It hadn't occurred to me that Houston's cocktail scene might be worth checking out until I interviewed bartender Sean Beck for Wine Enthusiast. Now I think a side trip is in order next time I'm in New Orleans. Here's the interview:
Mixologist of the Month: Sean Beck
Sean Beck keeps his eye on the flat Texas horizon when exploring ideas for the wine, spirits and cocktail lists at the three Houston restaurants where he serves as beverage director. And there’s little that escapes his notice.
While every mixologist knows of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a Lone Star product that now has a national profile, Beck favors the smaller Dripping Springs Texas Vodka, made outside Austin. He also utilizes Texas whiskey, made by Balcones Distilling in Waco, in some of his cocktails, including the blue corn-based Baby Blue Whiskey and Rumble, a liqueur made from Mission figs, sugar and wildflower honey. But just being from Texas isn’t necessarily enough for a spirit to meet Beck’s approval.
“I love local, but it can’t be local for local’s sake,” he says. “That’s not good enough and that’s always been the problem with Texas wines. They’ve sold out ferociously, so they haven’t had the pressure to ramp up the quality to where it should be.”
A native of Rochester, New York, Beck has lived in Texas for 22 years. He worked as a waiter at the Backstreet Cafe while in college; by graduation, he’d been promoted to sommelier. Today, he’s responsible for a restaurant group that includes Hugo’s and Trevisio.
Beck thinks Houston’s greatest strength as a cocktail town lies in what it’s not. “It doesn’t follow rules,” he says. “Once someone does something in New York, everyone knows about it. That’s one of the reasons New York goes through beverage trends and wine trends so quickly. Houston is so spread out that people aren’t cognizant of what other people are doing. So people march to their own drummer.”