Drink of the Week: Trade Whiskey at The Fort

As a kid, I loved almost everything about the Fort. The scale replica of Bent's Fort -- a trading post, army garrison and freight stop along the Santa Fe Trail -- seemed like a completely awesome adult version of the couch-cushion forts we built when playing now-politically-incorrect Cowboys and Indians. I'd shout the mountain man toast - Waugh! - and imagine myself running wild in the Wild West.

Even the food was fun; I could order buffalo tongue and swig sarsaparilla. (I stayed away from the bone marrow -- they called it "prairie butter" then - because I thought it was the grossest thing I'd ever seen. Today, of course, you find it on menus at the trendiest places in town.)

As an adult, what I love about the Fort are the "exotic historic drinks," and I downed several on a recent visit. I started with Trade Whiskey ($5), touted as a historic fur-trader recipe. According to Old West legend, trade whiskey was created to make up for "losses" that occurred when pack skinners hauled whiskey up the mountains; they'd dilute the alcohol before they arrived at the fur-trading post. But today's historians say those stories are all myth; while trade whiskey did exist, it wasn't until after the Civil War. Recipes varied regionally, with ingredients ranging from chewing tobacco to molasses, river water and rattlesnake heads used to give the liquor a brownish hue.

The Fort's concoction consists of "fine" bourbon flavored with red pepper, tobacco and black gunpowder, served neat; sadly, it tasted like mediocre bourbon with a metallic shaving finish.

Significantly better was the 1840 Hailstorm Premiere Julep ($10) made from bourbon, sugar and mint, served on ice in a Mason jar. "Back in the 1830s at Bent's Fort in southeastern Colorado," the Fort's new cookbook by owner Holly Arnold reports, "the favorite hot-weather drink, especially on the Fourth of July, was the Hailstorm. Enjoyed by trappers, voyageurs (traveling men employed by fur trade companies), Mexicans and Native Americans alike, it is the earliest known mixed drink in Colorado and was described in a number of journals of the early West. The Hailstorm was originally made with either Monongahela whiskey from Pittsburgh or a wheat whiskey from Taos, three hundred miles to the south of Old Bent's Fort."

It may have been invented almost 200 years ago, but it tastes as current as any of today's cocktails. Waugh!

Follow @CafeWestword on Twitter