Summer is my favorite time of year, and not just because my birthday falls at the tail end of it. Just the thought of running into the ocean spray with the coconut smell of sunscreen filling my nose is enough to get me counting down as early as April to my annual sojourn to the Texas coast. But with all that glorious sun comes scorching temperatures — and the best antidote for those, of course, is a nice refreshing beverage.
In Austin, at least, there will be plenty of them, alcoholic or not. For tomorrow’s big summer-focused Austin360, I’ve explored the boozy options that local bars and restaurants like Qui, which head bartender Justin Elliott tends to keep well-stocked with on-the-rocks drinks, are offering in the hot months ahead. Here’s a roundup of some of the summer cocktails that didn’t make it into tomorrow’s story (but not because they aren’t tasty. Just because, you know, there’s only so much space available and I could go on and on). In no particular order:
Bess Bistro: This West Sixth Street restaurant, along with sister eatery Walton’s Fancy & Staple, has its very own farm in West Austin from which to cultivate the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for the food and drinks menus alike, allowing Bess’ bar staff to “prepare seasonal cocktails around the harvesting of our garden,” general manager Alanna Eck says.
Four of these cocktails are poured straight from a tap. Among them was my favorite on Bess’ current menu, the Lavender Bees Knees with gin, honey syrup, lavender bitters and a garnish of honey powder. The lavender teases with a soft floral aroma, drawing you right into the sweet honeyed soul of the drink, but you’ve got to pull some of that honey powder onto your tongue as well — its sugary texture adds a dimension to the cocktail that will lure you in again and again.
Sip one on the terrace, Eck recommends. The outdoor patio area is a tucked-away little nook many don’t know is there, only adding to its charm.
Odd Duck: Like Bess, the South Lamar eatery focuses on using seasonal farm-to-table ingredients in each thoughtful meal, and its cocktail program is no different. Plus, each seasonal menu will always feature a frozen drink and a draft drink, PR representative Stef Shapira says. The current cocktail on tap is a bright orange Carrot Moscow Mule that I thought was pretty balanced given how assertive an ingredient ginger (a Moscow Mule necessity) can be.
But the most intriguing one was the boisterous Mexican Monk, with tequila, yellow chartreuse, fennel, hopped grapefruit bitters, rosemary tincture, orange juice and herbs. Yes, fennel. Although I thought I had a pretty strong aversion to the green plant, its sweet anise notes rounded out the herbaceous heart of the drink nicely and complemented the agave smoke of the tequila.
Travaasa Austin: Take a day trip to the Hill Country resort Travaasa Austin (most specifically located in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, in case you were wondering) and you’ll feel yourself instantly relax as you weave your car through a maze of towering live oaks and other greenery to the secluded epicenter of buildings that comprise the resort. You certainly don’t need a cocktail — just one look at that view is enough to send you into a zen-like state — but food and beverage manager Edward Morgan has crafted a whole seasonal menu of them that will only enhance the experience.
His Flora & Fauna, a floral spin on the Bee’s Knees, has remained on the menu no matter what time of year it is because it’s just been too much of a hit, he says. That’s thanks mostly to one ingredient, a Douglas Fir eau-de-vie from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Ore., that pretty much smells and tastes exactly like the springtime buds of the tree that the infused brandy came from. By itself or combined with Treaty Oak’s Waterloo Gin, honey, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and lemon juice for the Flora & Fauna, the eau-de-vie is unforgettable and, as Morgan notes, transcends the seasons. (Doesn’t it come from an evergreen tree, anyway?)
If you do want a cocktail that roots you firmly in summer’s warm embrace, look out for the High Plains Drifter in June. Featuring mezcal, sage, smoked paprika and chili salt, the smoky cocktail packs a boozy punch — maybe not exactly like the sort you’d get from Clint Eastwood’s character in the eponymous movie, but close.
Corner Bar at the J.W. Marriott: The bar at the new J.W. Marriott Hotel downtown specializes in tequila and mezcal drinks, so seek out the Summer Smoke next time you’re there. With fresh watermelon and lime juices, ginger syrup and a pinch of maldon salt, it’s a three-dimensional cocktail that will help turn people uneasy about mezcal (its smoky qualities can be overbearing) into fans of the rugged agave spirit.
Vox Table: One of the latest additions to the Lamar Union development that also houses Shake Shack and the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, this New American restaurant already has a pretty solid cocktail program thanks to the specific vision of beverage director Travis Tober, who favors fortified wines and isn’t afraid to make them front and center on the menu. That daring has led to cocktails like the delicately complex Bad to the Bonal, made with Bonal Gentiane Quina (a French aperitif), grapefruit and lemon juices, Beefeater gin, salt and Boston Bittahs.