Last month top-notch bartender James Lee gave up his Salida gig to return to the Front Range, taking over as the beverage director at TAG, Troy Guard and Leigh Sullivan-Guard's flagship Larimer Square eatery.
He's spent the last few weeks getting his feet wet, learning the spirits list and board while honing his own ideas for a new direction for the cocktails list. Now he's ready to unveil that direction with a brand-new summer cocktail list.
"TAG likes to change the menu seasonally every four or five months," Lee explains. "And I wanted to change it to give it my imprint."
He started by crafting four signature cocktails that will be permanent fixtures on the list, three of which are inspired by icons in the city of Denver. "Troy asked why there weren't any cocktails named after Denver," says Lee. "So I built a list of drinks that have something to do with local names.
Like the Kerouac. "There's already a Kerouac in San Francisco, where he ended up," says Lee. "This is a twist on that." The TAG version is a blend of El Tesoro tequila, Americano cocchi (a bitter liqueur similar to old-school kina lillet), luxardo triplum triple sec, lime and fresh muddled grapefruit.
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Then there's the Larimer Square, a vague play on an old-fashioned that features Leopold Bros. whiskey, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice, Dubonnet (another bitter liqueur), fresh muddled apple and chocolate balsamic vinegar from neighboring shop EVOO. And the Denver Omelet, a Ramos gin fizz-like concoction that mixes Leopold Bros. gin, fresh muddled red and green bell peppers, egg whites and fresh lemon and lime juice in a glass garnished with homemade candied bacon and green and red bell peppers. To us, that sounds a hell of a lot better than an actual Denver omelet. Probably because there's booze involved.
Lee also crafted a few seasonal drinks to go with the new signature cocktails, playing with summer produce and light flavors. We're most eager to try Smoke on the Water, for which the bartender is cold-smoking chunks of watermelon and blending them with Bulleit bourbon, agave and lemon. We're also looking forward to the Lilikoy (which means "passionfruit" in Hawaiian), made withcachaca and passion fruit puree garnished with an edible flower.
The new list rolls out on Monday.