Peak 9 at the Crimson Room
Many bartenders, upon dialing in a new cocktail recipe, name their drinks after things they love, with music and movies being the most common inspirations. Like many Colorado bartenders, A.J. Snowhite makes cocktails on busy weekend nights while slipping away to the mountains for mid-week skiing. This past winter, he rented a house in Breckenridge for six months, skiing the peaks that loom above that mountain town. He loved the weekly getaways so much — and particularly one mountain where he spent most of the six-month season — that he named one of his cocktails after it, calling it Peak 9.
“I was down here during the weekends, and up there every chance I got during the week,” says Snowhite, who became bar manager at Crimson Room when they opened in December in the underground space at 1400 Larimer Sreet. Snowhite created Crimson Room’s extensive cocktail menu, and while bartending on weekends, managed to get in about 40 days of skiing last winter — all of them on weekdays. “I was not sharing the mountain at all,” he says. “It was great. It was really, really great.”
In honor of the peak he came to love so much, Snowhite created a whiskey cocktail based on a spirit that hails from the same town — a bourbon from Breckenridge Distillery. He mixes it with a spiced pear liqueur, fresh lemon juice and peach puree to make the Peak 9 ($12).
“Every chance we get, we like to throw local products into our menu,” Snowhite says, referring to Breckenridge’s bourbon, the main ingredient in his ski-inspired cocktail. “Breckenridge bourbon is fantastic,” he continues. “It’s such a smooth, even product that I think it blends well with almost anything.”
After skiing all day on Peak 9, Snowhite returned to his rented house, where he drank the bourbon “Every chance I got,” he says. He designed the cocktail to be a warming winter drink, but he kept in mind the days ahead, when the cold season would end. “I think whiskey, and dark liquors in general, kind of get a bad rap during the summer,” he says, “and I think it’s something that lends itself well to a lot of different flavor profiles.” To that end, Snowhite made the recipe a versatile one, adding flavors that would be palatable in the summer days, too. Apparently it worked, since the cocktail has been on the menu for more than six months and still sells well.
Along with bourbon, Snowhite uses a spiced pear liqueur from St. George Spirits, one of the first craft distilleries in the country. Based in Alameda, California, St. George began in 1982 as a one-man operation producing brandy. The spiced pear liqueur begins life as a pear brandy, to which pear juice, cinnamon and clove are added. This changes the color and flavor of the original brandy and also lowers the alcohol by half. The result is a rich, flavorful liqueur with crisp aromas of pear and spice.
“The minute I tasted it,” Snowhite says, “I thought that it was something that I could drink straight. I knew we had to put it into some cocktails. It tastes like baked pears, and you get a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. The spice that comes through is really, really beautiful, and I think it shines well in this cocktail.”
Snowhite adds an ounce of peach puree to the recipe, which slightly thickens the drink and also adds a touch of refreshing sweetness and a bright pinkish color. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice balances the sweetness, and a few mint sprigs, shaken with the ice, release their oils to add brightness.
“People definitely dig it,” Snowhite says. “We’re moving a ton of them in the summer. Peach is a great summer flavor, and the pear works really well.” Apparently, his plan of a cocktail for all seasons is a success.
Snowhite recommends enjoying a Peak 9 with one of the Crimson Room’s meat boards ($18), featuring a rotating selection of four meats, such as prosciutto, soppressata Calabrese, smoked black ham and salami. “I think the sweetness of the cocktail would go really well with the salty meats” he says. The meat board is served with bread and accompaniments like figs, dates, dried cherries, and mustard.
“The idea is to sort of let the ingredients shine for themselves,” Snowhite says. “The spiced pear liqueur comes out very nicely and so does the peach puree.”
But at its heart, Peak 9 is a bourbon drink — made from a bourbon distilled and blended in the town that he loves so much. “I think the local connection is something that everybody relates to. People at my bar love to ask what products we have from this state.”
Next winter, Snowhite will probably be back on Peak 9, getting in as many runs as he can, till summer comes around again. In the meantime, he’ll be shaking up his fruity bourbon cocktail, no matter the season.
“It’s soft enough to have in the summer,” he says, “but warm enough to drink in the winter.”
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.