Welcome to the first in an occasional series of interviews wherein Eater Austin asks some of the city's best bartenders, beer experts and general managers what's happening in booze these days. Is there a particular bartender or scene spot you'd love to hear from? Drop us a suggestion down the tipline.
FINO bar manager Francisco Terrazas joined the West Campus tapas restaurant back in the fall of 2011, and since then he's been pushing the drink menu ever farther, developing specialized menus meant to educate and, perhaps even inebriate, patrons of ASTI's sister spot.
Eater Austin called Terrazas, who tweets about town as @ciscobonvivant, to talk about the boozy trends he's seen at his bar over the past year and a half. His take? Simplicity is in, "crazy" cocktails are out, and while Texas-made spirits are in high demand, it's important to make sure that a local pedigree doesn't trump quality.
Are there any particular drinking trends you've noticed in Austin over the last couple of years?
Francisco Terrazas: Weather Up opened up and then everything went to the ice program. Outside of that, there's just been a lot of places that have opened up with their own individual cocktails – where, if you go there, you have to try that specific cocktail. I don't know if all places that have recently opened have really set the bar that high, but places like Weather Up really stand out as the kind that promote a one-drink offer, for sure.
I see a lot of people talking about diversity of ingredients, which I think is good; makes things more approachable, and I hope that continues to go forward. And I hope more people embrace the ice thing, because that would be great.
Bartenders keep talking to us about about ice! Is ice ever gonna really happen in Austin?
FT: Yeah, that would be great in terms of what we have as far as space. You might see that popping up in places where they didn't necessarily have that focus before.
In terms of actual cocktails or spirits, are there things that are selling really well that didn't a couple of years ago, or vice versa?
FT: Yeah, I see a apertifs being talked about a lot; that's something that I've always loved. Usually when I go out to drink I tend to order something on the rocks. Honestly, I've been really impressed with our staff – our servers have been really proactive about trying to get people to try new things, and that's been a big focus of our wine program. We promote a lower alcohol base, and [drinks like that] are really great, because they tend to adhere to really light, really cool flavors that people aren't normally used to here, but is a staple of drinking culture in Europe. I know bartenders are always fascinated by those kinds of things, and I see them trying to push it, but at FINO I think we have a better attitude. With our sherry wine, we get a lot of people who have never tried it before who end up thinking it's really good, and then other people come in and ask for it more often.
Have your tastes changed personally over the last few years? Have you experienced your own kind of drinking trend?
FT: I find my focus leaning more toward individual spirits and producers, things of that nature. It's so important to me to have the opportunity to be exposed to somebody else's work, that they put their life and talents into – when you have that put in front of you and it's not necessarily in the form of a cocktail, it's a great way to get some insight into how certain producers use spirits to express themselves. I'm also kind of a history geek, so I get really into the history of certain spirits that are used to create cocktail traditions.
Do you find that people are specifically asking for local spirits more than they used to?
FT: Um, I would say?. Yeah. Yeah, they really are. We sometimes catch a lot of flack because we don't have a certain locally generated spirit, and there is a very strong eye on people trying to represent that movement. I think it's just part of the local culture. So yeah, there is definitely a strong movement toward that kind of thinking. You have to kind of pick and choose, because, as with anything, there's likely to be a lot of bad products out there mixed in with the worthwhile ones. I try my best to help people select what is worthwhile, and that also goes for the rest of our bar and restaurant staff; we try to help people understand what it is they're ordering. Spirits are not all the same.
Is there anything that used to sell really well a few years ago that, right now, you're just not seeing people buy?
FT: I can't really think of a specific product. I feel like maybe even Mezcal has quieted down a little bit. People still ask for it, but you don't have people coming in being curious about it the way they did last year, or the year before that. Bottle service spirits, too, I think have kind of calmed down a little bit; I don't really see them drawing the same crowd that they used to.
Other than that, like I said earlier, it's the simplicity. The novelty of craft cocktails has started to die down a little bit and people are focusing less on how crazy you can get with your drinks, and I think they're coming back to a more service-oriented point of view. I think that got kind of lost a little bit.
—Emma Kat Richardson and Andrea Grimes
FINO. [Photo: Larry M./Yelp]