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Which Liquors Captivate Four Austin Sommeliers

Bourbon, gin, and mezcal are important.

Vilma Mazaite, Paul Ozbirn, June Rodil, Craig Collins
Vilma Mazaite, Paul Ozbirn, June Rodil, Craig Collins

Sommeliers are trained to know wine, but they’re also expected to learn everything about many different types liquors. It’s all about being immersed in "the world of beverage," as June Rodil, master sommelier and beverage director of McGuire Moorman Hospitality, explained. With the continuation of Cocktail Week, Eater spoke to some of Austin’s head sommeliers about their booze preferences.

[Photo: ELM/Official]

[Photo: ELM/Official]

Craig Collins, beverage director of ELM Restaurant Group and master sommelier

What is your preferred liquor of choice?
Collins: When it comes to tequila, I prefer a cleaner expression that doesn’t see any aging, which is why I prefer silver versus an anejo or reposado. When it comes to a mixed drink with gin, I prefer Fords. When it comes to a gin martini, I prefer 209 because it has more of a citrus and floral characteristic. I like W.L. Weller bourbon because of its sweetness. I like Campari for the bitterness. I’m on a rum kick right now. There’s a new rum that I absolutely adore, Plantation Pineapple. I’m not typically a fan of flavored infusion-type spirits, but the way that the distillery created that through their processes, it’s extremely balanced and absolutely delicious.

What are your favorite cocktails?
It’s more about the specific bartender to me Collins: We recently had a child, so I love ending my evening with a cocktail on my coach but I’ve learned that I can no longer create the cocktail at home because the shaking of the cocktail will wake the baby. So I went ahead and I batched out two of my favorite cocktails (Camparis and Manhattans), so I can just go and open the refrigerator and pour it straight onto rock and I’m good to go.

Where do you like to grab drinks in Austin?
It’s more about the specific bartender to me than it is about the place. If i’m looking for that classic cocktail, and those places all have individuals who have a amazing amount of knowledge and experience. They know my preferences and they make an awesome drink. Jeffrey’s bar, The Townsend, Clark’s does a really good job.

[Photo: Buff Strickland Photography]

[Photo: Buff Strickland Photography]

Vilma Mazaite, advanced sommelier of LaV

What is your preferred liquor of choice?
Mazaite: My favorite spirit is mezcal. I love the smokiness of this spirit and its texture, which can range from creamy to light, and even spicy. I like to enjoy mezcal on its own accompanied by orange and salt.

What are your favorite cocktails?
A cocktail has to have enough acidity and bitterness Mazaite: When it comes to cocktails, I prefer bitter flavors like Campari or Aperol. Negroni is my desert island cocktail for sure. Recently, I have been discovering some great vermouths, which can be mixed in the cocktails or drunk as aperitif. Casey [Petty], our bar manager at laV, infuses in-house carpano bianco vermouth with chamomile and it is absolutely delicious. I always look for balance especially in cocktails. They have to have enough acidity and bitterness to make it work for me.

[Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/bullfightaustin/photos/pb.1605966659645221.-2207520000.1445018469./1621330838108803/?type=3&src=https%3A%2F%2Fscontent-dfw1-1.xx.fbcdn.net%2Fhphotos-xtp1%2Ft31.0-8%2F11875162_1621330838108803_6589666204416347391_o.jpg&smallsrc=https%3A%2F%2Fscontent-dfw1-1.xx.fbcdn.net%2Fhphotos-xta1%2Fv%2Ft1.0-9%2F11951153_1621330838108803_6589666204416347391_n.jpg%3Foh%3D9e8604f9d4bc673db4a265cd2c92ee0b%26oe%3D5688B96F&size=1080%2C1080&fbid=1621330838108803">Bullfight/Facebook</a>]

[Photo: Bullfight/Facebook]

Paul Ozbirn, beverage director of Parkside Projects and advanced sommelier

What is your preferred liquor of choice?
Ozbirn: These days I stick mainly to gin. Gin adds an aromatic intensity to well-made cocktails that’s just unmatched. I find it’s the most refreshing, particularly after a day of wine tasting. I also love wine and/or grape distillate-based liquors and liqueurs, such as amari, vermouth, and brandy. I find that nourishing one’s love of bitter flavors can be challenging but also super rewarding.

What are your favorite cocktails?
Nourishing one’s love of bitter flavors can be challenging but also super rewarding Ozbirn: I usually go for cocktails that are gin-based. Cocktails that incorporate those grape-based liqueurs always seem to catch my eye. I’ll cocktail prior to switching to wine, so I generally look for something refreshing and tart, aperitif style: Corpse Revivers, Bee’s Knees, Aviations, and Negronis.

Where do you like to grab drinks in Austin?
Ozbirn: I’m generally pretty easy-going, and I’m happy to grab a Lonestar just about anywhere. I love what Brian Floyd is doing over at Weather Up. Chauncey James’ little spot downtown tucked into a parking garage is a great time. Johnnie’s doing some fun stuff at Dive on Guadalupe. I used to frequent Drink.Well when I lived in north Austin. Jessica and Michael really cornered the market up there.

June Rodil Courtesy of June Rodil

[Photo: Courtesy of June Rodil]

June Rodil, beverage director of McGuire Moorman Hospitality and master sommelier

What is your preferred liquor of choice?
Rodil: My go-to is bourbon. It’s the simplicity of it, because I can drink it by itself, and it’s so delicious. It’s that element of sweet and spicy, high alcohol, long finish. There’s a big viscosity about it, too. It’s rounded, and it can be super complex. It has to be aged for years, whereas a lot of spirits can be mass produced. It’s a nerdy wine person’s drink.

What are your favorite cocktails?
Bourbon: nerdy wine person’s drink Rodil: I definitely like classics for sure. Manhattans, Negronies, Boulevardier, Old Pals, those are great, boozy cocktails. There’s an element of simplicity, but you're also creating and layering something. Then i go to the other spectrum. If something has ingredients that are not supposed to go together, I’m going to get that. A lot of people use Amari in their drinks and striking that balance of bitter, but still palatable is really hard. It’s a true mark of a mixologist to be able to use those kind of cocktails and spirits that nerds are drawn to.

Where do you like to grab drinks in Austin?
Rodil: I go to Whisler’s a lot. It strikes a great balance of making classic cocktails well and being a fast bar. Because I love Justin Elliott’s drinks, I love the drinks at the Townsend. He can make it very well. I still love the drinks at Midnight Cowboy. Definitely an experience. You have to know what you’re getting into. Weather Up, Half Step, those are true cocktail bars where they’re building things. I really love looking at cocktail lists at restaurants.

In Austin, there’s waves of high and low cocktails. Then you realize, in a larger metropolitan area, you choose your adventure rather than having to follow the wave. I feel like Austin’s starting to do that.

La V

1501 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702 512.391.1888

Bullfight [Closed]

4807 Airport Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78751 Visit Website

Arro [CLOSED]

601 W 6th St, Austin, TX 78701 (512) 992-2776 Visit Website

Italic

123 West 6th Street, , TX 78701 (512) 660-5390 Visit Website

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