Marnie Ward of Avenue Grill wins the Colorado Cocktail Contest

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Visit Denver's Rich Grant got a call last year from a reporter for a national magazine who was looking for the quintessential Colorado drink. But while this state is swimming in craft beer, the tourism booster came up dry on the hunt for a Colorado cocktail.

At the same time we were pouring our suggestions into Grant's ear -- the Mile High Plunge, for example, which called for a shot of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey in a pint of Coors Light -- star-tender Sean Kenyon was chatting with a couple of bartender friends who'd come to Denver to conduct a seminar on New Orleans cocktails, including the iconic Hurricane and Sazerac. Kenyon took them to a few classic bars -- including the Buckhorn Exchange and My Brother's Bar -- and they were suitably impressed by Denver's saloon scene. But they, too, wondered about our signature drink.

After last night, though, both those bartenders and that reporter should have plenty to write home about. Our quest for a Colorado cocktail grew into the Colorado Cocktail Project, a two-day event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver full of lectures and tastes of this state's most liquid assets, produced by a dozen Colorado-based distillers, including Leopold Bros., whose spirits were featured in eight of the ten finalist cocktails.

Last night, those ten finalists poured out their hearts -- and their drinks -- in the Colorado Cocktail Contest, a competition to determine what Colorado tastes like

The winner? Marnie Ward of the Avenue Grill, who served up the "Tree Line." We'll post her recipe -- full of Leopold Bros. and Colorado cherries -- on Cafe Society later today, when all the participants have recovered from the marathon.

In the meantime, drink up, Colorado!

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