Bartender Aaron Kolitz of The Townsend creates a tipple to cut through the season’s heat.
Summer never really leaves Texas. It sneaks up whenever it cares to. An 80-degree day in February is not unheard of, and winter hasn’t clocked into work the last couple of years. Still, there’s no doubt we’re in the thick of summer now. That’s why we’re recommending a cool summer tipple, the Millie Elise Sparkler. It comes courtesy of Aaron Kolitz, head bartender at The Townsend, an Austin cocktail lounge where custom-made fedoras and double Windsor knots are as common as slick cowboy boots and turquoise bolos.
It was during a muggy late winter evening visit to The Townsend that I met Kolitz. He was slinging personalized cocktails with whimsical, perhaps double take-worthy names, such as the Mexican Standoff, when I charged him with concocting a mezcal-based drink. “Sweet, bitter, or savory?” he asked. “Surprise me,” I shot back. The result was a stellar, decompressing drink with spicy-sweet notes that broke through the post-storm humidity.
After offering my compliments, I gave Kolitz another challenge: Create a cool, summertime cocktail exclusively for C&I readers. The result? The aforementioned Millie Elise Sparkler — named after the bartender’s niece — is a fresh, herbaceous sipper capped with Texas’ favorite fizzy water, Topo Chico. Of the cocktail’s makeup, Kolitz says: “I like to use Cocchi Americano in summer cocktails because it’s light, refreshing, and has a hint of sweetness. It pairs well with a powerful gin like The Botanist, which has wonderful botanical notes and a slight saltiness to it. And infusing wildflower honey with tarragon balances out the cocktail and brings in a fun, grassy element.”
Of course, sometimes simple is the recipe summer calls for. So we asked Kolitz what he drinks for a quick, casual cool-down. “A paloma would be what I’d be drinking in the summertime.” It’s an easygoing drink that can be mixed up in a jiffy and enjoyed lazily next to whatever watering hole you call your own.
1½ ounces Tequila Ocho Blanco (or preferred silver tequila)
½ ounce lime juice
Grapefruit soda (such as Fresca or Squirt)
Lime wedge, for garnish
Pour tequila and lime juice into glass filled with crushed or cubed ice. Top with grapefruit soda, and garnish with a lime wedge.
Millie Elise Sparkler
1½ ounces The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (or preferred gin)
1 ounce Cocchi Americano Rosa Apertif
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce premium honey or tarragon-infused honey (recipe follows)
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Lemon wheel, for garnish
Tarragon sprig, for garnish
4 ounces honey
2 ounces water
2 tarragon sprigs (leaf and stem)
For the honey: Heat the honey over medium heat until it becomes loose. Add water, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and place tarragon in the honey and let cool to room temperature. Strain the tarragon out once cooled and hold in a container until needed.
For the cocktail: Combine all ingredients except Topo Chico in a shaker tin with ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice, and top with Topo Chico. Mix slowly with a straw or spoon to incorporate soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel and tarragon sprig.
From the July 2017 issue.