Since last Wednesday, I have been punishing my liver with every cocktail known to man in the name of journalism. The annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which showcases the work of mixologists throughout the Southwest, is not for the weak of spirit or alcohol tolerance. There is booze everywhere.
Barmen (and women) across the country trekked to San Antonio to showcase their wares, including some of Dallas' favorites. The crew of self-described hooligans from Parliament, Lucky Campbell's fire-hot speakeasy in Uptown, made the drive so that two of their bartenders could compete in the Conference's final event. Eight bartenders from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and even Louisiana, went head to head to see who could create the best cocktail inspired by the history and culture of San Antonio. Among them were Dallas' own Brad Bowden and Carlo Biddle of Parliament, and Daniel Guillen of La Duni Latin Kitchen.
Before the competition, though, the Parliament bartenders set up shop in the beautiful Empire Theatre for an extremely exclusive party with Jason Kosmas' 86 & Co, along with other great cocktail bars from across Texas. I'm obviously a homer, but the guys from Dallas had the best cocktails of the night, including a boozy Donkey Punch mixed with dry ice and a version of their Banksy cocktail, complete with that spray-painted Parliament logo on top. As a party favor, they handed out baggies of impressively good Fernet Branca infused cotton candy.
The next day, the guys shook off their hangovers for the big bartending competition that closed this year's Conference. Daniel Guillen was up first, crafting an intricate menyul de Veracruzano, or a Mexican cocktail that resembles a mint julep. According to Guillen, the traditional Mexican cocktail originated when rich Frenchmen traveling in Mexico tried to order the mint juleps that they'd had in other parts of the world in broken Spanish. Made originally with unknown ratios of sherry, rum, bitters, and hand-cracked ice, Guillen updated the long-lost cocktail for modern palates with Sailor Jerry spiced rum, two types of sherry, coffee beans, amargo vallet, and piloncillo syrup.
Up next was Carlo Biddle. The Parliament bartender's highly-involved drink, called the El Hombre Sin Nombre, was totally fancy, and reminiscent of San Antonio. Mixed with Sailor Jerry spiced rum, the cocktail featured a prominent San Antonio Spurs (boo) logo spray-painted on the top with floral bitters. The expert barman also created a sassafras jelly or his cocktail, a hat-tip to San Antonio's hundred-year-old Shiloh Delicatessen and their famed house-made root beer.
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The last competitor of the evening was Dallas' Brad Bowden, who you'll usually find shaking up Dallas' best (and maybe only) Ramos gin fizz. Bowden is easily one of Dallas' best young bartenders, and his cocktail The Thin Line represented the line famously drawn in the sand by Colonel William Barrett Travis before the massacre at The Alamo. Bowden's cocktail, made with mezcal, egg white, cilantro, and a pineapple-vanilla demerara, went over much more smoothly than its namesake.
Alas, though, only one booze expert could take home the title and that award (and $2000 in cash) went to Daniel Guillen's Veracruzano. When Guillen was announced as the winner, the group of supportive Dallasites in attendance went nuts. A bartender visiting from Austin took home second prize, but more than one of the judges from the panel gushed about Bowden's The Thin Line.
Seeing Dallas bartenders kick ass amongst the state's finest mixologists is extremely heartening for someone who appreciates the massive strides that our local cocktail scene has made in the past few years. As Dallas' food scene continues to draw in recognition from outsiders, barmen like Daniel Guillen, Carlo Biddle, and Brad Bowden will always be able to make sure that the booze scene is equally top-notch.