Ask the Bartender: What's the ideal Colorado cocktail?

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 this round's on him, as he announces a contest to create the Colorado Cocktail.

About a year ago a couple of good friends --New Orleans barman Danny "The Count" Valdez and Portland (formerly New Orleans) mixologist "Pretty" Ricky Gomez -- came to town to conduct a seminar on New Orleans Cocktails. They asked me to take them to a couple of iconic Denver bars.

On the first night, I took these fine gents to Denver's oldest bar (and my favorite), My Brother's Bar, famous for visits from Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady as well as its late-night burgers. Slam dunk.

The next day, I took them to the Buckhorn Exchange, home of Colorado liquor license number one. The Buckhorn, open since 1893, has been visited by five presidents and several golden-age Hollywood actors. Stepping into the Buckhorn is like a time warp, what with the mounted guns and animals, the old photos and the original nineteenth-century bar resurrected from a Wild West saloon.

During our lunch at the Buckhorn, over a plate of Rocky Mountain oysters, Danny asked if there was a quintessential Colorado cocktail that he should have while in town. I was stumped. The Professor, Jerry Thomas (the godfather of bartenders, a subject for a future post dedicated solely to him), spent some time mixing cocktails in Colorado during the Silver Rush. So there had to be a recognized Colorado Cocktail, right?

I mean, New Orleans has the Sazerac, New York has the Manhattan, etc. But I've been bartending 25 years and the only cocktails I have come across with our fine state in their name are the Colorado Bulldog (vodka, coffee liqueur, cream and cola) and the Colorado Motherfucker (some have referred to me as such), a disgusting mix of rum, vodka, blue curacao and varied juices that I came across while bartending in Texas.

I was adamant that those two drinks could not be our legacy to the world of mixology. So I did some research, but couldn't find one classic cocktail related to our great state. I now had a find the Colorado Cocktail -- or create one.

But I couldn't be the only one on this job; I needed to get the bartenders of Colorado involved. Coincidentally, Patty Calhoun, editor of Westword, approached me recently about having a Colorado Cocktail contest. So we put our minds (and livers) together over drinks at The Hornet, and the deal was done.

As a result, I am proud to announce the Official Westword Colorado Cocktail Contest, your opportunity to create the cocktail that defines our state's cocktail culture. Here are the rules:

1. The base spirit (at least 1.5 oz.) must be produced in Colorado.

2. The drink has a maximum of 7 ingredients (includes garnish)

3. All ingredients must be readily available. No homemade ingredients.

4. Anyone submitting a nominee must be a bartender working in a Colorado restaurant.

Submit your cocktail recipe with preparation instructions and a few sentences on why it should be the official Colorado Cocktail to [email protected] by January 1, 2011. An esteemed panel of lushes -- I mean judges -- will come to your bar or restaurant to sample the selected cocktails during the month of January. You should also plan on making the cocktail available to the drinking (and buying) public during this time.

We will narrow the selections down to a top ten and conduct a live contest for the finals in February, with the public again invited to get involved in the voting. The winning bartender will get valuable prizes -- but drinkers across the state will be the real winners.

We are blessed to live in a city full of talented bartenders and mixologists, and I am extremely excited to imbibe my way through the entries. And the next time Danny and Ricky come to town, we will have a Colorado Cocktail for their drinking pleasure.


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Sean Kenyon
Contact: Sean Kenyon