As our city's base of cocktail bars and acclaimed bartenders continues to grow, it should be no surprise that some of those experts have started to bring home some big awards. One of Houston’s most recent winners is Chris Morris, who finished first in the regional stage for the United States Bartender Guild's 11th annual Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. Morris is currently working behind the bar at Ritual, where we caught up with him about his winning cocktail, his prep work for the next round of the competition, his own cocktail history, and his future plans.
Morris won the USBG competition with his Summer Never Ends cocktail, crafted with ingredients representative of and intended to represent memories of his childhood summers in Houston. Cocktail competitions require more than just a tasty beverage, after all; top-notch presentation and a story behind the drink are necessary to successfully compete and win. And the Summer Never Ends accomplishes another important goal in the process, at least for Morris: bringing attention to the Houston spirits scene.
As he puts it, Houston is a big city with a lot of talent, but it’s often overlooked; most of the talk in the cocktail world centers on New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and London. Morris—who spent 11 years as a sommelier before moving into the spirits world—hopes success in these competitions will cause the industry to pay more attention to what’s going on in the Bayou City. (This is Morris’ second national final, after previously qualifying for the Heaven Hill Bartender of the Year competition.)
Next up for Morris is the North American round of the USBG competition, which takes place this August in London. He’s already hard at work revising his recipe; the original Summer Never Ends required fresh tangelos, which have a pretty limited seasonal run—and would be impossible to find fresh in London.
Competitions have become close to a full-time job in themselves, as Morris spends his spare time trying new ingredients and tinkering with recipes. "I go home, make seven different recipes for orgeat, [try them with] six different kinds of citrus," he laughs. Right now, that recipe count is up to 13, including some unique variations on the classically almond-flavored syrup; one of these uses macadamia and cactus water.
Morris will be moving next door to Ready Room when it opens late August; the building that used to house a mini-mart is being converted into an intimate cocktail bar with a highly decorated staff; each member of the staff has, like Morris, won at least one competition.
While we couldn’t try the Summer Never Ends, due to the aforementioned difficulty in finding tangelos, Morris did make a couple of other cocktails for us to sample. He recommended the Community Service as something close to what his goals will be for Ready Room. It’s made with Clement Creole Shrubb, a rum-based liqueur, Community Wit beer, orgeat and lemon juice. The easy-drinking Chiapensis, made with blanco tequila, watermelon juice, honey and black pepper syrup, lime juice, and hibiscus water, is garnished with a Thai pepper.
Want to try recreating your own endless summer at home? Below, the recipe and Morris’ description of his award-winning cocktail:
Summer Never Ends
- 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
- 0.75 oz. Tangelo juice
- 0.75 oz. Spiced honeysuckle cordial
- 0.25 oz. Underberg
- 4 dashes Summer bitters
- 1 barspoon Luster pearl dust
"This drink is inspired by childhood summers, where my imagination ran wild," says Morris. "Gin represents the water in my Aunt's pool. The tangelo is baseball. Growing up, we'd pick citrus off a tree to use as balls. Honeysuckle cordial (with cubeb and grains of paradise) is my best friend, who was Indian. Underberg is family barbecues, where we would all eat too much. Summer bitters has notes of aloe, to help heal the inevitable sunburns. Lastly, luster pearl dust, because I always wanted to be an astronaut."