Several weeks ago, Austin saw its first Cupcake Smackdown. This past week, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau held the 6th Annual Cocktail Throwdown. First, bars were invited to submit their version of the “official drink of Austin” (made with Austin’s own Titos Handmade Vodka). Then these were pared down to just the top five. And finally, on September 24th, we got to try out those top runners and vote for the one we felt best represented our fair city.
The drinks were as different as the fine citizenry of Austin. Here they are in the order we were able to sample them (so you can factor in how much our alcohol-clouded judgment informed our decisions).
First up, Mole on the Rocks by Bill Norris of Fino. This drink was a mixture of (among other things) Treaty Oak rum, Paula’s Texas Orange, chocolate bitters, and Norris’ house-made mole syrup. The flavor was interesting and the aroma incredible. The drink was topped with freshly grated nutmeg and that upped the aroma ante considerably. All told, this drink was way too sweet for me, though Sean liked it very much and would likely order it again.
The next one we got to try was the LadyBird by Nicholas Patrizi and Danelle Awtrey of Stephen F’s Bar and Terrace. This one was a mixture of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Paula’s Texas Lemon, and some sort of pear liquor. We were told that we’d experience an initial hit of citrus followed by the subtler flavors of pear and elderflower. I’ll admit that I probably don’t have the most refined palate out there, but I never got anything beyond the citrus. It was bright and refreshing and the model drink with its little carved “Texas rose” was very pretty, but I would’ve liked to experience those other flavors as well.
Next up was my personal favorite – the Redbud by Tori Trinson of Paggi House. This drink was made of an assertive combination of pepper, grenadine, orange, lime, and grapefruit bitters. This was a beautiful example of the sweet-heat flavorings I love so much. This drink had bite on the front and citrus on the back and I loved it. Sean, on the other hand, was not a fan.
Seans favorite and my almost favorite was the Enlightened Austin Martini by Elaine Garza and Carol Bond of La Condesa. This is the drink I would like to have enjoyed as a follow up to my peppery Redbud. This one had St. Germain, watermelon, agave nectar, and lime. This one was smooth going down, had a wonderful aroma thanks to a dollop of St. Germain foam on top, and just the right amount of sweetness from the watermelon and agave nectar.
The last drink was the Shirley Bird Tea by Larry Lantot of Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa – a mixture of ginger liqueur, hibiscus mint tea, honey, lemon, and mint. This wound up being my least favorite, though by this point, I was somewhat suspicious of the accuracy of my taste buds. This drink was relatively understated – almost elegant. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I would choose to define this city.
The energy at the event was incredible. Cocktail lovers packed the Gibson Guitar Showroom, patiently working their way through the suggestion of a line to give all the contenders their day in court. The flurry of activity at the drink tables was intense (and very difficult to photograph). Ingredients were mixed, drinks were poured, and garnishes were applied at a pace that could only be described as blistering. And these hard-working cocktail-crafters managed to remain friendly and interactive, even through all the activity.
In the end, La Condesa’s Enlightened Austin Martini won. While spicy has been Austin’s choice the past two years running, this year, cool and refreshing stole the show. One could imagine sitting on an outdoor patio in the crazy heat of the Texas summer and letting one or three of these refreshing drinks remind them that heat is only one part of the city we all love so dearly.