- Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
After months of sweltering heat, by mid-August we may be running out of ideas for summer fun. We’ve already sought out all the best Central Texas rivers on which to go tubing. Already eaten our weight in ice cream and sno cones at local dessert shops. And do we really need another dip in one of the Austin hotel pools that welcome locals? (Actually, yes.)
In any case, it’s time to drink.
To give that year-round activity the free, fun feeling of summer, search out seasonal cocktails with oddball ingredients, whether an unusual spirit or liqueur or a nonalcoholic accompaniment like vegetables that just isn’t so common in drinks.
Peach, pineapple, strawberry — these are common summer flavors you’ll find in cocktails at Austin bars. But cantaloupe? Not so much. And especially not paired with whiskey. Whisler’s, the offbeat cocktail bar on East Sixth Street, has made it a sweet combination with the Birds of Paradise, which also features cucumber and grains of paradise (one of Whisler’s mad-scientist tinctures).
“I think that’s what draws people in, the fresh cantaloupe juice,” bartender Brian Delgado said about one of the bar’s current most popular drinks. “We sometimes run out of it on Fridays and Saturdays because people request it so much.”
Sweet basil is an easy go-to for bartenders seeking an herbaceous element in their cocktails, but indoor bar Garage (yes, in an actual parking garage) sought the heavy aroma of Thai basil to pair as a garnish with rye whiskey in the Summer Sonata, a cocktail that will change slightly with the seasons. Rye may not feel seasonal to these summer months; paired with the relaxing scent and a hibiscus infusion, however, Garage’s bartenders have proved the spicy spirit’s versatility.
Shishito peppers are one of the best bar foods to nibble on while you drink, but how about one in your drink? In the summer cocktail Banzai, the Lobby Bar at the Four Seasons has abandoned the more common jalapeños for sweet shishitos. The peppers are infused in Patron Tequila and contribute an intriguing vegetal element to the mixture of Domain de Canton Ginger Liqueur, lime and Togarashi salt.
Another seasonal offering at the hotel bar, the Mango de Fuego with jalapeño-infused Z Tequila, mango, lime and agave is a tug-of-war between the mild heat of the jalapeño and the sweet tropical mango. The sunshine-colored fruit is a frequent accompaniment in beer (including Austin’s own Mango Wit from Adelbert’s), but it doesn’t seem to be as popular in cocktails. This rather Instagram-friendly cocktail makes the argument that perhaps it should be.
This fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream is infused with tequila in a fat-washing process for the cocktail Hand Hugs and Cheesy Pickup Lines at Vox Table, and its savory essence is nicely prominent — especially in the drink’s rich texture. Thought up by beverage director Madelyn Kay, who gets her inspiration for cocktails from her love of cooking, the drink also has mezcal, a cantaloupe-tarragon syrup, lemon, grapefruit and Topo Chico. They work together harmoniously.
Drink.Well bartender Drew Jerdan created the Kyoto Protocol to highlight Japan’s shochu, a barley distillate somewhat similar to white whiskey that is little recognized and underused in the U.S.
“I built a whiskey sour variation that embraces the best elements of the spirit,” he said. “The chamomile-heavy Bittermen’s Boston bitters enhance the delicate floral quality of the base, and Amaro Nonino works well with the earthy and pleasantly musty notes of an unaged grain spirit. The cornflower bud garnish is inspired by the simple and elegant aesthetic of traditional Japanese culture, a nod to shochu’s origin in feudal Japan.”
Austin restaurant Curra’s Grill has already cornered the market on avocado margaritas, but Revelry Kitchen + Bar on East Sixth Street has found a new way to put a spin on this local classic. Revelry bar manager Kyle Hayes makes the Slow Burn with mezcal, lemon juice, simple syrup, yellow chartreuse and a full two ounces of avocado, a Mexican fruit that “adds a lot of texture to a cocktail.” The result is a rounded and refreshing drink that you’ll want to sip on Revelry’s outdoor patio.
The liqueur company Giffard has made it easy for bartenders to whip up drinks with infused booze featuring banana, rhubarb and other unexpected flavors — including lychee. This Chinese fruit contributes “a floral, fruity and tropical note all at once” in the Lichi Li, making it an easy companion to gin in martinis. But Peche bartenders Caer Ferguson and Chris Gaspar wanted to take it a more balanced direction with the Mating Call, adding a hibiscus-honey syrup to both ingredients.
Eureka, a burger restaurant on Sixth Street, recently debuted brunch and two cocktails just for weekend imbibing. These include the Weekend Thyme with gin, aquavit, carrot, ginger, thyme and lemon — the sort of hair-of-the-dog you secretly hope is contributing some health benefits while you drink it. The ounce and a half of freshly squeezed carrot juice not only lends the cocktail its bright orange color but also a comforting vegetal flavor telling you, yes, this has got to be good for you.
Tequila’s more rustic cousin, mezcal, has been all the rage lately — but sotol, another Mexican spirit, is still rare to find behind the bar. But not at Fonda San Miguel, which introduced the tropical Noa Noa this summer using two-year-old añejo sotol, cognac, guava puree and lemon juice. The result, served in a martini glass, is bright, sweet and bold, the latter thanks to the grounding influence of the sotol from top producer Hacienda de Chihuahua.
Barley Swine’s Let’s Get Weird, with cognac, rum, garden peas, tangerine and a sour beer, was one of the most intriguing cocktails of the spring. This summer, the lauded restaurant from James Beard Award finalist Bryce Gilmore is keeping it quirky with the Melon Sangria, featuring banana pepper vodka, melon juice, white wine, honey and pink peppercorns. It’s not only on tap but on nitro, like many dark beers.
That’s why bar manager Kasey Pierce wanted to use it: Nitrogen produces more of a creamy mouthfeel in those beers, and she didn’t want the sangria to have the “soda-like bubbles” of a drink on draft with the usual carbon dioxide.