Cocktail of the Week: A Sweet and Smoky Sunrise at Root Down
Passion Fruit Sunrise at Root Down
Root Down’s bar manager, Nick Feely, has been looking back lately. When he and his bar team began to come up with recipes for Root Down’s latest cocktail menu, Feely directed their focus to a past era of cocktails. Classic recipes were broken down, re-examined and riffed on, resulting in a cluster of drinks that touch the past and the present. One of the new retro cocktails is a version of a Tequila Sunrise, which combines tequila, orange juice and grenadine. Feely’s rendition keeps the tequila, but also adds a softly smoky mezcal and replaces the orange juice with passion fruit puree.
Here’s how he re-imagined the classic:
1.5 ounces El Portico tequila
.5 ounce Fidencio Clasico mezcal
.75 ounce passion fruit puree
.25 ounce lime juice
.5 ounce hibiscus simple syrup
“This last menu change has been trying to bring back retro-style cocktails,” Feely says, “This is obviously a play on a Tequila Sunrise. But we wanted to gussy it up a little bit and bring it into the modern day, with mezcal.”
Feely uses Fidencio Clasico mezcal, made in Oaxaca, Mexico from a specific type of the agave plant called espadin, which takes roughly ten years to mature before harvesting. “It’s lightly smoked,” Feely explains, “so it’s not going to be quite as smoky as most other mezcals out there, and it doesn’t really have that ‘band-aid’ flavor. It’s just the smoke, which is great.”
Feely pairs the mezcal with another agave-based spirit: El Portico blanco tequila. “It’s 100-percent agave tequila,” he says. “It’s really delicious, and is a good base for the cocktail. It’s a nice, neutral and kind of mineral-forward tequila.”
Nick Feely, master of the sunrise, behind the bar at Root Down.
Passion fruit puree takes the place of orange juice in Feely’s sunrise. The puree is unsweetened, which brings a tartness to the cocktail, so the drink's sweetness comes from a syrup made with hibiscus flowers and sugar. The magenta-colored syrup is a substitute for grenadine, adding flavor and also color; when dropped into the bottom of the drink, the swirling orange and red colors mimic the colors of a sunset.
“We’re doing something that actually has some good complex flavors,” Feely points out. “We take hibiscus flowers and raw cane sugar, and then boil those together to extract the great color from those hibiscus flowers and also that deep, earthy flavor.”
The addition of mezcal has given the old recipe a new life, creating a refreshing drink that’s tart, smoky and slightly sweet. “There’s enough smokiness in it to be complex for somebody who’s a discerning cocktail drinker,” Feely says, “and then also it’s approachable enough for somebody who’s not used to that kind of thing.”
Feely says that he hopes that by drinking a Passion Fruit Sunrise, people will feel like they're on a beach somewhere. “That’s really what we’re going for,” he says. “It’s selling great. With the weather turning around and heading into late spring and early summer, we’re really expecting to sell a bunch of these.”
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.