Drink of the Week: Stuart Jensen's Nostalgic Ward Cleaver at Mercantile Dining & Provision
The Ward Cleaver Mercantile Dining & Provision 1701 Wynkoop Street 720-460-3733
You may have tasted Stuart Jensen's cooking; he has worked in kitchens at Cholon Modern Asian Bistro, TAG and a few Boulder eateries. But he's since transitioned to his current role behind the bar and is now bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provisions. All those years working with food helped shape his approach to creating cocktails, and he brought his love of food preparation to his drink menu, including the newest collection of drinks now available at Mercantile. The Ward Cleaver, for example, is neither shaken nor stirred -- it's steamed.
"The idea, originally," Jensen explains, "was to do something that would kind of tie in with the idea of preservation in the market." By this, he means Mercantile's market, adjacent to Jensen's bar area, where guests can pick up jams, jellies, pickles and other items made in the restaurant's kitchen.
The Ward Cleaver ($11) is, ultimately, a version of an Old Fashioned, that classic recipe of whiskey, sugar and bitters. The Cleaver got it's name from the cocktail's vintage origin and popularity in the Leave It To Beaver era. Jensen's recipe calls for whiskey, a house-made chestnut-vanilla syrup, an Austrian pine-flavored liqueur, bitters, dried apricots, juniper berries and rosemary leaves.
It's certainly not a recipe that Ward himself would have embraced -- but it's the method of the drink's creation that truly sets it apart. The drink is served in a tiny, three-ounce mason jar, which is accompanied by a glass stuffed with a huge ice cube and orange peel garnish. The guest pours the cocktail over the ice; a screened lid keeps the apricot, juniper berries and rosemary out of the drink.
Stuart Jensen, bar manager at The Mercantile, presents the Ward Cleaver.
But let's back up a step: before a busy weekend at Mercantile, Jensen will fill fifty mason jars with all the cocktail's ingredients and place them on a perforated tray over a rectangular pan filled with water. That pan goes into a 212-degree oven for exactly two minutes. This process -- the same one used to prepare Mercantiles' jams and jellies -- vacuum-seals the jars, which then sit for a day, allowing the flavors of booze, fruit and botanicals to blend together.
"It's pretty awesome," Jensen says of the process. "It's really efficient."
"You're applying heat," he continues, "like you would for a standard infusion, and then the vacuum seal squeezes a little extra flavor out of it. It's a little more concentrated than if you just let it sit there."
The Ward Cleaver is the third "steamed" cocktail on his menu so far; each one has incorporated a food associated with the current season. Last summer, he used peaches from Colorado's Palisade region. In the fall, it was roasted pumpkin. For winter, he used dried apricots. "Dried fruit is always nice in cocktails," Jensen says. "It's a concentrated flavor. It kind of rehydrates when we cook it in the oven."
When Jensen was thinking about seasonal flavors for his recipe, he thought of pine trees--and experimented with Zirbenz, a liqueur made with the fruit (basically, the cones) of a specific type of evergreen tree that grows at tree line in the Austrian Alps. The cones are harvested in mid-July, when they're ripe, and distilled into a brownish liqueur with a distinct resiny, piney flavor and an aroma of Christmas trees.
Instead of the Old Fashioned's traditional sugar cube, Jensen made a sugar syrup which he infused with some additional ingredients of the season: chestnuts and vanilla beans.
He kept two necessary Old Fashioned ingredients in his recipe: bitters and, of course, whiskey. George Dickel #12 is Jensen's whiskey of choice -- a bit strong at 90 proof. The #12 is the Tennessee whisky maker's blend of older whiskies, made predominantly from corn, with a little rye and barley.
"It's definitely taken off as one of our more popular drinks," Jensen says. "On a Friday or Saturday night we usually make sure that we have at least fifty on hand. It's an interesting presentation, and everybody loves an Old Fashioned."
The Ward Cleaver is the first in his steamed drink series that has had so many edible components. "We wanted to bring a culinary focus to it," Jensen says. "That's my background. There's a little bit more food preparation and things like that that go into these cocktails."
But he still wanted it to feel like an Old Fashioned. "We wanted to tie in seasonal elements, and we certainly wanted it to be something was unique to this place, that you don't get anywhere else," he explains. "It's kind of fun because it doesn't rely on different spirits or liqueurs to be unique -- we're using real ingredients. It's actual fruit, spices and things like that. We're applying flavor with real food, rather than just booze."
Jensen plans to continue this method of creating cocktails, keeping the process the same, but changing the ingredients to match the season. Ingredients will be sourced from Fruition Farms, Mercantile owner Alex Seidel's acreage in Larkspur. "Now that it's winter, we have less options," he says, "but that will come back in the spring and summer, and we'll have a lot more available this year than we did last year."
Jensen recommends pairing his cocktail with the Marrow Bone Brûlée ($13), which is served with blood orange, fennel and oxtail marmalade. "It's rich," Jensen says of the dish. "It's got some savory and citrus elements that pair well with the fruit. Old Fashioned and bone marrow is always a good pairing."
The Ward Cleaver 1.5 ounces George Dickel #12 whiskey .5 ounce Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur .25 ounce chestnut orgeat 2 dashes Angostura bitters 1 dried apricot 1 Amarena cherry 2 rosemary leaves 3 juniper berries
Assemble all ingredients in a three-ounce mason jar and screw on the lid. Place the mason jars in a pan filled with water, and place in a 212-degree oven for two minutes. Let the jars sit for at least a day.
Serve the mason jar alongside a glass filled with one large ice cube and an orange peel garnish.
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