Death Star at The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery
Here we are between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s that wonderful holiday season, but it also feels like Star Wars season, with the latest installation of the Sci-Fi classic hitting cinemas later this week. Star Wars fandom is at an all-time high, with action figures and posters permeating the daily landscape. It has even reached Infinite Monkey Theorem, Denver’s urban winery, where bartender Kyle Duce has spun the model around: Instead of profiting from the movie franchise, he’s created a charity program to benefit the arts and music programs at a local school by a portion every sale of this Star Wars-themed drink, the Death Star.
“It’s a creative version of a typical mulled wine,” Duce says. His drink contains Infinite Monkey Theorem’s malbec and pear cider, locally made chai, orange juice, honey and seasonal spices. The name Death Star might be intimidating, but the drink isn’t: Duce’s steaming hot beverage will warm you up and fill you with holiday cheer.
“In Europe,” Duce continues, “mulled wine was made of all the second-press grape juices, and the stuff they didn’t feel comfortable bottling or selling. They’d load it up with a bunch of mulling spices and heat it. It kept people warm in the wintertime and they could still get their buzz.” To keep up with the demand for this cocktail, he makes large batches of it and keeps it behind the bar in a heated urn, serving 8-ounce portions of it — at least 100 per night, he says — in stemless wine glasses.
Duce puts a twist on the traditional recipe by adding the winery’s pear cider, but also by using chai from Denver tea producer Teakoe. “The particular tea is called Happy Camper, and it’s a mint-chocolate black chai loose-leaf tea,’ he says. “I do about a tablespoon of that loose-leaf tea, a quarter-ounce of wildflower honey, brown sugar, allspice, cloves, star anise, a splash of fresh orange juice, our dry-hopped pear cider and two ounces of our Colorado Malbec.”
Duce makes a syrup using the chai, honey and brown sugar. “I make a tea concentrate,” he explains, “by adding a little water and orange juice, bringing that to a boil, adding all of the whole spices and steeping those for three to five minutes.” He adds the tea last, steeping it for three to five minutes, and then straining out all of the spices and the tea. All of that goes into the heated urn, with equal portions of cider and red wine.
“The Happy Camper chai kind of smells like a Thin Mint cookie,” Duce says. “It’s got cardamom in there, full chunks of chocolate and dried mint. They really spare no expense as far as the quality of their product. I knew it would stand up well with the cider and the red wine.”
The malbec that Duce uses is made at the winery from grapes grown on Colorado’s Western Slope. When he tasted it, he thought it would be perfect for the Death Star. “It’s an all-Colorado malbec,” he says. “It’s one of the best I’ve had that Infinite Monkey has done, and the best one in Colorado. It’s very typical of a well-rounded Argentinian malbec. It’s really big, full-bodied, with a lot of big, dark plum hits to it. It’s smooth and it’s a very recognizable varietal for people, which is one of the main reasons it’s one of our best sellers.”
But the Malbec is only part of the recipe’s boozy components; the other half is a dry-hopped pear cider, also made at the winery. The cider itself is crisp and dry with hints of grapefruit, but it’s the hops that really set it apart. The cider is infused with two hop varietals used in beer production: Citra and Nelson Sauvin. The Citra hops add citrus and tropical fruit characters, and Nelson Sauvin variety, grown in New Zealand, imparts flavors of tangerines, grapefruit and white wine. The cider is available at the taproom or in liquor stores in 250-milliliter cans.
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Part of the inspiration for Duce’s recipe came from Christmas memories. “Everything kind of stems from a tradition of Christmas growing up in the Midwest,” he says. “My brother and I and my mom would stick cloves on the outside of and orange, and when the oranges started drying out, they made the house smell amazing, so that was kind of my inspiration for adding some fresh orange juice, and going heavy on the cloves.” Duce also says that after prepping a large batch of Death Star, the taproom is filled with the spicy aroma. “The whole place just smells like Christmas for like two or three hours,” he adds. “People don’t even see it behind the bar, or even read about it on the chalkboard, but they ask about it as soon as they walk in the door.”
Duce garnishes the drink with a large cinnamon stick and an orange peel that he lights on fire, which adds even more aroma. Using a paring knife, he cuts a slice of rind from an orange, then sprinkles some cinnamon on the underside of the slice. After rimming the glass with the peel, he warms it up with a lighter, then squeezes the peel to release the citrus oils, which are ignited in a flash as they are sprayed over the top of the drink. “It definitely helps with a wine glass,” Duce says, pointing out that the tapered sides of a wine glass help to capture the aroma of the charred citrus oils. “That citrus smoke and cinnamon throughout the inside of the glass give a nice aroma when the guest goes to take their first sip.”
The Death Star is Duce’s first hot drink at the winery’s taproom, but he’s already planning on a whole fleet of them. “I plan on rotating through a couple of different styles of this particular drink with other Teakoe products,” he says. “I plan on doing some fun stuff with our cider on tap — doing some sort of syrup you can add to the cider.”
“It’s selling like crazy,” Duce says of his highly aromatic cocktail. “I can’t make enough of it.” Which is a good thing, since the Star Wars-named drink is part of the force behind Duce’s charity, which benefits Denver's Westerly Creek Elementary School. Duce has decorated the walls of the taproom with Star Wars-themed art from the school’s kindergarten class, which will be on display until the end of the month.