Last week's Arctic blast of snow and sub-zero temperatures got us all thinking that winter is finally here. At Lower48 Kitchen, bar manager Brandon Brough was a step ahead of the blast, crafting a winter cocktail menu that's ready for you when you step in the front door and kick the snow off your shoes. One highlight of his new menu is the Autumn38, a spicy, cold-weather drink, laced with holiday flavors.
"We're rolling into Thanksgiving and Christmas," he says. "The first thing I think of is cranberries, spices, rosemary. I tried to incorporate those into a cocktail and it came out balanced. It's delicious."
For Autumn38, Brough muddles fresh cranberries, releasing the tart juices. On top of that, he gently taps a few fresh rosemary leaves to bring out their piney flavors. To this mash he adds whiskey, lemon juice, a spiced simple syrup and a splash of orange juice.
That Autumn38 is a rye whiskey cocktail makes it all the spicier. Brough chose Rittenhouse Rye, a spicy and bold rye made in the classic Pennsylvania style. Bottled at 100 proof, it makes the cocktail a bit boozier, too.
The rye is tamed by Brough's spicy simple syrup, which contains sugar, water, cinnamon, black peppercorn, star anise and cloves. With the whiskey, cranberries and rosemary, this is a drink that sits comfortably somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"I tend to think that if it's a seasonal cocktail, then I head for the seasonal fruits or spices that are involved," Brough says, "and I incorporate what I love and what I think people are going to love."
Brough garnishes the drink with what he calls a "drunken date." It's a Medjool date, steeped in brandy -- twice. "I typically soak them overnight," Brough says, "and then dehydrate them for about five hours on low heat just to remove any water. I soak them again for a while afterwards until they're ready to go."
Brough, who has been bartending since 1997, isn't new to making cocktails. His Denver bartending stints include Squeaky Bean (he opened both the Highlands and the Downtown locations) and Old Major. While at Old Major, he was presented with the opportunity to work with Lower48 Kitchen owner Mario Nocifero, who hired Brough to run the restaurant's bar program. "I hopped at the chance and challenge," he says.
Brough's approach to creating a cocktail recipe is based on an integration of flavors. "I try to balance it out," he adds. "I test it out on the chef, and the employees, and make sure they love it as much as I love it."
And so far, they have. "People have responded well to it," Brough says, of Autumn28. "It's been great. It reminds them of the season," he adds. "That's what the aim was."
Autumn38 2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye whisky .5 ounce lemon juice .5 ounce spiced simple syrup Splash of orange juice Fresh cranberries and rosemary Garnish: brandy-soaked date