Ask the bartender: Meet Adam Dunbar, Colorado Cocktail contestant

Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions. But right now, he wants to introduce you to our fourth Colorado Cocktail Contest contestant.

The Colorado Cocktail Project, with its mission to create the official Colorado Cocktail, has begun. Over the next few weeks, we will profile each of the bartenders and all of the Colorado distillers involved in the process -- and not only can you read about them here, but you can sample the contestants for yourself at any of the participating bars and restaurants, then vote for your favorites. We'll decide the ten finalists by June 15, and they'll pour out their hearts -- and drinks -- in a head-to-head competition on June 27 at the culmination of the Colorado Cocktail Project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Now Adam Dunbar of Encore, aka the Colfax Country Club, dishes on how he became a people person, the art of washing glasses and answering phones...

Adam Dunbar Encore

When and how did you start bartending?

I started bartending at the Ice House Tavern when it opened in mid-2009. The bar manager, Scott Skiba, who has since become one of my best friends in the world, hired me on as a barback. I quickly moved up and started tending bar as well.

What sparked your interest in mixology?

Two words: Parker Ramey. I grew up knowing that my father loved a Manhattan. One day Parker (currently of Avenue Grill) mixed me up a Perfect Manhattan and said, "Try this!" Ever since that day, I've been hooked.

Tell us about your bar.

The bar at Encore is quite an animal. With seventeen seats to oblige guests and what is quickly becoming a craft cocktail program, we're able to offer not only a destination for folks who are looking for consistent, tasty food and a great selection of proper cocktails to match, but also a nearby place for locals in the neighborhood to hang out and talk daily business with us. We're on a first-name basis with many of our guests and see them quite often.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Casper, Wyoming. When I reached 27, I knew I had been there for 26 years too long. While it might be for some, it was definitely not for me. I'm a city boy. My fiancee, Amy, and I moved here in early 2007; I was continuing a career in installing hardwood floors that I had been in for several years. When the economy took a dive, I began my search for a new career. A career that started me off as a busser at Sushi Den.

What do you love about bartending?

The guests. The funny thing is that I grew up not being a people person. Funny how that can change when you've got a career doing something you love.

What is your least favorite thing about bartending?

It's a split victory between two things: a) glassware and b) the telephone. I barbacked for a long time. I know how valuable one can be. Without a barback, the job of "bartender" really means "glorified dishwasher." As far as the telephone goes, it is the bane of my existence. I'm the most humungous fan of text messaging that the world has ever seen. If I could never have a phone conversation again in my life, I'd be a happy man. The telephone in any restaurant constantly rings off the hook. Having to answer the phone during a bartending shift makes my skin crawl.

Favorite cocktail.

As mentioned in no. 2, the Manhattan offers up a whole new world. You can manipulate this cocktail to make it so deep and complex, or keep it simple and to the point. Regardless of which method you choose, you know it's going to be delicious. Favorite spirit.

Whiskey, contrary to popular belief. I get a lot of jokes about being obsessed with gin. While that may be true, the complexity of whiskey amazes me.

Describe your cocktail and why it should be THE Colorado Cocktail. For starters, I believe in the saying KISS (Keep It Simple, stupid). While agave infused with magic and pixie dust foams are cool, designing a cocktail that keeps you wanting more based on lesser, simpler ingredients is more interesting to me. Enter Leopold Bros. products. I find it so amazing how geeky this stuff is and how versatile it can be. If you tweak it just right, you can make this stuff dance like nothing else.

Enter the Centennial, my little 303 spin on an Aviation. It works. Somehow, it works. It proves that Denver has a) local products that can easily stand up next to the big boys with ease and b) we know how to use them. I believe my cocktail captures a little bit of the high-altitude fresh air that we love so much and gives the drinker a reason to keep coming back!

The Centennial 2 oz. Leopold Bros, gin .5 oz. Leopold's Michigan Tart Cherry liqueur .5 oz. lemon juice .25 oz, Creme de Violette Leopold Bros. absinthe rinse.

Build cocktail in shaker, shake with ice, strain into an absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Have a question about the Colorado Cocktail Contest? E-mail [email protected]

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Sean Kenyon
Contact: Sean Kenyon