I'm a big fan of cocktails and have been drinking them longer than some of my coworkers have been alive. But for many people who have never had a real cocktail, ordering one for the first time can be intimidating. Big menus, unusual names, unfamiliar spirits...you get the point.
If you are going to start drinking cocktails, my advice is to begin with a classic. Classic cocktails are the foundation of all the new creations that bartenders/mixologist are now serving across the country. Without the classics, there would be no new cocktails. (Remember, you have to start with simple math before you can move on to differential equations -- and sometimes, 2+2 is just what you need.) I also use classic cocktails as a measuring stick to decide if I'd like to order a bartender's original cocktails. If a bartender has a solid grasp of the basics, I feel more comfortable consuming a more creative concoction.
To help get Denver drinking, I asked ten of my favorite bartenders what classic cocktails they love to serve. Keep reading for the results.
See also: - Barman Sean Kenyon's response to Jenn Wohletz's cocktail grievances - Ask the Bartender Archives -- musing from one of Denver's most reputable barmen - Reader: Go ahead and slam daiquiris, but leave old-fashioneds alone
Cocktail: The Old-Old-Fashioned
Why he loves it: I'm from Wisconsin, so one of the first "real" drinks I learned to make when I became a bartender was a Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet. Granted, now I prefer to make my Old-Fashioned the old way, with just whiskey, sugar and bitters But that drink has always been close to my heart. I love its simplicity, and making a proper Old-Fashioned for a guest for the first time is a joyous occasion.
The Old-Old-Fashioned 2oz WL Weller 3 dashes Angostura bitters 1 raw sugar cube Splash soda Muddled, stirred and served over block ice in a double Old-Fashioned glass with a cheery flag.
Nick Touch Squeaky Bean
Cocktail: The Daiquiri Why he loves it: I love this classic because of its simplicity, and when made properly, it's quite delicious. It is also a great base to expand on for the "just make me something" call from a guest. I enjoy introducing it to my guests because nine out of ten of them hear the word daiquiri, and instantly picture the overly sweetened, blended, umbrella-decorated, Chili's version. It's always fun to see their reaction to a well-made, classic daiquiri.
Classic Daiquiri 1.5 oz Banks 5 Island rum .75 oz fresh lime juice .75oz 1:1 simple syrup Shake, strain into chilled cocktail glass, lime wheel garnish.
Jessica Cann Euclid Hall
Cocktail: The Aviation 1910-1920 Why she loves it: I love to introduce this drink to the person "who doesn't like gin." It's simple, fresh and easy to drink (in fact, sometimes too easy). It's a great introduction to classic cocktails as well as gin. You can use a lightly seasoned gin for a vodka drinker to help bridge the gap, or a heavy-seasoned gin for a gin drinker and create a whole different cocktail with the same ingredients. It's simple and fun.
The Aviation 2oz. London Dry Gin 1/2 maraschino liq. 1/2 fresh lemon juice bar spoon Créme de Violette Shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon expression.
Marcel Templet Capital Grille
Cocktail: Vieux Carré Why he loves it: My favorite cocktail lately has been the Vieux Carré. Being from New Orleans, I love to make this drink for people who know it (which is a quickly increasing number), and for anyone who's venturing into and around the whiskey cocktail realm. It's fun to place all of the bottles that make up the drink right in front of the guest while mixing the cocktail. Without fail, this will spark conversation amongst the bar" "What's being made here?" "Where is it from?" Answers are provided, and then we all share our thoughts on favorite places to eat and drink in NOLA. Making a delicious, well-balanced cocktail is made even more memorable when mixed with a good story, or two, or three, or four...
Vieux Carré 1oz rye whiskey of choice 1oz cognac 1oz sweet vermouth 1 bar spoon of Benedictine 2 dashes of Peychaud and Angostura Stir and strain over fresh ice into chilled Old-Fashioned glass. Some people like to garnish with cherries, others a twist of lemon. I serve with none unless requested.
Courtney Wilson Old Major
Cocktail: Manhattan Why she loves it: I've always loved a properly made Manhattan. It is still so easy to go out and have a shaken Manhattan with grenadine and plastic cherries handed to you. If made correctly, stirred and with quality ingredients (no grenadine, please), not many drinks compare. The Manhattan is still fun for guests to enjoy, even though it's been around for 120 years or so. It's easy to do spin-offs of the cocktail as well, for something different. You can serve a Remember the Maine, which adds Cherry Heering liqueur and absinthe. Or a Black Manhattan, with the addition of Averna Amaro.
Manhattan 2oz quality rye whiskey (I prefer Jim Beam Rye) 1oz sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge or Carpano Antica) 2 dashes Angostura bitters Stir/garnish with a cherry/serve on rocks or up in cocktail glass.
Kyle West Gaetano's
Cocktail: Negroni Why he loves it: I love this cocktail because it is a perfect drink for any time or any occasion. It is an excellent aperitif cocktail that is perfect before a big meal, but also works very well post-meal as a digestif. It is a slightly bitter cocktail with a bit of sweetness and the gin shines while not being too overpowering. I enjoy serving the Negroni to my guests because it is a functional and medicinal cocktail. The Negroni also works for an experienced drinker or one who is looking for a new experience.
Negroni 1oz gin 1oz sweet vermouth 1oz Campari Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir to chill. Strain over ice into an Old-Fashioned glass.
Kevin Burke Colt & Gray
Cocktail: Talent Scout Why he loves it: A classic that has been my jam for a while, both as a drink and as a springboard for manipulation, has been Ted Saucier's Talent Scout from Bottom's Up, published in 1951. It's an easygoing take on an Old-Fashioned and expands on the sugar, bitters, sweet combination, relying on the sweetness of your liqueur to balance out the sweetness. It also requires the use of a quality base spirit; I really wouldn't recommend a bourbon or a rye here that you wouldn't enjoy sipping on its own neat and un-adorned. This is one of those situations where reaching for that product that may be "too good for cocktails" (as if those exist....) would reward the drinker with a superior experience.
I love this cocktail because it actually makes the bourbon come across as fuller and more round. Sometimes a drink has a way of magnifying what is going on in the glass, and this one absolutely causes the aroma and taste of the Eagle Rare to leap out of the tumbler. It's also really simple and not fussy. The simplicity of this as a template also allows for manipulation. One of my current favorite variations is to substitute Tequila Ocho's Reposado for the bourbon and use Rotham & Winter's Pear liqueur as the sweetener; we garnish with a lime wheel that slowly permeates the drink with a subtle acid and bitterness.
Talent Scout 2 1/4 oz Eagle Rare 10 y.o. bourbon 1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao 2 d Angostura bitters Combine ingredients in mixing glass with cracked ice and stir briskly and briefly to combine and chill ingredients. Strain into prepared Tumbler (one large cube) and garnish with orange and lemon twist (could be discarded).
Jason Patz Williams & Graham
Cocktail: Sazerac Why he loves it: I love this drink because it is easy to make and it is a great cocktail for one who enjoys an Old-Fashioned but really would like to try something else. The first sip can be a bit overwhelming because the Sazerac has such complexity of flavor. But by the third sip, it is sublime.
Sazerac 1 large sugar cube 4 dashes of Peychauds bitters 2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye Rinse of Leopold Brothers Absinthe Muddle the sugar cube and bitters, then add the rye whiskey; after that add ice and stir. Strain the cocktail into a small, chilled Old-Fashioned glass that has been rinsed with Leopold Brothers Absinthe.
Ryan Conklin Old Major
Cocktail: Sidecar Why he loves it: I love the Sidecar because it balances the richness of cognac with the brightness of fresh lemon; it's a simple, refreshing cocktail that is the perfect introduction to a great meal or an evening with friends. I love to introduce this cocktail to my guests because cognac is a little unfamiliar and oftentimes misunderstood, but at the same time so delicious and such a great element in a cocktail. Cognac is an easy way to start a conversation about classics while at the same time introducing something new and exciting to many drinkers. It's a fun spirit to work with because it has long been intimidating to some, is severely underrepresented currently, yet has deep roots in classic cocktails that we know and love.
Sidecar I.5 oz Pierre Ferrand Ambré .75 Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao .75 oz fresh lemon juice Shake, fine-strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with Sugar in the Raw; serve up.
Patrick Williams Punch Bowl Social
Cocktail: The Tipperary Cocktail Why he loves it: I love introducing guests to the Tipperary because of its layers of flavor, its complexity and, most important, the way it highlights the depth of Green Chartreuse. The vermouth blends well with the chartreuse by cutting into the heat of the spirit, and the whiskey creates a soft backbone to the aggressive herbaceous notes. The finished product is a truly warming concoction that is complex and delicious.
The Tipperary (named for a county in Ireland) is a play on the Bijou Cocktail that started with London Dry Gin instead of the whiskey. It's rumored that when a guest would order one at the Savoy Hotel in London, they would alert the bouncers. That's my kind of cocktail! This version is from the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book.
The Tipperary Cocktail No. 1 1oz Green Chartreuse 1oz Sweet vermouth 1oz Irish whiskey Stir all ingredients with ice and strain in a chilled cocktail glass.
This should be a good list to get you started on cocktails in Denver. Happy drinking!
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