Tag Archives: maker’s mark

With dedicated bars, mezcal’s missionaries hope to convert Dallas tastes

Dallas mezcaleria
Spreading the gospel: A trio of Oak Cliff friends are looking to share the love.

First came the bottles of Del Maguey, creeping onto the back shelves of select Dallas cocktail bars at the whims of barkeeps already touched by mezcal’s pentecostal fire. Even so, the agave-based spirit was shared straight – as some believe it should always be – and then only with the equally enthralled or the merely curious, offering a smoky hint of what was to come.

Then came the cocktails, in which mezcal was first relegated to a bit role, a distant sidekick to tequila, before gradually being paraded front and center to put its smokiness on full display. More recently, the Mexican spirit has been gauging its appeal among Big D imbibers in a growing series of pop-up-style events around town, but the question remains: Is Dallas ready for a full-fledged mezcal-driven bar?

A trio of Oak Cliff friends think so – and the three hope their passion for mezcal will turn other Dallas drinkers on to a spirit that has come a long way since the days it was known as “that bottle with the worm in it.”

Las Almas Rotas
Bar manager Daniel Ferrin making a round of cocktails at a soft opening event at Las Almas Rotas.

Las Almas Rotas, the project of pals Taylor Samuels, Shad Kvetko and Leigh Kvetko, hopes to open this weekend on Parry Avenue, across from Fair Park. The mezcal-focused bar represents the logical and welcome next chapter for a concept that began first as a group of friends meeting for periodic mezcal tastings before becoming an underground tasting room (for those in-the-know) on Davis Street. There, the three would expound on mezcal’s virtues opposite a wall on which was scrawled “Tequila to wake the living. Mezcal to wake the dead.”

When the three shuttered that rustic hideaway, they set their sights on a licensed operation where they could share the fervor they’d built while not just tasting but learning about the spirit — even making several visits to Oaxaca, where the vast majority of mezcal is produced, much of it in small, family-run palenques that have been doing so for generations.

Las Almas Rotas
How it all began — with informal tastings like this one at the Kvetkos’ Oak Cliff home. Clockwise from top, Taylor Samuels, Shad Kvetko and Leigh Kvetko.

“We’re hoping the space will be interesting enough to engage people to come in,” says Samuels, whose pedigree is strong as a member of the family that launched Maker’s Mark. “Hopefully it will encourage people to reach beyond their normal habits.”

Leigh Kvetko
An image of a tobala-variety agave plant, the work of Leigh Kvetko, graces the door at Las Almas Rotas.

Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave plant – but while tequila is limited to the blue agave variety, mezcal is a spirit made from any agave variety (thus making tequila technically a mezcal) and so has a broader taste profile.

“There’s an immense amount of genetic diversity,” panelist Ivan Suldana, author of “The Anatomy of Mezcal,” told an audience at 2015’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. “We’re talking about the largest genetic diversity we can get from a spirit.”

Which is one reason Samuels chose to pursue a Mexican spirit rather than the pride of his Kentucky family. “Mezcal to me is more interesting than bourbon because every batch is different,” he says.

Mezcal’s production process also differs from tequila, with the hearts of the agave smoked in ovens rather than baked, giving the spirit its distinctive smoky flavor. Agave has an almost mythical status in Oaxaca, and those turned on to mezcal’s distinctive flavors remember their conversion.

Mezcal Cartel
A typical table spread at one of the so-called “Mezcal Cartel’s at-home tastings.

For Samuels, that moment came at Austin’s Bar Ilegal, a tiny, dark mezcaleria where patrons were encouraged to sip samples from traditional copas. “That was my first experience,” said Samuels, who’s been tending bar at Oak Cliff’s Bar Belmont throughout the last year. “I didn’t really understand until I was in that room. Then Shad and I started doing the dinners and it kept getting larger and we thought, ‘We need a good room to drink mezcal in.’ That led to this.”

Las Almas Rotas – “the broken souls” – will have such a room, lurking behind a main area focused on cocktails and Mexican small plates. There you’ll find more obscure mezcals and even Paranubes, a fantastic Oaxacan agricole rum. “It’s kind of an homage to our speakeasy,” Samuels says. “Just straight spirits and Topo Chico.”

Mauricio Garriegos and Daniel Zapata
Bartenders Garriegos and Zapata keeping it real at Santos y Pecadores, the twice-weekly mezcal pop-up at Uptown’s Bowen House.

Such a room already exists in Dallas, in the back area of Uptown’s Bowen House, where bartenders Daniel Zapata and Mauricio Garriegos operate Santos y Pecadores (“saints and sinners”) on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The two pour strictly agave spirits in a small space accented with Christian paraphernalia, luchador masks and even a figurine of a revered, Robin-Hood-like narco.

Santos y Pecadores, too, is an extension of a previous effort, a series of mezcal pop-ups previously conducted with fellow bartenders Hector Zavala and Luis Sifuentes.

“We want people to get in love with mezcal,” says Garriegos, who also works at Palapas on Lower Greenville. That is the true Mexico, he says; not tequila. “It’s, like, with Mexican food. People think they’re eating real Mexican food but it’s actually Tex-Mex.”

Las Almas Rotas will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, with church-pew seating, contemporary Mexican rustic decor and two-inch-thick pecan tables from the original speakeasy. The image of an agave plant that graces the front door was done by Leigh Kvetko, a graphic designer.

Mezcal Cartel
Informal dinner-table gatherings eventually led to this now-closed underground tasting room on Davis Street.

Husband Shad is an antiques collector and dealer, and the Kvetkos hosted many of the original gatherings of the so-called “Mezcal Cartel,” of which I was fortunate enough to be a part. What began as a group of mezcal-enthused friends sipping agave around a dinner table will now be a brick-and-mortar operation that they hope will inspire similar zeal in others.

“We basically created a room that we would want to drink in,” Shad Kvetko says.

For their mezcaleria’s actual opening date, keep an eye on their Facebook page for announcements.

LAS ALMAS ROTAS, 3615 PARRY AVE, DALLAS.

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Pairing spirits with dinner: More of that, please.

 

Whiskey Cake, Plano
Plays well with food: Last month’s whiskey-paired dinner at Plano’s Whiskey Cake.

More than three years later, the memories linger. Five courses at one of the city’s best restaurants, each paired with cocktails made by five of the city’s best bartenders, and all featuring Maker’s Mark whiskey.

The scene was Seattle’s Spur Gastropub, and the chefs were rocking it as usual. (Example: sous vide pork belly with sunchokes and Bing cherries – whut whut?) The all-star bartender lineup cranked out an assembly line of original cocktails like the Pine Box, with its grilled-pineapple garnish. There was even some Maker’s 46, which was about to hit the market in summer 2010. We were a happy bunch.

I moved to Dallas soon afterward, and since then I’ve been to barely a handful of spirit or cocktail-themed dinners, though not for lack of want. Last month some friends and I hit a Hudson Whiskey-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake in Plano. And as I do every time I go to one of these events, I wondered: Why doesn’t this happen more often?

Wine and beer dinners have long been a thing, but bartenders like J.W. Tate – formerly of Tate’s Dallas – at first faced resistance to the notion of making a one-stop night of cocktails and food. That’s starting to change as DFW’s cocktail culture comes of age – a welcome and logical step in the scene’s continuing evolution.

Tate’s offered two spirits-paired dinners before J.W. left Dallas earlier this year to head up a company venture in Winston-Salem, N.C., and places like Dallas’ Libertine Bar and La Duni have experimented with the idea too. “People are trying it,” says Libertine’s Mate Hartai. “It’s just going to take a while for the wheels to hit the ground.”

Seattle
Among a cocktail dinner’s challenges: Quickly producing drinks en masse. At Seattle’s Spur, an assembly line of bartenders churn out pairings for a Maker’s Mark dinner.

One reason for the slow going is that these dinners — which generally run from $35 to $100 — aren’t easy to pull off. Cocktails are time-intensive and demand smaller groups; achieving drink consistency can be difficult when produced in a bunch. And the kind of patron who embraces the idea of a cocktail dinner isn’t going to tolerate pre-batched drinks.

On the other hand, the ever-broadening assortment of quality spirits, cordials and apertifs give bartenders a grand palette to work from.

“It’s rewarding when you do it right,” Hartai says. “But it’s much more difficult than people think.”

***

The glasses are set, pretty orbs in a row, when a legion of Sazeracs appear in our midst. The classic cocktail is the evening’s first volley at last month’s Hudson-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake. The Plano restaurant’s dinner showcased the Hudson line’s various incarnations, from its New York Corn Whiskey, well paired with chef Brent Hammer’s charred octopus; and Four Grain Bourbon, solidly supporting an extraordinary, In-N-Out-inspired dry-aged-sirloin burger; and more.

Whiskey Cake, Plano
Whiskey Cake’s Hudson dinner kicked off with a classic Sazerac.

Sean Conner, Whiskey Cake’s beverage director, tackles pairings the way he does cocktails, dissecting courses’ flavor profiles to match. “Certain things go with blackberry or cinnamon or basil,” he says. “It takes six weeks to plan out four or five different cocktails and make them really special.”

Pairing cocktails with food offers some of the same challenges that went into creating, say, sweet-and-sour chicken, with its mix of sweet and savory. “You try to figure out how someone else solved that puzzle,” says Libertine’s Hartai. “To me, that’s really fun. It takes a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.”

Last year, when Tate’s offered a cocktail-paired dinner with chef DAT (David Anthony Temple), “DAT sent over a menu, and I riffed on that,” Tate says. “We talked a bit, and I threw out a cocktail menu, and we each made changes as it got closer…. It’s a lot like making music, with two people jamming – you throw something out there and the other person runs with it, and five weeks later you’ve got something.”

When Temple said he was doing garlic soup, Tate immediately thought of Campari and came up with a drink called the Italian Resistance. On its own, the drink’s various elements struggled to mingle, but fared much better as a pairing. Similarly, a chanterelle-and-pink-peppercorn-infused vodka drink went nicely with Temple’s speck and arugula salad but its savory character made it less pleasurable as a stand-alone cocktail.

The bar’s whiskey-themed dinner in April was a treat, pairing peppery Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel whiskey, for instance, with corn soup with fried pig ear, parsley crème fraiche and house-made hot sauce.

J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate's Dallas, among spirit-paired dinners' early adopters.
J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate’s Dallas, which was among spirit-paired dinners’ early adopters.

And last year, at Libertine’s whiskey-and-beer-paired dinner featuring three Scotches and two hefty beers, Hartai wanted to echo the flavors of Lagavulin. “I sat down with the chef and said, `I need smoke, earth and some kind of heat.’ He did a mushroom compote with this awesome smoked-pork thing and some vinegary thing for a kick. It took the whiskey apart into its larger flavor components.”

More recently he did what he called an Italian dinner, but by dinner’s end he had unveiled it more precisely as a vermouth-paired dinner. “The whole point was to change people’s minds about vermouth,” he says. “By the end, people were drinking straight glasses of vermouth and saying, `This is great!’ Well, yeah, it is.”

Hartai likes to save a palate-testing curve ball for the last course. “I want to jar people, give them a reason to talk,” he says. “If you realize you’re putting together an experience aimed at creating lasting memories and challenging palates, you can make an awesome dinner.”

Tate's Dallas whiskey dinner
At Tate’s whiskey dinner, Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel was paired with this delicious corn soup with fried pig ear.
Whiskey Cake's dinner featured this tasty sirloin burger alongside Hudson's Four Grain Bourbon.
Whiskey Cake’s dinner featured this tasty treat alongside Hudson’s Four Grain Bourbon.

Looking for a cocktail or spirits-themed dinner? Contact these spots and see what’s on the schedule, or follow them on Facebook.

WHISKEY CAKE KITCHEN AND BAR, 3601 Dallas Parkway, Plano. 972-993-2253. Offers quarterly alcohol-paired dinners.

LIBERTINE BAR, 2101 Greenville Ave., Dallas. 214-824-7900. Does dinners monthly, generally beer.

LA DUNI LATIN KITCHEN, four locations in Dallas/Fairview. Offers cocktail-paired, three-course dinners. Join the restaurant’s “inner circle” at one of its locations or at www.laduni.com to advance notice of such events.

KOMALI, 4152 Cole Ave., Dallas. 214-252-0200. Offers occasional tequila- and mezcal-paired dinners.

Down and Dirty on the Boulevard: Gettin’ our picnic on at Chefs for Farmers 2013

Chefs for Farmers 2013
Boulevardier’s Eddie Eakin knocking out Maker’s 46 cocktails at Chefs for Farmers 2013.

Hey, Chefs For Farmers: You can tell everybody this is your song, because last weekend I was reminded like a big slap in the face how wonderful life is when you’re in the world. Or in Dallas, anyway.

Yep: Four days later, I’m still recovering from the Elton-John-esque epicness that was Chefs For Farmers 2013, which brought more than a thousand of my fellow food and drink aficionados to Dallas’ Robert E. Lee Park to basically form obstacles between my appetite and all the tasty consumables that were there to be had.

Chefs for Farmers 2013
Cafe Momentum’s smoked bison tamale with fig mole, among Sunday’s culinary bounty.

 

 

 

 

 

Not that it mattered. I realized that by the end of the all-afternoon event that I had partaken of cow, pig, bison, duck, rabbit and boar, not to mention a bit of chicken liver spread. (Thanks to a late dinner at Nora, I managed to add lamb to the day’s lineup, too.) As CraveDFW’s Steven Doyle put it, there were a lot of critters in my belly.

Little of the fare could be called average. Far more of it ranged from very good to outstanding, from Parigi’s wild boar Bolognese (my personal fave) to the short-rib soup from The Mansion At Turtle Creek (fab) to the euphoria-inducing maple-pecan-bacon ice cream (!!!) from Jack Perkins of Maple and Motor and Slow Bone BBQ. Dude, Sweet Chocolate’s drinking chocolate with carrot-lemon foam was a standout, too.

But there were drinks, too, which is what had initially drawn your intrepid cocktails scribe to the picnic-blanket-and-revelry-covered scene. Boulevardier’s Eddie Eakin, High West Distillery’s Chris Furtado and Ten Bells Tavern’s Greg Matthews cranked out Maker’s 46 magic – including Eakin’s Steep Buzz, which married the Kentucky bourbon with  Earl Grey honey syrup, ginger liqueur, lemon and apple bitters. “I’ve never made a thousand cocktails at once before,” Eakin said, managing not to seem overwhelmed.

Chefs for Farmers 2013
Ryan Sumner and Julian Pagan of Cedars Social, craftily engineering a good time for all.

The drinks poured forth from nearby fellow libationists, including Cedars Social’s Julian Pagan and Ryan Sumner, Central 214’s Amber West, Abacus’ Lucky Campbell and The People’s Last Stand’s Brad Bowden. I had to give my nod to the Autumn’s Apple cocktail from The Standard Pour’s Christian Armando and Brian McCullough, a spicy medley of Patron Reposado, cinnamon syrup, lemon, apple cider and Angostura bitters.

Until next year, Chefs For Farmers, when I’m counting on one of those excellent chefs to bring some goat to the party. Don’t go breakin’ my heart.

Chefs For Farmers 2013
Chef David Anthony Temple got into the fun with attendee Sheila Abbott.

 

Chefs for Farmers 2013
Christian Armando of Standard Pour doing double-duty.
Event program
Chefs For Farmers 2013
CraveDFW’s Steven Doyle awards me my Maker’s Mark pin.

Counting on Abacus: This five-star restaurant is ramping up its cocktails

Abacus' Blackberry Smash is among the acclaimed restaurant's new bar offerings.
Abacus’ Blackberry Smash is among the acclaimed restaurant’s new bar offerings.

AND JUST LIKE THAT, sweet things are already happening behind the bar at Abacus, the five-star fancypants restaurant that has long wowed critics with its Pacific Rim cuisine. The recent addition of bartender-slash-apothecary Lucky Campbell to its staff of able libationists was a sign that the Knox-Henderson landmark was ready to boost its bar program too.

Hint one that change is afoot: The barrel flanking one end of the swanky bar’s bottle stash. Mid-afternoon last Friday, that barrel was filled with Old Fashioneds and presumably destined to age, but by 10 p.m. Campbell was already positing that the bar had sold more Old Fashioneds in one night than in the past two months. By weekend’s end, he said, the barrel was nearly empty.

This is Abacus, people. Wine, Martinis and Champagne cocktails are the rule, right?

But witness the new, Asian-flavored menu (priced from $12-$14), set to roll out today: A deliciously gorgeous Blackberry Smash made with Maker’s Mark bourbon. A Brandy Stinger featuring Tempus Fugit’s top-notch crème de menthe. And preparing to float lava-lamp-style in the extremely dry, Champagne-driven Femme Fatale: pearls of effing Violette.

That’s right: little spheres of lavender-y Creme de Violette, one of Campbell’s lab projects. A jasmine-tea cordial and five-spice tincture are already bubbling in a back room, and even the Martini menu has been primped, with one knockout version offering Islay-Scotch-and-cracked-pepper blue cheese olives, stuffed in-house.

Said bartender Jordan Gantenbein: “I’ve been waiting three years to do this.”

The sensibilities that guide Abacus’ renowned kitchen are seeping into the dimly lit bar.  So it wasn’t surprising to find Chef de Cuisine Daniel Burr himself on a stool late one night, helping the black-clad bar samurai as they brainstormed an Asian-themed Margarita variation and suggesting matcha green tea powder as a component.

There are some real curiosities on the new menu, like the clever Banksy with “spray-paint spices,” a Yuzu Collins with Bing Cherry soda and the “Ninja Rita,” with its foam of Togarashi, a Japanese spice powder.

Abacus is having some fun now. This is a place worth keeping an eye on.

Lucky Campbell
Abacus’ grapefruity Rio Star is one of the standouts on its redone cocktail menu.