We sat down with Caer Ferguson of Austin’s The Roosevelt Room and The Eleanor to chat about her work, Austin’s craft cocktail scene, and her drink for October’s Austin Without Limits Box, the Ma Sour!
S&S: What’s your specialty?
CF: If I had to choose a spirit that I specialize in, it would be tequila or agave-based spirits in general. One of the first bars I worked at was a place called Tico in Boston. Their program wasn’t particularly crafty, but they did have a fantastic tequila selection. I developed a pretty extensive knowledge there, so when I moved to Austin and started at Péché, I made it my goal to improve that part of the selection. I ended up running a little events series called “Piñas at Péché” to better educate our guests on tequila and tequila cocktails.
S&S: Is there an ingredient or technique you’re currently fascinated with?
CF: There’s so much I’m playing with right now. I’m moving over to a new bar, The Roosevelt Room and The Eleanor, with a new program so there’s a lot to learn at the moment. I’m working on double jiggering and a whole new order of operations. For ingredients, I’ve been playing with a lot of Asian flavors that often get ignored in cocktails. Sesame is gaining some press, but things like pickled plums, furikake, barley tea, etc. I would love to see more bar programs for Asian restaurants incorporate the flavors that they already have in their kitchen into their bar program.
S&S: Sounds delicious! And what inspired you to create the Ma Sour?
CF: I was inspired by Austin! The city is progressive and vibrant and full of history so it seemed right to pull from “Ma” Ferguson’s story. I became obsessed with her when I learned it. I was impressed by how early in Texas history a woman was elected as governor. In addition, she fought for the repeal of prohibition so I like to think she liked whiskey as much as most of us Texas girls. I wanted to make something specifically Texas that could also be as impressive as “Ma” Ferguson.
Austin also has some of the best food in the country. The local and traditional culinary scene has some rich flavors to play with. It would be a shame to ignore them.
S&S: How would you describe the craft cocktail scene in Austin?
CF: Full of so much talent but fairly small. I know so many young bartenders here who have competed nationally or who run amazing bar programs. There are a good handful of strong craft bars and I feel like everyone who works in our craft side of the industry knows each other. I was at the TimeOut bar awards for Austin a couple months ago and the whole room was filled with friends.
S&S: What was it about Austin that drew you to move there?
CF: I was living in Boston before Austin and I had spent my childhood in Los Angeles. I was in Boston for school studying animation with the Tufts University Museum School program, but after I graduated, there wasn’t a lot of animation work in the area. I got jobs editing video, teaching art, and bartending, but all my animation work was freelance from the West Coast. I didn’t want to move back to LA yet, but after a couple very harsh winters in Boston, I was ready to leave. My boyfriend has family in Austin, and it has both a growing animation and bar scene, so it seemed like the best bet for advancing in my careers.
S&S: Makes sense! So what’s your favorite thing about this Austin-inspired drink?
CF: The texture. I love an egg white drink, but there is something about the butter fat wash that brings it to the next level.
S&S: What music do you hope people are listening to as they mix and enjoy your cocktail at home?
CF: “Buddy” by Willie Nelson and “Walkin’ after Midnight” by Patsy Cline. Listen, dance and drink. It’ll be the perfect combination for spending some time with someone you care for.
S&S: Is there any specific food you would recommend pairing with your cocktail?
CF: Pecan Pie! Or BBQ. The drink’s balance of smoky and sweet was inspired by those classic Texan dishes.
S&S: What do you do when you’re not working?
CF: I’m honestly rarely not working. If I’m not working at the bar I’m usually working on a freelance animation job or working on some art-related project with my boyfriend, who is also a partner is most of my artistic endeavors. Free time is usually spent playing with our cats, Yojimbo and Mango, or trying to do something physically active. I casually do yoga, rock climb, and dance. The rare nights off are usually spent trying out a new restaurant/bar and going to see a movie.
S&S: What’s your go-to drink order when trying out a new bar?
CF: Depends on the selection. If it’s a dive or someplace very casual, I usually go with tequila and soda. If it’s a spot that might make good cocktails but I’m wary, it’s a mezcal Negroni or a Japanese whiskey collins. I want to try house original cocktails whenever possible. I love seeing what combinations other bartenders have discovered.
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