Chad Michael George is part of the formula behind the fawned-over cocktails at Williams & Graham. An award-winning Certified Sommelier and graduate of the prestigious BAR 5-Day program, he left Linger a little over a month ago to pursue his passion for the craft cocktail at Williams & Graham.
That means he arrived just in time to stir up summer cocktails. Whether it's a refreshing muddled mint-and-gin concoction; a classic, fruit-heavy sangria; or a tart margarita, we all have favorite drinks that we reach for again and again during the heat of summer.
We recently sat down with Chad Michael George to talk ultimate summer cocktails, local spirits and season-friendly whiskey drinks.
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Westword: How did you start making cocktails at Williams & Graham?
Chad Michael George: I just moved here from St. Louis a year and a half ago. I was lucky enough to have a job at Linger before I got here -- I had come out and worked at Linger a few nights, and when I got here I was bartending there and became bar manager. I left Linger a month and a half ago; I wanted to get back to my roots making cocktails. I realized I wanted to make cocktails more of the time versus spending most of my time on administrative stuff, which is part of what inspired my move to Williams & Graham. I knew and loved the staff here, and getting the opportunity to come here gave me the option of spending all of my time crafting cocktails. So here I am. It's been great so far. A few weekends ago it really hit me for the first time how awesome it is to make drinks for people who truly care what you're doing and what goes into the process. There was a point one Friday when the six seats in the corner weren't even talking -- they were just watching us. A big part of this is a show, and I enjoy that part of it. Being on stage, having guests who comprehend what you're doing or want to understand it better than they do -- versus slinging drinks for a ton of people a night.
When you make your cocktails, are there any local distillers you love? We have great spirits coming out of Colorado: Have you been taking advantage of that?
Absolutely. Anytime I'm coming up with a new cocktail, if there is the possibility of doing that drink with a Colorado ingredient, I always give it a shot. It doesn't always work out. Say it's a gin drink: I'll have six to eight different kinds of gin, and there will always be one that magicly works better than the others. But between Leopold, Peach Street and Cap Rock -- just to name a few -- we've got some really good spirits out here. I've done a lot of traveling for this job and others, and I feel that we're blessed to have probably as good, if not the best, locally distilled spirits as anybody in the country. There are so many great products coming out of Colorado. What do you like to drink in the summer?
It changes. I do like to drink whiskey in the summer. If you took a poll of bartenders at cocktail bars, the majority of them probably don't drink cocktails so much when they're not working. I drink beer and wine way more than I drink cocktails, but there a few cocktails that I always have the mixings for. The way I "summer-ize" cocktails is often just a change made in the mixers that you're using -- especially when using whiskey. There's nothing wrong with drinking whiskey in the summer, but you're probably using lighter, fresher ingredients, like those in The Manuscript, the drink I'm going to make for you. It's super-simple, which is my overall drink philosophy. Most of my drinks are four ingredients or less.
What goes into The Manuscript?
Leopold's Small-Batch Whiskey, Leopold's Tart Cherry Liqueur, lemon juice, a little bit of sugar, and Prosecco. The tart cherry is definitely not a winter flavor; it's tart and bright, not syrupy and heavy. I think everyone associates bubbles with warmer weather; throwing a little splash of champagne on top will just give it that effervescence and higher acidity. This is a drink that I've made for a few years, but it actually works better with Leopold's Tart Cherry Liqueur than any other cherry liqueur I've ever used in it. Leopold's small-batch whiskey is a great, smooth-balanced yet slightly spicy whiskey, so it works well.
1.5 ounces Leopold Brothers American Small-Batch Whiskey .75 ounces Leopold Brothers Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur .50 ounces lemon juice .50 ounces simple syrup
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Shake and strain over ice. Top with a splash of Prosecco and an orange twist.