The expert’s guide to selecting the essential spirits and mixers for a Lone Star home bar.
When spirits need lifting in the Lone Star State, you’ll likely reach for a glass of whiskey or crack open a cold can of Texas-made beer. Perhaps you’ll opt to uncork a bottle of red or white. But a bar is more than an assembly of wine, whiskey, beer, and associated mixers and tinctures.
A bar is an expression of a place and its owner, so a Texas bar is the potable manifestation of everything that makes our great state what it is. There are plenty of American, Mexican, and European elements with homegrown swagger alongside the ever-evolving sense of who we are as we welcome folks to their new home. It represents Texas’ breathtaking diversity with West Texas sotol, Topo Chico carbonated mineral water, and, yes, whiskey from any corner of the state. You can’t go wrong with Balcones whiskey and an agave spirit like tequila.
“Drinking in Texas will always lean heavily on agave spirits and whiskey,” says Nico Martini, co-founder of Bar Draught, provider of a party-facilitating cocktails tap system, and author of Texas Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Lone Star State. “Agave is the driving force behind our cocktail culture and tequila and mezcals are an absolute must for any good Texan home bar. Texas whiskey is eventually going to be what we’re best at making because of our climate and the distillers that are currently working here. Whiskey is our best native spirit, and the future of Texas whiskey might be brighter than any other whiskey-making region in the world right now.”
Martini recommends starting your Texas bar with Balcones Brimstone — “one of the coolest whiskies in the world from one of the best makers of Texas whiskey out there” — Caffe Del Fuego — “an Austin-based coffee liqueur that is truly special; it’s like if Kahlúa weren’t sickly sweet and was, you know, good” — and Hye Rum. He calls the latter “a little-known producer from Hye, they make some of the coolest rum in Texas.”
Supplement those with the spiffier 1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix, made with hand-pressed olives; a selection of Bloody Revolution’s gourmet bloody mary mixes; and a variety of Bittermens’ products. We suggest the Xocolatl Mole Bitters and the Herbal Honey Bitters to start. Also useful to have within reach are frozen margarita mixes, Topo Chico, and grapefruit soda. The latter is ideal for palomas, which call for tequilas such as Dulce Vida. While you’re at it, mezcal is a must. Newcomers to the smoky Mexican spirit can start out with a bottle of Mezcal Alipus.
“Additionally, Texas is all about the heat,” Martini says. “If you’re stocking your bar, look for things that can add a little punch to your home cocktails that are also easy to add to any recipe. Things like Ancho Reyes (both traditional and Verde Chile Poblano) are incredibly easy to use instead of simple syrup, but they have that punch that any Texan can appreciate. Or, better yet, infuse your own spirits with some chiles in a Mason jar.”
On the less potent side are wines like Lubbock-based McPherson Cellars’ stone fruit-forward Les Copains White and the soft, earthy merlot from Del Rio-located Val Verde Winery, the oldest winery in Texas. Four Corners Brewing Company in Dallas produces a varied line of lounging beers. The Heart o’ Texas Red Ale is a natural choice, as is the El Chingón IPA.
More importantly, if you’re not using Topo Chico, you’re doing it wrong. There is no Ranch Water, one of Texas’ native cocktails, without Topo Chico.
Some of our favorite bar provisions and where to find them are below.
Lock, Stock, and Barreled
1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix
Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky
Bloody Revolution Gourmet Bloody Mary Mix
Caffe Del Fuego
Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka
Desert Door Texas Sotol
Firestone & Robertson TX Blended Whiskey
Four Corners Brewing Company El Chingón IPA
Mezcal Alipus Santa Ana Del Rio
Mezcal Vago Madre Cuixe De Emigdio Jarquin Ramirez
Railean White Rum
Val Verde Winery Merlot
The South Texan
1 ounce Caffe del Fuego
1 ounce quality Anejo
¼ ounce quality orange liqueur
1 drop Ancho Reyes
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Orange peel, for garnish
On the rocks, stirred, and garnished with an orange peel.
Ranch Water is becoming a bit of a cult following. This uniquely West Texas drink is rumored to have started in the 1960s. The Gage Hotel in Marathon, after years of making the drink for those requesting it, made it official by putting the drink on the menu in 2010.
It’s the epitome of simplicity and it’s something that you can sip on all day. It’s the tequila, lime, and Topo Chico equivalent of the light beer you drink while working in the yard or lounging by the river all day. There are plenty of bars in Texas that have tried to fancy or sweeten up the ranch water by adding simple syrup or clarifying lime juice or even swapping the tequila for a different agave spirit, but simplicity is best, my friends. Here’s a recipe for Ranch Water. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s Texan as all get out. – Nico Martini,
1 (12-ounce) bottle Topo Chico
1½ ounces of blanco tequila
¼ ounce fresh lime juice.
Lime wedge, for garnish
Pour out 2 ounces of Topo Chico. Add tequila and lime juice. Garnish with wedge.
Add 1.5oz of blanco tequila
Texas Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Lone Star State (Cider Mill Press, 2018) by Nico Martini is available at Amazon.com and online and brick-and-mortar retailers. Recipes reprinted and edited by permission. Photography: © Cider Mill Press Book Publishers.