Photo by Jon Shapley

CultureMap's third annual Tastemaker Awards proved that Austin's food scene is shining brightly — and for good reason. On Wednesday evening, top chefs and foodies alike gathered at Brazos Hall to eat, drink and celebrate the top culinary talent in town.

Guests enjoyed innovative bites from a host of the 2014 Tastemaker nominees. Presenters included Chef Josh Watkins of The Carillon; Chef Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo; and Chef Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo, who gave the crowd a taste of vegetable-focused Gardner, his new restaurant slated to open later this year. Other delectable bites were provided by Chavez, The Bonneville, Barlata, No Va, Salt & Time, Searsucker and Winflo Osteria.

After the savory sampling, guests enjoyed dessert bites from Parkside Projects, Chef Callie Speer of Swift's Attic, and Chef Finney Walter of Olivia. In addition to the nominees, other sweet creations included Fluffpop Gourmet Cotton Candy, Hotpoppin' Gourmet Popcorn and Goodpop frozen fruit bars. Cadillac brought The Cupcake Bar where guests created adorable, custom mini-cupcakes.

Sampling all of those bites works up quite the thirst. For drinks, partygoers chose between Herradura tequila cocktails created exclusively for the event by the Best Craft Bartender nominees; a selection of wines from the Abigail Adams portfolio; and craft beer from Alaskan, Odell Brewing Company and Real Ale. Event partner Herradura even had its own tequila tasting bar.

But this event wasn't just about tasting delicious food and sipping refreshing cocktails. DJ Adrian Quesada kept the party going, while Pinot’s Palette created custom portraits of each Tastemaker Award winner. During the event, guests posed at the Smilebooth photo station and voted for the people's choice Best New Restaurant winner. Rainey Street gem No Va was crowned the winner.

Spotted in the crowd were Chef David Bull, of Congress; CK Chin, owner of Swift's Attic; Pat Sharpe, executive editor of Texas Monthly; and Paula Disbrowe, editor of Tribeza. You can get the full scoop on the 2014 Tastemaker winners here.

Steak tartar from Salt & Time

CultureMap Tastemaker Awards 2014 5135
Photo by Jon Shapley
Steak tartar from Salt & Time
Photo by Bill Sallans [http://billsallans.com]

A taste of Austin's top culinary stars: Meet the 2014 Tastemaker winners

Tastemaker Winners

We've spent the past month introducing you to all of the talented nominees of CultureMap's third annual Tastemaker Awards. These culinary and beverage professionals represent the best and brightest of our highly acclaimed — and constantly growing — local food scene.

This year, winners in six categories were chosen by a highly selective panel of culinary judges. Winners in the Best Restaurant, Best Chef, Best Pastry Chef, Best Beverage/Wine Program, Best Craft Bartender and Best Brewery categories were revealed Wednesday evening at Brazos Hall during our annual celebration. Now, it's time to meet the 2014 Tastemakers.

Best Restaurant: Barley Swine
One of the city's most cutting-edge restaurants, Barley Swine has been tantalizing palates since it opened in late 2010. Helmed by chef/owner Bryce Gilmore, the atmosphere is casual and comfortable, serving as the perfect backdrop for Gilmore's creative dishes — dishes that guests might not consider trying otherwise.
Best Chef: Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine
Chef Bryce Gilmore is no stranger to Austin or the spotlight. The son of local chef Jack Gilmore, he hit the local scene with his famed Odd Duck trailer before opening the standout brick-and-mortar restaurant, Barley Swine. He works tirelessly with local farmers to find unique gems that transform into divine, head-turning dishes. In 2012, Gilmore was named one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs.
Best Pastry Chef: Jessica Maher, Lenoir
Pastry Chef Jessica Maher cut her teeth at Jeffrey’s and then moved on to New York’s Jacques Torres Chocolate and Bouley, where she met husband Todd Duplechan. Since returning to Austin, Maher has kept busy at the award-winning restaurant Lenoir, which she and Duplechan opened in 2012. Her innovative plated desserts are the perfect complement to Lenoir's menu focused on hot weather food.
Best Beverage/Wine Program: Paula Rester, Congress
Paula Rester has a long history with Congress Restaurant, where she worked from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012. After a short stint at Vino Vino, Rester rejoined the Congress team as Sommelier in October 2012. She draws on her background in acting and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.
Best Craft Bartender: Brian Dressel, Midnight Cowboy
Brian Dressel has an impressive local pedigree — you've probably spotted him behind the bar at such noteworthy establishments as East Side Showroom and Bar Congress. Currently, Dressel is the manager of downtown speakeasy Midnight Cowboy.
Best Brewery: Hops & Grain
Austin favorite Hops & Grain is known for its award-winning, German-style Alt-eration and its pale ale The One They Call Zoe. The brewery's four year-round beers are available in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, but you can go straight to the source. Hops & Grain's East Austin tasting room is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 2 pm - 10 pm, and Saturday from 12 pm - 8 pm.

Best New Restaurant: No Va
The people's choice Best New Restaurant award was determined live at the Tastemaker event. Guests voted for their favorite of the final four contenders, and named Rainey Street establishment No Va the winner. Nestled in the heart of one of Austin's biggest entertainment districts, No Va serves up homespun versions of sophisticated fare.

Best Chef: Bryce Gilmore

Austin Photo Set: News_Jessica Dupuy_meet the tastemakers_bryce Gilmore_march 2012_portrait
Photo by Bill Sallans [http://billsallans.com]
Best Chef: Bryce Gilmore
Photo by Bill Sallans

Austin's best bartenders share where and what they're drinking right now

Taste of the Tastemakers

Craft cocktails are seeing a resurgence across the country, but we would argue that Austin bartenders shake, stir, sizzle and blend better than the rest. From sexy speakeasies like Midnight Cowboy to casual haunts like Contigo, the most talented people in the country are using science and savvy to create some truly magnificent cocktails.

But when they're not making magic behind the bar, where do Austin's best bartenders spend their time? What's they're drink of choice? Before we celebrate Austin's culinary and cocktail scene on Wednesday, May 7 at the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we decided to check in with some of our favorite folks behind the bar.

Brian Dressel, Midnight Cowboy
Brian Dressel has an impressive pedigree, having cut his proverbial teeth at such places as East Side Show Room and Bar Congress. He is currently the manager of Midnight Cowboy.
Hometown: I was born in Houston, but raised in Atlanta.
Current Austin neighborhood: Brentwood
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at Midnight Cowboy? I rarely get out at night when I'm not working, so usually I'm drinking at my house. When I do make it out, I really dig what's going on at Half Step, Firehouse and Wonderland.
What are you drinking there? At home: Micheladas. At bars: A dark beer and a shot — or something "rummy."
In your opinion, what's going to be the next trend in craft cocktails? High-volume cocktail bars. I'm seeing more and more cocktails on tap around town. I think we need to take that idea and run with it. Also, bartenders mastering classic recipes. There is a good deal of "whiz-bang" stuff going on right now, but many of us still need to nail down the basics. Learn how to properly make an Old Fashioned before you focus on your own bitters recipe.

Carley Dunavant, Odd Duck
Chances are if you frequent great Austin cocktail joints, you've had a drink made by this prolific bartender. Carley Dunavant has spent time behind the bar at such celebrated spots as Whisler's, drink.well. and Odd Duck and even made it to the finals of GQ's Most Inspired Bartender competition. Currently, she splits her time between Odd Duck and drink.well.
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Current Austin neighborhood: Allandale
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at Odd Duck or drink.well.? The Liberty
What are you drinking there? Strongbow
What is the weirdest thing someone has ever ordered? Once, a girl ordered a low-calorie mint julep. Before I could even respond, she opened up her bag and said, "Here ya go. I brought my own Splenda." So, I muddled my very first "splendid" julep.

Justin Elliott, qui
This just may be Justin Elliott's year. After his Tepache was named The Official Drink of Austin, you would think Elliott would take it easy. Instead, he's continuing to churn out a truly magical menu at the oft-lauded qui. Before landing at the east side restaurant, Elliott spent time at The Volstead and Midnight Cowboy. He currently manages the bar team at qui.
Hometown: Austin by way of New York City, by way of Austin, by way of Houston.
Current Austin neighborhood: Just this weekend my wife and I moved to a tiny north Austin neighborhood called Wooten. Or as I have just now decided to call it, "Tha Woo."
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at qui? The list is long — and distinguished — and also not advisable to attempt in one day. First, martinis at Clark's, Americanos at drink.well, Cointreau Collinses at Weather Up ... and that's just before sundown. After work, [I'm drinking Austin Beerworks] Pearl Snap and a bittered Metaxa at Whisler's; 50/50 and a tiny High Life with some Waterfall Pork at Wonderland; Coors and Fernet at The Liberty; or Bruichladdich Islay whisky out of my trunk in the qui parking lot.
What are you drinking there? See above.
What do you think the next big trend in craft cocktails will be? "Draught-tails" is starting to rear its head for sure. I think it speaks to a broader trend of some of the most talented people in town starting to feel comfortable enough to experiment more. Eventually [they will] deploy truly creative, forward-thinking programs that serve the space in a way we haven't seen much of yet. A move away from "one size fits all" programming, I suppose.

Bill Hankey, Second Bar + Kitchen
Another Most Inspired Bartender veteran, Hankey is a self-taught bartender who made his name at the The Good Knight. He is currently the bar manager at Second Bar + Kitchen.
Hometown: Austin
Current Austin neighborhood: Oak Springs
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at Second Bar + Kitchen or Congress? It really depends on my mood and location. I go to Half Step, drink.well, Bonneville, Peche, Takoba, White Swan, Contigo, Wonderland, all for varying reasons, but really anywhere I can sit and relax and listen to good tunes.
What are you drinking there? If cocktails are a potential, Daiquiris. Daiquiris are so versatile; you can have all sorts of enjoyment trying them with different rums. I really like the Ron Barrilito 3 Star the best. If not Daiquiris, a good cider and a stiff whisk(e)y.
What is your proudest accomplishment? I've accomplished a lot over the years, and I am very proud of what I've done. But truth be told, the moment that gives me the most clarity as to why I continue to tend bar is seeing people walk away with a smile. You can't please everyone in the world, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Pamela Pritchard, The Tigress Pub
Proprietor and woman-behind-the-bar of The Tigress, Pam Pritchard has garnered a reputation for serving elegant, spot-on cocktails at her tiny North Loop locale. Though this spring has seen an expansion of The Tigress, it hasn't changed the cozy atmosphere or delicious drinks.
Hometown: Santa Barbara, California
Current Austin neighborhood: About nine miles northeast of The Tigress.
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at The Tigress? Midnight Cowboy is still my favorite. It's so cute and unexpected.
What are you drinking there? I like my cocktails to have complex flavors. I like all liquors.
What drew you to craft cocktails? I've always enjoyed a good cocktail, however, at times, a great cocktail is hard to find. So I set off to discover why. I have a background in clinical science, so in my former life I was in labs mixing solutions. Once I got the hang of it, mixing cocktails has became something very comfortable for me to do.
What keeps you doing it? I would say the No. 1 thing that keeps me in the business is the customers. I like people, talking and just finding out what's going on with them. I very much enjoy having a business that is provides a safe haven and comfort to my customers.

Steven Robbins, Contigo
The bar at Contigo, helmed by bar manager Steven Robbins, has a reputation for not only creating dynamic new drinks, but nailing the classics down perfectly. His program has drawn talent from some of the best bars in Austin, so don't be surprised if you see a few familiar faces mixing up your Old Fashioned.
Hometown: Mobile, Alabama
Current Austin neighborhood: Windsor Park/ Mueller
What are you drinking when you're not drinking at Contigo? For coffee, I go to Houndstooth because they are just the best. When the mood for cocktails strikes, you can find me at Half Step. I also go to drink.well. There's this cute Russian bartender there that is awesome. The rest of the staff ain't so bad, either. Whisler's has a great patio and I go to Midnight Cowboy because Brian Dressel is the coolest guy in the world. I like Weather Up for Sunday afternoon Americanos.
For beer, I like Whip In and Draught House and Easy Tiger. Vino Vino and Bufalina for wine. I also go to Nomad often; it's a great neighborhood bar. My absolute favorite bar would have to be the Sahara Lounge.
What are you drinking there? Fancy Laiphroiag, Old Fashioned, Chartruese swizzle and Tapatio neat with a cold beer. If I also like Amontillado Sherry, Bonal or Ferrari shots with friends.
In your opinion, what will be the next big trend in craft cocktails? I think consumers are more educated about cocktails and expectations are higher. This is great for the scene because it is becoming less acceptable to have lazy bartenders that just pop beers and pour shots and roll there eyes when someone orders a basic thing like a Manhattan. Standards are higher so execution should become elevated across the board. As these service standards raise, bartenders are learning to smile again because pretense is unacceptable.

Nicole Rossi, Justine's Brasserie
Ah, Justine's. How do you describe this East Austin gem? Romantic, sexy and utterly cool, Justine's is the kind of place you through caution to the wind and indulge in decadence. With Nicole Rossi behind the bar, expect the perfect accompaniment to your perfect Parisian-inspired evening.
Hometown: Oakland, California
Current Austin neighborhood: East Austin
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at Justine's? Longbranch Inn, sitting at the bar.
What are you drinking there? Scotch when it's cold, beer when it's hot.
What is your idea of a perfect night out? A spontaneous night with friends, dancing wherever we find ourselves and laughing until our faces hurt.

Jessica Sanders, drink.well.
When drink.well. opened on North Loop, Austin cocktail enthusiasts flocked to the cozy restaurant to nosh on homemade Twinkies and sip on some truly magnificent cocktails. As co-owner, Jessica Sanders has not only been an impressive force on the craft cocktail scene, she handpicked a dynamite staff to put behind the drink.well. bar.
Current Austin neighborhood: I’ve lived four houses down from drink.well. in the North Loop neighborhood for quite a while now, but I am about to join the cool kids on the east side. I’m really excited for [my husband and drink.well. co-owner] Michael and I to immerse ourselves in this eclectic part of Austin. Some of my favorite bars and restaurants will be within walking distance — dangerous!
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at drink.well.? I try to stay fairly “low octane” most of the week, but love to grab a beer at the Wright Bros Brew & Brew. Aside from a killer craft beer selection, the hospitality is always on point and the space is bright and airy. For cocktails, I’m just not sure it gets much better than Jason Stevens’ program at Bar Congress — it’s elegant, intimate and the bar has an incredible treasure chest of spirits. I never leave that bar uninspired.
What are you drinking there? The Vieux Carré is among my top three favorite classic cocktails and the one at Bar Congress is just magnificent. They use armangac in lieu of the more traditional cognac — if it's possible to take that drink the next level, that unexpected twist certainly does it.
What is your proudest accomplishment? We moved to Austin almost exactly at the tipping point for the current food and beverage scene here. I’m really proud that drink.well. elevated the conversation around craft spirits and cocktail service in a neighborhood pub environment. We set out to build a place that was a service-focused, back-to-basics but with an inspired twist program. It is what we work hard to achieve daily. I’m really gratified by that. Oh, and running the New York City marathon last fall. That was a helluva day.

Jason Stevens, Bar Congress
Sure, we could tell you about Jason Stevens' impressive resume including stints at East Side Showroom and The Tigress before heading up Bar Congress and the newly-opened Wonderland. We could remark on how even a simple gin and tonic is stirred into a masterpiece at the hands of his bar staff. We could talk about his awards or his celebrated bitters line. But perhaps the most telling thing about his impact on Austin's bar scene is that somehow along the way, Stevens became synonymous with our city's cocktail movement.
Hometown: Eugene, Oregon
Current Austin neighborhood: West Campus
Where are you drinking when you're not drinking at Congress or Wonderland? Love Goat
What are you drinking there? Negroni layback
What is your idea of a perfect night out? Night drive far away from town, flea market mix tapes, air pot filled with sangria, old tiger blanket and stars.

Jason Stevens of Congress

Austin Photo Set: Tastemakers 2013_Jason Stevens_Bar Congress
Photo by Bill Sallans
Jason Stevens of Congress
No Va/Facebook

Austin's 4 best new restaurants tempt with charcuterie, tapas and comfort classics

Tastemaker Tournament

As is tradition with the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we're putting the winner of the Best New Restaurant title in your hands.

The third annual Tastemaker tournament kicked off earlier this month with 16 contenders going head-to-head in eight heated match-ups voted on by you, our trusted readers. After two rounds and a few upsets (no Qui! no Odd Duck!), we're down to the final days of the online portion of the tournament — and only four restaurants remain.

Austin, your final four contenders for the Best New Restaurant title are: Barlata, No Va, Salt & Time and Winebelly. Before you vote, let's refresh our taste buds on what these four fine establishments have to offer.

Located on South Lamar Boulevard, Barlata spices things up with Spanish-inspired cuisine. Come for the shareable tapas and delicious paellas, stay for the lively atmosphere and authentic entertainment.

No Va
Nestled in the sea of bars that rule Rainey Street, No Va serves up homespun versions of sophisticated classic fare. This is comfort food so good that it defeated Ramen Tatsu-Ya in the second round of our tournament.

Salt & Time
East Austin's beloved butcher shop and salumeria is more than just a go-to stop for meat to serve at home. We suggest taking in lunch here with a made-to-order sandwich, or grabbing a spot at the bar for dinner where you can grab a pint of beer to pair with house-made charcuterie.

A surprising star of this competition, Winebelly is delighting South Austinites with its tapas-style menu and one of the best wine lists in town.

You can vote once per day through May 2 for your favorite restaurant. Then, join us at the Tastemakers on May 7 at Brazos Hall, where the winner will be determined in a live vote. Plus, you'll get to sample bites from three of the finalists: Barlata, No Va and Salt & Time.

No Va

No Va brunch
No Va/Facebook
No Va
Courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko

Austin's top beverage directors share their favorite sips for spring

Tastemaker Talk

What is the right cocktail to drink while listening to Gary Clark Jr.? What wine will bring out the best in braised rabbit? The 10 nominees for the CultureMap 2014 Tastemaker Awards in the Best Beverage/Wine Program category keep Austin at the forefront of trends in craft cocktails and fine wine.

Whether working at a cozy wine lounge or a fine dining restaurant, this year’s nominees share a passion for constantly studying beverages to ensure they buy and serve the very best drinks available. (They're also sharing with us the best beverage options for spring.)

Craig Collins, Beverage Director, ELM Restaurant Group
Craig Collins became enamored with wine while working at a Texas winery during college. He is currently the beverage director for ELM Restaurant Group where he oversees the programs at 24 Diner, Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden and Arro. In 2011, he passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, joining an elite club of less than 200 people worldwide at the time. He is an active member in the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently serves as a featured speaker at wine and food festivals across the country.

What was your first memorable wine? I experienced my “aha” wine while living in Italy with Chef Andrew Curren. It was a bottle of 1998 Brancaia Il Blu, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that opened my eyes to the rest of my life.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? My guilty pleasure is an ice cold can of beer when I get home at the end of the night. Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap always does the trick.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The acid of the goat cheese balances out the saltiness of the cheese and cuts through the fat. It is one of the classic pairings that works every time.

What should Austinites drink right now? It sounds a bit cliché at this point, but rosé. We are moving into the hot time of the year and there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of pink wine.

Sam Hovland, Wine Consultant, Swift’s Attic
Sam Hovland has worked at The Austin Wine Merchant, Headliners Club, Sardine Rouge, Demi-Epicurious, Mars Restaurant and Bar and Twin Liquors. Hovland became the wine buyer for East End Wines in 2010 and continues in that role today. He worked with Mat Clouser, the chef at Swift’s Attic, to develop and maintain the Swift’s Attic wine list. As an extension of that partnership, he is looking forward to buying wines for Clouser’s new restaurant, Wu Chow.

What was your first memorable wine? My first experience was with wines pilfered from my father when he was hosting art openings at the Austin Conceptual Visual Artists Association. I then made wine in the early 1980s, and distilled it (thanks, Science Academy). I was really blown away by a 1967 Richebourg, older vintage Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Henri Jayer Pinot Noirs and Domaine Huet Vouvray sweet Chenin Blanc early on in my sommelier career.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? I like very cold tallboys of cider after a day of drinking wines for work, vermouth and Cava and 10,000 beers. I once ran out of wine, and had Sauternes poached foie gras on Ritz crackers with ice cold Budweiser standing in a friend’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My four favorites are Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with duck (Doritos crusted for extra naughtiness); Alsatian Riesling with escargot soup; Muscadet and oysters; and the classic vintage Port and Stilton.

What should Austinites drink right now? Bubbles, Mondeuse, Sherry, pink wine, orange wine, natural wines and food-friendly wines that are funky with higher acid, lower tannin and lower alcohol.

Josh Loving
Josh Loving has worked in both the front of the house and back of the house at such notable Austin restaurants as Fino, which he helped open in 2005, Vino Vino, Asti and East Side Show Room. Most recently, Loving was part of the opening team at Josephine House & Jeffrey’s, where he served as beverage director. He left Jeffrey's this year to focus on his own project, and is currently tending bar at Half Step.

What was your first memorable wine? I think it was 2003, I was working a private party for wine collectors and they gave us the rest of their wines including a vertical from the 1970s of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. I didn’t know what they were, but I remember telling myself to remember the labels so someday I could recall what they were.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Cheap beer: Coors, Miller High Life, Tecate, etc. I try to stay away from cheap wine, but I crush cheap beer.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? It’s a tie between Champagne and raw oysters, and fried chicken and Riesling.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sherry. I feel like I say this every year, and every year it gets a bit more traction. But yeah, Sherry.

Bill Norris, Beverage Director, Alamo Drafthouse
For 20 years, Norris has poured drinks in venues across the country, winning numerous awards and cocktail competitions along the way. He was on the opening staff at Fino, where, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he “planted the sacred seeds” of the modern cocktail in Austin, before creating the nationally recognized bar program at Haddingtons. Norris is currently the beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse, overseeing the cocktail and beverage programs at Midnight Cowboy, 400 Rabbits and other Alamo properties.

What was your first memorable wine? It was probably a Chablis Grand Cru. One of my early jobs was at a restaurant in New York City where all the wines were from Skurnik’s book, and he led a tasting. I just remember thinking, “So, this is why people like white wine!”

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Vinho Verde from the lobster bottle (Santola). There is nothing better for an Austin summer Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Vintage Champagne and potato chips. And I’m not joking.

What should Austinites drink right now? It’s springtime in Austin, so I recommend rosé, preferably Provençal or Spanish. Or Champagne. Champagne is always good.

Paul Ozbirn, Wine and Beverage Director, Parkside Projects
Ozbirn got his start in Austin’s restaurant industry in 2006 as a server at Vin Bistro, which sparked his passion for wine. He held various positions at Botticelli’s, Wink Restaurant and Paggi House while studying to attain Certified Sommelier status through The Court of Master Sommeliers. Ozbirn became the Beverage Director for Parkside Projects to hone the predominately Italian wine list at Olive & June. He is expanding his role to manage the beverage and wine programs at The Backspace, Parkside and Chavez.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2002. My dad couldn’t find it in Birmingham and asked me to buy it at my local wine shop in Huntsville. It was the start of a long relationship with said wine shop and my love for the balanced, lush and fruit-forward wine. I still love the wines today despite the fact that I've really moved away from buying and drinking that style.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? After a long day of tasting and discussing nothing but wine, the last thing I crave is wine. If I’m at a bar, I'll drink Hops & Grain ALTeration, but I'm always up for a Lone Star with a lime. Another guilty pleasure is chilled Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka!

Your favorite food and wine pairing? A big glass of Lambrusco with the new late-night burger at Vino Vino is a pretty stellar meal. I’m always up for Riesling with just about anything.

What should Austinites drink right now? We’re really diving into the orange wine thing at Olive & June. We serve an abundance of small bites like quail, pork and meatballs that pair really well with either full-bodied whites or lighter style reds. Orange wine is perfect for those plates and introduces tannin to white wine drinkers in a much more approachable way. My favorite at the moment is Ezio Trinchero Bianco 2007.

Brian Phillips, Manager and Sommelier, Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
Over the past 14 years, Phillips has worked in venerable Austin establishments such as The Driskill Hotel and Haddingtons and currently manages the beverage program at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. He not only serves wine, he also makes wine called "Ground Up" from Texas Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes tended and harvested by the team at Pedernales Cellars.

What was your first memorable wine? My first memorable wine was a sip of my mom’s Beringer White Zinfandel when I was around 10 years old. It was memorable because it was so bad. I can’t quite recall one wine that sent me down the rabbit hole. It was a natural progression with an endless quest to find wines that make me stop and look both inward and outward at the same time.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Like all somms, at the end of a long day serving our guests we want something clean and simple like beer, or a cold, classic martini. My guilty pleasure is a shot of really cold silver tequila (no salt, no lime, no mixology).

Your favorite food and wine pairing? My go-to wine and food combo is spicy and sweet Asian with the classic off-dry wines of the world. I am super happy with Thai food and an assortment of Loire Chenin Blanc, German Riesling and fungus infected Alsatian beauties.

What should Austinites drink right now? Everyone should be drinking wine, period. There has never been a better time in the history of wine to drink it in terms of quality and world representation. When treated right, wine is restorative, contemplative and, in turn, good for society. Every region and corner of the globe produces something special and we owe it to those producers to try it and give it its moment of silence.

Nathan Prater, Sommelier and General Manager, Red Room Lounge
A native Austinite, Prater is currently the general manager of the Red Room Lounge, a hidden gem of vinous solitude. He began his education with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2007, and after six years of dedicated study and practice, he sat for the Masters Exam in 2013, passing the service portion. He plans to take the other sections of the Masters Exam in Aspen, Colorado in mid-May. Part of his study is the pursuit of the perfect gin martini, which he calls the “elixir of quietude.”

What was your first memorable wine? A bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages sparked my interest for wine, while a 1978 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea inspired the drive to become a sommelier.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A third gin martini.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? French rosé and escargot.

What should Austinites drink right now? Sidecars, Aviations, Micèl Prosecco, Domaine Houchart rosé or a Gibson with three onions.

Paula Rester, Wine Director, Congress
Paula Rester worked at Congress from its opening in December 2010 until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager of Vino Vino. In October 2012 she rejoined the Congress team as the Sommelier. Rester draws on her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to bring a spirit of performance and presentation to wine and food. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

What was your first memorable wine? Travaglini Gattinara, for the shape of the bottle and the aromatic nature of the Nebbiolo.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Rye whiskey manhattans.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne and French fries.

What should Austinites drink right now? Rosè! Because (in my best Game of Thrones voice...) summer is coming. My favorites include Inman Family Endless Crush Olivet Grange Pinot Noir Rosè 2013 and Clos Cibonne Cotes du Provence Tibouren Rosè 2012.

June Rodil, Director of Operations, Qui
Rodil leads operations of Paul Qui’s flagship restaurant, Qui, and the multi-location casual concept, East Side King. She has an extensive wine background and has served as the beverage director for the Uchi Restaurant Group and Congress Austin. Rodil relishes the perfect pairing and believes that this can be accomplished when a chef and sommelier have mutual respect for each other and have the same goal: happy guests.

What was your first memorable wine? I first started really getting into wine and food when I was a server at the Driskill. I went in to dine there for a birthday celebration to see what the tasting menu was all about. I scoffed at the buttery Chardonnay that was on the tasting menu, but the simple butter poached halibut with tomatoes was transformed into something else altogether by the wine ... It always reminds me not to turn my nose at a wine. There are definitely moments for each wine, and if not moments, then at least dishes that go well with it.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? A Lone Star tallboy and a shot of bourbon after a long shift. It gets me every time.

Describe your favorite food and wine pairing? Champagne, Champagne, Champagne, and anything! Champagne and French fries are a must. For complete dishes and something that I like to do at Qui, I suggest a red Burgundy with saba. It’s really a stunning pairing and one that I love introducing to people.

What should Austinites drink right now? This is the season for rosé! Rosé in any style to satiate any palate. The range of grape flavors, texture and fruit concentration is huge. It's available in everything from bubbles, to a salty, barely pink Côtes de Provence.

Dhal Smith, Beverage Director, Uchi/Uchiko
Smith joined Uchi in 2009, where his extensive travels in Asia fueled a fascination with the history and culture of the wine and sake on the menu. Rodil, who was beverage director at the time, encouraged Smith to become a certified sake professional. That education was the beginning of his passion for food and beverage pairings and how the right match can elevate the experience.

What was your first memorable wine? It was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape about six years ago with a former roommate who was a wine rep. I was struck by all that it had going on. There was great depth of fruit, leather, tar, savory, and it had this really meaty texture. They are still some of my favorite wines.

What is your favorite “guilty pleasure” beverage? Jameson.

Your favorite food and wine pairing? I really love pairing sweeter wines with meat. Instead of red wine, choose Riesling Spätlese or Chenin Blanc that has some richness that goes great with beef, lamb and pork. The acid cuts right through the fat and the ripe fruit balances the savoriness. A pairing that I love to do at Uchi is a Norwegian mackerel with truffle oil and yellow tomato on top with Royal Tokaji dessert wine. The mackerel is quite gamey and savory along with the truffle and the fruit and acidity of the wine is a perfect match.

What should Austinites drink right now? Craft beer is blowing up right now and I think that brewers are really pushing the boundaries seeking out new and different nuances. Whether it’s barrel-aging or the use of some indigenous yeast, beer is becoming so varied — and almost wine-like in some instances. For wine, I choose Riesling because it is so versatile and it’s possible to find one that will pair with almost anything. They will age for decades and continue to gain complexity.


Tickets for the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which take place May 7 at Brazos Hall, are available here.

Dhal Smith, Uchi/Uchiko.

Dhal Smith Uchi/Uchiko
Courtesy of Uchi/Uchiko
Dhal Smith, Uchi/Uchiko.

Major first round upsets mean 8 surprising contenders remain for Austin's best new restaurant award

Tastemaker Tournament

Last week, we launched our third annual Tastemaker Tournament, where you, our trusted readers, have the power to determine Austin's best new restaurant.

The first round ended on April 22, with a few upsets and unexpected contenders rising to the top. Most notably, lauded restaurant Qui (everyone's favorite topic) was out-voted by Ramen Tatsu-Ya, while Searsucker overtook Jeffrey's (which made Bon Appetit's best new restaurant list) with an overwhelming 69 percent of the vote.

The Elite Eight are going head-to-head in the second round of the tournament, which ends April 28.

Who will prevail? Let's take a look at the match-ups before you vote.

Arro vs. Barlata
French cuisine takes on Spanish fare in this European-influenced match-up. Arro, helmed by Chef Andrew Curren of 24 Diner fame, is highly acclaimed for its refined take on French classics. South Lamar's Barlata spices things up with Spanish-inspired cuisine, including shareable tapas and delicious paellas.

No Va vs. Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Whose unique approach to comfort food will win? Rainey Street's No Va delights with a homespun approach to sophisticated classics like macaroni and cheese. Ramen Tatsu-Ya serves up the authentic soul food of Japan, which has become a staple of many Austin diners.

Searsucker vs. Salt & Time
Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey's downtown hot spot goes up against the much loved East Austin salumeria and butcher shop. At Searsucker, you'll nosh on plates made for sharing and sip on craft cocktails. Salt & Time offers easy grab-and-go lunches, or you can belly up to the bar for a beer and some house-made charcuterie.

Winebelly vs. Odd Duck
This match-up should be called the "Battle of South Austin." Both spots offer casual environments and interesting menus. Winebelly — from the owners of Vietnamese restaurant Hai-Ky — focuses on tapas and, of course, delectable wines. Odd Duck, the brick-and-mortar version of Chef Bryce Gilmore's famed trailer, revives the casual fare that put Gilmore on the map.

Ready to cast your vote? Click here to participate (you can vote once a day). Then, join us at the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 7, when we reveal the winner.

Barlata vs. Arro.

Barlata Austin
Barlata vs. Arro.
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Austin wakes up and smells the brews at 2nd annual coffee festival

cool beans

Making a cup of coffee is one of the most ritualistic morning activities for millions of people every day. It's a truly customizable experience: You can use pre-ground coffee or grind whole beans yourself, and there are many different brewing methods, such as a traditional drip coffeemaker, a moka pot, or an AeroPress.

The local coffee community in Austin is in a world of its own, and coffee aficionados can enjoy a special weekend all to themselves to meet their favorite local roasters at the second annual Austin Coffee Festival on September 30 and October 1 at Fair Market.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their own reusable cups to enjoy endless coffee tastings from about two dozen well-known Austin roasters like Merit Coffee Co., Medici Roasting, Barrett's Coffee Roasters, and Greater Goods Coffee Co. Master roasters can help newcomers learn more about coffee, and local musicians will provide the soundtrack for the weekend.

If you're not a coffee drinker but would still like to tag along, there will be non-coffee options available, like tea tastings from Kilogram Tea and Kinship Milk Tea. Snacks will be available for purchase from Gelu Italian Ice and casual Mexican mini-chain Pueblo Viejo.

Additional roasters that will be at the festival include:

  • Creature Coffee
  • Red Horn Brew
  • Malone Specialty Coffee
  • Fara Coffee
  • Intelligenista
  • Kimbala
  • Sightseer Coffee Roasters
  • Vision
  • Springtown Roasters
  • Casa Brasil
  • Hard Charger Coffee
  • Haciendo Coffee Roasters
  • Carta Coffee Merchants
  • Dog Day Coffee
  • Tianon Coffee
  • Little City Coffee Roasters
  • Wild Gift Coffee
  • Luna Espresso

ATX Theatre, Topo Chico, Oatly, Mill-King, Minor Figures, and Loveramics will also be in attendance.

More information about the festival and tickets (beginning at $25) can be found on austincoffeefestival.com.

Country star Kane Brown set to land in Austin as part of new 'In the Air' tour

big daddy kane

Country singer Kane Brown will return to the road in 2024 with the 29-city In the Air tour, which will culminate with a stop at Toyota Center on April 28.

Starting on March 28 in Charlottesville, Virginia, the tour will play 2-3 shows a week through the beginning of June at arenas, including in Houston on April 28 and Austin on April 29. He'll end his tour in Arlington, Texas on September 14.

For the final five shows on the tour, Brown will switch to stadiums, including the last show at Globe Life Field. Brown will be joined by Tyler Hubbard and Parmalee in both Austin and Houston.

Just like his previous Drunk or Dreaming Tour, which he just finished in early September, Brown will be touring in support of his 2022 album, Different Man. Although it was the first of his three albums not to go to No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts (it charted at No. 2), it still notched four top 10 songs.

The new tour's title, In the Air, is a reference to Brown's new single, “I Can Feel It,” which samples Phil Collins’ legendary drum solo and single from “In the Air Tonight.”

Fans can register now at kanebrownmusic.com for the artist pre-sale starting on Tuesday, October 3, at 10 am ET time. Tickets forthe tourwill go on-sale to the general public on Thursday, October 5, at 10 am local time.


  • Thursday, March 28, 2024: Charlottesville, VA, John Paul Jones Arena
  • Friday, March 29, 2024: Pittsburgh, PA, PPG Paints Arena
  • Saturday, March 30, 2024: Newark, NJ, Prudential Center
  • Thursday, April 4, 2024, Detroit, MI, Little Caesars Arena
  • Friday, April 5, 2024: Toronto, ON, Scotiabank Arena
  • Saturday, April 6, 2024: Buffalo, NY, KeyBank Center
  • Thursday, April 11, 2024: Kansas City, MO, T-Mobile Center
  • Friday, April 12, 2024: Rosemont, IL, Allstate Arena
  • Thursday, April 18, 2024: Des Moines, IA, Wells Fargo Arena
  • Friday, April 19, 2024: Minneapolis, MN, Target Center
  • Saturday, April 20, 2024: Grand Forks, ND, Alerus Center
  • Friday, April 26, 2024: Lubbock, TX, United Supermarkets Arena
  • Saturday, April 27, 2024: Houston, Toyota Center
  • Sunday, April 28, 2024: Austin, TX, Moody Center
  • Thursday, May 9, 2024: Eugene, OR, Matthew Knight Arena
  • Friday, May 10, 2024: Sacramento, CA, Golden 1 Center
  • Saturday, May 11, 2024: Sacramento, CA, Golden 1 Center
  • Friday, May 17, 2024: Salt Lake City, UT, Delta Center
  • Saturday, May 18, 2024: Las Vegas, NV, T-Mobile Arena
  • Sunday, May 19, 2024: Tempe, AZ, Boots In The Park
  • Thursday, May 30, 2024: Orlando, FL, Amway Center
  • Friday, May 31, 2024: Tampa, FL, Amalie Arena
  • Saturday, June 1, 2024: Tampa, FL, Amalie Arena
  • Friday, June 7, 2024: Raleigh, NC, PNC Arena
  • Saturday, June 8, 2024: Atlanta, GA, State Farm Arena
  • Thursday, June 20, 2024: Milwaukee, WI, Summerfest
  • Saturday, July 20, 2024: Boston, MA, Fenway Park
  • Friday, August 16, 2024: Seattle, WA, T-Mobile Park
  • Saturday, August 24, 2024: Los Angeles, CA, BMO Stadium
  • Friday, September 6, 2024: Denver, CO, Coors Field
  • Saturday, September 14, 2024: Arlington, TX, Globe LIfe Field

One of the oldest breweries in North Austin shuts down after 15-year run

cherish the memories

The Austin beer community will surely miss this brewer. Circle Brewing Company, one of the oldest breweries in North Austin, is shutting down operations at its longtime Braker Lane location and its 23-acre property in Elgin.

Although a statement on the Circle Brewing website doesn't give a clear reason for its closing, founders Ben Sabel and Judson Mulherin alluded to ongoing financial troubles since the company's inception at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis.

"As became a recurring motif for us, this was the first major example of our flawless business timing," the statement said. "With far too much optimism and not nearly enough money, we opened our doors with two draft beers (Blur Texas Hefe and Envy Amber) and barely a dozen draft accounts."

Sabel and Mulherin shared their story of the company's resilience despite financial setbacks, relying on the local community and other small Central Texas breweries.

"In our first two years of operation, we were so broke that we couldn't even afford to buy yeast," they wrote. "But the Austin brewing community and the real spirit of camaraderie was such that we just had to drive out to Blanco and fill up a few corny kegs from our friends at Real Ale. In the coming years, we'd come to owe countless other members of the local brewing community thanks for all the advice, friendships, and assistance."

Circle Brewing had only opened its Elgin location in May 2023, after six years of planning and three years of extended buildout due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company's goal with the 23-acre property was to grow all the ingredients needed to use in their beers and develop a fully Texan-made, sustainable beer.

"Our biggest regret is not having the time to see our vision through and fulfilling the enormous potential we know would have paid off enormously," the website said. "It was so close to becoming reality. We're sorry we didn't have the time to see it to the end."

The Braker Lane location is fully closed, but Sabel and Mulherin said they are attempting to remain open at their Elgin facility for "at least another week." All of the company's remaining beer and merchandise will be sold at heavy discounts until Friday, September 22.

More information about the company shutdown can be found on circlebrewing.com.