Winter Cocktail - A Arvada Tavern 5707 Olde Wadsworth Boulevard 303-690-6269
It's all about balance. When you're making cocktails, it's best not to let harsh ingredients overpower a drink, or worse, serve a syrupy sugar bomb. At the Arvada Tavern, Adam Douglas is doing just that: crafting cocktails the way a painter makes his masterpiece, one thoughtful brushstroke at a time. "In the cocktail world," he says, "things can get overcomplicated. There are so many fantastic bartenders out there that are making all these elaborate, crazy cocktails -- and it's kind of pushing it more and more and more."
"I'm kind of a traditionalist when it comes to drinking," Douglas continues. "It's pretty nice to get back to the basics." Douglas started out at the Arvada Tavern two years ago. After moving to the neighborhood, he saw that the building in Olde Town Arvada was under construction, so he applied a few times, got hired, and found himself behind the bar. Since then, he's gone on to become bar manager and general manager, making contributions to the Tavern's cocktail menu.
His new cocktail is a winter-friendly concoction called Winter Cocktail - A. The name is a play on the "eh!" exclamation used by Canadians, since the main ingredient is Canadian whisky. "I wanted it to have a playful name," he says. Douglas uses Crown Royal XO, combining that with a fig-infused Cointreau, a vanilla-coffee syrup and a house-made bitters.
"Whiskey is really popular right now," Douglas says, but he also believes that many drinkers still have bad associations with the spirit. He feels it's possible to make whiskey more palatable to those customers by arranging it intelligently in a cocktail with complementary flavors.
"Crown XO is pretty exciting," Douglas says. "I mostly use bourbon and rye, so I think using Canadian whisky kind of pushed my comfort zone a little bit." Crown XO is a blend of fifty whiskies that are aged in barrels previously used to hold Cognac. (The wood comes from forests in France's Limousin region, legendary as a source for barrel wood.) The time spent in-barrel imparts additional flavors of oak, dried fruit and ginger, as well as a smoother, thicker mouthfeel.
Also from France is Cointreau, that famous triple sec, flavored with sweet and bitter orange peel. Douglas adds additional flavor to the Cointreau by infusing figs into the liqueur -- under pressure. He starts by quartering organic figs, roasting them in a pan for a few seconds. Then he stuffs them, along with the triple sec, into a special canister.
"I'm using an iSi pressure infuser," Douglas explains,. "I'm basically just taking Cointreau, throwing it in there with the figs." A small carbon-dioxide cylinder is attached to the infuser, which releases the gas, putting the contents under high pressure.
"It's a time thing," Douglas says. "Because it's pressurized in that canister, it really extracts as much flavor as possible in a short amount of time." The standard infusion process could take up to four or five days. "I leave it overnight," he continues. "That one night is the equivalent of probably a week."
Turning again to his palette of winter flavors, Douglas chose a few more to make a syrup to sweeten up his recipe. "I wanted to get a little bit of a coffee flavor," he says, "but I didn't want it to be over the top." He brewed coffee using fresh whole coffee beans -- not ground -- and made a few batches to get the ratio right. Next, he sliced whole Mexican vanilla beans, boiling them with the coffee. To make it a syrup, he added sugar and let the mixture cool.
Finally, a few dashes of house-made bitters adds spice an complexity. Douglas makes his from scratch, with whiskey as a base. "Basically, it's Rittenhouse 100-proof rye," he explains. Unlike the overnight fig infusion, the bitters take almost a month to infuse. To that base, Douglas adds almost twenty ingredients. "I tried to take a lot of flavors that are in a lot of different bitters recipes and just kind of combine them all into one," he says. Some of the ingredients include tart cherries, dried orange peels, cassia, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, licorice root, black walnut, and the bitter bark of the Quassia tree. "I simmer the ingredients over low heat," Douglas explains, "then I add sugar toward the finishing step, strain it out, bottle it, shake it once a day, keep it in the dark."
"It's only a four-ingredient cocktail," Douglas says of Winter Cocktail - A, "which is nice -- you're getting all these complex flavors from the figs and the Cointreau, from the coffee and the vanilla. It's kind of a delicate balance, and they all work pretty well together."
For Douglas, a great cocktail is made not only from great ingredients, but from great preparations. "If you want something to come out a certain way," he says, "you need to think about what steps you're taking to make it that way."
That's probably why he recommends pairing the cocktail with the Arvada Tavern's kobe beef short rib ($26), served with a maple gastrique, sauteed Brussels sprouts and cheddar mashed potatoes. The meat is brined for three days, then hickory-smoked. "It's prepared pastrami-style," Douglas says, "and it's really awesome. It has an inherent sweetness, but also this heartiness to it," he continues. "My cocktail is somewhat similar."
Douglas hopes that his balanced cocktail will win over people who don't usually drink whiskey. "It's a nice intro into the world of whiskey," he says. He's right: subtle flavors of vanilla, coffee, orange, fig and whiskey never combat each other in the glass. They are nuances that linger in your mouth, and are slowly discovered mingling with the whisky.
"It's kind of nice sometimes -- and refreshing--to dial it back a little bit," he says, "and just really take the time and the thought to pick the right ingredients. You really don't have to have ten ingredients in a cocktail to make it complex and interesting."
Winter Cocktail - A 2 ounces Crown Royal XO .5 ounce vanilla-coffee syrup .5 ounce fig-infused Cointreau 2 dashes house-made bitters
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Stir all ingredients over ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.