Josh Burbank: Drinks should just heighten the experience

Josh Burbank: Drinks should just heighten the experience
courtesy of Josh Burbank

Yesterday, Josh Burbank, barman at Jax Fish House, showed us how he makes homemade root beer. Now he's weighing in on his mentors, behind-the-bar antics gone awry, and putting his blood, sweat and tears into every drink.

Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession?

Josh Burbank: I've been a bartender for years now. I started just before I turned 21. I never really took it seriously until I met James Lee just over six years ago at the West End Tavern in Boulder. I was bussing tables there, and he took me under his wing. He taught me how to take pride in what I do, how to construct cocktails, how to balance drinks, how to attack the palate and how to build cocktails from the ground up, right to the garnish.

I was there for three and a half years, and I learned a whole lot. I moved down here and they were nice enough to keep me in the company. I've always wanted to be here at Jax Denver; it's my favorite restaurant in the company.

I'm really blessed to have worked with two of the best bartenders around, though they're the best for totally different reasons. James was a top-ten Playboy mixologist, and he has a great mind when it comes to mixology. The flip side is Tim Harris, who manages the bar at Jax. He's the ultimate showman and host. He remembers your name and what you're drinking, and he'll ask how your daughter is and mean it. Sometimes he'll do a magic trick for you. That's kind of a lost art these days. With this new surge of mixology, people kind of forget what we're doing. Bartending at its purest means we're supposed to be good conversationalists and provide an upbeat environment; drinks should just heighten the experience. The art of mixology is becoming the forefront; people forget that it shouldn't just be the sole focus. Bartending rules to live by: Put a piece of yourself in every cocktail. Don't do anything halfheartedly. Be passionate. And never shake a Manhattan. Next time I see someone shake a Manhattan, I'm going to leap over the bar. That's my biggest pet peeve, for sure.

Five words to describe your drink list: Seasonal, aggressive, fun, passionate and approachable.   Favorite drink on your list and why: The homemade-soda cocktails, so anything with the ginger beer or the root beer. That's just my blood, sweat and tears. I spent six months on each to figure out the recipe and even longer to figure out how to get it to the customer cold, delicious and carbonated. I'm also partial to the Pep Talk, which is frozen campari, fresh grapefruit juice, Beefeater gin, a dash of sugar and an absinthe mist for an aromatic quality.

Favorite item on your back bar: Cocchi Aperitivo Americano. It makes a mean Corpse Reviver, among other things. It's a fantastic secondary ingredient, and it's also great on its own, served nice and cold.

What was your craziest night behind the stick? One recent night comes to mind. Back behind the bar, this rail hangs kind of low. I have a tendency to have fun and start dancing behind the bar. I had friends there at the bar, and I started dancing and spinning around. I popped up and cracked my head on the rail. Heads bleed, and that's what it did. It must have horrified people. It was more scary for them than anyone else.

Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: Falling Rock. I love heading down there and sitting there and not having to think about anything. I just tell them what I want and they find it for me. If we're talking a drink, Vesta Dipping Grill has a vieux carre that they barrel-age, and it's just obnoxiously good. The old vieux carre is one of my favorites, and they use a Leopold's barrel for aging. I love that place.

What's next for the Denver bartending scene? People are going to start making their own stuff. You already see homemade bitters, but I think we'll see more grenadine and sodas. It's the best way to show your customers how much you care about what you do.

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