The field of competitive cocktailing is a crowded one. The talent pool of American bartending has never been deeper, and there are more contests than you can shake a muddler at. Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender showdown, which took place in Las Vegas in September, is among the most rigorous. A Texas bartender has never won the national final of such a prestigious competition—until now. On his fourth go at it, Austin’s Justin Lavenue finally brought home the prize.
Just a few months earlier, Lavenue, who worked at some of Austin’s best cocktail bars (Half Step, Drink.Well), had embarked on his own venture, opening the Roosevelt Room with business partner Dennis Gobis, himself an accomplished bartender. The Roosevelt occupies a Warehouse District building that has housed a number of nightclubs over the years and will be recognizable to old-school Austinites as the former home of Hot Jumbo Bagel. A chalkboard above the bar showcases a timeline of cocktail history’s greatest hits, and the seasonal menu boasts a number of standouts, the most impressive of which is the Poet’s Muse.
Lavenue’s award-winning gin potion starts with a chilled cocktail coupe garnished with an aromatic lime-peel “rose.” The key ingredient is something he calls Poet’s Cordial, a concoction consisting of pistachio milk that he has sweetened with wildflower honey and perfumed with cinnamon, star anise, vanilla bean, and matcha. Fresh citrus and a so-called umami tincture round out the mix.
A frequent complaint about cocktail competitions is that only the judges get to taste the drinks. At the Roosevelt Room, you can judge the Poet’s Muse for yourself.
2 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
3/4 ounce Poet’s Cordial
3/4 ounce Yuzu Blend
2 dashes Umami Tincture
In a tin, hard-shake the ingredients over a large ice cube. Strain into a large coupe glass and drop the ice cube in. Garnish with a lime-peel rosette.
1 quart pistachio milk (In a blender, roughly puree 1 part unsalted pistachio nuts with 2 parts water; strain through cheesecloth.)
3 1/3 cups wildflower honey
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise pods
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons matcha
Combine ingredients, mix well, and let rest for three days. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove solids.
15 parts fresh lime juice
1 part yuzu concentrate (available at Asian or specialty grocers)
30 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
1 tablespoon Himalayan salt
Sauté mushrooms in butter for 10 minutes. Add Bombay Sapphire and salt and steep for another 10 minutes. Strain mushrooms out and freeze the liquid to let the butter fat coagulate. Let defrost, then pour liquid through cheesecloth to strain off fat solids.