Drink Upscale

Neoclassic cocktails for the holidays

For those about to cocktail, we salute you:
(l-r) Elizabeth Lopez, Brian Dressel, 
Bill Norris, Tiffany Short, Lara Nixon,
Josh Loving, and Adam Bryan
For those about to cocktail, we salute you: (l-r) Elizabeth Lopez, Brian Dressel, Bill Norris, Tiffany Short, Lara Nixon, Josh Loving, and Adam Bryan (Photo by John Anderson)

New Year's parties demand good adult beverages, and these days, more folks are turning to cocktails. True, they require more work than popping the top off a beer or pouring a glass of wine. On the other hand, taking a moment to mix someone an imaginative drink is a courtesy that most guests really appreciate. So we decided to ask some of Austin's best bartenders to help us come up with some easy but delicious drinks that can be made in a flash. These are people who are used to getting a lot of complicated drinks out quickly, and they always have the finest available ingredients. So we asked them to have mercy on our poor souls and create quick, stress-free drinks with easy-to-find ingredients.

You might notice that some of these people have worked together and that a few places are mentioned frequently. That doesn't mean there aren't other places with great cocktail programs, because Austin has them in every corner of town. I chose these folks because they are all fascinated by classic, timeless, and enduring cocktails. Most won't be trying out the latest Jägermeister boilermaker recipes, but if you want a Manhattan with real rye and tasty types of vermouth or a place where you know martinis are made with genuine gin, these folks are your ticket to cocktail happiness. Here's what they came up with.

Elizabeth Lopez will be working at the new Bar Congress. After receiving her Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she learned to make classic and pre-Prohibition cocktails with Peter Vestinos at Sepia in Chicago. She asked me to mention that she "loves Austin and doesn't miss those damn winters at all." She sent us this delicious cocktail recipe that, with a little mise en place, should allow a quick preparation. By the way, if raw eggs worry you, there are always pasteurized eggs. To me, they just don't taste the same, but it's your choice.

Bourbon Pep

1½ ounces bourbon
1 ounce grenadine
½ ounce fresh lime juice
One egg white

Shake all ingredients without ice for 20 seconds (to get the egg white frothy). Then add ice to your shaker and shake some more. Strain over ice in a collins glass and top with real ginger beer.

Honey Bear Margarita

2½ ounces honey liqueur
1½ ounces tequila blanco
½ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice, strain in a martini or cocktail glass.

Drunk and Lucky 

2 ounces gin (Right Gin or Hendrick's)
1 ounce lime juice
½ ounce cane syrup
¾ ounce pear or peach liqueur

Build all ingredients in a collins glass with ice. Stir and top with soda water.

Josh Loving is a curious fellow. Not curious like weird, but as in inquisitive. He's the wine director for both Fino and Asti, as well as the bar manager at Fino. He started learning a few years ago by volunteering to help the wine director at Asti. Loving did the scut work and ended up with the wine job. Then he started volunteering with Fino's mixologist deluxe, Bill Norris, and also worked with Adam Bryan at the East Side Show Room. When Norris left Fino to open Haddingtons, Loving took over the Fino bar, as well. Fino's bar philosophy includes ingredients and beverages that are far beyond most amateurs' abilities, but I asked Josh to keep it really simple. Unless you're an apple-brandy lover, this will require a trip to the store, but the result is well worth the effort.

Drink Upscale

Oldest Fashioned

2 ounces Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (Loving advises against using Laird's Applejack.)
1 sugar cube
1 teaspoon Paula's Texas Orange (Any triple sec will suffice, but why not go local?)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 swath of lemon peel (cut with a peeler or paring knife)

Place sugar cube in an old fashioned glass and soak it with the bitters. Muddle the sugar to make a simple-syrup slurry. Add the lemon peel and the orange liqueur, lightly muddling the lemon to release its essential oils. Add ice and 1 ounce of the apple brandy. Stir with a spoon for about 15-20 seconds. Add the other ounce of apple brandy and stir another 15-20 seconds. Serve. (The reason for two separate additions of brandy has to do with the melting ice diluting the liquor.)

Brian Dressel has been holding court at Fino and the East Side Show Room but is moving to Bar Congress. He has fallen in love with a Texas spirit: "Balcones Rumble is a brandylike spirit distilled from mission figs, turbinado sugar, and Texas wildflower honey. It is made up in Waco and makes great cocktails." His idea is almost as easy as pouring a glass of Champagne. As you would for any recipe that uses bitters, pick which brand carefully. It will have a powerful impact on the final flavors, so next time you're at a good store, ask for some advice. Angostura bitters are ubiquitous and are just fine, as long as the bottle hasn't gotten too old. Here's a nice piece of party trivia: Where is the possession of bitters illegal? Poland. The government can't decide whether to tax it as a medicine or a liquor, so they just outlaw it all together.

Rumble Royale

1 ounce Balcones Rumble
½ ounce simple syrup (Half sugar and half water stirred over heat until the sugar dissolves. Make in advance.)
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake and strain into a Champagne flute. Top with chilled Champagne or sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The Rumbleseat

1½ ounces Balcones Rumble 
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce Paula's Texas Orange

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Adam Bryan, bar manager of Bar Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen, is one of the handful of Austin mixologists who started the creative push toward classic and classic-styled cocktails that's hit Austin over the last five years. This recipe is delicious and quick, but also calorie-laden. What the hell, it's the holidays.

Forty Nights

1½ ounces Smith & Cross rum (Sailor Jerry is easier to find and would work almost as well.)
1½ ounces Brewhouse Brown Ale (from local Real Ale Brewing Company)
1 ounce fresh heavy cream
½ ounce simple syrup

Combine all ingredients and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with grated nutmeg.

White-Hot Texas Snow

3 ounces Treaty Oak Platinum Rum
6 ounces half-and-half
4 ounces almond milk
½ ounce green Chartreuse 
4 ounces Ghirardelli white chocolate baking bar

Place all nonalcoholic ingredients into sauce pan. Heat until fully combined. Add rum and Chartreuse and remove from heat. Pour into mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stirring stick.

Curried Kilt Lifter

1½ ounces of your favorite scotch 
4 ounces spiced apple cider
¼ ounce simple syrup
¼ teaspoon yellow curry

Heat apple cider, simple syrup, and curry until hot and blended. Add scotch and remove from heat. Serve in a mug with a clove orange peel garnish.

Lara Nixon is the co-founder of Tipsy Texan's Tipsy Tech spirits education classes. She's also the brand ambassador for Domaine de Canton, an absolutely addictive ginger liqueur. Oh, and she prefers the title "bar craftsman" to "mixologist."  While this drink will probably necessitate a trip to the store, it is useful because it can be made in advance and in bulk, then poured on the spot.

True Blue EggNog

1 bottle Balcones True Blue
6 ounces maple syrup
6 ounces walnut liqueur (Nixon prefers Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur.)
1 quart eggnog (more if you prefer a less heady drink)

Mix all ingredients and let marry in the refrigerator for at least two hours. When serving, grate fresh nutmeg and/or cinnamon on top.  

Tiffany Short came home to Austin about six months ago after stints at the world-famous Inn at Little Washington and the chic D.C. bar the Gibson. She'll be bartending at Haddingtons when it opens. When I asked her for a drink, she had a quick response: "For these holidays, I think, simple, classic, and classy. And for me, nothing sums that up better than the Perfect Martini. The term 'perfect,' when used with Manhattans or martinis, means you use equal parts sweet and dry vermouth." Short is a strong believer in using the best vermouths. The Dolin brand is available at the Austin Wine Merchant. 

Drink Upscale

Perfect Martini

2 ounces Plymouth gin
½ ounce Dolin sweet vermouth
½ ounce Dolin dry vermouth
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters

Combine in mixing glass, stir, serve in martini glass with an orange twist

Bill Norris has twice been named Best Mixologist in The Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll and also won a slot representing the U.S. in the 2008 42Below Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand (the U.S. came in second). The head bartender at Haddingtons is a dedicated classicist, constantly poring through old recipe books looking for new classic ideas. He is quite specific about ingredients (as you can see below), but says that if you must, you can substitute calvados for the brandy. This drink can be made in larger quantities as long as the ice doesn't have a chance to melt too much.

The Waldorf #2

2 ounces Laird's Straight Apple Brandy
½ ounce Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
3 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
2 thinly sliced pieces of Granny Smith or other crisp, tart apple for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled, and strain over large ice cubes in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a fan of apple slices.

David Alan of Tipsy Texan

Polonia Fizz Royale

1½ ounces Potocki Polish rye vodka
¾ ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
¼ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce (approximately) Prosecco

Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, top with sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon peel.

For smart-phone aficionados, try the fabulous app from local dot-com refugee Matt Hillebrand, Mixologist (99 cents). It catalogs your home collection, offers drinks based on what's in your cabinets, and even helps you find the nearest bar when you get tired of doing your own bartending.

Have a happy new year!

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Cocktails, Elizabeth Lopez, Bourbon Pep, Brian Dressel, Balcones Distillery, Balcones Rumble, Rumble Royale, Josh Loving, East Side Show Room, Fino, Asti, Oldest Fashioned, Adam Bryan, Bar Congress, Forty Nights, Tiffany Short, Perfect Martini, Haddingtons, Lara Nixon, Tipsy Tech

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