Texas Spirits Come of Age

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When it comes to drink, the “everything is bigger in Texas” cliché applies more to our appetite for entertainment than it does to our supply of locally produced spirits.

While California and Oregon have been pioneering the “microdistillery” movement for years, things have only recently begun to pick up in Texas. There are currently about half a dozen micro-distilled Texas spirits on the market, with several more on the way.

Tito Beveridge led the charge when he launched his Texas- made vodka over a decade ago. At the time, there was no formal procedure for licensing a distillery in Texas and his became the first legal distilling operation in the state. Now his product is sold nationwide and is one of the fastest growing spirit brands in the country. Savvy and Dripping Springs are also locally produced vodkas.

Paula Angerstein holds the distinction of operating Texas’ second licensed distillery, where she produces Paula’s Texas Orange and Paula’s Texas Lemon. Her liqueurs are made by infusing fresh citrus zest into neutral spirits, which is then charcoal- filtered. The result is an intensely fresh citrus flavor and smooth finish. Paula’s interest in starting a spirits company began with an affection for Limoncello, though she wisely decided to begin with an orange liqueur due to its prominence in Austin’s de facto official cocktail, the Margarita.

 

Tequila is the key ingredient to the most popular cocktail in Texas, but by definition must be made in Mexico. That didn’t stop a group of enterprising Texans from making Republic Tequila. Estate grown and estate bottled, this 100 percent blue agave Tequila comes from La Quemada, an environmentally sound, certified organic distillery in Jalisco, Mexico.

Treaty Oak Rum is made entirely from Texas ingredients. Owner Daniel Barnes sources molasses from the last operating sugar mill in Texas. At present, Treaty Oak is available only in an unaged version. Aged Texas rum is available from Kelly & Matt Railean’s distillery in the tiny coastal town of San Leon. Their Railean XO was the first aged Texas spirit to hit the market. We are thankful that Hurricane Ike spared this Texas treasure.

Texas tipplers have a lot to look forward to as a handful of new local distillates come to the market over the next few years. In the hill country outside of Austin, Garrison Brothers whiskey is aging patiently in wooden barrels. Aged rum is on the horizon for Treaty Oak, as well as for newcomer Temptryst Rum. Balcones Distilling is in the process of preparing their unique Rumble, a rum-based spirit with Texas wildflower honey and Mission figs. There are also a small handful of producers playing around with Texas gins and with agave spirits similar to Tequila. Given Texans’ voracious appetite for all things Texan, there is no doubt a bright future for Texas spirits.

CLASSIC COCKTAILS FEATURING TEXAS SPIRITS

Margarita

Though no legislation has been passed to this effect, it’s safe to say that the Margarita is the de facto “official drink of Texas.” Recipes vary, but always use a good 100% agave tequila. It is best to use fresh lime juice, and avoid commercial mixers.

> 1 1/2 oz 100% Agave Tequila

> 1/2 oz Paula’s Texas Orange

> 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice

> 1/2 oz agave nectar

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with kosher salt (optional)

Classic Daiquiri

This classic cocktail is a far cry from the cloyingly sweet adult Slurpees you get from roadside shacks and college bars. Short, tart, and to the point, the classic Daiquiri deserves all the attention it has been getting in the ‘classic cocktail revolution’ of recent years.

> 2 oz Treaty Oak rum

> 1/2 oz simple syrup

> 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice.

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake vigorously with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

Crushed Peach Vodka Collins

This refreshing quencher makes use of two great Texas icons – Tito’s vodka, and fresh peaches. Try this cocktail in a pitcher for your next summer get-together.

> 2 oz Tito’s vodka

> 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

> 1 oz simple syrup

> 3-4 chunks fresh ripe peaches

> 3 oz club soda

In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle simple syrup and peaches. Add vodka and lemon juice and shake vigorously with ice.  Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and top with club soda. Garnish with a peach slice.

Ti Punch

Made from local rum, sugar, and lime, Ti Punch is
a favorite tipple in the islands of the French West Indies. This variation is made with Treaty Oak Rum and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, a rum-based liqueur made from Jamaican all spice berries

> 1 1/2 oz Treaty Oak or other local rum

> 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

> 1/2 oz sugar syrup

> Barspoon St. Elizabeth’s Alspice Dram

 

Sandino Cocktail

Augusto Sandino was a Nicaraguan revolutionary who fought what he saw as United States imperialism in the early decades of the twentieth century. He is viewed alternately as a hero and a villain, depending on your political orientation. Another famous icon of Nicaragua is Flor de Caña, makers of world-class rums since the time of Sandino’s birth in the 1890’s. Regardless of how you feel about Mr. Sandino, Flor de Caña is without question a national treasure, and Nicaragua’s great culinary export.

> 2 oz Flor de Caña 7 yr rum

> 3/4 oz sweet vermouth

> 1/2 oz Paula’s Texas Orange

> Dash Bitters

> Orange peel, for garnish

In a mixing glass, stir ingredients with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a wide strip of orange peel.

 

Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is one of the most famous, and most misunderstood, rum drinks from the tiki era. Its origin, like that of most cocktails, is cloaked in controversy. Two of the great tiki pioneers claim to have created this drink. Ernest Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, claimed to have invented it in the early 1930’s in Los Angeles; his tiki rival Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron claimed to have created the drink in 1944 at his Oakland, CA restaurant. Regardless of its exact provenance, the drink became a sensation and in turn became synonymous with the tropical rum cocktail. Many versions that appear on menus today bear little resemblance to this version, which is true to the original. It is a classic sour drink that is sweetened with a subtle hint of orgeat, an almond syrup.

> 2 oz aged Jamaican rum

> 3/4 oz orange curacao

> 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

> 1/4 oz orgeat

> Sprig mint

Shake all ingredients with ice to chill; strain into an ice-filled glass and garnish with a mint sprig.

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