After whipping up their signature summer drinks for our July cover story, two of the state’s most innovative mixologists—Robert Heugel, of Houston’s Anvil Bar and Refuge, and Justin Beam, of the Ritz-Carlton’s Rattlesnake Bar, in Dallas—chatted with us about the importance of ice, the blossoming of our homegrown microdistilleries, and what Texans should (and shouldn’t) be drinking.
Anvil Bar and Refuge, Houston
You opened Anvil Bar and Refuge in March. What sets it apart from other watering holes?
We don’t take any shortcuts at all. Every ingredient that goes into a drink gets put in separately. You hear people say that they use fresh juices in all their drinks, but we take it to a whole other level. Our juice is juiced fresh every single day, and it’s not pre-mixed with anything before it’s put into the drink. We don’t use vodka in cocktails because it’s odorless and tasteless and cocktails should showcase the spirit as part of a flavor component in the drink. We use a Kold-Draft ice machine, which is the best type you can buy. It makes ice upside down, and it makes completely airless 1 1/4- by-1 1/4-inch cubes. The ice machine has its own three-ton air-conditioning unit that keeps it cold.
We don’t use commercial glassware, which isn’t what cocktails should be served in, so we have glassware that we’ve found in thrift shops around Montrose. We serve 20 times as much rye as we do bourbon and 25 times as much gin as we do vodka. We’re not afraid to do things the way that they should be done and the way that they were done a long time ago.
The drink you’ve created for us—the Alamo Fizz—calls for an egg white, which might raise some eyebrows.
I love making drinks with egg whites, not only because they taste incredible, but because it forces people to recognize that there’s a difference in how we make drinks. Everybody knows what an egg is, but using it in a cocktail asks you to question two things that you know: You know what a cocktail is and you know what an egg is, but you don’t assume that they should be put together. The use of eggs in mixed drinks predates even the cocktail. People didn’t start mixing spirits until about three hundred years after people were mixing eggs into beer and wine. Using eggs is a great way to ask people to step outside the box.
Do you have to convince people to try a drink with raw eggs in it?
Customers always ask, “Well, can’t you get salmonella from that?” And I always ask, “Did you drive here today? You’re four times as likely to die going home as you are to get salmonella from an egg.” We spend our time converting people into accepting a different approach to cocktails, so we’ve got to be ready with a response.
You used Austin-based Treaty Oak rum for this recipe, but are there other Texas spirits that you like to use?
I love Paula’s Texas. They’re doing some great stuff that I don’t think anyone else is doing, like hand-zesting every single piece of fruit that they put into their products. And they’re really the only place in the country that’s creating an orangecello and a limoncello of that quality. No one else is touching them. I’m actually working on a gin recipe that Paula is going to produce. This type of collaboration is something you can do with microdistilleries that you could never do with a larger company. I think that helps create a more interesting market.
And then there’s Railean, which is a rum company out of San Leon. I really like what they’re doing because they’re producing the first commercially aged spirit in Texas. That they’re