As Kevin Morrison drew up plans for Pinche Taqueria, a brick-and-mortar version of his Pinche Tacos food truck, he gave a lot of thought to how to best use his newly acquired liquor license, creating a beverage board that would embody the cheeky nature of his brand.
To do so, he brought on Johnny Ballen, irreverent owner of the Squeaky Bean, who in turn hired current head barman Brian Smith. Working off a focus on tequila and whiskey, the pair worked up a list of classics -- including a killer coin-style margarita and a paloma -- as well as some of their own creations that attempted to define the Pinche vibe.
As the restaurant settles into its rhythm, the cocktail program is evolving. "The more we've gotten to know our clientele, the more irreverent and crazy our cocktails have become," Smith explains. "We're experimenting a lot, and we're seeing what makes people laugh and what people say is stupid. I have a certain romance with the classics, but Kevin pushes me to use my creativity to push kind of the anti-cocktail and treat the bar more like home and less like we're on stage."
To that end, Smith had just rolled out a new list when I stopped by Pinche for my recent review meals, a list that focuses on mezcal and sotol as well as tequila.
"I love the character of mezcal," Smith says. "It's smoky and earthy, and it coats your mouth. A lot of mezcal cocktails are just margaritas, which is fine, but I wanted something different." Something that would highlight both the earthiness and the spice. So he pitted it against grapefruit bitters and habañero peppers, going for a smooth transition from front-palate smoke to back-palate heat in the Oaxaca Shocka. "It's hit or miss," he admits. It was a hit for me -- the savory cocktail was incredibly unique -- but a miss for a table-mate, who found it too intense.
As for sotol, "I want to sell more than anyone else," says Smith. "It's a softer spirit than tequila. It's a happy-to-know-ya spirit, the black lab to tequila's German shepherd." It's showcased in the Desert Spoon -- meant to capture the colors and feeling of the Sand Dunes -- where it's highlighted by lavender and orange water, made with orange extract and tobacco-y Madagascar vanilla.
Before long, those drinks will drop off for warmer weather replacements. "We'll change a few cocktails every few months," Smith says. But to keep things fresh in the meantime, the barman also has several themed nights planned -- including tonight.
"For Valentine's Day, we're showcasing that spirit of irreverence," he says. He's serving a special menu of three drinks: the Consolation Prize, a shot of well bourbon and a hug from the bartender; the Always a Bridesmaid, a champagne cocktail made with Square One organic basil vodka and lime liqueur; and a margarita jello shot served on a spoon called the Let's Hit up Tony's, inspired by a "bro bar in Fort Collins that was the epicenter of douchebaggery," according to Smith.
The barman also plans to do a number of one-off tequila dinners, showcasing one brand in a variety of cocktails, and one-day-only specials. "We're starting to do enough volume here that I can play around with something new all the time," he says. "If I don't like it, I move on to the next thing."
We'll drink to that. Salud.
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