To gain my alcohol expertise, I haven't attended a cheesy bartending college or struggled through a twelve-step program (yet). My only credential -- my only excuse -- is that the imbibing of alcoholic beverages is one of my favorite pastimes. Which makes me an expert. Or close enough.
I can certainly say with some authority that nothing, absolutely nothing, tastes better on a hot summer evening than a cold drink. And while I know that everyone has a favorite place to do this -- often sucking down brewskis on the front porch, watching the neighbors water their grass with an eyedropper -- this town boasts many spots that offer cocktails worthy of consideration. From my lips to yours.
First stop: Cuba Cuba (1173 Delaware Street, 303-605-2822). At this "Buena Vista Social Club" in the Golden Triangle, ceiling fans rotate slowly, infectious salsa rhythms play, and the drinks are sugary sweet. On a recent visit, we grabbed a tall table in Cuba Cuba's pastel bar and started off with a tall pitcher of mojitos: mint-infused rum, sugar, a splash of lime and rum, rum and more rum, all crushed together with ice. A tall rocks glass full of heaven, really.
"It's such a refreshing drink, perfect for the summer," says owner Kristy Socarras Bigelow. "We get a lot of people who come in specifically for our mojitos. It took me a couple of years to come up with the exact recipe, but I think that we were the first to really do them well in Denver."
After moving outside to Cuba Cuba's covered patio, we next selected a pitcher of brandy-red sangría. And then another. After that, I'm not sure...which is why you shouldn't forget to eat some of Cuba Cuba's deep-fried plantains served with garlic-citrus mojo or a big serving of shrimp ceviche. (Frankly, I can't remember if I did.) Because these drinks are strong -- and I mean strong.
My summer drinks often start out with fruit juice. And no place in town does more with fruit juices than the new High Street Speakeasy (3862 High Street, 303-298-9333), which is tucked into the Cole neighborhood. That's where you'll find my current favorite bartender, Kalib -- he goes by only one name, explaining, "People know what they need to know" -- pressing fresh grapefruits, lemons, limes and oranges behind the big old wooden bar. I like High Street's Gone Tropo, made with pineapple vodka, Cointreau, Triple Sec Magnifique, half a ruby-red grapefruit and half a lime. One sip instantaneously transports you to the steamy Caribbean.
As live jazz and blues heat up the place every Friday and Saturday night, the best way to chill is with the ultimate alcoholic smoothie: the Strawberry Spreadsheet. Made by blending Godiva's White Chocolate and Cappuccino Liqueurs and fresh strawberries with ice, the Spreadsheet comes in a large margarita glass garnished with a chocolate-covered strawberry. As for the name, it's self-explanatory, says Kalib. "The name says it all. Guys, buy her one of these, and she'll never forget you. Or the night."
One last drink before stumbling out the door: the Speakease Tea, High Street's version of the Long Island Iced Tea, no sunshine needed. "It's a very labor-intensive drink; it's got about ninety things in it," says Kalib. "I've never seen anybody handle more than two of these without making a total fool of themselves." Consider yourself warned.
As long as you have a designated driver, there's no reason to limit yourself to Denver when Colorado's many mountain towns offer a wide variety of drinking extravaganzas -- from the Telluride Wine Festival to Vail's annual Oktoberfest celebration of lederhosen and beer.
I consider mountain drinking much more fun than hiking, and last year I found two great festivals: the River Run Bluegrass and Beer Festival and the Toast of Breckenridge.
On a sweltering day last August, I spent an afternoon at Keystone's River Run nibbling on kettle corn, watching brute lumberjacks split logs, dancing to some damn fine bluegrass and sipping more than twenty of Colorado's finest microbrews -- one at a time, of course -- out of a four-ounce mug.
As the sun started dipping behind the mountain, my friends and I got down to business with "90 Minutes of Power." What's that? Every minute for the last hour and a half of the festival, you slam a beer. Why? I have no clue -- but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Yes, someone had a stopwatch. Yes, we looked ridiculous chugging mini-beers and then running as fast as we could for more. No, I do not remember going home. No, I did not drive. And yes, I probably will do it again this summer.
River Run's Bluegrass and Beer Festival is scheduled for August 9 and 10. Entry is free, but you pay $15 for the all-the-beer-you-can-drink mini-glass. Log on to www.keystoneresort.com for details.
I tried to find a more high-class experience when my sister was visiting from Los Angeles a few weeks later. Absolutely starving, I suggested spending the day at the Taste of Breckenridge. Oops: The event we showed up for was actually the Toast of Breckenridge, a wine festival.