Sometimes it takes a cocktail to bring everything together. When Cafe Marmotte opened at South Downing Street and Alameda Avenue last September, general manager Rachel McQueeney sought to create a cocktail menu that would bridge the gap between France and Colorado. After tasting the whiskey at Breckenridge Distillery, she knew she wanted to use that Colorado bourbon and pair it with something with a French pedigree. She came up with a version of a whiskey sour by blending whiskey, lemon juice and sugar and topping it with a layer of French wine. The cocktail turned out to be a bright, golden-yellow color, which McQueeney aptly named La Lumiere ($11), which is French for “the light.”
Here’s how she made a Colorado cocktail with a French twist:
1.5 ounces Breckenridge bourbon
.5 ounce lemon juice
.5 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Cotes du Py
“We are an approachable French restaurant,” McQueeney says. “We try not to be stiff. We try to offer a little bit of everything for every demographic, and I think this cocktail sort of represents that. It’s France meets the Old West.”
The cocktail is made in two parts: first, McQueeney prepares the Colorado part by combining Breckenridge bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup, shaking and straining that into a cocktail glass. For the French part, she delicately drizzles red wine over the back of a spoon, letting it gently drip into the glass until it forms a layer that floats above the other ingredients.
Always looking for ways to support Colorado-based companies, McQueeney was eager to use Breckenridge Distillery’s bourbon. “It’s a little bit sweeter and has a bit more oak,” she says. “It has a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of vanilla. It’s definitely a nice amber color.”
But McQueeney’s use of red wine gives the cocktail a definitively French flair. Since she needed a lighter-bodied wine that would float on top of the drink instead of sinking to the bottom of the glass, she chose a wine made from the Gamay grape. Those grapes are grown at the southern end of the Burgundy wine-making region, on the slopes of an extinct volcano. “The red wine float really pulls the whole cocktail together,” she says.
“If you want to start out your meal with something light to pair well with, this is perfect,” McQueeney adds, noting that it would be a good accompaniment to sous-chef Vanessa Bobet’s roasted buffalo ribeye ($34), which is served with goat cheese gratin, parsnip purée and a carrot sauce made with red wine.
“This is just a perfect all-around cocktail,” McQueeney says. “You get this nice honeyed bourbon, the fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a little bit of sugar to balance it out. It has a little bit of acidity, a little bit of fruit, a little sweetness, and of course it’s going to prepare your senses to perhaps order a bottle of wine for dinner.”
But La Lumiere's appeal isn’t just its sharp and sweet flavors or the playful marriage of French and Colorado elements; it's also visually stunning. The layer of red wine floats magically above the bourbon, making the whole cocktail shimmer like a jewel.
“Not only is it beautiful,” McQueeney notes, “its delicious.”