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Moved by the Spirits

Inspired by Texas’s new array of homegrown hard alcohols, some of the state’s most innovative bartenders create five bold new cocktails.

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Photograph by the Voorhes

De Terra Sotol, Genius Liquids

In June 2013 Mike Groener and Charles Cheung launched Genius Liquids with a pair of gins, uniquely distilled from cane sugar. Two years later they began producing the first—and only—domestic sotol. Sotol is a spirit native to Chihuahua, Mexico, though the agave-like plant from which it is distilled grows throughout South and West Texas.

The Bartender: Mary Stanley is the proprietor of the restaurant Turtle, an outpost of elevated dining on the main drag of Brownwood, on the western edge of the Hill Country. This is her nod to the mojito.

Watermelon Mojito

6–7 mint leaves
1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces De Terra Sotol
4 ounces fresh watermelon juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 drops Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters

Muddle mint and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add sotol, watermelon juice, lime juice, and bitters. Add ice and shake. Strain over ice and serve in a Collins glass. Garnish with melon cubes and mint leaves on a skewer.

Kinsman Rakia, Dorćol Distilling Company

Dorćol Distilling Company is the brainchild of Chris Mobley and Boyan Kalusevic, the latter of whom is continuing a family tradition of fruit distilling that goes back several generations in Eastern Europe. Dorćol’s flagship product is Kinsman Rakia, a fruit brandy (apricots in this case), generally un-aged. The rakia is first fermented and distilled in Serbia before being shipped to San Antonio for the finishing run, making Dorćol the only distillery in Texas to specialize in producing the national drink of several Balkan states.

The Bartender: Michelle Fierro-Quintero and her husband, Juan, travel to places like Austin and New Orleans seeking flavors to bring back to their hometown of El Paso, where they opened one of the city’s first craft cocktail bars, the Black Orchid Lounge, in 2013. This cocktail was inspired by the tradition in El Paso of pouring Mexican beer into a margarita.

Desert Shandy

1 ounce Kinsman Rakia
3/4 ounce rosemary-infused syrup*
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
2–3 ounces La Frontera IPA or similar

Combine first 3 ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously to chill. Strain over ice in a snifter and top off with IPA. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

*For the rosemary-infused syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 small fresh rosemary sprig

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and add sprig; cook for 2–3 minutes. Strain into jar, then chill.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Mockingbird Distillery

Tito Beveridge (yes, that’s his real last name) was so far ahead of his time that when he decided to open a vodka distillery in the nineties, there was literally no clear process by which to do so. Over the next twenty years his perseverance wading through the regulatory hurdles paid off: Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a pot-still corn vodka distilled just south of Austin, is not just the best-known Texas spirit, it is by far the most widely distributed, sold in all fifty states.

The Bartender: Brian Floyd mans the bar at the Austin outpost of New York’s Weather Up. He loves this vodka cocktail for its versatility: If you’re entertaining a group, turn it into a punch. If you don’t have a lemon, use lemonade.

Lady Governor

1 1/2 ounces Tito’s Handmade Vodka
1 ounce Texas grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1/4 Aperol
dash Peychaud’s Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill and dilute. Strain over ice in a Collins glass and garnish with a lemon wheel.

Moody June Gin, Bone Spirits

Bone Spirits was founded in 2010 by Jeff Peace, a former lawyer. The distillery takes a “farm to bottle” approach, fermenting and distilling all their spirits from mostly Texas grain on the property. Its lineup includes Moody June Gin, Smith’s Vodka, and a moonshine and corn whiskey under the Fitch’s Goat label.

The Bartender: Christopher Ware was one of the most in-demand mixologists in San Antonio (serving up drinks at Bohanan’s and Arcade) before he finally opened his own bar, Paramour, in 2015. This is his solution for an abundant harvest of loquats, a small stone fruit native to China that has flourished in South and Central Texas for more than a century.

Summer in Cathay

4–5 mint sprigs
3/4 ounce loquat-ginger shrub*
2 ounces Moody June Gin
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
2–3 ounces Topo Chico

Muddle mint sprigs and shrub in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add gin, lemon juice, and ice and shake vigorously. Strain over ice in a highball glass and top with Topo Chico.

*For the loquat-ginger shrub:

2 cups pitted loquats
1 cup grated ginger
16 ounces vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar

Combine fruit, ginger, and vinegar in a saucepan and heat to just shy of boiling, approximately 190 to 200 degrees.

Simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer the liquid to a jar, allow to cool, and cover tightly. Let stand for 3 to 4 weeks, then strain through a coffee filter. In a saucepan, combine the strained liquid and sugar, bring to a boil until sugar dissolves, remove from heat, and let cool.

Treaty Oak Platinum Rum, Treaty Oak Distilling

Founded in 2006, Treaty Oak Distilling was one of Texas’s oldest operating distilleries. The Platinum Rum was its first release and the first spirit to be made from raw molasses in Texas. Nearly a decade later, Treaty Oak also produces bourbon and Starlite, a corn-and-wheat vodka, and in 2009, it debuted the first Texas gin, using local botanicals like lavender and rosemary to give this traditionally English spirit a Texas sense of place.

The Bartender: Alex Gregg, an Anvil alum and a fixture on Houston’s cocktail scene from the start, now heads the bar at Moving Sidewalk, one of the numerous great cocktail destinations populating Main Street. This is his high-tech take on the strawberry daiquiri.

Babes

3/4 ounce Texas strawberry juice (or 2 strawberries muddled with 3/4 ounce simple syrup)

2 ounces Treaty Oak Platinum Rum

1 ounce lime cordial (or fresh lime juice)

1 ounce Topo Chico

At Moving Sidewalk, Gregg combines the ingredients in a keg and carbonates the whole mess. For the adventurous home bartender, combine ingredients in a soda siphon and charge with CO2. Alternatively, combine strawberry juice, rum, and lime cordial in a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into a champagne coupe or red Solo cup (“depending on your mood,” says Gregg). Top with Topo Chico and garnish with half a strawberry.

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