Drink of the Week: Kyle Nickerson's Watermelon and Tequila Wonder at Angelo's Taverna

Alice In Watermeland at Angelo’s Taverna
“Everybody that walks in the door is either an old friend or a new one,” says Kyle Nickerson, bar manager at Angelo’s Taverna. His keen sense of hospitality is fitting at this relaxed neighborhood Italian restaurant and bar, where his new cocktail menu treats Colorado spirits like they’re family. One of his new cocktails is a combination of  tequila, lime juice, elderflower liqueur, agave syrup and a watermelon ice cube called Alice In Watermeland ($8).

Nickerson knows how to assemble a variety of flavors that result in a great dish — or a great drink. “I started in the kitchen, cooking,” he says. “It relates to the cocktail world.” Armed with a culinary background, he crafted a refreshing new drink that lends itself to enjoying on Angelo’s large back patio by using citrus, melon and floral notes to balance the strength of the tequila.

That tequila is Proximus blanco, and while not made in Colorado, is owned by Nickerson's good friend Aaron Forman, who also owns Table 6 just a few blocks from Angelo's. “I definitely wanted to bring in a tequila cocktail for the summer,” Nickerson says. “Colorado is doing some really awesome things in the spirits world. Everybody knows about the beer, but now the distillers are starting to get some love.

“I love this tequila,”  he adds of the 100-percent blue agave spirit. “It’s got a beautiful citrus nose on it, and an awesome finish. 

“What I love mostly is the finish,” Nickerson continues. “It’s got a smooth finish that’s balanced, and you can sip it neat. A lot of tequilas, you can’t — they’re just too much. You need salt and a lime to tame it. It’s not an in-your-face tequila. It’s great for sipping or mixing with cocktails.”

Nickerson adds floral notes to the recipe with St. Germain, a liqueur made with elderflowers hand-picked in the foothills of the French Alps, citrus and pure cane sugar.

“I just love how the elderflower balances the tequila,” Nickerson says. “It’s a beautiful marriage between the two, because it doesn’t make the drink too sweet. It gives you just enough sweetness to make it appealing to everybody.”

St. Germain’s blossomy bouquet brings aromas of honeysuckle and pears and flavors of honey and passion fruit. “I think people will like this drink even if they don’t like tequila,” Nickerson explains, “only because there are so many different flavors.”

Those flavors include fresh-squeezed lime juice and a spoonful of agave nectar. “It’s just a little hint,” Nickerson says of the bar spoon of agave nectar he adds. “It goes hand-in-hand with tequila.”

Alice In Watermeland is really two drinks in one: Nickerson adds a frozen cube of watermelon puree that slowly releases its flavor into the drink as it melts. “That watermelon ice cube opens up and you get a lot of watermelon flavor,” he says. “The watermelon is a great ode to summer.”

Nickerson makes the watermelon ice cubes by pureeing the juicy flesh of a fresh watermelon in a blender and then freezing it in ice cube trays. He adds one bright red, frozen cube of watermelon to each drink. “It’s a constant process,” he says, “because I’m selling a lot of these right now.

“I’ve seen people just eat it at the very end,” he says. “It’ll melt away, but there’s a chunk at the end. People just eat it. It’s tequila-soaked watermelon — you can’t beat that.”

If you’re still hungry after eating that boozy watermelon ice cube, Nickerson recommends pairing his drink one of the specialties at Angelo’s: a bowl of bacon-Gorgonzola mussels. “It’s very rich,” he says, “with chunks of bacon. It’s a cream broth — not your typical white wine garlic and mussels dish.” A large bowl of mussels is only $5 on "Mollusk Mondays," which also includes oyster specials. The mollusks are flown in fresh on Monday mornings and are available all day. Nickerson says his tequila-based drink will cut through all the richness of the bacon and cheese: “It’s like pairing a Cabernet with a steak,” he says. “You can’t beat it.”

When he was designing his current drink list, Nickerson tried to let the flavors speak for themselves. “I like finding beauty in simplicity,” he says. “As far as coming up with a drink list, I love mixing it up — especially with all the beautiful, local spirits that you can play around with.”