “I think a girl who doesn’t like whiskey would still like this.” Not to mention a boy who likes whiskey, too.
14. DOUBLE UNDER, H&G Sply (Emily Perkins via Jacob Wallace)
Who doesn’t love beets? Okay, a lot of people doesn’t love beets. But properly speaking, for those of us who do, this splash of refreshment ably answers the call – a simple mix of lively beet-infused tequila, lime and rosemary syrup. Perkins – now with Remy Cointreau – modified this creation by Portland’s Jacob Wallace for H&G’s drink list, toying with the proportions; “it’s supposed to be an earthier Margarita that never feels out of season,” she says. The taste is sour beet moxie and tangy lime, with a slight hint of herb. Unabashedly red with a flirty half-skirt of glittery salt, it sure is purdy to look at, too.
13. NEGRONI VARIATION, Lark on the Park (Matt Orth)
One benefit of the classic Negroni – equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and bitter Campari – is that it lends itself to modification: Sub mezcal for gin, as mentioned above, and you still have a formidable drink. Around the time Lark on the Park opened last spring, I was bouncing around town seeing what bartenders were doing with Suze – the herbal French bitter that had become my latest crush – and asked bar manager Orth what he could come up with. This was his second concoction – a honey-gold, bitter/botanical flourish of Suze, Gran Classico and Art in the Age’s Sage spirit, marked by a leafy, sage finish.
12. LAST NIGHT IN PERU, Victor Tango’s (Alex Fletcher)
Last summer, Fletcher, the new bar manager at Victor Tango’s, traveled to Peru to more fully explore the world of pisco (a light-shaded brandy) and came back inspired by a raisin-syrup-enhanced drink he had on his last night there. “This is my tribute to that,” he says. Employing a perfectly highlighted date syrup instead, this butterscotch-hued drink – with pisco, lime, egg white and Peruvian bitters – has a gentle, fruity sweetness that can shine all year long.
11. TWO THIRTY, Bar Smyth (Mike Steele)
In the days that followed Bar Smyth’s much-anticipated opening last March, bartender Mike Steele – whose creations twice landed in my list of 2012’s favorite cocktails – served up this doozy that he’d been working on for some time. With two ounces of Eagle Rare bourbon, ¾ of Gran Classico, ½ apiece of Pedro Ximenez sherry and Carpano Antica and a dash or two of celery bitters, it’s a linebacker of a drink, chocolate-y and mildly sweet, something you’d want to sip in front of the fire. In the version pictured above, I subbed the more maple-forward Angel’s Envy for the nutty Eagle Rare and echoed PX sherry’s raisin notes with Lustau’s East India Solero, and it was still terrific. Use mezcal in place of the bourbon, as Steele also did, and you have the Dos Y Media.
10. BAD SEED, Bar Smyth (Omar YeeFoon)
Maybe I actually waltzed into the menu-less Knox-Henderson speakeasy and asked for something with Aquavit, the Scandinavian caraway-flavored liqueur. (Doubtful.) Or maybe it was something that YeeFoon just happened to be playing with that day. (More like it.) Whatever the case, this inventive drink to which he added Averna, egg white, lemon and a creative splash of root beer and toasted sesame seeds caught my fancy for its frothy off-beat nuttiness. YeeFoon is no longer at Bar Smyth, so I don’t know whether this is still part of his repertoire, but the next time you see him around town it’s worth checking out.
9. FIGGY VIEUX CARRE, Black Swan Saloon (Gabe Sanchez)
It’s always fun to dip into Deep Ellum’s Black Swan and see what the heck bar man Gabe Sanchez is up to that night. Maybe he’s brewing coffee with bourbon – or maybe, as in this case, he’s taking a spoonful of fig jam and setting it afire. So taken was I with this element that I didn’t note at first the lineup of ingredients that would accompany it: Rye, Cognac, sweet vermouth, honey-sweet Benedictine – the classic Vieux Carre. This is Black Swan’s take on it, and cooking the jam reins in its sweetness (the drink has enough of that element already) and lets the wintry fig shine through.
8. COMFORTABLY NUMB, Five Sixty (Lee Heffter)
There’s a lot going on in this drink, but that describes a good number of Lee Heffter’s drinks on the rotating menu at Five Sixty, the Wolfgang Puck Asian-themed restaurant atop Reunion Tower downtown. With Bulleit rye, Cointreau, simple syrup, lemon, Pernod, Peychaud’s bitters and a barspoon of cherry juice, it’s a one-two punch of tart cherry/orange and sweet licorice. If you ever wondered what would happen if a Sidecar crashed into a Sazerac, here’s your answer. You’re welcome.
7. FIG SIDECAR, Nora (Michael Reith)
Speaking of figs and Sidecars: I was excited enough to learn that Nora – the excellent Afghan addition to Lower Greenville – was opening a rooftop bar area. But then bow-tied bar man Michael Reith laid this dollop of seasonal joy on me: A fig-and-winter-spice-infused Cognac to accompany the classic cocktail’s Cointreau and lemon. “I was looking for something wintry,” Reith said. “Once it gets cold outside, I love Cognac, which has that raisin taste. And Cognac and figs go together.” Yeah, like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong. The result is cool fireside comfort.
6. ANEJO FLIP, Abacus (Eddie “Lucky” Campbell)
You probably haven’t heard of the Old Smugglers Awaken, a 200-year-old Havana slush of gin, egg, sugar, lemon and bitters that Campbell has included among his repertoire since his Bolsa days. Probably devised by Caribbean pirates — “Who else would be sitting around drink gin flips in Cuba?” he says — the drink was a favorite of one of Campbell’s patrons at the short-lived Chesterfield downtown until she began ordering a fizzy grapefruit tequila drink on the menu instead. “I thought – what if I combined them?” Campbell says, and this bootylicious treasure – which he dropped on me at his current station, Abacus – is the result: Anejo tequila, grapefruit, agave syrup, vanilla, whole egg and Angostura bitters. Served up in a martini glass with Abacus’ signature “A” stencil-sprayed atop, it’s deliciously creamy and sweet, with hints of warm, dark vanilla.
5. I’LL GET TO IT, The Cedars Social (Josh MacEachern)
During his days at The Cedars Social, MacEachern came up with this lovely off-menu blend of Cognac, Pedro Ximenez sherry, orange-y Grand Marnier, walnut tincture and Pernod. But while the easygoing bartender loves crafting drinks, he doesn’t like naming them, so when I’d drop in and request “that thing you made for me last time” and then ask when he was going to name it, his signature reply finally became its lasting moniker. The sippable tipple is a spin on the Sazerac, MacEachern’s favorite cocktail, and arose as he was pondering flavors that might pair well with orange. “I thought of walnut, and anise,” he says. “That’s the fun thing about cocktails – we’re basically building on what chefs have already given us.” You’ll currently find MacEachern pouring Fridays and Saturdays at Uptown’s Belly & Trumpet, where you can still savor the drink’s warm nuttiness and licorice finish.
4. REAL SLOW AND REAL LOW, Barter (Rocco Milano)
“You would think there’s no way that could all work together,” bar manager Rocco Milano said as he placed the bottles in front of me one by one at the late Private/Social (RIP): Slow and Low Rock & Rye (basically a pre-bottled Old Fashioned). Cointreau Noir. Peachy Crème de Peche. Hum, a botanical spirit distinguished by hibiscus, ginger and clove, among other flavors. And Luxardo maraschino liqueur. The ingredients would comprise one of the last drinks Milano — whose Fall Into A Glass was my favorite drink of 2012 — would pour for me there before it closed in July; back then he called it the I’ll Have One Of Those, but fortunately for us brave souls it has been reborn under its new identity at Barter, Milano’s new playground in Uptown, where it will likewise seduce you with fruity sweetness before wrapping you in its warm boa-constrictor grip.
3. ROSEMARY’S AFFAIR, La Duni (Daniel Guillen)
Here’s a cocktail that takes you from backyard garden to summer campfire on a magic carpet of licorice; it’s no wonder this cocktail earned Guillen, La Duni’s bar program manager, a slot repping North Texas in a national Bombay Sapphire-sponsored competition in Vegas. It’s not officially on La Duni’s menu, but track Guillen down and he’ll gladly make it for you, first dropping a sprig of fresh rosemary into a Collins glass, splashing it with absinthe and lighting it afire. Then he’ll douse it with enough ice to fill the glass to the brim and cover it with a coaster, capturing and taming the smoking rosemary’s savory flavor. Meanwhile, he’ll mix 2 ounces of Bombay Sapphire gin, ¾ ounce of orgeat, ½ ounce of Averna and a bit of lemon and lime, then pour the liquid over the rosemary-smoked ice. Swirl it in your mouth and you’ll find herb, citrus, smoke and probably the urge to order another.
2. ONE SMASHED MONK, The People’s Last Stand (Alex Fletcher)
Ah, Green Chartreuse: My beloved Joan Allen of liqueurs. Forever a supporting actress in many a cocktail, never the star. Can she help it if she’s larger than life? See her shine in the classic Last Word – but then send her offstage. When Fletcher (now at Victor Tango’s) headed the bar program at The People’s Last Stand, he felt it was time to give this aggressively vegetal liqueur a starring role, and the tart, sweet, highly herbaceous result outdoes even The Bourne Supremacy: Its elemental mash-up of Green Chartreuse, lime and simple, spiced up with muddled Thai basil and sugar, might seem soft on the surface, but it packs a 110-proof punch. Just like Joan Allen.
1. AMOR Y AMARGO, Hibiscus (Grant Parker)
Grant Parker’s bar program at Hibiscus is one of the better ones in town, and this Sazerac-esque drink of incredible depth – not officially on the menu – reflects his alchemistic approach. After being blown away by a similar drink at New York’s bitters-focused Amor Y Amargo bar last summer, he wanted to try to replicate the cocktail’s blend of amaros (bittersweet herbal liqueurs). For a week straight he spent a couple of hours a day perfecting this mysterious and satisfying blend of four amaros, plus Peychaud’s bitters and Bittermen’s orange cream nitrate. There’s some Cynar in there, and Averna. Possibly some Amaro Montenegro. Or not. But it’s dark and voluptuous, a drink you’ll want to take a thousand sips of, letting the flavors lindy-hop across your tongue. Cherry. Citrus. Root beer. They’re all there. “It’s essentially an Amaro Sazerac,” he says. It’s amor (love) and amargo (bitter) in a glass. And it’s fabulous.
Honorable Mentions: Brown and Stirred (Grant Parker, Hibiscus); Caribbean Winter (Matt Orth, Lark on the Park); Chocolate Bullet (Bistro 31); Holy Grail (Michael Martensen, Driftwood); The Inquisition (Emily Perkins, Victor Tango’s); Scorched Belly (Matt Perry, Belly & Trumpet); Steep Buzz (Eddie Eakin, Boulevardier).
Oh, 2013. You hater. You tried so hard to suck. In the summer, just days after influential bar man Jason Kosmas announced he was taking his talents to Austin, you pulled the plug on my beloved Private/Social, where bar manager Rocco Milano had overseen one of the best cocktail programs in town. Then, last month, you shocked us with the sudden exit of Michael Martensen and his crew of highly talented bartenders from Bar Smyth and The Cedars Social, the two brightest stars in DFW’s craft-cocktail culture. With the unfolding of The Great Unpleasantness, a scene that had solidly come of age at last lost its innocence.
But hey, that’s part of growing up. And despite assertions to the contrary, craft cocktails as we head toward 2014 are alive and swell, showing no signs of peaking: Milano has resurfaced in a major way; Eddie “Lucky” Campbell is preparing to launch Parliament; Asian-Latin fusion restaurant Chino Chinatown has opened in Trinity Groves with Ian Reilly at the bar-program helm; Origin has restyled itself in Knox-Henderson with a promising drink lineup; and the Smyth/Cedars Social diaspora is sprinkling its goodies all over town.
Are you not entertained? To what do we owe this good fortune? It’s because we, my thirsty friends, have proven ourselves worthy. We’re a smarter bunch now when it comes to craft cocktails; our palates now welcome more flavor, complexity and originality. We like menus that mirror the season, varied but not overwhelming, with options both accessible and challenging. We want bartenders steeped in history and craft and eager to command the palettes of flavor at their disposal, ready to improvise when able. Is that asking too much?
No. And DFW has answered the call. Here are my top 10 spots as we head into 2014, in alphabetical order, BECAUSE.
OK, I’ll admit: I hadn’t set foot into Abacus since I first moved to Dallas three years ago – at least not until chef Ken Rathbun lured Lucky Campbell away from The Standard Pour in Uptown. Campbell, whose bumpy road has taken him from The Mansion at Turtle Creek to renown at Bolsa to the short, chaotic life of The Chesterfield and then to TSP, set about infusing Abacus’ solid martini-and-bubbly-focused menu with the Pacific Rim sensibilities that inform the five-star restaurant’s kitchen. The result: a boost of energy and derring-do behind the bar that have given Abacus’ Men in Black new street cred.
Where Rocco Milano goes, magic follows. The execution of Private/Social paved the way for a makeover of the Uptown space, and the results are terrific: The vibe is warm and woodsy, and the bar has been opened up to give Milano and his top-notch staff room to move more freely. The house cocktails are unsurprisingly great, but it’s the added features that really set Barter apart: Milano’s “book-of-the-month” set will feature selected drinks from different classic cocktail tomes every month; first up is David Embury’s 1948 classic, “The Fine Art Of Mixing Drinks.” Add to that a mix of high-end choose-your-poison flights and an innovative series of pours that illustrate liqueurs in various stages, and you’ll see why Milano is the cocktail geek’s cocktail geek.
BLACK SWAN SALOON
Gabe Sanchez’ one-ring circus in Deep Ellum has a cult following, and with good reason: He’s been quietly cranking out some of Dallas’ more original concoctions at this dimly lighted, low-key speakeasy with the badass vibe you’d expect from a bar in the city’s tattoo epicenter. The Swan’s staff now walk the tightrope without the net of a cocktail menu, playing to tastes and whatever Sanchez has cooked up that day. Smoked fig jam with rye? You’ll find that here.
Bar manager Amber West has been among the city’s under-sung cocktail heroes, avidly and expertly using seasonal ingredients in her creations. Example: The gin-based, garden-in-a-glass First Course, like so many of her cocktails, is as beautiful to behold as it is to imbibe, with flecks of Tom Spicer’s arugula dotting its translucent surface; her Honeysuckle Gimlet is another standout. Though she’s moving into more of a consulting role to focus on gardening, the cocktails at Central 214 — located inside Hotel Palomar off the Central Expressway — will continue to carry her imprint.
The spinning modern-Asian-themed Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the top of Reunion Tower has more to offer than a fantastic view. Yes, you’ll have to endure a 45-second elevator ride and the beastly $16 price tag per cocktail, but the drinks are a journey in themselves. They’re part of a rotating series of libations designed by the chain’s Lee Hefter — bold, original and artfully presented, mirroring the restaurant’s sophisticated vibe. Try the gorgeous Fog Rolling Over Mount Fuji or the Locked and Loaded, both among my top cocktails of 2012.
Seats at the bar are few at this Henderson Avenue mainstay, but they’re worth the wait to gain an audience with bar manager Grant Parker, whose behind-the-bar expertise continues to steadily lift Hibiscus to new mixology heights. Parker hopes to gradually expand the drink menu with more adventurous offerings, but for now try his play on the lesser-known classic Emerson (also among my top-rated drinks of 2012) or the luscious, rye-based Brown and Stirred.
LARK ON THE PARK
This Klyde Warren Park newcomer is a solid playa in the craft-cocktail game, excelling at wintery drinks in particular, so now’s the time to go and warm up your belly. Bar manager Matt Orth and his crew respect seasonality and do nice spins on the classics, too; if you’re into Sazeracs or Negronis, ask for one of their variations and you won’t be disappointed.
THE STANDARD POUR
Stacked at Ground Zero of the madhouse Uptown scene, barman Brian McCullough’s strong crew is primed to feed the weekend’s party-minded mainstream tastes, armed with what must be the largest arsenal of Moscow Mule mugs outside of wherever it is Moscow Mule mugs come from. But take a closer look at the bar’s wide-ranging, Prohibition-Era-themed menu and you’ll find lots more than vodka. It also doesn’t hurt that the dark, vintage-lounge-style space exudes fun, or that its chalk-mural-adorned bar is often a refuge for displaced craft bartenders (see Abacus, Bar Smyth, The Cedars Social above).
I love this place, from its wry, respectable menu on up to its sleek, chill vibe and a team of able bartenders who never seem to be in short supply. The modest house drink list is nice – try the gin and apricot liqueur-fueled Parlor – but it’s the off-road adventures that are really fun; a spin on the classic Hanky Panky, for instance, or something using the most recent bottle on the shelf.
The godfather of them all. Charlie Papaceno and Louise Owens have been crafting cocktails since 2008 in this dive-y spot off a remote stretch of Maple Avenue. Jason Kosmas – the co-owner of New York City’s Employees Only and spirit line The 86 Co. – did time here after moving to Texas, and early adopters Campbell and Martensen threw down in friendly competition back when as well. It’s still a bartender’s bar; you’ll find a number of mixers bellied up here, drawn by the Windmill’s unpretentious atmosphere and the staff’s easygoing approach. But there’s skill here, too, and innovation; it was Charlie who introduced me recently to Ancho Reyes, a recently released ancho-chile liqueur, and the bar was listed among Esquire Magazine’s top bars of America earlier this year.
Looking forward to what 2014 may bring!
Honorable mentions: Bolsa, Victor Tango’s, Boulevardier
Ones to watch: Chino, Parliament, The Cedars Social
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.
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.
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.
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
Hibiscus’ Peruvian Fix was among the stand-outs of the five-week series.
MY FRIENDS, this blog can sometimes be a grueling enterprise. In those moments I find myself re-energized by my sworn duty to my readers, and that, no doubt, is what powered me through five straight Thursdays of pisco sampling. Somebody had to do it.
Now I bring you the highlights of that brave mission, the best of a barrage of pisco cocktails fired up by some of Dallas’ ace bartenders.
First, a little catch-up: Not long ago, I told you about The Trail Project, Daniel Guillen’s crusade to showcase lesser-known spirits via a series of “bar crawls” through various Dallas neighborhoods. The idea, developed with Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough, is to introduce or reacquaint bartenders with spirits they may then decide to add to their shelves: The spirits become part of their repertoire, an ingredient to which adventurous patrons can be wooed; the brand gets marketed; everybody wins.
At Bar Smyth, bartender Josh Hendrix does the pisco thing his way.
The first series, sponsored by Pisco Porton – pisco, like Cognac, is a grapey eau de vie, native mostly to Peru – began with a walkable stretch of bars along Henderson; the next week, we’d moved to Uptown. Next came the Northpark/Mockingbird Station/Knox area, the Design District and Oak Cliff areas and finally a motley bunch of orphan bars stretching from Henderson to the Crescent to Oak Lawn. In all, more than 25 bars took part, amazing considering the number of quality spots not even on the list, such as The Cedars Social, Black Swan Saloon, Whiskey Cake and the Libertine. There were surprises – bars I didn’t expect much from made solid showings, and vice versa – and some non-surprises (many many variations on the Pisco Sour); all together, we probably each tasted about 60 cocktails.
Here, in alphabetical order, are my 10 favorites from along the way.
1. The as-yet anonymous second drink that Ashley Williams served us at Oak Cliff’s Boulevardier, featuring Pisco Porton, DeKuyper O3 liqueur, Cherry Heering, lemon and a float of Montelobos mescal.
2. At The Dram on Henderson, Jasin Burt’s mix of Pisco Porton, Dolin Rouge vermouth, chocolate bitters and vanilla extract – a drink I dubbed Down With The Brown – complex and grapey sweet, with a nice chocolate finish.
Ashley Williams puts Boulevardier on the list with her as-yet unnamed creation.
3. I dug the drink called the Hawaiian Room, a bit of whimsy from Sunset Lounge’s Nico Ponce, with Pisco Porton, Sailor Jerry spiced rum, applejack, lemon and pineapple. Served in a coupe with banana leaf protruding like a feather, it was again on the sweet side, but well-rounded: A refreshing iced tea with a vanilla-wafer finish.
4. At the Standard Pour, the Incan Resemblance, from Guillen’s brother Armando, was one of the series’ most original and beautiful looking drinks. (The same goes for the epically named cocktail from his SP colleague McCullough, Pisco Kid Rides Again Into The Fiery Sunset.) Guillen’s drink featured Pisco Porton, puree made from chirimoya (a Peruvian fruit), elderflower liqueur, ginger foam, Thai basil, Peychaud’s bitters and lavender bitters. A garnishing bundle of lavender leaves were rolled into a lemon peel papoose, evoking an Incan headdress. It was stunningly creative, with a smooth strawberry taste.
The Incan Resemblance, from Standard Pour’s Armando Guillen.
5. It was practically midnight when we reached Tate’s on the Uptown leg of the so-called Pisco Trail, and head barman J.W. Tate obliged our tastes with an excellent digestif he called Muy Criollo, or Very Creole. “The word “Creole” is used in a very different way in Peru,” Tate told us. “It refers to a spirited way of life, similar to the way we’d say gusto, or the French joie de vivre.” He made his drink with pisco, Bonal bitter liqueur and three kinds of shrub, including habanero. It was arresting, a sipping drink for night’s end, with a pleasantly mild kick of spice in the finish.
6. At Bowl and Barrel, Ian Reilly found a way to incorporate hoisin, an Asian plum sauce he came across in the kitchen, in a fabulous drink he called the Passerine. Figuring the hoisin would go well with other Asian flavors, he mixed it with Hum, a feisty liqueur strong with ginger and kaffir lime, and pisco, lime, Yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters. It was brilliant tang and sweetness, all in one.
A mango-jalapeno cocktail from The Kennedy Room’s Joseph Buenrostro, among the few to embrace heat in his pisco creations.
7. Hibiscus, on the first week’s itinerary, had to pull out at the 11th hour. After it was reset for week five, Bartender Grant Parker atoned for the wait with the beautiful and delicious Peruvian Fix, a bouquet of pisco, pineapple syrup, lime, mint, simple and most significantly, jalapeno-infused Green Chartreuse. It was lovely, with a slight kick – not too spicy, not too sweet, all the flavors exhibiting perfectly. Parker was among the bartending minority who’d worked with pisco before. “One woman came in once and put me through hell,” he said. “She had me make, like nine Pisco Sours.”
8. It’s fair to say that Sunset Lounge’s Nico Ponce, spurred on by news that the bar preceding his in week number two had turned out two pisco drinks, was a little motivated. He sent out a volley of at least seven pisco-based cocktails, all of them variations on the tiki drinks that are the trademark of the fledgling Ross Avenue bar. His Pisco Mai Tai was, yes, on the candy-sweet side, but oh so good: pisco, lime, orange Curacao and a bit of almond syrup.
The Pisco Mai Tai, one of Sunset Lounge’s numerous tiki variations.
9. At Marquee Grill & Bar, Andrew Lostester made the tantalizing Pisco Star using a housemade syrup made with grapefruit, cinnamon and star anise. That was shaken with pisco, lime and seasonally fresh grapefruit, then topped with soda; it had a creamy mouthfeel with a citrusy finish, the perfect match for appetizers drenched in rich sauce.
10. It’s no fluke that Guillen himself ended up on this list; being Peruvian, he’s well versed in pisco and he raised his chances by offering up three drinks to sample at Northpark’s La Duni. His second effort, called the San Isidro, was money: pisco, Grand Marnier, lemon, maple syrup, peach puree, Angostura bitters and a housemade apricot-nectarine bitters. Topped with mint and a dried apricot lounging atop a tiny ice-bowl float, the result was all-up-in-your-face apricot with a double-barreled peach-maple sweetness.
The trail master himself, La Duni’s Guillen, scores with the San Isidro.
If you’re keeping score by neighborhood, that makes Uptown/Arts District the winner of the first Trail Project series, at least in my book. The more notable point is, there’s a whole passel of bartenders out there who now know how to throw down with pisco, and the person who benefits is you: Get out there and try some of these drinks soon.
Guillen’s plan is to launch a whole new series of bar crawls built around a second spirit, so stay tuned either here or on my Twitter feed at @typewriterninja #trailproject.
Trail participants strike a pose with the raspberry-infused X Factor, one of several solid pisco cocktails from Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla.
The DFW cocktail scene has come a long way in the last two years, and as many a bartender knows, I’ve been no stranger to it. Restaurants now launch with bar programs no longer a second thought, the qualities of ice and citrus oils are strongly considered, and drinkers once keen on vodka-and-Red-Bull are growing more adventurous palates.
Some of the local drinks unveiled in 2012, these ones at Dallas’ Five Sixty. At middle left, Rolling Fog Over Mount Fuji; at middle right, Locked and Loaded.
Our craft cocktail architects have, in the last year, designed menus built on the shoulders of the past – reintroducing old classics, embellishing and remodeling, thinking up creations of their own.Luckily, I have taken it upon myself to sample many of these libations on behalf of the greater good. I have, as they say, taken one for the team.
I can’t claim to have sampled every drink out there. I’m just one man, for god’s sakes. (Thanks to all who sacrificed themselves to join me for the effort.) And I have my own tastes and habitats: In general, my spirits of choice are gin, whiskey, tequila, rum, gasoline and vodka, in that order. Ha ha, vodka – I kid you, I kid you.
But as we say Peace Out to 2012, I leave you with my top 10 favorite local discoveries of the past year. Ah, what the heck: In the spirit of the annum, let’s just make it 12.
12. MEXICALI BLUES, Tate’s, Dallas (J.W. Tate)
Blending the glamour of aged tequila and house-made grenadine with the smokiness of mezcal, this is Salma Hayek in a coupe, bold and feminine. The borderland babe, named for a Grateful Dead song, is garnished with a palm-tree V of thyme planted in a floating lime-slice island, with a muddle of pepper upping the Baja heat.
“Somebody asked me to make them a drink called Stripper Sweat. I think they had just come from a strip club,” says Tran, adept with flavor even as he churns out the shots and mixed drinks usually favored by the crowd at this Lakewood dive-bar gem. Partial to pairing vodka with the elderflower sweet of St. Germain, he gave complexity to this summery play on vodka-cranberry by mixing vanilla vodka with cranberry, St. Germain and the earthy licorice punch of Fernet. Shaken with an orange wedge, the pulpy, apricot-like mixture is poured over ice, frothy as a raspberry fizz.
When Streitz, the beverage director at Sissy’s, was asked to design happy-hour drinks around the Henderson Avenue restaurant’s most popular spirits, he spun simple gold from Makers 46, honeying it up with Benedictine and splash of orange bitters over crushed ice. The drink’s initially aggression softens as the ice melts and muddles the accompanying orange slice, a pleasant pre- or post-dinner relaxer.
9. THE PEOPLE’S OLD FASHIONED – The People’s Last Stand, Dallas (Omar Yeefoon)
Though Yeefoon no longer pours at this Mockingbird Station bar, he left his mark on the place with this luscious take on the classic whiskey cocktail that couples maple syrup with Rittenhouse rye along with a touch of Angostura bitters and flame-drawn orange oils.The result: A strong whiskey handshake with a rush of almost tamarind-y sweetness.
8. ROLLING FOG OVER MOUNT FUJI, Five Sixty, Dallas (Lee Hefter)
This gorgeous and aptly named drink at Wolfgang Puck’s Asian-themed restaurant atop Reunion Tower also has depth – and properly made, the illusion of height. Japanese Hibiki 12 whiskey is shaken with Aperol, lemon, simple syrup and egg white, then poured into a small fishbowl of a glass. A mountainous ice slab juts out from the foamy egg-white surface, towering over the pink-hued landscape beneath and evoking the drink’s name. It has the taste and feel of sherbet, with an herbal Aperol finish.
7. FIG MANHATTAN, Tate’s, Dallas (J.W. Tate)
This classic re-do land-rushes the prairie of your tongue with a bracing yet savory sweetness, the house-made fig syrup ably enhancing the Uptown bar’s orangey dark brown blend of Rittenhouse 100 rye, Cocchi D’Torino vermouth and Angostura bitters. It’s rich, not cloying, with a fig essence that elevates rather than just flavors this classic.
6. TINY’S FAREWELL, The Cedars Social, Dallas (Mike Steele)
Basically, Steele wanted to make a stirred tiki drink, one without the citrus juice that calls for shaking or the mounds of crushed ice that typically characterize these Caribbean-styled cocktails. He produced this blend of Cana Brava rum, Dolin dry vermouth, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Kronan Swedish punsch, pineapple syrup and tiki bitters. A diaphanous lemony yellow, it’s honey-sweet with a fruity frontal assault and minty finish underscored by the warm essence of rum. The coup de grace is a swath of grapefruit ignited to draw out the oils and citrusy aroma. The story behind the name? “I always wanted to have a tiki bar,” Steele says. “I figured I’d have this really huge guy behind the bar named Tiny with really big arms, crushing ice. But when I made this drink, it was like, `Tiny, we don’t need you anymore.’ “
5. EMERSON, Hibiscus, Dallas (Grant Parker)
OK, nothing fancy here – just Parker’s take on a little-known classic that deserves wider recognition. The traditional Emerson is gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and lime. Parker, the low-key force behind this Henderson Avenue restaurant’s bar, subs the sweeter and less botanical Old Tom gin and uses the spicy, herbaceous Carpano Antica as his vermouth. The result is a drink that starts fruity (especially cherry), but then U-turns with a dazzling chocolate-and-spice finish. “During the cold season, the Antica gives it a nice cinnamon flavor,” Parker says. “And when the weather turns hot, it’s a nice aperitif.”
4. LOCKED AND LOADED, Five Sixty, Dallas (Lee Hefter)
“That reminds me of breakfast, man,” says Five Sixty bartender Casey Griggs of Locked And Loaded. “That reminds me of some pancakes.” This drink created by Los Angeles-based Lee Hefter, Wolfgang Puck’s right-hand chef, is a buffet of bourbon, maple syrup, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, lemon juice, egg white, rhubarb bitters and a sly rinse of Laphroig. Its hue is somewhere between butterscotch and Chimay Triple, and the bourbon is purposely understated, with a creamy finish marked by rhubarb candy sweetness.
3. LINNEO’S REMEDY (Ian Reilly)
One evening when Reilly was still working at The People’s Last Stand, I asked him to concoct a drink to feed my growing fascination with mezcal. At the time, he, too, was toying with mezcal and employing his philosophy of temperance – that is, avoiding the urge to compound the agave-based spirit’s smoky Latin flavor with heat and rather using it as a player in an equal, four-part structure a la the classic Last Word. This is what he came up with: a balance of mezcal, Aperol, ginger liqueur and lime.The result is a delicious sweet-and-sour mix caught up in an undercurrent of peaty mezcal. Reilly – since relocated to just-opened Bowl and Barrel – now opts for saffron-spiced Strega over orangey Aperol, and the name he chose recalls Spain’s medicinal use of bitters as well as Swedish naturalist (and agave’s identifier) Carl Linnaeus – or Carlos Linneo, as he would have been known in Spanish. “I guess all of those, the idea of soothing and balance, combined into Linneo’s Remedy,” Reilly says.
2. SECRETS AND LIES, The Cedars Social, Dallas (Mike Steele)
This off-the-menu treasure, inspired by a drink Steele once served in Denver, takes premium whiskey, enhances it with port and Strega and adds strong hints of Carpano Antica, vanilla syrup and a cardamom tincture. “I think cardamom and vanilla go really well together, and it’s a good, rich flavor for the fall,” he says. “Plus it goes really well with whiskey.” Every ingredient comes through, a beautiful balance of bite, herbs and holiday warmth. “One time, somebody asked me what was in it,” says the affable Steele from behind the bar of this pioneering spot south of downtown. “I said, `Secrets and lies, man, secrets and lies. And it just went from there.”
1. FALL INTO A GLASS, Private/Social, Dallas (Rocco Milano)
It’s really not fair when Hum is in the game, because anyone who knows me knows that I adore this liqueur dominated by flavors of ginger, cardamom and clove. It’s a feisty pit bull of an ingredient, but Milano – who introduced me to Hum about a year ago – has a knack for grabbing the leash and making it shine. The gin-hefeweizen-lemon Shandy that he’d added to the summer menu at Uptown’s Private/Social, a twist on the classic French 75, was so popular that he didn’t want to part ways with it in the fall; Hum seemed a natural autumn boost for this cleverly named drink. What you get is a mix of citrus and spritz with a frothy sheen of beer, the finish a wave of autumnal Hum. “It’s amazing how different .75 oz of Hum can make a cocktail taste,” he says. “When I presented the drink to the staff during training, everyone said the exact same thing: You nailed the flavors of fall.”
Want to make it yourself? Here’s the recipe.
FALL INTO A GLASS
2 oz light-bodied gin (such as Citadelle)
1 oz lemon juice
1½ oz simple syrup
¾ oz Hum liqueur
Combine all ingredients, shake and strain into a snifter. Top with 2-3 oz wheat beer (such as McKinney-based Franconia).
Were we not entertained? During this weekend’s inaugural run of Craft Cocktail TX, local cocktail enthusiasts flirted with alchemy, thought like chefs, embraced the possibilities of going green, beheld a master showman and witnessed a Sinatra-like rendition of Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”
Oh, and had a memorable tipple or three along the way.
Eddie “Lucky” Campbell of the Chesterfield makes yet another grand entrance, this time at Main Street Garden.
Stretched over the course of three and a half days, DFW’s first-ever cocktail festival may have been guilty of being a tad too ambitious. Some of Friday’s seminars bordered on sheer brand promotion. And it’s possible that scheduling the Main Street Garden party and bartender competition for an afternoon in June may not have been the best idea.
“I realized that about two o’clock Saturday,” said event co-founder Brian McCullough during Sunday’s closing party at The People’s Last Stand. Just the same, the man behind Uptown’s Standard Pour didn’t seem discouraged by the turnout, which was at times sparse: Seminar attendance ranged from five to 50.
“People are saying, you gotta keep doing this,” he said. In other words, it was like crafting a new cocktail: You taste, you adjust, you try again. The festival, he said, “about broke even” with an overall attendance he pegged at more than 600, and for a first-time event, it wasn’t bad; industry reps, well steeped in these sorts of occasions, praised DFW’s proceedings for not devolving into mere drunkenness.
Also, there were a lot of guys in hats.
Ian Reilly of The People’s Last Stand dishes up tiki flamboyance at Sunday’s festival closing party.
Saturday’s sweltering Main Street Garden party peaked with a small but happy crowd of liquoring neophytes and connoisseurs. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Suzi Ricci, a marketing professional from Dallas’ Design District. “It makes me want to bump it up at home. Why keep serving the same old Chardonnay? Let’s smash some watermelons and crush some basil.”
Bartenders vying for top honors whipped up cocktail samples showcasing a handful of sponsoring spirit producers like Milagro Tequila and Pink Pigeon Rum. Sommelier Sean Corcoran of The Joule made Rosemary “Jen” Fizzes featuring Roxor gin, rosemary-steeped cream, simple syrup, yuzu juice and egg white nitrogen-whipped into a frothy foam, then topped with dehydrated rosemary and candied sugar.
Brad Bowden of The People’s Last Stand hands out his sample creations at Saturday’s Main Street Garden party and cocktail competition.
Charlie Papaceno of Windmill Lounge used Roxor to make a Rhubarb Ginger Fizz, crushing and straining boiled rhubarb into a “rhubarb elixir” mixed with gin, lemon and ginger, topped off with seltzer and a fragrant basil leaf.
Only one barman, however, could walk away as best in show. Who would it be? “It’ll be a terrier,” Papaceno said. “It’s always a terrier.”
But it was Feodore Forte’, a server at Bolsa, who nabbed that recognition with a drink he called Summer Chill. The combination of Maker’s Mark whiskey, fresh lemon juice and pre-mixed yuzu, agave syrup and Fresno chiles was shaken with egg white, dolloped with a small scoop of locally made lemon-thyme sorbet and a brush of habanero syrup.
Josh Hendrix and Chef Patrick Stark of Sundown at the Granada prepare for their session on locally-sourced ingredients.
The outdoor party followed Friday’s lineup of cocktail seminars at Dallas’ historic Stoneleigh Hotel, which is where you would have found me that afternoon, geeking out high on the 11th floor as Private/Social’s Rocco Milano and his wizardly wagon of herbs, roots, spices and tinctures took us into the science lab to blend our own bitters and create our own tequila infusions.
Friday’s festival attendees blend their own dropper-bottle creations in Rocco Milano’s bitters workshop.
From Marquee’s Jason Kosmas we learned the elements of a great cocktail and some techniques for getting there; Josh Hendrix and Chef Patrick Stark of Sundown at the Granada touted a philosophy of ingredients sourced within 100 miles.
Armed with jalapeno-infused tequila, Trevor Landry of Dish shared the basics of heat and why it might appeal in a drink; and again and again, Lucky Campbell of the Chesterfield showed that when it comes to showmanship – an oft-forgotten element of bartendering – no one quite does it like him.
Veni, vidi, tiki: Craft Cocktails TX co-founder Brian McCullough, far left, and local liquor luminary Jason Kosmas, far right, celebrate at CCTX’s closing party.
DFW’s rapidly growing craft-cocktail scene has officially entered adolescence. Whether the city’s drinking populace – much of which still balks at the idea of egg white in a drink—has the inclination to usher it into adulthood, a thriving and educated community of muddlers and shakers, remains to be seen. But it’s an encouraging start.
Booze news and adventures in cocktailing, based In Dallas, Texas, USA. By Marc Ramirez, your humble scribe and boulevardier. All content and photos mine unless otherwise indicated. http://typewriterninja.com