Drink Well Manager Takes First in Annual Don Q Rum Contest

The USBG sends a member to New York in national mixology contest

Drink Well Manager Takes First in Annual Don Q Rum Contest

Sure, the Don Q rep was an hour late for the contest, but I don’t think anyone cared as Drink Well owner Michael Sanders encouraged his wife (and United States Bartenders' Guild Austin chapter secretary) behind the bar as she slung drinks and munchies to the afternoon crowd.

I think everyone was pleasantly pacified with the restaurant’s featured Don Q drinks while anticipating the contest, like their delicious Spanish Harlem; a strong, sexy, syrupy rum-spin on a Manhattan. Competitors waited while looking their best, some pondering what to say while mixing for the judges or if they should talk at all. Two United States Bartenders Guild members traveled all the way from McAllen to compete for the chance to move on to nationals for New York’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic in May. The grand prize- a trip to Puerto Rico to visit the Don Q distillery. Recipes included root beer, lychee puree, pineapple, jicama, key lime, cinnamon, coconut and papaya juices, and of course, the appropriate tiki glass and umbrella to garnish.

I’ll sum up the five cocktails in a few words, to the best of my abilities, from beginning to end; spicy-fruity, crazy potpourri, watered-down root beer, fruit loops, ginger beer. I’ll leave this to interpretation.

Bias for loving ginger aside, my personal favorite was second place winner, Luis Martinez from McAllen’s jicama- ginger concoction. Had there been a hint less ginger beer, and maybe another, slightly more complex element in the drink or in the presentation, his drink would’ve been a clear winner. The jicama cut the ginger beer bite and the rum wasn’t lost in the drink. Not too fruity but still a lil’ exotic, it was just what I’d look for in a rum drink.

Winner Tacy Rowland started by misting the glasses with absinthe and continued on her quest for aromatic domination with cinnamon, orange zest and mint, in the process blowing our minds by adding grapefruit and lime juices, bitters and maraschino. She was poised and confident when inserting trees of mint in the cocktails; as for me, I just desperately wanted to try the damn thing. I thought there was a slim chance that it would be good with everything but the kitchen sink in it, but it wasn’t only good, it was intriguing. With anything culinary, if you can make people think while keeping the flavor combos in check, you’ve done your job. My only complaint was the drink’s powerful components hid the rum. If someone asked me what liquor was in the cocktail, I’d embarrassingly have a hard time telling them.

Third place winner Matt Moody of San Antonio didn’t lack in the presentation department, bringing his own ceramic tiki glasses and umbrellas to fit the Puerto Rican theme. The drink was good and included lychee juice and root beer, but the finish was weak. One thing I really liked about Moody and Martinez’ drinks was that you could actually taste the liquor; something that’s important to me when determining the quality of a cocktail.

Drink Well’s newest crew addition, Madelyn Kay served a drink as summery and pretty as she was, mixing up a sweet and tart papaya and key lime Don Q drink.

Other McAllen-man Javier Flores impressed with a star fruit- habanero cocktail that had a nice froth and spice to it.

The judges consisted of Edible Austin’s Jenna Noel, local chef Zack Northcutt, Iron Cactus’s Gary Manley and USBG board member and Lucky 13 Cocktails owner Marcelo Nascimento.

It’s an annual fee of $100 to be a USBG member, which includes perks like their many contests and free events. They have monthly meetings and members say it’s not only fun, but very educational.

Don Q is on a mission to take over the Austin scene as it has in Dallas, strategically promoting the Puerto Rican goodness. Tactical marketing is not only smart; it can be really fun, too.

Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

If you want to submit a recipe, send it to food@austinchronicle.com

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Meghan Ruth Speakerman
Sign of the Times
Sign of the Times
Phone app texts waiting patrons

Nov. 6, 2012

Drink.Well. Does All Hallows' Eve
Drink.Well. Does All Hallows' Eve
Special cocktails, special prices

Oct. 31, 2012


United States Bartenders' Guild, Don Q, Drink Well, Tacy Rowland

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle