The Ama-zingh at Baur’s Restaurant & Listening Lounge
As bar manager at Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge, Brittany Wangsness (who we last encountered mixing up a buttery cocktail at TAG) enjoys challenging guests with unique flavors in her cocktails. “I want guests to leave here, having their questions answered and wanting more,” she says, “because that’s why we’re here.” The recipe for her newest cocktail took her outside of her own comfort zone, with the main ingredients coming not from America, but from Canada, Spain and Morocco.
In June, Baur’s hosted a five-course menu tasting called the Crown Royal Sensory Experience, in which Wangsness collaborated with chef Robert Grant to present food and cocktail pairings. One of her cocktails was paired with merguez sausage, a North African and the Middle Eastern sausage heavily spiced with cumin — and so was Wangsness’ cocktail. She combined a cumin syrup with Canadian whisky, grapefruit juice and sherry to make a cocktail she calls The Ama-Zingh.
“It’s from the Amazigh tribe,” Wangsness says of the name of her cocktail, “because that’s where that style of cooking and spices originated.” The Amazigh, also known as Berbers, are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa found largely in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Cumin is a foundation of the flavor of their cuisine, which includes dishes such as tajine stews and couscous.
Each of Wangsness’s recipes for the paired dinner featured a different Crown Royal whisky. The Ama-Zingh contains Crown Royal Deluxe, the flagship of the brand. “It was important to us, because our executive chef and owner, Dory Ford, is from Canada,” Wangsness says. “So, it was a really great opportunity for us to bring something from his home into his new home here in Denver.” Crown Royal Deluxe is a blend of more than 50 whiskies, none of which are less than ten years old. Made from milled corn, rye and barley, it’s known for a smoothness that comes from aging in both used and new white Oak barrels.
To mingle the flavors of cumin in the merguez and her cocktail, she made a cumin-seed syrup that would add the spice as well as some sweetness to the recipe. It was the first time I ever did that,” Wangsness says. “I took two tablespoons of cumin seeds and I toasted them in a saucepan for about 45 seconds. Then I added a cup of sugar and a cup of water, and brought it to a boil, with the cumin seeds.” She needed less than half an ounce of the syrup to impart a distinct flavor in the drink.
“He does amazing things, and one of his specialities is sausage,” Wangsness says of chef Grant. “The lamb merguez is one of my favorites. It has some spicy notes to it, and the drink was on the sweeter side to help balance that out. But on it’s own, it’s a more balanced, round cocktail. I wanted to bring something out of his dish into my drink, so I chose to use cumin because it’s one of the seasonings in that style of cuisine.”
Grapefruit juice added a bit more sweetness as well as some acid, but Wangsness found that sherry, a fortified wine from Southern Spain added a layer of complexity to her recipe. She chose amontillado, a style of sherry that is aged in barrels where, due to the oxidation of the wine, takes on dark amber hues. “The amontillado is kind of like a cross between a fino sherry and an oloroso sherry,” Wangsness says. “It’s dry, and it has that beautiful nutty characteristic to it. So I was drawn to that when trying to come up with a savory cocktail for one of the pairings for the dinner.”
“I appreciate the Lustau amontillado for mixing,” she continues, “because of the dry flavor profile and that flor profile.” In Sherry production, flor is the term for the film of yeast that forms on the surface of the wine. Barrels of sherry are not completely filled before aging, leaving a pocket of air at the top of the barrel, where native yeasts begin to grow. Amontillado sherries are characterized by a flor that breaks up during aging, which allows the wine to oxidize and attain darker colors. The flor gives characteristic nutty taste, as well as flavors of fresh bread and even mushrooms.
The Ama-Zingh was such a success that first night during the food and cocktail pairing event that Wangsness put it on her latest drink menu. Anyone who wasn’t there to enjoy it with the merguez can still try that pairing: Baur’s offers a charcuterie board ($19) with four house-cured meats, including the merguez. Other meats rotate based on availability, but usually include a pate, a pork rillette, and chicken liver mousse. The board also includes house-pickled accoutrements such as pickled cauliflower, house dill pickles, pickled red onions, mustard seeds and grapes.
“It’s a savory cocktail, for sure,” Wangsness says. When she first presented it at Baur’s, she recalls, guests referred to it as ‘a meal in a glass.’ But she likes pushing boundaries, moving guests into a zone where they think about what they’re drinking. “I hope that they’re intrigued by it,” she continues. “I hope that it allows the guest to leave with an experience that they haven’t had before. I think it’s a really fun way to push people outside of their box. It’s only going to further us as a profession.”