Serious Eats: Drinks
Meat-Infused Spirits and More at CU29 in Austin
Note: This post takes a look at a bar program we've been curious about. Since it was an arranged photo shoot, it doesn't include critical evaluation or recommendations.
I was pretty embarrassed when I realized that CU29 is copper's atomic number and not a cheesy way to text "see you tonight." Once I was inside the downtown Austin bar, though, it all made sense. Copper sheets line the liquor shelves and large copper mixing bowls—which bartenders use to whip egg whites for drinks—hang from the walls. Lead bartender Breck Cowan explained that copper is often used in the stills that make spirits, too, so that inspired the theme of the bar, which opened a few months back.
The oddity that caught my eye was a large jar resembling an embalmed brain that turned out to be bubblegum infused vodka. Cowan says that each bartender is expected to create a new infusion every month. "We're constantly pushing ourselves to learn more and experiment with different flavors," he explained.
CU29's brisket bourbon is made with two pounds of the famed Franklin Barbecue meat. "The real key is have a lean cut and start infusion while the brisket is hot," Cowan explained, "so the pores are open and can permeate more bourbon throughout the meat." After it's been infused for a week or two, with the crew tasting every day to gauge flavor development, the meat is removed and they finish the fat-washing process by chilling the mixture and straining out the separated solids and fat. He recommends that folks to try it on its own first, but says it's killer in a Bloody Mary.
CU29's meat infusions aren't limited to brisket: they also make a peppered turkey gin using the same method. It was Cowan's boss, Lutfy Flores, who came up with the idea. "I was skeptical about how it'd come out. It's for someone with an adventurous palate. Can't taste the gin anymore but you'll get the peppers and turkey," said Cowan.
Not every infusion at CU29 made with animal products: there's also ghost chili vodka, saffron aged rum, coconut-infused Tuaca, and cinnamon-vanilla tequila. These concoctions can be sampled straight, but many find their way onto the cocktail list or off-the cuff creations mixed up based on a guest's requests. "Austin has very educated drinkers and that's another thing that pushes us. We want people to feel like this is their second living room and have conversations and good libations," said Cowan.