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Official Drink of Austin competition returns next week

Arianna Auber

What does an Austin-inspired cocktail taste like? Is it with rum or whiskey? Is it smoky or sweet? What sort of additional ingredients would be paired with the spirit?

That’s the basic premise behind the Official Drink of Austin competition, which returns on Feb. 20 and pits six teams from local bars against each other to create the tastiest drinks in town. Bartenders from Qui, Weather Up, Drink.Well, the Four Seasons Hotel, Midnight Cowboy and Whisler’s have concocted three cocktails – a long drink, an up drink and a shot – using Texas-made spirits, such as Deep Eddy Vodka, Dulce Vida Tequila and Genius Gin.

They’ll offer each of them to the panel of judges (one of whom is the Statesman’s food critic, Matthew Odam), as well as the audience, to try and then rate. The two best ones, said Tipsy Texan’s David Alan, one of the event’s organizers, will be made live and judged again – and the highest scored one will be named Austin’s official drink.

Besides having to feature spirits from Texas, the contest’s other requirement is that the cocktails mirror Austin’s culinary tastes. So a plain vodka martini using Tito’s Vodka just won’t cut it, Alan said.

“A lot of the contestants are using local flavors to reflect Austin’s personality in the drinks they’re making for the competition,” Alan said. “I’m not saying you’ll see a queso cocktail, but there were some pretty creative interpretations of what an Austin cocktail is.”

It’s a fun way to showcase the local talent behind the city’s thriving cocktail and spirits scenes, which were very different when an original version of the contest first launched a decade ago as a collaboration between the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Tito’s Vodka. Back then, the distillery was Austin’s only one.

In 2008, there was also the Drink Local contest that Alan and Edible Austin paired up to create so they could showcase the spirits that burgeoning area distilleries were starting to make.

The two contests merged into one in 2011. It’s not quite the same competition that it was even three years ago, as it returns after a two-year hiatus setting bar teams from local restaurants, rather than individual bartenders, against each other. It also has the teams making three drinks instead of just one, as in the past.

And it’s all for a good cause: Alan is partnering this time with the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, and tickets to the event benefit the alliance’s culinary grants program. They’ll get you the chance to try each of the competing cocktails, as well some of the food provided by the Carillon, Swift’s Attic and Frank, among other local restaurants.

7 to 10 p.m. Feb. 20. $65. AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, 1900 University Ave.