April is the perfect time to visit Austin, Texas, and the weather was outstanding for an afternoon of sampling some of the best absinthe cocktails regional bartenders had to offer.
A couple of months ago, we — Drinkhacker and Hood River Distillers, the importer of Lucid Absinthe — encouraged bartenders to come up with new cocktails that showcased absinthe in more of its glory than you’ll find in, say, a sazerac or a zombie cocktail. Turns out that “absinthe forward” can mean a lot of different things, and the drinks submitted really spanned every type of cocktail imaginable, from classic tiki drinks to old-school flips. Lucid narrowed down the finalists to a dozen, and ten were on hand on Monday to prepare their cocktails and submit them for judging.
Our winner was Chris Morris, who’s opening a bar called Ready Room in Houston this coming May. Morris made his cocktail with passion, talking about his inspiration drawn from Italian spiked coffee drinks, and crafted it with skill. Balanced and seductive, the surprising drink is one you can make it at home yourself, and which you probably should:
Add all ingredients and ice to shaker. Shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (roughly 15 seconds). Double strain into a glass tea or coffee glass, finish with grated cinnamon.
Morris wins a cool thousand bucks for his drink — and Shaun Meglen, of Austin’s Peche cocktail bar, took home the $500 “fan favorite” prize, as voted by consumers who got to taste all the cocktails as well. Meglen’s drink is pure tiki, finding a bit of zombie-esque inspiration while turning out so vibrantly pink that it feels tailor-made for the summer. Here it is:
Shake all ingredients (except bubbles), strain over crushed ice. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, edible hibiscus flower, and lemon peel flower.
The rest of the field had some impressive entries. Picking a winner was truly tough, but the good news is you can give them all a spin for yourself if you’ve got the time (and, in some cases, the wherewithal to track down some crazy ingredients).
A booze-heavy spin on the sazerac by Christopher Ayabe.
¾ oz Lucid Absinthe
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
¼ oz Demerara Simple Syrup
1¼ oz Michter’s Rye
½ oz Benedictine
Stirred, served up in a Nick and Nora glass.
Poolside at The Pogo Lounge
This tiki style drink from David Perez is served with coconut-anise bubbles, made by aerating tea with an aquarium pump.
¾ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Pot Still Rum
½ oz. Coconut Liqueur
1 oz. Fassionola
¾ oz. Lime Juice
½ oz. Demerara syrup
Shake and serve on crushed on ice into a Zombie or Collins class. Garnish with coco-anise foam.
Robert Britto serves up a spicy drink punched with galangal root juice, a funky, earthy ginger-like root.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Velvet Falernum
¾ oz. Freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ oz. Simple Syrup
¼ oz. Freshly Juiced Galangal Root Juice (finely strained with a chinois)
Combine all ingredients in a Boston shaker tin. Shake for an average 12 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled martini glass. Rim and garnish with a simple lemon swath.
The Pop Tate
Caer Maiko’s upscale root beer was a personal favorite.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Root (by Art in the Age)
¾ oz. Orgeat
½ oz. orange juice
1 egg white
Served up in an absinthe glass, garnished with an aromatic bitters design.
By Zach Barnhill
1 oz. Citadelle gin
1 oz. French vermouth
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Suze
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Stir until right temperature. Strain into Nick and Nora. Lemon zest and discard.
Wide Awake Dream
By Aaron Kolitz
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Krogstad Aquavit
1½ oz. Dolin Blanc
3½ ml Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Garnish: Flamed star anise pods-studded lemon peel
By Marla Martinez
1½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Hoodoo Coffee Liqueur
¾ oz. Ginger Syrup
½ oz. Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Top with Topochico
Combine all ingredients into shaker tin, shake and strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice, top with Topochico. Garnish with mint sprig and candied ginger.
Land of Milk & Honey (A Bohemian Flip)
Saving Philip Coggins’ craziest cocktail of all for last.
1¼ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Pendleton Canadian Whiskey
½ oz. D’Aristi Xtabentún
1 oz. Milk
¼ oz. Round Rock Honey Syrup
3 dashes Extinct Chemical Co Acid Phosphate
1 Whole Egg
10 drops Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters
Pour 1 oz absinthe into a separate glass, add ice cold water slowly until louche effect begins; pour into shaker. Add remaining spirits, 1 oz milk, 3 dashes of acid phosphate, and whole egg to shaker. Pour remaining ¼ oz. of absinthe and ¼ oz. honey syrup into jigger, and pour gently flamed mixture directly into shaker.
Dry shake for emulsification of egg. Add ice, shake. Strain neat. Garnish with 10 drops (1 per year of anniversary of the repeal of the absinthe ban) of Dead Rabbit Bitters on froth, rake into a pattern.
Thanks to all of our bartender competitors for participating. Next stop: Los Angeles in the late summer!
All photos courtesy Jessica Fradono Photography.