Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Houndstooth’s experimental bar showcases coffee’s versatility

Arianna Auber

I recently tried two cocktails I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. Neither had alcohol, and both featured an ingredient I’ve never cared for.

But in the capable hands of barista Gregory Alford, the three-course espresso tasting at the downtown Houndstooth Coffee location succeeded in helping me rethink a couple of opinions I’ve held about coffee (which, as I explained in a past Liquid Austin post, is simply not one of my favorite tastes).

It’s actually a fairly versatile beverage, good for more than just a morning caffeine jolt, and can be brewed in many different ways to showcase a particular flavor and terroir — a distinct sense of place — that Alford believes coffee has as much as wine does. He gave me an education in the rich roasted drink while I sat at Houndstooth’s bar and sampled the three espresso creations that Houndstooth has been offering every Saturday in August on a special bar menu.

The experimental bar flight, as Houndstooth calls it, features an espresso aperitif (essentially a coffee shot) and two cocktails, the Espresso Southsider and Coffee Old Fashioned, that customers can purchase for $20 during the hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays through Aug. 30. Once you order them, Alford will explain how each one was created, discussing the differences in roasts, brew methods and tasting notes that coffee can have. For example, for each of the coffee drinks, he uses Vega del Rosario beans, roasted by Houndstooth’s sister company Tweed in Dallas, that showcase the rustic Mexican landscape they were grown from, a characteristic Alford was impressed with.

“Part of this menu is rearticulating what coffee can do,” he said. “It’s not for people who walk in and just want a cup of coffee, but if you’re looking for something a little different, this is it.”

I marveled at the complexity that developed in the coffee shot the longer it sat, with surprising flavors, such as a soft sting of citrus, coming to the forefront during later sips. It’s not meant to be downed quickly, Alford said; he serves it to you hot but hopes you let it cool and discover how time has matured it. It’s called a coffee shot, he said, because it’s less concentrated and a little more approachable than a shot of espresso.

The other two drinks were even more eye-opening. In these, the espresso is supposed to imitate the spirits it’s replacing — white rum in the Espresso Southsider, bourbon in the Coffee Old Fashioned — while still imbuing the ice-filled cocktails with the roasted characteristics of coffee.

“(The way the espresso is prepared and served) confuses the palate a little so that if you didn’t know you were tasting coffee, you don’t think you are,” Alford said.

That was certainly true for my palate. A rye Old Fashioned is one of my go-to cocktails; although I’m not about to start swapping out the whiskey for coffee, I liked the slightly bitter element added to the drink, the way it briefly settled on my tongue before the other elements, the citrus and the bitters, took over.

Here’s the recipe for the Coffee Old Fashioned for any coffee aficionados out there who want try the beverage in a new way.

Coffee Old Fashioned

Beans from Tweed Coffee Roasters

Three shakes Angostura bitters

One shake Fee Brothers orange bitters

1/2 tsp. raw sugar

One nectarine peel

For coffee (prepared well before you’re ready to serve the cocktail): Kalita Wave partially brewed (25 g coffee (7 on ek-43), 60 g bloom, 175 g water total, drain time: 1:45 max) and ice bathed

Muddle Angostura bitters, Fee Brothers orange bitters, raw sugar and nectarine peel. Fill old-fashioned glass with ice. Pour chilled coffee over ice. Stir moderately.

Apply flame to Meyer lemon peel for flame effect, then add the peel as garnish.

— Adapted from Gregory Alford