If you've ever sipped a $12 cocktail in Dallas, you've likely sampled the handiwork of Jason Kosmas. When we last caught up with him, he was boozing it up as the beverage director at Marquee Grill, but he's also done time at Neighborhood Services and Bolsa and lent his expertise to the drink menus at Malai and Mesa (plus co-founded a little bar in Manhattan called Employees Only). You can catch him this weekend during Craft Cocktails Texas; Friday afternoon at the Stoneleigh he'll be teaching a seminar called "Concentrated Evil" on uniting many components to compose one fabulous drink. The man with the magic shaker carved a few minutes out of his busy schedule recently so foodbitch and I could poke our noses into his latest ventures.
One is hard-pressed to visit a cocktail bar in Dallas that's not been under your sphere of influence at some point; is there a project you've consulted on that you're especially proud of? When I was at Bolsa with Lucky Campbell, we put out a new menu without really purging all our creative angst. So, we came up with the "Bolsa Cocktail Challenge." Every week we asked our regulars to post wacky ingredients on Bolsa's Facebook page and we would pick five out of Lucky's fedora and create a happy hour menu for the day. They still hold the cocktail challenge and every now and then I am on Facebook when they are announcing the menu. It always makes me happy to see what they are up to.
We know you have a couple books out, but we also hear you may be delving into television and/or your own spirits company. Can you give us any details on either of those projects? I shot a TV pilot about a year ago in Dallas about cocktails. The company that produced it really created something special. I have learned that until the deal is signed, it doesn't do much to talk about it. There is a lot of positive momentum out there that keeps my childlike ADD excited.
For the last few years I have been working on spirits with a few others in the spirits industry. Our first product is going to be Cana Brava Rum. We collaborated with "Don Pancho" who was the master distiller for Havana Club in Cuba for over 30 years. He now has his own distillery in the southern isthmus of Panama where the actual sugar can is grown. Together we created a 3-year-old aged and filtered rum made from molasses. It is in the same style that inspired the Cuba libre, the mojito and of course the daiquiri. It is an unbelievable honor to be working with such a genius in the rum industry.
How do you think the craft cocktail scene is shaping up here in Dallas? Are we poised to become a respectable drinking city worthy of national attention, or will we always be considered a second-tier city well below New York, LA and Chicago? Cocktails have been permeating every aspect of drinking and dining in Dallas over the last few years. There is a lot of talent in town and more being developed every day. The breath of the audience ranges from the enthusiast who hits haunts like Cedars Social in South Dallas to the daily diner who bellies up to a table at Whiskey Cake in Plano. I see Dallas as a gatekeeper for trends and ideas that envelope the rest of the nation. I think what everyone should be looking at what WE are doing in Dallas since that will become the American standard for making cocktails.
What new drink trends have you seen in New York or elsewhere that we can expect to see popping up in bars here soon? The use of professional tools is the first thing I have seen really making an impact in how people make drinks. Shrubs are another thing that people are getting into. Shrubs are as old as cocktails themselves, usually flavored with fruit, sugar and always vinegar. I have one sitting on the stove as we speak...
What's the strangest ingredient you've ever seen go into a "craft cocktail?" My latest favorite comes from Bar Congress in Austin. Jason Stevens makes a Peach Lambic Liqueur from Belgian Beer. It may not be strange like grub worms but to me, it is one of the most simply inventive ideas I have ever seen.
Let's play favorites. What's your go-to bar in Dallas? Easy, the Windmill.
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What's your go-to order at a loud bar where the bartender can barely hear you? Shiner Bock and a shot of Jameson.
Tell us about The 86 Company. What makes it different? I feel like answering that question would make me sound like every other spirits company. It's the spirits are really the stars not the company. Each one is an individual product with own compelling story. The devil is in the details.
Fedoras. What is the DEAL with fedoras?! I personally don't have a good head for hats. I don't wear vests either. I think it all started at Bolsa, though. Upstairs is Cassie MacGregor, a custom hat maker who provided hats for the initial staff. It became a sign of the Oak Cliff lifestyle. I think others caught on and others liked the style. Probably better than having a silly mustache.
Tickets to Kosmas' cocktail seminar can be purchased here, or view the full schedule of Craft Cocktails Texas events happening this weekend. (And for the record, we think Jason's mustache is pretty bitchin'.)