I’m underdressed and there’s bling in my table.
Those were, in order, the first two thoughts I had at Brixology, the cocktail bar with the punny name at 110 Vintage Park in far northwest Houston. (Brix? Mixology? Get it? Hurr hurr hurr.) It’s a spinoff of Brix Wine Cellars next door.
It’s a pretty place and also kind of trippy in a low-key way. The bling in the table is from big rhinestone buttons inset in tufted silver vinyl under the glass top. Inset in the walls are electronic panels that give the impression of fire flickering over coals.
The crowd is an older one, mostly men in white-collar garb. There’s lots of polo shirts, button-downs and khakis. My Princess Bride T-shirt isn’t cutting it. I’m heartened when my companion informs me that there is, in fact, a guy in a T-shirt at the bar. I bet his doesn’t have Inigo Montoya on it.
Outside, it’s raining and raining and raining, the third bout of ongoing storms in as many weeks that have repeatedly flooded the area. If Rome (or at least Cypress) were about to fall, these citizens wouldn’t care. A singer is strumming his guitar and effortlessly blending blues, jazz and reggae. He’s like the brightest light in a corner, but no one is clapping. For some reason, after a song no better and no worse than the others, there’s a smattering of applause. The singer looks up and jokes, “What? What? What happened?”
Brixology closes at 10:30 p.m. on weeknights — evidence of how different a craft cocktail bar functions in the suburbs compared to the inner city. The prices are the same, though, if not higher: between $10 and $14.
I give a cocktail called French Experience a try, but the gentle concoction of tequila, St. Germain, Benedictine, lemon and lime juice just doesn’t seem like much of an experience at all. Then, the Ginger Buzz catches my eye: vodka, lime zest, ginger puree, rooibos tea, ginger beer and — a Szechuan button?
Szechuan buttons are the dense yellow flower buds of the Acmella oleracea plant, colloquially called “the toothache plant.” It’s not related to Szechuan peppercorn plants, but the buds have the same tingling, numbing effect on the tongue. These are also called “buzz buttons,” “electric daisies” or “sansho buttons.”
The short stem of a single bud is resting in the straw tucked into the Ginger Buzz. “We suggest you take a sip of the drink first and then eat the bud,” suggests our server.” I do as instructed, taking a big sip of the cocktail and a little nibble of the “button.” The numbing tingle is almost immediate. By far, the tiny flower is the “buzziest” thing there is about Brixology.
As far as the cocktail goes: It’s a Moscow Mule variant beefed up with ginger puree and rooibos tea. It’s good that we know that,
because Brixology doesn’t want to share. We asked for the recipe and were told the proportions were a secret.
It’s a shame to meet with such an ungenerous attitude, and this is the first time I’ve encountered a bar in Houston that refused to share a recipe.
Updated, June 3, 2016, 4:40 p.m.: We heard from Don R. James Jr., who says he is a co-owner of Brixology. He addressed the refusal of the employee we encountered to share the recipe for the Ginger Buzz. He wrote:
"As a co-owner of Brixology Crafted Cocktails, I think what we have here is a simple misunderstanding with an employee perhaps over zealously protecting what he might think of as the type of 'proprietary information and recipes' that his employee handbook instructs him not to share. I am more than happy to share the recipe for the Ginger Buzz. It is, in fact, a reverse engineered cocktail that we came across in Las Vegas."
To that end, we've replaced our reverse-engineered recipe below with the one he provided. James Jr. also says that the bar has addressed the issue we encountered with its employees. Thanks, Don.
The buzz buttons are available online to purchase, but usually in quantities of 30 or more. That makes sense for bars or restaurants, but for people at home, it makes more sense just to grow the plants. The meager sum of $3.55 plus shipping will get a packet of 30 seeds sailing your way.
As for the Ginger Buzz recipe, here’s our take on it using Dave Wondrich’s Moscow Mule recipe as a base and adding in the ginger puree and rooibos tea. Tweak the proportions as you see fit for more or less ginger and tea flavor.
And remember, kids: It's always nice to share.
Prepare ahead of time: Ginger Purée. (See chef Jimmy Schmidt’s recipe.)
2 oz vodka
1 bar spoon fresh ginger puree
zest of ¼ lime
¼ oz fresh lemon juice
¼ oz Rooibos tea
½ oz simple syrup
Fever Tree ginger beer
Szechuan buzz button
Note: Because the recipe calls for fresh ingredients, James Jr. cautions that drinks often have to be tweaked based on the ripeness or intensity of a juice, root or any other fresh component.
Fill a shaker with ice and add the first six ingredients. Shake until the outside of the shaker is very cold, about eight seconds. Strain over ice into a Collins glass and fill glass to the top with the Fever Tree ginger beer. Add a straw and slide the Szechuan button stem into the top. Serve. The recipient should alternate between sipping the drink and nibbling the dense yellow bud, thus getting two different “buzzes” at the same time.