The morning after the second annual USBG Houston bartender showcase, my notes read like pure gibberish, and it wasn't just the potency of the cocktails.
With names like "Mutiny on the Bounty" (from the Queen Vic) and "Queen's Park Swizzle" (by Anvil Bar & Refuge) coupled with punctuation-less ingredient lists like "gin grapefruit lime juice lavender black pepper jager on top" (from Grand Prize), it was difficult to reassemble all the tastes I enjoyed from participating bars that also included Flora & Muse, Hugo's/Backstreet Cafe, 13 Celsius, Soma and others.
If any night could have proved it, Monday night at Mortar did: Houston is no one-bar town.
CityCentre's Flora & Muse presented a refreshing champagne cocktail with pisco, agave nectar for sweetness and orange bitters, garnished with a fizzing sugar cube at the base and a lemon twist — just the ticket in a tight space packed with the kind of crowd you hope for, but one that likely left organizers wishing they'd planned and brought fans.
Less impressive was a drink by Hugo's/Backstreet that purported to be a twist on the classic Paloma. The premium tequila was there (Siembra Azul) but the substitution of beet and Fuji apple shrub with rhubarb for the traditional grapefruit soda made the drink pretty in pink, but not so tasty.
Favorites from the night included Queen Vic's Mutiny on the Bounty, which incorporated Cruzan Black Strap rum, pineapple, lemon grass, a black pepper and honey-infused syrup and allspice dram. The end result — like sophisticated gingerbread in a glass — was spot on.
13 Celsius' ruby port punch, with a touch of nutmeg, was solid, but we preferred their pisco-based punch, which was one of the offerings at the front table to sip while you were between cocktails — a dangerous but much-appreciated gesture.
The Houston chapter of the United States Bartender's Guild is the fastest growing chapter in the country, according to secretary and 13 Celsius proprietor Mike Sammons. The USBG is a non-profit, and its funds — and the funds generated at the Bartender's Showcase — go toward education and, when available, to helping out bartenders during rough spots.
Response has been strong since the first USBG event, which was held at Anvil last year and handily raised enough membership to designate Houston as an official USBG chapter.