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.
But first, meet Evan Faber, beverage director of SALT, who'll explain why he broke up with Stranahan's:
Evan Faber SALT Bistro When and how did you start bartending?
I was four. While summiting my refrigerator to get to the Strawberry Kool-Aid, I knocked the carafe of orange juice into the open pitcher of Kool-Aid, making my first mixed drink. I turned all my kindergarten friends on to it with nips from my Inspector Gadget Thermos. Go-Go Gadget cocktail.
What sparked your interest in mixology?
There were three important lessons passed down from my grandfather, to my father, to me. The first one was the importance of developing an impeccable memory. The second one, I don't recall. The third one was how to build a "perfect" martini. It always involved seasoning the ice with Noilly Prat and then adding in a generous amount of Booth's House of Lords Gin. My grandfather insisted on stirring and adding a twist of lemon. My dad shook them and splashed in an olive. (I like mine with equal parts gin to dry vermouth, two good dashes of orange bitters, stirred and garnished with a twist of lemon.)
Tell us about your bar. The bar is a giant slab of reclaimed walnut. As for the eleven of us who work behind the stick, it's an unraveling world of art and theory, revolution and precision, or of all these things at any moment. We are Zappa-esque "mothers of invention." The frenzied world of the craft cocktail is accessible to all our guests who wish to explore it with us.
Tell us about yourself. Well, I am Jewish. So I have to start by telling you about my mother -- next question, please. What do you love about bartending?
Pushing -- gently nudging -- people out of their comfort zone. My favorite moment is when someone tries a spirit that they "never drink" and fall madly in love with it.
What is your least favorite thing about bartending? Name-dropping. I think my good friend, master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, would agree.
A slug of whiskey. Favorite spirit.
Sensitive topic. I feel like we just broke up. It was Stranahan's, but ever since she ran away with that company from New York, I can't get my hands on her bottle. It's sad. We'd been dating for a while.
Describe your cocktail and why it should be THE Colorado Cocktail.
The Diamondback is made with Roundhouse "Imperial" Oak Aged Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, absinthe. The taste of the Diamondback reminds me of living here. It's a little wild, a little refined, a little off the beaten path -- equal parts influenced and influential. It's based on an almost forgotten spirit -- oak-aged gin. (It's everything I love about whiskey and everything I love about gin combined.) Gin, a juniper-based spirit, tells the story of the land, of the wild juniper and botanicals used by people around Mesa Verde for centuries. Aged in oak, like a whiskey, this gin has refined, sophisticated notes of caramel and vanilla, which reflect the modern/refined aspects of Colorado. The rest of the drink is just a story -- the golden color, like the gold rush that brought the miners here, the blanket of snowy egg white, the spiral lemon zest that looks like a rattlesnake slithering in the grass, all elements of the place and the people that make up Colorado.
(As for my mother, she is a real beauty, by the way.)
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The Diamondback 2 oz. Roundhouse "Imperial" Oak Aged Gin .5 oz lemon juice .5 oz simple syrup (1:1 Water to Sugar) A whisper of Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte Egg white
Fill mixing tin with ice, add Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte (two droplets). Shake the ice and absinthe gently four times. Break apart the shaker and add into the glass the Imperial gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white. Shake vigorously until the tin frosts over. Double strain (through a tea strainer) into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Have a question about the Colorado Cocktail Contest? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.