Cocktails: Drink Fresh

The new brand of cocktail is neither cheap nor fast, but for many, it's the only way to go

Fino's Bill Norris
Fino's Bill Norris (Photo by John Anderson)

The most promising trend in cocktails over the last year has been the move to drink fresh. We're talking about cocktails with fresh, often local ingredients. In cocktails, the additions can make or break a drinking experience.

A select few bartenders in town are taking the time to construct their own cocktails from scratch, often fashioning their own blends from local herbs, fruits, and vegetables. There's a crew out there that's pushing the envelope of what an artisanal cocktail looks like in a busy bar, folks who aren't afraid to use a jigger and who are happy to make a complicated, time-consuming drink if it makes the customer happy.

These bartenders are an interesting bunch. They have little respect for the folks that sling liquor and sugary mixes by counting time instead of measuring recipes. They share ideas, help one another find jobs, applaud every success, and talk up one another's progress. Bill Norris of Fino (2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905), Mindy Kucan, Ben Craven at Perla's (1400 S. Congress, 291-7300), Lara Nixon, and David Alan of the Tipsy Texan ( are just a few of the young guns whose credo is simple; Alan laid out their primary goal in this manifesto in Edible Austin: "no mixes – there is nothing a commercial mixer has to offer that can't be achieved more flavorfully and wholesomely from using fresh ingredients."

Many of these folks are rummaging around, looking for antique mixology manuals, pushing the envelope backward looking for more realistic cocktails, ones that honor the process and the final drink. When fresh local ingredients aren't available, only the finest component parts will do. Lara Nixon's "The Kentucky Peach" is a perfect example. This simple cocktail won the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival's Grape Escape Cocktail Showdown, but, since local peaches were out of season, Nixon whipped up her own peach syrup from Mexican peaches and added Fee Brothers peach bitters and a mint garnish. The kicker here: Who takes time to make their own peach syrup? Norris provides a continuous supply of homemade bitters at Fino, and Kucan isn't afraid to wander in fields looking for odd herbs or aromatics.

The simplest way to understand the differences between the old and new styles is to try the most common outlaw in Austin bars: the "margarita" that is filled with bar mixes, simple syrup, limeade, and a tiny hit of Tequila. Then make a classic, and marvel at what a little effort can do to enhance a cocktail. Take one part fresh lime juice, two parts Triple Sec, and three parts Tequila blanco; shake them together; and strain into an icy glass. Simple and perfect.

This new brand of cocktail is neither cheap nor fast. But if you value quality food and drink, it really is the only way to go. This is the best liquor trend Austin has seen in a very long time.

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