Recipe by Francisco Terrazas, Fino
2 oz. Siembra Azul añejo tequila
0.75 oz. Nux Alpina walnut liqueur
0.5 oz. Cocchi di Torino vermouth
2 dashes Bittermens New Orleans coffee bitters
Knowing which brand of spirit to choose for your cocktail can be a real gamble.
Unless you’ve compared brands side by side, chances are you’ve only had advertising to serve as your primary source of knowledge. When a customer is standing at the bar and can remember only that one funny commercial, chances are they will opt for the familiar choice over a smaller, lesser known product, regardless of quality.
This is where one of the roles of the bartender comes in. Having an arsenal of brands at their fingertips makes them experts in which brands work better in which cocktails.
When Fino Bar Manager Francisco Terrazzas created the restaurant’s version of a tequila Manhattan, he hoped to spark conversation with guests by choosing spirits that have a deeper meaning or notable contribution to the industry, a decision that highlights the notion that brands matter from both a flavor perspective and a larger social view as well.
“With the tequila brands we serve, they don’t just think of (production) as a profitable business. They also realize the base plant material is a commodity and needs to be treated as such. I looked at the back bar and thought it would be really fun to highlight that concept in the spirits industry. It’s not always talked about,” he said.
Each ingredient used in the final recipe for the drink has both a relevant backstory and an important role in the overall flavor.
Siembra Azul añjeo is used as the base spirit for its well-rounded sweetness and prominent agave essence. Terrazas says he prefers the Siembra in this drink over other brands because sparks of cinnamon and vanilla from the oak-aging emerge but do not overpower the softly herbal agave soul, a trend that can be common in other añejos. All of Siembra Azul’s tequilas are also made from 100 percent agave, an attention to preserving the quality of tequila that also bleeds into the community at large. Owner David Suro-Piñera started the Tequila Interchange Project to educate bartenders and consumers on the social and historic impacts of the tequila industry, and the Siembra Azul Foundation gives back to the community via education and health care services.
While many bartenders in Austin immediately reach for Carpano Antica as their go-to rich vermouth, Terrazas says he chose Cocchi di Torino vermouth to play second fiddle to the warming tequila. A lush, relatively light-bodied and slightly bitter vermouth, Cocchi di Torino is derived from an 1891 recipe that uses Moscato grapes as the base. The vermouth comes from one of the few origin-protected regions for vermouth in the world, ensuring the quality is measurable and regulated. Terrazas admires the way it “has a strong enough character to carry itself through the drink but not enough to be there at the forefront” to overwhelm the other ingredients.
Bittermens New Orleans Coffee bitters bring in a slightly astringent quality to bind the two sweeter ingredients together. The bitters are part of the regional series Bittermens company crafted where they source Brazilian coffee beans with organic roasted French chicory root from Louisiana’s Brigade Coffee Company, then add vanilla, quassia and cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate. For every bottle sold, they donate 50 cents to a New Orleans charity.
Finally, “walnut liqueur was the last piece of the puzzle,” Terrazzas said. Nux Alpina walnut liqueur is an Austrian product made in the tradition of the Purkhart family, where for the last three generations family and friends gather fresh green walnuts to steep in a double distilled grape brandy for a month. Alpine botanicals and spices are added for complexity.
The result is a balanced, thoughtfully composed cocktail (with a clever name) where each ingredient adds not only an element of interest and complexity, but also plays together with the others to create a whole cohesive personality and message.
“That was my goal — to have everything in its own place and in the right proportions,” Terrazzas said. “(It) also gave me a good gateway to talk to people about the drink and the attitude behind it. I would like to see people think more about what they are drinking.”