Kindred Spirits: Austin Bars Think Inside the Box with Cool Cocktail Kits During Pandemic
Want to support local bars? Try batched bottled drinks or kits
By Laurel Miller
Texas bars just can’t catch a break. Governor Abbott’s July 25th mandate requiring drinking establishments to shutter (or re-shutter, as the case may be) has thrown an additional obstacle in the path of places plying alcohol.
Even if you’re a teetotaler, the foreseeable permanent shuttering of some of Austin’s most iconic watering holes, restaurants and music venues (which of course do high-volume alcohol sales) doesn’t bode well for the city’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry. Without places to drink, dine, dance or see live music, our city’s economic recovery is at great risk, as well as facets of our cultural heritage.
With these critical issues in mind, a number of bars and restaurants with well-established bar programs have pivoted their businesses to takeout, with some offering virtual learning in the form of cocktail classes and tastings. Increasingly, creative non-alcoholic beverages are also available to go.
We could all use a respite from the news cycle and stay-at-home-induced tedium right now, so why not support a local business in the name of fun and socialization, even if it’s via Zoom? The following bars are offering noteworthy batched cocktails, kits, and online education; I’ve also taken the liberty of categorizing them (brunch, happy hour, etc.) based on my favorite offerings, even though time as such has been rendered meaningless.
Garage: A collaboration with Assembly Kitchen has led to this much-loved craft cocktail bar launching a series of virtual “Shake Sessions.” After ordering your cocktail kit, which serves two and includes a candle and a cone of the same incense used at the bar to set the mood, you and 19 other participants can log onto Zoom for a tutorial/tasting and happy hour hosted by General Manager and Beverage Director Paul Finn.
There will also be guest bartenders and brand ambassadors, like the July 17th inaugural event, co-hosted by Benny Hurwitz of Wild Turkey. A featured cocktail is a riff on the classic Gold Rush, made with Wild Turkey 101, lime, lemon, honey, saline and fig tincture. Each kit also includes savory snacks from pastry chef Philip Speer of Comedor, recipes and, sometimes, swag. You can even download an image of the bar for your Zoom background and play music curated from Garage’s impressive vinyl collection with a Spotify playlist they’ve put together. Get tickets for upcoming Shake Sessions at assemblykitchen.com or @garagetx on Instagram.
Buenos Aires Café: This beloved, family-owned-and-operated East Sixth Street restaurant and subterranean bar (Milonga Room) is home to the largest curation of amari, or bitter digestifs (think Aperol, Campari, Fernet) in Texas. In addition to batched kits to go for cocktails like the Milonguero (Rye, Amaro Meletti, bitters, orange garnish) and the Clarito (Gin de Los Apóstoles, an Argentinean mate leaf spirit, dry vermouth, candied lemon, sugar), the bar/café will be offering tutorials by co-owner and Milonga Room founder Ryan Smith on their IGTV channel. A nice added touch: each drink kit comes with ice cubes.
Drink.Well: In addition to bottled classic cocktails like the Gimlet (serves 2) and Old Fashioned (choose your own spirit from an extensive selection of whiskies) that come with serving instructions and glassware recommendations, Drink.Well will create batched bespoke drinks for two that allow you to choose your base spirit, style of drink (rocks, highball, up, etc.) and desired flavor profile. You can even note allergy restrictions. Batched cocktails for four include original libations like the dreamy Blue Grotto, made with vodka, Italicus Bergamot Liqueur, Liber & Co. Pineapple Gomme, lime, celery bitters and Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic.
There’s also the Cocktail Pantry, which provides two non-alcoholic mixers and a vacuum-packed bag of custom ice (large format FatIce, KoldDraft cocktail ice or crushed ice). All that’s required is spirits from your home bar. You can also order cocktail tools, bottled tropical cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks, all for curbside pickup and limited delivery.
Cosmic Coffee & Beer Garden: It’s hot, and sometimes you just need to grab and go, especially if you’ve got brunch to cook or pick up. Multi-task by ordering a to-go Frozen Boozy Coffee (mezcal, dairy horchata, chocolate, mole spice) or Frozen El Diablo (Cimarron Tequila Blanco, ginger, loganberry, lime). There are also highball and house cocktail kits like the bizarre but refreshing Green Dream (Deep Eddy Vodka, grapefruit, basil seltzer, Chartreuse, lime, Supergreen).
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails: I’m all for Bloody Mary (house mix, pickled green beans, olives, lemons, cherry tomatoes, herbs, salt pack, serves 6) and Michelada (Pacifico beer, house bloody mix, fresh lime and hot sauce-smoked citrus and chile salt, serves 4) kits, which take the work out of the booze part of brunch. For solo dining or a spiked liquid breakfast, order the CFT (Coffee Fernet Thing: cold brew, Fernet Branca Menta, Aztec chocolate bitters, fresh mint). There are also Mimosa kits, but I say save yourself $22 and buy a bottle of good sparkling wine (totally doable for $15) and a couple of oranges, instead. They’re offering curbside pick-up or delivery. Props for giving diners the option of requesting compostable utensils, if needed.
The Roosevelt Room: It’s no surprise that the to-go batch cocktails from one of Austin’s top craft cocktail bars are as beguiling and complex as what you’d order in person. Each bottled cocktail contains housemade tinctures, syrups, bitters and essences, from ubiquitous classics (Sazerac, Margarita, Painkiller) and lesser-known historical libations (Lion’s Tail: bourbon, allspice, cinnamon syrup, lime, demerara, Angostura bitters, lime oil) and house specials (Cigar Box: mezcal, smoked black tea syrup, lavender bitters, tobacco essence, cinnamon). There’s also a non-alcoholic offering, the Castaway (mint, cucumber, lime, coconut cream, sweetgrass tincture, ginger beer). Bottles vary in size from three to ten servings and come with “At-Home Cocktail Procedure” instructions, glassware, serving and garnish suggestions as well as additional tips from bar staff.
The Peached Tortilla: Margaritas can be as easy or complex as you want to make them, but no matter, because here, beverage director Kevin Kok does the work for you. Each kit serves eight and comes with 32 ounces of his own mix (lime, habanero, Thai basil syrup, orange liqueur), a 375-milliliter bottle of Herradurra Blanco, Herradura Reposado or Espolón Silver tequila, limes and housemade habanero salt. The mix can also be ordered separate.