The Ryeno Cocktail at DADA Art Bar
When DADA Art Bar opened its doors last April, it fused art gallery with cocktail lounge. If you wanted wine and cheese while you ogled colorful oil paintings, DADA made it possible to do that from the comfort of a bar stool. But the paintings aren’t the only art in the place: The cocktail menu also shows bursts of inspiration of the liquid kind. Bar manager Josh Burbank curates that list of masterpieces, including one winter cocktail recipe that’s been so popular he hasn’t been able to take it off the menu come springtime.
“On paper, it reads very much like a winter cocktail,” he says, “but I think it’s very much a crowd-pleaser.” That drink, called the Ryeno ($10), combines rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, ginger liqueur, a house-made honey-ginger syrup, bitters and fresh sage leaves.
“It’ll make the Old Fashioned folks happy,” he continues, “and it’ll make the Manhattan folks happy.” He also admits that Margarita lovers will enjoy it, too. “There’s enough citrus in there to be a year-round cocktail,” he adds.
As the name suggests, the Ryeno is a whiskey cocktail and a celebration of the neighborhood — DADA sits at the confluence of Broadway and Larimer Street, where RiNo meets the Ballpark neighborhood. “We’re just trying to have a little fun with it,” Burbank says, “to pay homage to this awesome area that we’re in right now.”
“Bulleit rye is a great, universal rye whiskey,” he continues. “It’s not too aggressive on the rye. It’s not overwhelming.” At 90 proof, Bulleit is a bit stronger than many bourbons, but still milder than 100-proof ryes like Rittenhouse or Whistlepig. “It’s a rye whiskey, but it’s not overwhelming,” he adds. “It’s not a rye bomb — there’s a little more nuance going on.”
Burbank loves the way that Bulleit rye meshes with ginger, particularly in the form of Domaine de Canton, a ginger liqueur made in France. “Canton is one of the best secondary ingredients in any cocktail,” he says. “It plays well with everything, especially whiskey.” Canton is based on Cognac, which is blended with Chinese baby ginger, orange blossom honey and vanilla. But the notable flavor it imparts it ginger.
Burbank adds more honey and ginger in the form of a ginger-honey syrup that he makes in DADA’s tiny kitchen. To make it, he toasts black pepper corns in a pan over hight heat until they begin to release their aromas. Then he adds water and honey, bringing the mixture to a simmer. After ten minutes, he adds fresh ginger. “You don’t want to cook it too long,” he says, “because it loses some of its aromatics and floral notes.”
“It’s really gingery, with a long, lingering black pepper heat in the back of your throat,” Burbank says. “The honey helps to soften and round it out a little bit.”
After combining all these ingredients in a shaker tin with fresh lemon juice, Burbank muddles a few sage leaves to release their flavors into the liquid. He then adds ice and shakes everything, straining it all over a large ice cube in a short glass. He tops the cube with a few dashes of bitters, which immediately begin to descend toward the bottom of the glass.
For a garnish, Burbank places one slender green sage leaf in his hand and then claps the his hands together, bruising the sage leaf, releasing aromas. “You’ll be surprised how much your tastebuds and your nasal cavity are linked,” Burbank explains. He experimented with basil, arugula and other herbs, but settled on sage, finding that it could stand up to muddling without falling apart and becoming bitter.
Clapping a sage leaf makes the drink “more of a multi-sensory experience,” Burbank explains. “You can really smell the cocktail, which opens up your tastebuds. It makes you want to have another one.”
“Our fondue would go really well with it, just because of the high acid, the savory note,” Burbank says. DADA’s fondue ($9) is made with Fontina and Tillamook cheeses, served with apples, gherkins, dates and almond crisps.
But food and cocktails are only part of the DADA experience. “It’s about the art, it’s about the company, it’s about the social interaction over the bar,” Burbank says. “We just want everybody to have a good time, and cocktails should merely act as a catalyst to that.”
1.5 ounces Bulleit Rye
.75 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1/3 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5 ounce ginger-honey syrup
4 sage leaves
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
Pour first four ingredients into a shaker tin. Add sage leaves and muddle. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass with a large ice cube and top with five dashes of bitters. Place a sage leaf in your hand, clapping your hands together, then the leaf on top of the ice cube as a garnish.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.