Austin News


Bill’s tales from Tales of the Cocktail

Beverage Director Bill Norris took a trip to New Orleans to hang with fellow bartenders, eat, drink and be merry! Plus, an original cocktail recipe!

Bill’s tales from Tales of the Cocktail

I’m just back from a week of the bartender networking event and bacchanal called Tales of the Cocktail [a massive and influential annual mixology event] in New Orleans.  It’s always great to see my peers from around the country and when I explained the Alamo and Highball and what we’re looking to do over the coming months and years, you could see the excitement in their eyes.

I was part of three events that really stood out this year.  The best of them was an unofficial gathering of bartenders from around the country, dedicated to charity and organized by the Bon Vivants from San Francisco.  On Tuesday, forty-five bartenders from gathered at Kingsley House in Uptown, a cradle-to-grave community center that starts with preschool programs and extends to activities for seniors.  Kingsley House has been doing their work since the late 1800s and it was an honor to help prepare the classrooms for the coming year and to see some of the seniors come out of their shells and banter with the heavily tatted titans of the cocktail world.

On Saturday, we raised even more money with a Pig-and-Punch party in Washington Square Park on Frenchman street.  Working with donated liquor, the Bon Vivants crafted four trashcans (they were new) of stellar punch, we roasted off five whole pigs and served up slaw, cucumber salad, panzanella, absinthe brownies (donated by Tennyson Absinthe, based here in Austin) and tequila shots in hollowed out guavas, all to the strains of a brass band. 

All the food and drink was free, but the Bon Vivants sold killer t-shirts with all the proceeds going to the Kingsley House.  It was an amazing day—we fed spirits industry executives, neighborhood residents, the homeless and some of the best bartenders on the planet.  All for charity.  And all for fun.  There are a few t-shirts left—if you’d like to order one, I can put you in touch with the Bon Vivants.

On Thursday, I was privileged to be one of the bartenders selected to create and serve a cocktail at the Diageo Cocktail Hour in the Cabildo Museum off Jackson Square.   Diageo picked 40 bartenders to mix on the theme of Cocktails from Around the World.  At set-up, I realized my table was next to Dale Degroff, the cocktail legend who revitalized the American cocktail scene at the Rainbow Room in the late 80s and early 90s.  Working next to Dale was a special treat for me.  When I was just starting as a bartender in New York, a Sidecar prepared by Dale at the Rainbow room was my “a-ha” moment—he showed me how good a drink could be when it was carefully prepared from the best fresh ingredients. 

My own cocktail, The Immigrant Experience, was gin based and boozy, melding sprits from some of the immigrant communities that make up the Americas.  It’s a counter-intuitive mix of spirits, but I think it works and I got great feedback from the 300 or so people who sampled it.

If you’d like to mix it up, here’s the recipe

1.5 oz Tanqueray
.5 oz Lillet Blanc
.5 oz Amaro Nonino
.25 oz Irish Whiskey
.25 oz Del Maguey Vida
2 Dash Bar Keep Baked Apple bitters

Combine all in mixing glass w/cracked ice. Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish w/ luxardo cherry.

Finally, on Friday, I was a finalist in the National Cocktail Competition Final for the third time.  This year, it was sponsored by Bacardi and the 17 finalists had to create around the theme of a Pina Colada.  The party was amazing, and my back still hurts from shaking up over 300 of my My Thai Coladas, a mixture of Bacardi Superior, Bacardi 8, Orgeat, Fresh Pineapple and a Coconut-Curry Reduction.  Debbi Peek, a terrific bartender from Chicago took the prize with a pina coloda that featured Bacardi Anjeo she’d smoked with cherry wood.  The drink was amazing and she deserved the win.  Here’s a picture of Claire Spouse, a great bartender from Houston enjoying my cocktail while I shake in the background.


- Bill Norris, Alamo Drafthouse Beverage Dir. 
[email protected]

News Categories: General News, Beer


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