Spring Sips

W Hotel unveils new spring cocktail menu

W libationist Dustin Courtwright
W libationist Dustin Courtwright (Photo Courtesy of W Hotel Austin)

As culinary enthusiasts gear up for this weekend’s Austin Food & Wine Festival, the W Hotel is undoubtedly gearing up for an influx of thirsty guests. Not only is the hotel playing host to today’s Food Republic Interview Lounge, the W Hotel’s Living Room Bar has a new spring cocktail menu. Lucky for us, it’s damn good.

Curated by the hotel’s new, resident libationist Dustin Courtwright, the menu features cocktails such as Cien Puntos, made with illegal joven mezcal, Domaine de Canton, lemon, lemongrass syrup, grapefruit, sage, and luxardo cherry and the Prairie Sky, made with Z Tequila Blanco, rooftop honey, lemon, pineapple, and sage. We caught up with the ever-so-charming Courtright to talk libations, sourcing local, and his personal favorites.

Austin Chronicle: How does one become a libationist?
Dustin Courtright: That's a hard question to answer, to be honest. First because I've never heard that specific term used by anyone but us, but also because each of the libationists we've had, to include myself, have been chosen for different reasons, different strengths if you will. I think the common thread we share is experience and passion. The job is not just about creating cocktails but being a host to every guest that comes into the Living Room. So I guess the shorter answer would be put your time in behind the bar, learn everything you can, and care. Care not only about the drinks you send out, but about the people that come in, the people you work next to, and the establishment you work for.

AC: What's your favorite cocktail on the spring menu? Why?
DC: My favorite cocktail on our new menu is the Strawberry Swing. The strawberry white balsamic shrub is an exciting and fun new ingredient to me. The vinegar gives a different way of incorporating acid into the cocktail other than citrus. Shrubs date back to the colonial days as a way of preserving the last of the harvest, and that pre-cocktail history is also something that appeals to me. I decided to use Fords Gin from the 86 Noise and Spirits Co. for this cocktail. They are a group of bartenders cooperating with master distillers from around the world to make spirits for bartenders specifically intended for mixing in cocktails. While the basis of the company obviously drew me to their products, the truth is it's a fantastic gin alone or mixed, and I knew I wanted to use it in some way. Once I knew I was going to use Fords and the strawberry shrub everything else just fell into place. I love the brightness of the preserved strawberry combined with fresh basil (always a great flavor combo) and the mellow ginger of the Domaine de Canton rounds it out with a little spice. The botanicals of the gin add a wonderful depth behind the other flavors.

AC: What differentiates this cocktail menu from others around town? What gives it that extra special something?
DC: We have a very eclectic clientele at the W, so we try to build an eclectic menu as well. Between hotel guests from all over and the Moody Theater next door, we see a wide variety of people so we strive to have something for everyone's tastes in addition to changing with the seasons. We hope to have cocktails for everyone to enjoy, including the most discerning cocktail aficionados.

AC: Are any of the ingredients sourced locally?
DC: We always try to support local brands as much as possible, so you will see many of those on our cocktail list: Deep Eddy, Tito’s, Z Tequila, White Hat Rum. In addition to the cocktails, we just changed up the beer list to include some more local brands – Circle, Twisted X, as well as Austin Beerworks and Real Ale – and we even have a wonderful Albariño from Texas called Tranquilo on our wine list now.

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