The Human Fly at Central Bistro & Bar
Anika Zappe got heavily into punk rock way back in the days when she was bouncing around the halls at Evergreen High School. One of her favorite bands was the Cramps, a garage-punk outfit that became part of the emerging punk rock scene in New York City in the late seventies. And a Cramps song was buzzing around in her head recently as she was crafting a new cocktail list at Central Bistro and Bar, where she holds the title Beverage Specialist.
“I was thinking about my punk rock roots, and some of the music I loved growing up,” she says. Zappe was playing around with the flavors of Menjurje de Ancho Reyes, an earthy liqueur made with ancho chiles. “Those kinds of influences definitely came to mind,” she adds, “so I went for the Cramps song "the Human Fly", which gets stuck in my head a lot.” For this recipe, Zappe combined Ancho Reyes with plata tequila, lime juice, Velvet Falernum, soda water, and fresh sprigs of mint and cilantro.
“It would be in the sound track of my life, during the high school years,” Zappe says of the song that inspired the cocktail. “I just thought it was a really cool punk rock twist on something that was kind of classic.” Zappe loved that style of music so much as a kid that she picked up a guitar and started a band. There would be several bands over the years — all punk rock, and all featuring Zappe’s guitar playing and vocals. But the band she’s most associated with was Hemi Cuda, a tight three-piece that played around Denver in the mid-nineties.
Zappe first came up with the recipe for the Human Fly in December, when she entered it into a cocktail contest. For her efforts, she won a trip to Vail — and an appreciation for the spicy flavors and aromas of Ancho Reyes. “I was really intrigued to work with it,” she says. “I found it a little hard to mix with, but I also really loved it.”
Ancho Reyes is based on a 1927 recipe discovered in the southern Mexican state of Puebla, which is famous for ancho chiles. Meant to be consumed neat, as an aperitif, its bold flavors are making it a spicy, but surprisingly agreeable ingredient in cocktails. Ancho chiles are macerated in a neutral cane spirit, yielding flavors of tamarind, honey and cinnamon.
Zappe, a non-conformist since her days as a punk rocker, was clever enough to sidestep the obvious path of creating a Latin cocktail. “Because of the spice, I decided to go with some Thai-style flavors,” she explains. “A lot of people stick with more spicy Latin flavors when they mix with it, so I integrated the mint and the cilantro along with the Velvet Falernum, in an effort to kind of take it over to the Thai side of things.”
By using falernum, Zappe also takes her recipe toward the Caribbean, where falernum evokes flavors of almond, cloves, ginger and lime zest. Velvet Falernum is a variety that’s produced in Barbados, and it’s used in classic tiki cocktails such as Mai Tais and Zombies.
“Velvet Falernum is a low-alcohol, very sweet spirit, which almost functions more like a simple syrup in this drink,” Zappe says. “It’s really heavy on flavors like clove and lemongrass — things that have more of that tropical, tiki or island flavor.”
But the foundation of the drink is tequila — specifically, Tequila Ocho Plata. “A lot of people are really enjoying tequila these days because of its terroir,” Zappe says, “and that’s something that you really get a lot of when you drink Tequila Ocho.” She’s referring to the concept behind this brand of tequila: the sourcing of agave plants from a single plot of land, in an effort to reflect the flavor of that particular time, place, and altitude.
“It really comes from a certain place and a certain time,” Zappe adds. “It’s much like a single-vineyard wine. It’s a fun brand to work with and a fun brand to support.”
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After pouring all her ingredients, including a bit of fresh-squeezed lime juice, into her shaker, she fills it with ice and throws in sprigs of fresh mint and cilantro. The herbs are pulverized by contact with the ice when all the ingredients are shaken, which releases their fresh flavors into the liquid. “It’s easy to overdo it with the cilantro” she says, laughing. “But I’m not cilantro-adverse, I love it. If I’m making it for myself it could have as much as a handful in there.”
“There are a lot of good things on the menu right now,” Zappe continues, but she recommends drinking the Human Fly with Central’s grilled pork ribeye ($25), served with smoked ham hock posole, cotija cheese, chayote, avocado and radishes. “The posole is really flavorful,” she says, “and it’s a really great cut of pork, a really generous cut of meat.”
Zappe’s career as a musician eventually turned into a career as a bartender and mixologist, landing her spots running bar programs at Linger and Punchbowl Social and now Central. Instead of songs, she’s making cocktail recipes now — and the Human Fly is a hit. “People really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s light, it’s great for summer, for patios. There’s certainly plenty of good booze in there, and it’ll pack a punch.”