On Thursday, February 20, Austin’s best mixologist teams went head to head in a friendly (and delicious) competition to have their cocktails named the Official Drink of Austin. The decade old contest was originally started by the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau before merging with The Tipsy Texan and Edible Austin’s Drink Local event which was created to celebrate craft cocktails made with local and seasonal ingredients.
This year, The Tipsy Texan partnered with Austin Food & Wine Alliance for their first cocktail-focused event. “While the Alliance's core events have always been Live Fire! and Wine & Swine, it seemed that the timing might be right to throw the spotlight on both Austin's excellent cocktail bars and Texas distillers,” says CultureMap contributor Tom Thornton, who sits on AFWA’s board of directors. Proceeds from the event go to the AFWA’s culinary grant program, which has awarded $45,000 to local farmers, businesses, and small business owners in just two years.
The competition was open to bar teams this year, rather than individual bartenders, who submitted recipes for a long drink (a large volume cocktail served in a tall glass), an up drink (a cocktail with no ice in the final drink, similar to a dry martini), and a shot.
The six finalists selected by The Tipsy Texan to compete were Midnight Cowboy, Drink.Well, Whisler’s, Four Seasons, Qui, and Weather Up. Genius Gin, Treaty Oak, Balcones Distilling, and Dorćol Distilling were among the independent Texas distilleries who also showcased their products with creative cocktails.
Competitors were asked to use at least one Texan element in each cocktail they created. “We wanted them to consider what makes Austin unique and what ways they were doing something interesting and surprising,” says Mariam Parker, executive director of AFWA. The results ran the gamut from Lone Star in Drink.Well’s Hye Roller (simply mixed with Garrison Brothers bourbon to create a super Texan shot) and housemade falernum infused with Texas lavender and pecans in their Corn & Oil Man to Big Red in Midnight Cowboy’s Red River Redux and Real Ale coffee porter in Whisler’s Mighty Oak.
While People’s Choice Awards were awarded to Four Seasons, Drink.Well and Weather Up, the judging panel (consisting of Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, musician Adrian Quesada, Alba Huerta of Houston’s Anvil Bar & Lounge, Jason Kosmas of 86 Company, Austin-American Statesman food critic Matthew Odam and last year’s reigning champion Houston Eaves of San Antonio’s Esquire Tavern) chose the Four Seasons, Midnight Cowboy, and Qui bar teams to compete in one final exciting cocktail throwdown. Parker says, “We knew that the bars were going to bring their A-game, so we were prepared to have a lighting round with the top two, but because it was so tough we did the top three.”
Justin Elliott and his bar team at Qui took home a shiny cocktail shaker trophy for their tepache, which has now been named the Official Drink of Austin for a whole year. Their cocktail was made by first fermenting pineapples, sugar, water and spices to create the tepache, a sweet Mexican drink traditionally mixed with beer and sold out of street stalls. “It's basically controlled rot, but you can develop some amazing, deep flavors out of the stuff,” says Elliott, who created the drink. For the competition, he fortified the tepache with lemon juice, local honey and Balcones Rumble, along with Thai basil and mint, served tall on the rocks.
“It's the type of drink that Austinites have a strong affinity for — acid, spice, and just a little something weird,” describes Elliott. “And, in a lot of ways, it was my intention to maybe, however temporarily, depose the margarita as the reigning king of cocktails here.”
Looks like Austin’s about to see a lot more of its newest official drink. Not only will tepache will be on Qui’s bar menu all year long, but Argus Cidery will be releasing a bottles and limited kegs of the liquid gold this spring.
Qui’s winning tepache
In a Collins glass muddle:
8-10 leaves of mint
1.5 oz Balcones Rumble
.75 oz Honey Syrup (2:1)
.75 oz Lemon Juice
Fill with house made tepache (about 3 oz)
Garnish with Thai basil.