The Austin Food & Wine Alliance partnered up with the Tipsy Texan and together they did an incredible job of turning the Official Drink of Austin Contest into a super cool craft cocktail competition well worth the price of admission. This party has finally found its groove.
As a veteran judge of the previous incarnation of this event which was run by the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and invited hotel mixologists to create Batini's, I must say this year's contest held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center last week was a vast improvement, my headache notwithstanding.
I didn’t even get to taste all the food, because I tried to taste all the competing cocktails instead, and the bartenders were slammed. Each team had three entries – a long drink, an up drink, and a shot – and they were having to explain the ingredients every time someone new stepped up for a sample, which took a long time. But each and every drink was worth the wait. Of the food we were able to try, my favorite were masa gnocchi with almond Mornay sauce and toasted chile pasilla slivers from Swift's Attic, and coriander glazed spare ribs served over an awesome butternut squash and purple cauliflower slaw from Finn & Porter. The night’s revelation came from a new spot on the horizon called Fork & Vine, which will be opened later this spring by Brendan Puthoff of Hickory Street and Third Base with in partnership with chef Camden Stuerzenberger, formerly of Bess. Camden made potato chips topped with a drizzle of chicken liver mousse, charred shishito peppers, and crispy chicken skin bits (think crumbled bacon). I could have eaten a dozen of those things! I was surprised to see that many of the cocktails used Balcones Distillery’s products – lots of whiskey going around (hence the headache for me). Not surprisingly, my People's Choice chip went to the “Picante Pepino" from Midnight Cowboy, which barman extraordinaire Brian Dressel confessed he wanted to rename “the Quita Culpepper.” This was a simple, refreshing tall drink comprised of Navy-Strength Genius Gin, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, lime juice, and simple syrup, garnished with a cucumber slice doused in Trechas spicy salt.
A close second favorite was Whisler’s “Mighty Oak,” made with Treaty Oak Special Reserve Aged Rum, Real Ale Coffee Porter, Ancho Reyes, smoked maple syrup, and egg white. My husband's chip went to the Sotol from Qui, a delicious blend of Genius Navy Strength Gin, Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Plata, Dolin Vermouth Blanc, Yellow Chartreuse, hop tincture, and grapefruit peel.
There were three finalists, all equally deserving: The Four Seasons represented with the Red Handed Stranger (orange infused Red Handed Bourbon Whiskey, cherry herring, Tea Embassy Royal Earl Grey Syrup, Meyer lemon juice, Richard's Happy Sparkling Water, and orange peel); Midnight Cowboy showcased their outstanding Joe Buck (Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey, Dijon mustard syrup, lemon juice, ginger beer); and Qui’s team prepared their take on Tepache (a homemade, lightly alcoholic beverage made by fermenting pineapple peels and cores with sugar and water. They make the fermented juice in house, then add Balcones Rumble, lemon juice, Texas honey, fresh mint, and Thai basil).
At the end of the evening, the teams of finalists came onstage to make a batch of their selected cocktail for another round of judging and showmanship. In the end, Qui was crowned the champion with its refreshing take on the old fashioned Mexican staple, Tepache. It is the Official Drink of Austin for 2014. Salud!
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