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Farm to bottle: Top Houston restaurant offers a crash course in hot new cocktail trend

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of my favorite museums in a city rife with museums. We have museums for everything in Houston, even funeral history.

But, being more interested in living, and eating and drinking, I’m a real fan of HMNS’s Cultural Feasts. In the past these food and history events have focused on foods of Ancient Egypt and the Miracle Fruit, a berry that tricks your mouth into tasting sweet things as sour and vice versa. Which is weird, very weird. I know; I tried it.

But the next HMNS Cultural Feast is coming up and it’s all about the booze, baby.

“I worked for AT&T for a thousand years. That’s where I learned to drink so when I retired I decided to work with cocktails."

“We’re going to have a little bit of fun with cocktails and teach people about the chemistry and the history of drinks,” says Richard Middleton, mixologist at Brennan’s of Houston, which is hosting the HMNS fundraiser Feb. 20.

Middleton is a wealth of information. 

“I worked for AT&T for a thousand years,” says the 65-year-old Texan. “That’s where I learned to drink so when I retired I decided to work with cocktails at my favorite restaurant.”

Self taught, Middleton says he reads and talks to distillers constantly and describes liquor as his baseball, his personal passion, with the players being Scotch and bourbon instead of Craig Biggio and Nolan Ryan.

Besides Middleton, culinary historian Merrianne Timko will also be on hand at the event to discuss the history of cocktails in the United States and how they developed and are different from European drinks.

“She is just a wealth of information,” Middleton says. “Every time I talk to her I learn something.”

Topics of discussion and drinks will be emulsion — like how to mix egg drinks properly — and sustainability and green trends.

Green Drinks

Farm-to-fork may be an overused term in restaurants, but farm-to-bottle is still a growing trend. Middleton points to Texas boutique distillers such as Balcones Distillery and Garrison Brothers Distillery, which claims “Texas born from Texas corn.”

“A lot of them are using organic products, buying from local farms, repurposing the grains for animal feed and reusing bourbon barrels as Scotch barrels,” Middleton explains.

By law bourbon has to be aged in a new barrel every time. Not so with Scotch, so now you have liquors like Laphroaig that’s aged in former Maker’s Mark barrels.

Farm-to-fork may be an overused term, but farm-to-bottle is still a growing trend.

It all promises to be very fascinating and then, of course, you’ll get to drink too. And eat.

The menu hasn’t been set yet, but Middleton says to expect five courses — five special cocktails that chef Danny Trace will pair with small plates.

Don’t worry about getting too tipsy. Brennan’s hosted the first Chemistry of the Cocktail for HMNS in 2011 and actually checked some of the patrons before letting them leave.

“It’s five cocktails in three hours,” Middleton says. “We want them to be able to walk out the door.”

Which is why the drinks will be served in coupe glasses. If you’re an aficionado of stemware you’ll know that these 1930s-era champagne bowl glasses, also known as champagne saucers, hold only three ounces instead of the usual five or six.

If you are a fan of Brennan’s weekday lunch 25-cent martinis, you’ll recognize these little post-Prohibition glasses. They’re just a sip, sip and done. But after five you still might want to have a cab on call.

The Chemistry of the Cocktail Culture Feast is Feb 20 at 7 p.m. at Brennan's. Tickets are $115 per person, $95 for members.