Valentina Panic loves foam. While attending bartending school in 2010 in her native Serbia, she was particularly fascinated by a class on making foams out of spirits. Shortly after arriving in Denver in 2013, she got a job as a bartender when El Chingon opened at 4326 Tennyson Street and within a few months, she was promoted to bar manager and tasked with writing a cocktail menu. With that fascination for foam still very much in her mind, she purchased an iSi canister (a handheld foam dispenser that incorporates nitrogen gas into liquids) and began experimenting.
“I was like a little kid,” she says when she started using the iSi to make foams behind the bar at the quaint Mexican eatery.
“I like almonds, generally,” she continues. “I think they’re really great in cocktails.” So, she made a foam out of cream and Amaretto, without a precise recipe in mind at first, but with the idea that she wanted to combine the foam with bourbon. She did just that, creating a citrusy, spicy drink that she calls Flor de Mayo ($10).
She challenged herself to use the Amaretto foam in an original drink that guests would enjoy during summer weather. “If you read it,” Panic says of her recipe, “you won’t know what to expect. But the flavor is good.” Here’s what she came up with:
2 ounces Four Roses yellow label bourbonPanic noticed that most bourbon cocktails tend to imitate the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned. “I like them, but I always want to kind of get out of that box to try to make something different," she says. "I think this is different. This is something that I came up with, just combining flavors that I love.”
.75 ounces ginger syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
.75 ounces orange liqueur
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
The bartender chose Four Roses bourbon as a base for the cocktail, noting that “it’s a little bit crisp, so it’s kind of easier in cocktails to combine with citrus — some of them are not, in my opinion.”
The Flor de Mayo also incorporates a heavy citrus flavor, which isn't always easy to make work in a whiskey cocktail. Not only did Panic add a full ounce of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, but she also made a liqueur from orange peels for the recipe. To make the liqueur, she rested orange peels in grain alcohol for seven days and then added sugar and fresh-squeezed orange juice. “It’s bright, but it’s still boozy,” she says. “It’s really orange-forward.”
For spice, Panic made a ginger syrup by steeping chunks of ginger in boiling water, then adding sugar. “It adds just a little bit of spiciness,” she explains.
But the recipe wasn’t complete yet. “I wanted to calm down the citrus side,” Panic says, so she turned to traditional aromatic bitters based on the flavor of gentian root. “Peychaud’s bitters are always good. It seems like they always fix whatever you need fixed,” she explains.
After combining all liquid ingredients in a shaker tin, Panic adds ice and shakes, straining everything into a glass with one large ice cube and topping it with the Amaretto foam.
Flor de Mayo goes well with executive chef David Lopez’s mole con pollo ($18), served with oven-roasted chicken, mole rojo, Mexican rice and avocado. “Chef David makes a really good mole,” Panic says. “It’s not too sweet.” The almond flavor of the foam pairs well with the nuts in the mole, she explains.
The orange and white colors of the cocktail reminded her of a flower, which is where the name Flor de Mayo (Flower of May) comes from. But if her cocktail is a flower, it’s a complex one. “There’s a lot going on,” Panic says. “I don’t put a straw in it, because I want people to smell the foam. When you bring the glass toward your mouth, you’re going to smell almonds. I like that.”