Austin | Dallas | Houston
Meet the Tastemakers

Austin's top craft bartenders share the cocktails everyone should know how to make

Austin Photo Set: News_dupuy_tastemakers_craft bartenders_april 2013

Things are different in the world of cocktails. It’s a rapid change that began in bigger cities like New York, San Francisco and New Orleans almost 10 years ago, but has slowly crept into the Austin bar scene in the past few years. No longer is a gin and tonic just a splash of house gin and Schwepps tonic water with a twist of lime. Instead, you see things like Sloe gin poured with house-made tonic, a dash of orange bitters and a single monster-sized cube of ice in your glass. And chances are, the list of specialty cocktails offered on a menu are meticulously thought out concoctions inspired by pre-Prohibition era classics such as the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned and the Vieux Carré.

The level of artistry and depth of flavor we’ve seen develop within Austin’s craft bartending scene in recent years has been both swift and captivating. Not only does the Capital City boast a vibrant food scene, but an equally tantalizing wine, spirits and cocktail scene as well. And it’s something worth celebrating.

Which is why we’ve nominated five craft bartenders who have shown a breadth of creativity and skill in the past year that is worthy of a 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Award.

Top from left: Brian Dressel, Steven Robbins, Tacy Rowland.
Bottom from left: Jason Stevens, Josh Loving.

Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: Tastemakers 2013_Brian Dressel_midnight cowboy

Brian Dressel, Midnight Cowboy

A seat at Midnight Cowboy is an enlightening experience. Much of that is thanks in part to Brian Dressel. Though originally from Houston, Dressel came to Austin by way of Atlanta and Brooklyn before settling here a few years ago. He’s worked in bars for more than 10 years but admits it wasn’t until about four years ago that be became serious about craft cocktails.

What is the first cocktail that you remember that turned you on to making this a profession?

Honestly, the Jåger Bomb. You spend about five years making these for overly-caffeinated people, and anyone is gonna try to find a different perspective on bartending.
 

What are the top three spirits everyone should have in their home bar? 

If I have to pick only three, I'd go with dry gin, rye whiskey and aged rum. With those and the addition of some non-distilled ingredients, you can make a pretty impressive list of classics.


What’s your recommendation for just one cocktail that everyone should know how to make?

The Martini. After years of trying to see how complicated we can make the "fill-in-the-blank"-tini, it is pretty eye-opening to see how great a martini can be in its simplest form.

Martini
Ingredients:
2 ounces dry gin (I like Plymouth or something big and juniper-forward.)

1 ounce dry Vermouth (I like Dolin. Make sure it’s fresh.)

1-2 dashes orange bitters

Lemon twist for garnish

Directions:
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
 Garnish with a lemon twist.

Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: Tastemakers 2013_Steven Robbins_contigo

Steven Robbins, Contigo

There’s a lot more to this Mobile, Alabama native than southern charm. Especially if you’re looking for a good drink at the ranch patio-style digs of Contigo. Robbins has been bartending off and on for about 10 years but confesses “I've been properly using a shaker and a spoon to craft cocktails for about five years.”

What is the first cocktail that you remember that turned you on to making this a profession?

The Sazerac or Sidecar, because both have great stories behind them and seem very basic, but when properly measured and prepared, exemplify balance. Of course, the same could be said for many classics.

What are the top three spirits everyone should have in their home bar? 

Whiskey. I’d suggest rye or single malt Islay (Scotch), but if you’re aiming to entertain, bourbon is good to have. Real rum — not flavored — preferably a navy strength or Agricole with some character. Gin, either Genever or Old Tom due to the versatility of flavor.

What’s your recommendation for just one cocktail that everyone should know how to make?

The Tom Collins is an important cocktail because anyone can easily make it right the first time and it is very versatile.  

Tom Collins

Ingredients:
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Dash of soda water
Slice of lemon (wheel) for garnish

Directions: 
Build ingredients in a Collins glass over cracked ice and top with soda water. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

For a twist:
I like to make one called a “Peat Collins.” I find when making this cocktail for guests or customers it is generally a good idea to use equal proportions of an Islay scotch and a blended or Highland Scotch, as not everyone enjoys a heavily peated scotch like an Islay.

Ingredients:
2 ounces of Islay Scotch (or equal parts Islay and milder Scotch)
3/4 ounce of honey syrup
3/4 ounces of fresh lemon juice
3 dashes orange bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Directions:

Pour over cracked ice and top with soda, then garnished with orange peel.

Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: Tastemakers 2013_Tacy Rowland_drink well

Tacy Rowland, Drink.Well.

For Tacy Rowland, bartending is different than craft bartending. Originally born in Germany, Rowland grew up in different towns across the country before eventually settling on her own in Austin. She’s been bartending for about a decade, but “I hesitate to call what I was doing for the majority of the time 'making cocktails,’” says Rowland. “I've been involved in the craft world for about two-and-a-half years.”

What is the first cocktail that you remember that turned you on to making this a profession?

An Old Fashioned. But not my early ones, because those were very misguided attempts. When I was taught how to properly make one, it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

What are the top three spirits everyone should have in their home bar? 

I’d have to say whiskey, gin, vermouth.

What’s your recommendation for just one cocktail that everyone should know how to make?

An Old Fashioned, the first drink that started me down the road to craft cocktail making.

Old Fashioned

Ingredients:
1 sugar cube
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 strip of orange peel
1 strip of lemon peel
Ice for stirring

Directions:
Douse sugar cube with Angostura bitters and muddle in an Old Fashioned glass. Squeeze and express one orange and one lemon peel into glass. Add bourbon or rye. Stir with ice (preferably one large cube) until chilled. 

For a twist:
I like to play with variations on proportions and ingredients. If you change the type of bitters you use, it always provides an interesting new approach to the cocktail, i.e., mole bitters in the Old Fashioned (in which case you would want to use bourbon, not rye, and use only orange peel).

Photo by Bill Sallans
Austin Photo Set: Tastemakers 2013_Jason Stevens_Bar Congress

Jason Stevens, Congress Bar

When you watch Stevens put a drink together behind a bar, you know you’re going to get something good. And he’s really only been making in cocktails for about two-and-a-half years. Originally from Springfield, a small town in Oregon, Stevens has been in Austin for 12 years with a permanent spot behind the bar at Congress for about a year.

What is the first cocktail that you remember that turned you on to making this a profession?

The first cocktail that turned me on to this profession was a classically made Old Fashioned. The effect a trained application of sugar, bitters and citrus oil could make to simple whiskey was incredible. I was hooked from there.
 
What are the top three spirits everyone should have in their home bar? 

The top three things you like to drink; you’ll find (or make up) cocktails for those ingredients. No sense in stocking your bar with Amaro and boutique rye whiskey when all you like to drink is Bacardi O and Rumple Minze.

What’s your recommendation for just one cocktail that everyone should know how to make?

Hmm, No. 1 would be a classic daiquiri. This cocktail isn’t about memorizing a basic sour recipe; it’s about understating how all of your elements come into play. To make a perfect daiquiri you have to ask yourself several questions. What is the perceived and actual sweet level of the rum you are using? How rich is your simple syrup and what sugar was used? How acidic are your limes, is the juice store bought or fresh squeezed? This cocktail, and its concepts, are what every new bartender and home enthusiast must understand fully to make great drinks. If you understand your ingredients, and basic sour/sweet/spirit balance, the recipe writes itself.

Daquiri

Ingredients:
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
ice cubes for shaker

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass or similar cocktail glass.

Josh Loving, Clark’s, Josephine House, Jeffrey’s

Originally from Houston, Loving grew up in Corpus Christi and moved to Austin in 1999. He’s been making cocktails for seven years with notable work behind the bars of Fino, Weather Up and Midnight Cowboy.

What is the first cocktail that you remember that turned you on to making this a profession?

That would probably be the Sazerac.

What are the top three spirits everyone should have in their home bar? 

Whiskey (bourbon or rye), tequila and rum.

What’s your recommendation for just one cocktail that everyone should know how to make?

The Sazerac. Bar/cocktail historians would argue that it’s the first true cocktail. I think it's great when people riff on the Sazerac, but when I see it improperly made because of lack of knowledge or technique, well it's just a shame. The key is to not stir this drink to long — and yes, you must stir it, rather than shake it. It’s basically a fancy shot of whiskey and it shouldn’t be overly chilled or diluted.

Sazerac

Ingredients:
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 sugar cube
3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Dash of Herbsaint for glass
Lemon peel for garnish

Directions:
Saturate the sugar cube with bitters and crush with a muddler. Add whiskey. Add ice and give a stirs. Serve neat in an Old Fashioned glass that has been rinsed with Herbsaint and drained. Garnish with lemon peel on the rim.

For a twist:
Switch the spirit. Tequila makes a great Sazerac.

---

The 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards take place April 11 at the Driskill. Tickets are still available.