Forks Up: First of all, congratulations on winning Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition for North America. What kind of an impact has this had on your life?
Justin Lavenue: Thanks so much for the congratulations. The last several months have been insane in the best way. As a result of winning the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition, I was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Mixologists of 2015, nominated for Eater's Bartender of the Year 2015, and business at The Roosevelt Room is growing rapidly. Things couldn't be better right now!
FU: Where do you find inspiration in creating your very unique cocktails? Does it start with an idea or a flavor?
JL: Well, both. I usually start with a concept, and draw inspiration for ingredients from that concept, which I know will go well with the flavor either the base spirit, the other ingredients I plan on using, or both.
FU: Can you share how you are preparing to win the World Competition for Most Imaginative Bartender?
JL: I'm currently formulating concepts for drinks and hashing out a list of possible ingredients that fit the concept and will complement the elegantly dry flavor of Bombay Sapphire and the gin’s 10 botanicals.
FU: I plan to visit The Roosevelt Room very soon (it is top on my list). I have read that it will eventually become De Rigueur, a 3 level spot with a restaurant/bar, a cocktail lounge, and a rooftop patio bar. How do you plan to balance the opening of the new project in 2016 with the upcoming world competition?
JL: Thankfully, our plans for De Rigueur will come to fruition long after the Bombay Sapphire MIB Global competition, so I'll be able to focus the proper amount of attention on both when the time comes.
FU: Other than The Roosevelt Room, where do you like to sip cocktails?
JL: Is anywhere and everywhere an acceptable answer? In truth, I love Whisler's, Half Step, and Weather Up.
FU: Do you have any favorite Austin restaurants?
JL: Sway is far and away my favorite. It is such a beautiful restaurant, and the food is out of this world. Other than that, I'm a big fan of Uchiko, Launderette, and la V.
FU: When you are not making fabulous drinks, what do you like to do during your downtime?
JL: I do have to read quite a bit to stay on track for the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource) Masters certification program. I love playing basketball at the gym. I played in high school and almost played in college. I actually just went and shot around for the first time [in a while] and surprised myself; I can still dunk! Ha, ha! Other than that, I'm constantly reading about all things booze, bars, and bartending. It's a little ridiculous how much time I spend working to get better at this obscure but intriguing profession I chose... but I dig it.
FU: Bartending has had such an incredible evolution in the past 10 years or so. What do you think is coming up next on the craft cocktail scene?
JL: I think we are going to see craft cocktails continue to rise in popularity, and for it to become de rigueur (wink wink) for your average bar to offer a cocktail list that utilizes fresh ingredients and proper bartending techniques. I'm hoping that the standard for craft cocktails amongst the public continues to rise, as well, so that each bar is required to produce, at very least, balanced cocktails and offer well-rounded selection of spirits.