Distilleries are popping up all over Colorado, to help quench the thirst of drinkers crowding craft cocktail bars. But smaller distillers can face a challenge as they try to get their products into the hands of the bartenders who live, breathe, mix and drink booze every day. Now a new program called Angelshare will connect six distilleries with six bars and restaurants, as the pairings create cocktail menus that introduce consumers to the wonders of Colorado booze. And at a makeshift test kitchen set up in The Source earlier this week, some of the state's finest makers and shakers sampled each other's wares.
A collaboration between Industry Denver, Denver Off The Wagon, Imbibe Denver and the Denver Passport, Angelshare was created to foster a sense of community between craft-spirit connoisseurs. "It's very rare for the spirit producers and the people who are pouring it to be able to talk," says PJ Hoberman, founder of Denver Off The Wagon.
But there was more than just talk at the recent event, where bartenders from Jax Fish House, Star Bar, Lola, Coohills, Curtis Club, and Freshcraft made use of local booze to devise cocktails designed around six themes, starting with "Ancestrals" and moving towards "Tropicals, Punches & Patio Cocktails" in the spring. "You've got a dive bar, an oyster bar, you've got brand-new bars, super-old bars, all here together," Hoberman says. "These specific bars were chosen because they really really value small-batch stuff."
Starting January 29 and running through April 22, the Angelshare program will push spirits from the likes of Breckenridge Distillery, Dancing Pines, Downslope Distillers, Deerhammer, Feisty Spirits and J&L Distilling Company. "The whole idea is, each distillery teams up with a bar, and you come up with one cocktail per theme," explains Litch Polich of Breckenridge Distillery, who adds that the event is a rare chance to talk turkey with his prospective customers. "Nobody was out there trying to bring together the supplier and the actual people who are making the cocktails... As a small craft distillery, we don't have the funds to pay a lot people to knock on doors."
All the participating bars will have separate Angelshare cocktail menus, featuring drinks or spirit flights from their partner distilleries. And the program promises that a dollar from each cocktail will go to Heroes Like Us, a charity started by Jensen Cummings, Slotted Spoon Meatball Eatery chef and avowed cocktail enthusiast. "It's a culinary community that connects food and beverage events with charity organizations," Cummings says. "Our goal is to be that liaison, to bring culinary communities, chefs and bartenders together with charity organizations." The money raised by Angelshare will support Share Our Strength's community cooking classes and Slow Food Denver's school gardens initiative.
"We don't do much local spirits, because we're a tequila place. [Our stuff] comes from south of the border," says Lola bartender Alex Terry.
"But we're trying to move toward local products, which is why we're here, to test the waters," adds Lola bar manager Andy Owens. And if Angelshare has its way, everyone will soon be sharing in Colorado's boozy bounty.
Head to the next page to check out the Angelshare pairing theme schedule.
Round 1, January 26-Febuary 11: Ancestrals
Round 2, February 12-February 25: Flips, Fizzes & Noggs
Round 3, February 26-March 11: Mardi Gras
Round 4, March 12-March 25: Distillers Choice
Round 5, March 26-April 8: Highballs & Collins
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Round 6, April 9-April 22: Tropicals, Punches & Patio Cocktails