Taste of Texas at Valentino Wine Bar

What do you get when you place six premium Texas distillers enthusiastically vending their wares in one room and a complimentary assortment of tapas?

A jolly good time.

Wednesday night, representatives from Texas-made Cinco Vodka, Rebecca Creek Whiskey, Enchanted Rock Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Waterloo Gin and Republic Tequila assembled at Valentino Vin Bar to showcase their products with some fun twists on traditional cocktails for Taste of Texas Spirits.

Despite horrific traffic, the event drew a decent number of attendees, most of whom (me included) seemed eager to shuffle off the stresses of the day.

Reading the description of the event beforehand ("guests will enjoy station service for six unique cocktails and their six accompanying tapas") certainly got me excited. "It's like a bar crawl," I thought, "but without all that pesky walking."

Well, it was a little more haute but just as fun. And, dare I say, educational? My guest Joanna (this is not me; I really do have a good friend named Joanna) and I first sampled some cosmopolitans made with Enchanted Rock Vodka. Although I usually go for bolder, less sweet cosmos, I liked the tart, crisp flavors of this version. As if I couldn't feel more girly holding a blood-red cocktail, the accompanying small plate was the world's smallest half fingerling potato topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of caviar. Cute, creamy and surprisingly hearty.

An Arnold Palmer made with Cinco Vodka was less thrilling. The balance of lemon and black tea was off, and that disproportion, combined with a full shot of alcohol and a generous scoop of ice, created the strange sensation of a dehydrating glass of water. Equally effete was the cocktail's hors d'oeuvres pairing: a water cracker topped with bland smoked salmon-cucumber salad.

Like Goldilocks, I found the third station I visited to be just right. I initially thought the succulent seared scallop and pancetta small plate was drawing all the attention, until I tasted its paired libation, a Bramble made with Waterloo Gin, simple syrup and Crème de Cassis. I'm always a bit weary of gin, as those juniper berries have a way of cutting through even the boldest of accompanying juices, syrups, tonics, etc. This Bramble was remarkably smooth and had a clean, sweet flavor. My first thought upon sipping it was, "Mmm, nectar."

My liver limited me to only sips of the other cocktails -- a good thing, especially in the case of the Old-Fashioned with Rebecca Creek Whiskey, which could easily knock a grown man's socks off. The Treaty Oak Rum Mojito was lighter and more refreshing, and the grapefruit margarita with Republic silver Tequila proffered a pleasant, summery tanginess.

My stomach, however, was still raring to go, and thanks to the chef's wonderful Caribbean Pork Tenderloin, it found satisfaction. Though it was served, like the other tapas, in delicate tasting portions, I -- along with many other guests -- felt no shame picking up multiple (tiny) slices each trip to the station.

At the end of the evening, I was very impressed and a bit proud of what my adopted state has to offer in terms of fine spirits. Texas sure does taste good.

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