Swagger Mai Tai at Metroboom
As summer starts to slowly fade away, and the chilly evenings evoke thoughts of colder nights to come, we’re hastily quaffing our last glasses of rose before it’s time to switch to something more suitable to the snowy season. But at Metroboom, an innovative new gathering space at 35th and Larimer streets, Kyle West is defying the trend, and helping you to hang on to the pleasure of warm and sunny days. West, who manages the bar program at Metroboom, developed a drink recipe that puts a bit of summer’s sunshine in your hand — and in your mouth.
“This is kind of keeping the thought of summer in your mind as we’re moving into fall,” West says of his new drink, which will appear on Metroboom’s drink menu today. He started with a classic template: the Mai Tai, a quintessential tiki drink, tasting of island sunshine and best enjoyed in a hammock. West spun that recipe into his own — calling it the Swagger Mai Tai ($8) — by combining rum, orgeat, dry curacao, lime juice, tea and an overproof rum that he lights on fire for the ultimate warming effect.
“That’s really what this cocktail is,” West says of the way the drink keeps the drinker connected to tropical thoughts, as Denver transitions into winter. “The Mai Tai is the epitome of a spring and summer drink,” he adds. “The aroma would be similar to a nice breeze on a tropical island, caressing off of palm trees.”
Rum is the main ingredient here — in fact, there are two of them in West’s cocktail. The first one, Don Q Cristal, has been distilled on the island of Puerto Rico since 1865. Even though Don Q is a molasses-based rum, it’s still light and crisp. Puerto Rican rums, by law, must be aged at least one year. Don Q is aged between one and a half and three years in used American whiskey barrels. It picks up a little body from the aging, which also gives it a “roundness” on the palate. What’s most unique about this rum is that after aging, a charcoal filtration process strips away all color from the spirit, producing a rum that is crystal clear — hence the name “Cristal.”
“It’s just a really nice, bright ingredient in a cocktail,” West says of Cristal, “and it allows for other ingredients to also show themselves in the cocktail, as well.”
Next, West adds dry curacao, an orange-flavored liqueur that finds its way into many tiki cocktails. West’s choice is a curacao made at the Golden Moon Distillery in Golden. “I just think it’s one of the most wonderful orange liqueurs out there,” West says. “Since it’s a nice, dry orange liqueur, you can use it for its flavor, while not overpowering the drink with sweetness or too much viscosity like some triple secs can have.” West was born and raised in Golden and is happy to support a distillery that operates so close to Denver. “To have a hometown distillery is really awesome,” West adds. “I never thought that would happen in Golden. I try to support the people that support the great state that we live in. Whenever possible, I like to use local products.”
In keeping with the original Mai Tai recipe — and out of a desire to create a cocktail reminiscent of a hotter and more sultry climate — West adds orgeat syrup, a milky mix of sugar, almonds, and the essences of roses and orange flowers. “Orgeat is a phenomenal syrup,” he says, “mainly used in tiki-style beverages. It gives that tropical 'kiss' to every cocktail it’s used in. It’s a wonderful sweetener that most people aren’t familiar with.”
One of the ways West departs from the Mai Tai template is by adding tea. He steeps three tablespoons of Cinnamon Swagger spiced tea from locally-owned Teakoe in a pint of water. “Teakoe is a phenomenal tea company, based in Lakewood,” West says. “They also blend their teas there, which is a rarity for a local tea company. They produce teas with the idea that the teas will be used by bartenders, not necessarily just to put on a supermarket shelf.”
Cinnamon Swagger contains cinnamon, clove, licorice root, black peppercorn, pink peppercorn and rooibos African tea leaves. “The Cinnamon Swagger is very soft — just a wonderful tea, with light caffeine and so many herbal characteristics to it. It really brightens up a cocktail, and gives it a fall flavor complexity.”
After adding all the clear rum, orgeat, and curacao to a shaker tin, West squeezes half a lime into the shaker, allowing the fresh juice to drizzle in and mingle with the booze. He sets the lime aside, adds ice, and shakes the ingredients, straining them all over fresh ice in a tall glass. What comes next is the fun part — West sprinkles the Cinnamon Swagger tea mixture over the squeezed lime half, then drops it, face up, on top of the cocktail. Over that, he empties one barspoon of Hamilton 151 rum, which ignites easily due to its high alcohol content. West lights the rum-saturated lime on fire, allowing the three-inch-high flame to burn for about twenty seconds, then flips the lime over so that the hot side is face-down in the cocktail.
“The burnt lime and cinnamon rooibos tea gives it a really nice aroma and bouquet around the glass,” West explains. Those aromas — of clove, cinnamon, and tea — are reminiscent of winter months, but are juxtaposed on top of a very summery cocktail. And that’s how West successfully bridges the gap between seasons, combiningsummer and winter flavors into one delicious cocktail. “It’s really about showcasing all the wonderful classics and giving them a bit of a modern twist. That’s what we really like to do at Metroboom,” he says.
West prides himself on the simplicity of his cocktails at Metroboom. “One thing I try to stress every day at my bar is the idea of ‘complex simplicity.’ I don’t need to have a couple hundred bottles on the backbar in order to achieve that. It’s really about working with the classics and the simple cocktails, and tweaking them up a little bit.”
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So, if your seasonal slump needs a little adjustment, Metroboom can help you drink like it’s still summer, even though we’re heading straight into fall this week.
Swagger Mai Tai
1.5 ounces Don Q Cristal rum
.5 ounces Fee Brothers orgeat syrup
.5 ounce Golden Moon dry curacao
.5 ounce Teakoe Cinnamon Swagger rooibos tea (brewed)
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
1 barspoon Hamilton 151 rum
1 pinch Teakoe Cinnamon Swagger rooibos tea
Pour all ingredients into a shaker tin. Squeeze one half of a lime into the shaker and let rest before adding ice and shaking vigorously. Double-strain over new ice in a tall glass. Sprinkle a pinch of the tea leaves over the reserved lime, then add a barspoon of Laird Hamilton 151 rum. Ignite the rum, allowing the flame to burn for about 20 seconds. Turn the lime over in the cocktail to extinguish the flame.