The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2018

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22  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2018 A musician and bar-operations veteran who helped bring national attention to sophisti- cated Austin watering holes such as Midnight Cowboy, The Townsend, Qui, and Juniper, beverage consultant Justin Elliott, official Texas Mixologist for Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, now serves as a cocktail free agent of sorts. "I kind of serve at the pleasure of central Texas," says Elliott with a good- natured laugh. "What's neat about my position is that I go to such widely different establishments to offer my services. Sometimes it's a new place, so I'll put together a menu tailored to the space, the anticipated clientele, the price point, the whole cloth. Or some- times I'll go into critically acclaimed places—bars that maybe don't need my help, but they recognize that feedback is always important and it's my job to provide that service. It's not exactly like I'm donning a cape or doing any real hero's work, but where people need me, I show up." Those needs can span from learning the proper use of basic bar tools to taking broader approaches to training and skill-building. "If someone has never used a jigger, you might have to show them some technique for that, which improves standards and consis- tency," he says. "But more importantly, I try to help the staff feel like they can be proud of their work. They might not necessarily start snapping their suspenders or waxing their mustaches, but they can realize that making a well- balanced drink gives more meaning to their vocation than a slapdash well spirit with some sour mix." While earning a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Texas, Elliott joined the service industry and, in 2001, landed his first bartending gig at The Tavern, a venerable sports bar and restaurant that opened in Austin in 1933. "I know bartenders who came into the field because they thought cocktails were cool, but I was never that guy," he says. "I love creating drinks so delicious they blow someone's hair back, but I'm more interested in creating a space where people can interact, a place where humanity can happen." Of his progression from theater to music to bartending, Elliott observes that all three mediums "speak increas- ingly to basic human needs." "Bars and restaurants are spaces where people can just be, to really interact with each other," he adds. "That's as essential as any other artistic experience." Freelance writer and agave lover Lori Moffatt covered Texas travel topics for more than two decades at Texas Highways, the state's award-winning monthly travel magazine. When she's not writing about cocktails, wine, art, and pop culture from her home in Austin, she's traveling, making art, and practicing Spanish. AUSTIN-BASED COCKTAIL CONSULTANT JUSTIN ELLIOTT HELPS ELEVATE TEXAS BARS TO THEIR PEAK POTENTIAL story and photo by Lori Moffatt At Your Service An enthusiast of Japanese whisky, high-acid Zinfandel, and buttery Chardonnay, beverage consultant Justin Elliott, official Texas Mixologist for Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, recently freshened the cocktail menu of poolside oasis Kitty Cohen's in Austin, TX.

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