TAG's Brittany Wangsness Takes Drinkers on a Trip South of the Border

TAG's Brittany Wangsness Takes Drinkers on a Trip South of the Border
Kevin Galaba

South Of The Butta TAG 1441 Larimer Street 303-996-9985

Just about any South American dictator would love the new butter-infused cocktail on the menu at TAG. It's rich and unctuous and refreshing, and perfect for sipping on the veranda after an insurrection. When thinking about cocktails for her winter drink menu, Wangsness was first inclined to offer a hot buttered rum, but then found herself digging through the history of another, simpler rum drink -- the rum and Coke.

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Brittany Wangsness, behind the bar at TAG.
Brittany Wangsness, behind the bar at TAG.
Kevin Galaba

One of the rum cocktail recipes that intrigued Wangsness came from the PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, produced by New York City's famous speakeasy. On page 90 of that book, she found the Cinema Highball, a rum and Coke variation in which the rum was infused with fresh buttered popcorn.

When Wangsness finally settled on her recipe, she moved away from rum and chose cachaca -- rum's lighter cousin -- which is made in Brazil from fresh sugarcane juice. In TAG's kitchen she infused it with butter, letting the mixture marinate overnight. Back behind the bar, she poured that buttery goodness over ice, topping it with Mexican Coca-Cola. She called it 'South of the Butta.'

"I had the idea to do a hot buttered rum drink for the winter menu," Wangsness says, "and it slowly started to transform into something else. So, I started playing around with 'buttering' a spirit."

To make the buttered spirit, Wangsness begins by melting butter in a pan, leaving it on the heat until it begins to brown. "I add cloves, allspice and cinnamon" she explains, "and I sear it, then add it to the cachaca." Cachaca is clear, like vodka, but that all changes when it's mixed with the spiced, browned butter.

"I did this overnight, she continues. "It sat at room temperature for about four hours. I put it in the refrigerator, and then the freezer, so that the proteins would solidify and start to separate from the spirit."

This was her first time combining dairy with spirits, and there was a slight learning curve. "Butter is much more difficult to work with that I had anticipated," she says, "so there was definitely a learning process." After the buttery cachaca was taken out of the freezer, she used cheesecloth to strain out the solids.

I strained it probably two or three times," she says. "Once I would start working with it, it would heat up and I'd have to put it back in the freezer and do it again."

A small amount of milk solids remained in the bottle, but they resulted in a thicker, creamier base for the drink. "It gives it a really nice, creamy mouthfeel,"she explains. "When I drink I this, I think it's very much like a cream soda texture."

Wangsness chose Leblon cachaca, one of the most popular of this style of spirit. All cachacas are produced in Brazil, where 99 percent of it consumed. Leblon cachaca is made in southern Brazil, where it starts out as sugarcane, grown in fields adjacent to the distillery. The cane is harvested and then pressed to release the sweet juice, which is distilled into chachaca. One of the founders of the distillery is a former cognac distiller from France, who ages the freshly distilled spirit in used cognac barrels for six months.

After pouring the buttered cachaca over ice in a tall glass, Wangsness tops it with a freshly popped hourglass-shape bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola, which has a different flavor than American Coke because it's made with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Purists claim that Mexican version is truer to the kola nut flavor and has a more complex flavor.

"It's made with cane sugar," she says, "and that is something that we really appreciate here at TAG. I thought that it would be perfect for this drink and the whole idea of 'South of the Border.' "

So, how are guests liking a buttered cocktail?

Some of them are apprehensive "They don't really know what to think when they see a buttered drink," she says. "I'm finding that this is something that we have to push in the sense of educating, but I think that once people try it, they realize that it's just super approachable.

"At TAG, we like to have this nice middle ground between the fun, geeky, odd cocktails and still things that people feel comfortable trying. I do think that this requires a little bit more education with the clientele, but it's doing well."

Wangsness has been running the bar program at TAG for the past year and a half, after transitioning from nearby Green Russell. At TAG, she tries to design seasonal cocktail menus that are approachable but still creative.

"It's really important to me here at TAG," she says, "that we pull drinks from everywhere around the world. This is social, continental food and I think that should be reflected in the beverage menu, as well."

Wangsness likes to pair South of the Butta with TAG's Baja Fish Tacos (($13), which come stuffed with Napa cabbage slaw, pickled red onions, guacamole and lime crema.

South of the Butta will be available until the drink menu changes again in the spring, when Wangsness will once again turn the cocktail list inside-out, constantly in search of that unique flavor match-up or surprising presentation -- "breaking them down," she says, "switching things out, seeing how it plays, which leads to more switch-outs."

"It's a constantly evolving process," she adds, "and it's a lot of fun."

South of the Butta 1.5 ounces allspice butter-infused Leblon cachaca .25 ounce Luxardo Triplum liqueur Mexican Coca-Cola

Pour the infused cachaca and Luxardo Triplum over ice in a tall glass and top with Mexican Coca-Cola. Garnish with an orange wheel.


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1441 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-996-9985

www.tag-restaurant.com


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