“When I taste this cocktail, I want to be out on a patio,” says Daryl Pryor, bartender at Mercantile dining & provision. “Preferably if I could get it in pitcher form, that would be the best way to go.” He’s referring to one of the restaurant's latest spring libations, a bubbly, herbaceous cocktail concocted specifically to appeal to a warm-weather mentality. To make it, he combines rye whiskey with lemon juice, honey, grapefruit liqueur, French bitters and a carbonated hop soda. It's called the French Bulldog ($11), and it’s delicious — especially on rainy Denver days.
Here’s what he mixes to make us dream of warmer weather:
1.75 ounces High West Double Rye whiskey
.5 ounce Creme de Pamplemousse Rose
.25 Suze bitters
1 ounce lemon juice
.25 ounce honey syrup
house-made hop soda
“Even on a rainy day like today,” Pryor says, sitting in Mercantile’s dining room, “it reminds me of bright, sunny days.” The French Bulldog is a long, tall, refreshing drink that he garnishes with a grapefruit peel and a sprig of thyme that’s been allowed to blossom with tiny, lavender-colored flowers.
You’d never guess that it was a whiskey drink, even though it's based on a rye from High West Distillery, made in Park City, Utah from a blend of two-year-old and 16-year-old spirits. The older whiskey softens the younger whiskey’s bite, creating added complexity . “We wanted something light and fresh, but still whiskey-based,” Pryor says, “and the double-rye carried that flavor profile really well.” With almost two ounces of whiskey, the French Bulldog should taste potent — but Pryor's delicate additions make the drink smooth and palatable, so much that you just taste a hint of whiskey. “That’s a lot of whiskey for a long drink,” he adds, “but the more we tasted it, we just wanted more and more of that whiskey flavor profile coming through. It’s got fruit, it’s got spice, it’s just got a nice backbone to it.”
The bittering agent Pryor uses is called Suze, a French aperitif made with tart gentian root since 1885 (though only legally available in the U.S. since 2012). “It’s got a bright, garden-y, botanical flavor profile to it,” he says, “and it gives you that bitter edge that I think a lot of bartenders — especially now — are leaning towards.”
Also from France is a liqueur called Creme de Pamplemousse Rose, made from the extracted oils of red grapefruit peels. “It just came to Colorado fairly recently,” Pryor explains. “When we tasted it, we really wanted to see it in a cocktail. It gives it a fresh, not overly sweet, flavor profile. It kind of wakes up really nicely in a cocktail as well.”
After adding lemon juice and honey syrup, Pryor shakes all the ingredients with ice, strains the mixture into a tall glass over fresh ice, then tops the glass with a sweet and astringent soda that he makes behind the bar.
“We really started playing around with sodas,” Pryor says, adding that the Mercantile staff has carbonated all sorts of liquids, including wine. For the hop syrup, he steeps grapefruit, lemon and lime peels in sugar and water. “We let that kind of simmer with some Wakatu hops,” he says, “which is a New Zealand hop varietal. Like a lot of New Zealand hop varietals, it has a really cool tropical note to it.”
How’s it selling, even in this rainy weather? “We fly through the double-rye whiskey by the case,” he says, “as well as the hop soda. It keeps us busy, which is always fun for us. It just means we’re doing our job right.”