In this edition of Mixology Spirit we traveled to Essex, CT to visit with Austin Dwight, Bar Manager at Los Charros Cantina. Austin built us an amazing cocktail he calls Down the Hatch — the first cocktail on Mixology Spirit to feature our Agave Spirits! Read on to learn more about this upscale Mexican eatery and Austin’s Spirit of Hard Work!
Batchers: How long have you been working as a bartender? How did you get started in the business?
Austin: I started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 16. I quickly moved from a busser to a server within a few years and continued to grow from there. In 2017, I discovered my passion for mixology while working behind the bar at Fresh Salt of Saybrook Point Inn. Later, when Los Charros Cantina announced their grand opening, I was curious to see what it was all about and the rest is history!
Batchers: Tell us a little bit about Los Charros Cantina. What makes it unique?
Austin: Los Charros opened its doors in 2017. I think it’s one of the great additions to the Connecticut shoreline as it combines authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern ambiance. It is tucked away in the historic town of Essex and pays homage to authentic Mexican cuisine—respecting all seven regions of Mexico’s food-centric country. You’ll also find a fantastic selection of tequilas and craft cocktails.
Batchers: How has bartending at a Mexican restaurant influenced your cocktail-making creativity?
Austin: Working in a Mexican-influenced restaurant has really given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and get creative with craft tequila, mezcal and tiki cocktails. At Los Charros, I can really get creative because I have access to all the high-end tools of the trade as well as fresh ingredients and products such as Litchfield Distillery’s Agave Spirits, which inspired my most recent cocktail, “Down The Hatch.” For this cocktail, I chose to infuse Litchfield’s Agave Spirits with Hatch Chile, which is a variety of pepper that has an ideal balance of heat and sweetness. It is harvested in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico only once a year, making it a rare and special treat.
Batchers: What is it about the craft that you enjoy so much?
Austin: What I enjoy so much about the craft is how many different routes you can take in creating cocktails. The options are infinite. You learn flavors that pair well and then incorporate those flavors into your creations. The seasons influence my flavor choices, and because the restaurant is continually bringing in fresh, seasonal ingredients, I can pair them with spirits I find interesting and create the type of cocktail I’m after. I like how craft cocktails are constantly evolving and I am always reading and learning more on the subject. Working in a hip craft cocktail bar gives me the advantage to explore new trends while adding a touch of my own style.
Batchers: What separates a good cocktail from a great one? What tips would you give novice cocktail makers who are trying to improve their skills at home?
Austin: For me what separates a good cocktail from a great one is how well balanced it is and the amount of prep that went into it. You can really tell when someone is passionate about their craft and makes the cocktail more of an experience than just a drink. For me, passion is key. I’m constantly thinking about the craft even when I’m not “working.” In fact, that’s when most of my inspiration takes place!
Batchers: Got a good story about a hard night behind the bar?
Austin: It was one of my first busy nights behind the bar at Fresh Salt of Old Saybrook Point Inn. I was in the role of barback and being trained by the bar manager. I’ll never forget watching the onslaught of tickets printing at the service bar while she handled each one, cool as a cucumber, laughing and joking with guests. It was so fast paced, yet she handled it like a true bar veteran. There is something truly amazing about how one can carry a smile amid chaos. Bartending teaches you that balance—how to be a quick thinker under pressure while maintaining empathy. It’s busy shifts like those that ultimately bring you closer to your coworkers and teach you how to work as a team.
Batchers: What is your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to work with?
Austin: Being employed in a Mexican Restaurant, my favorite Litchfield Distillery Spirit to work with is their Litchfield Agave Spirits. It’s very clean with a well-balanced, sweet and spicy profile that works extremely well in my cocktails.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?
Austin: What comes to mind when I think of The Spirit of Hard Work® is heritage, history, and tradition. The Spirit of Hard Work represents important aspects of my home state of Connecticut and supporting local businesses and brands. It’s important to me to take pride in my craft and to support my neighbors who do as well! Bartending is all about learning how to work in hard situations while putting out the best product possible. Just like the Batchers at Litchfield Distillery, bartenders need a “certain type of grit and determination” to be successful for the long haul.
Austin’s featured cocktail is called Down The Hatch. The cocktail showcases our Agave Spirits, which Austin infused with Hatch Peppers. As noted above, these peppers are harvested only once a year in New Mexico and they have a great balance of heat and sweetness. If you love a spicy margarita, you have to try this recipe. It’s perfectly balanced with great agave and fruit flavors with just the right amount of heat and spice.
- 2.0 oz Hatch Chili Infused Litchfield Distillery Agave Spirits
- 0.50 oz Dry Curaçao
- 0.50 oz Mango Puree
- 0.25 oz Agave Nectar
- 1.o oz Lime Juice
- 1 Drop Saline Solution
- Lime and Hatch Pepper for Garnish
Method: Slice Hatch Chilis* and let infuse with Lichfield Distillery Agave Spirits for one day. Strain out Hatch Chilis. Add all cocktail ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice, cover and shake. Rim glass in spicy salt, and double strain cocktail over fresh ice. Finish with lime wheel and/or pepper garnish.
*Note: If you can’t find Hatch Peppers, you can substitute with Jalapeños.
Bonus Cocktail: Añejo Old Fashioned
Since Austin chose our Agave Spirits for his featured cocktail, we decided to bring him a bottle of our limited release Añejo Agave Spirits to see what he thought of it. As soon as he tried it, he said, “I need to make an Old Fashioned with this.” So he did…and it was fantastic. We highly recommend you take the time to make the Orange Vanilla simple syrup, which complements the Agave Spirits in a most amazing way.
- 2.0 oz Litchfield Distillery Añejo Agave Spirits
- 0.50 oz Orange Vanilla Syrup*
- 2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Method: Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into glass over large ice cube.
* Orange Vanilla Syrup Recipe: 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 1 orange. Peel orange and express oils into water then drop in with sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to boil then reduce heat and allow to simmer for twenty minutes. Strain out orange peels and bottle for storage.
Austin invites you to follow him on Instagram. Be sure to follow Los Charros on their Website and on Facebook or Instagram. The restaurant is located at 30 Main Street in Centerbrook, CT. To contact or make a reservation please call (860) 237-4266.
About Mixology Spirit:
Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work®. Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2021 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove