August is winding down and ingredients are changing with the seasons. Denver bartenders and brewers are gearing up for a seasonal shift in what we crave once the weather turns a tad cooler and days get shorter. It's still Summer so there's plenty of bright citrus and fun flavor combos, but richer, deeper notes hint at Fall. Here are four mixed drinks and one Autumn-leaning beer to get you through the transition from monsoons to turning leaves.
Mezcal Hibiscus Old Fashioned at Leña For a late-Summer spin on a classic cocktail, head to Leña on South Broadway for a Mezcal Hibiscus Old Fashioned. "I love experimenting with different ingredients," says Leña's general manager Jen Mattioni, who used smoky mezcal in this recipe, in keeping with the restaurant's Latin American theme. Her cocktail starts with simple syrup infused with dried hibiscus flowers. She muddles one of those syrup-laden, dark-purple petals with an orange slice and two dashes of Angostura bitters. After adding ice, she pours in a half-ounce of hibiscus liqueur and two ounces of Del Maguey Vida mezcal. Since Leña is only a week old, you can be one of first to try this cocktail. Floral, slightly sweet and with a hint of smoke, this drink is magenta-colored magic. And here's something to make you feel good about it: Del Maguey Vida mezcal is organic ($10). Pephino at Black Pearl
Adam Diver, Bar Manager at Black Pearl, just released his new cocktail menu last week, which includes the refreshing Pephino. Diver muddles three fresh lime wedges, three slices of cucumber and a healthy pinch of cilantro, then adds a heaping barspoon of sugar, a half-ounce of Cointreau, and an ounce and a half of Casamigos blanco tequila. After shaking this mix, he pours it into a glass that's been rimmed with a balsamic vinegar reduction, which contrasts the sweet and savory aspects of the tequila-herb flavors. He garnishes the drinks with a huge slice of Chinese cucumber. ($9, or half-price during happy hour from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. daily.)
Mexican Negroni at Adelitas Cocina Y Cantina
A Negroni is a gin-based classic cocktail with a classic ratio: gin, sweet vermouth and Campari in equal parts. When Adelita's refreshed its cocktail menu last week, General Manager Sheree Browne created the Mexican Negroni, based on that same ratio of spirits. "I thought this would be a fun way to mix it up," she says. Browne based her recipe on Montelobos Mezcal Joven, which isn't as smoky as many mezcals tend to be, making it more cocktail-friendly. Ancho Reyes chile liqueur and Cointreau round out that ratio, and add both sweet and spicy notes. Need more spice? Don't worry, the Mexican Negroni comes in a cocktail glass rimmed with chile powder ($15.50).
Oktoberfest Lager at Prost Brewing
Prost specializes in brewing German beers and, even more specifically, German lagers. Lead Brewer Matt Gubanich is currently guiding his new lager through the last stages of carbonation, getting it pour-ready for the time of year this beer was made for: Oktoberfest. His new beer isn't a Budweiser-style lager. It's higher in alcohol, for one thing (6 percent ABV), but its dark bronze color and malt-forward flavors of black tea keep it closer to the Oktoberfest style. Everything in this beer is from Germany (except the water), including a yeast from the Andechs monastery and Hallertau hops from Bavaria. Gubanich calls this a "seven-week beer": it's fermented for two weeks with an additional five weeks of cold-conditioning. Last Friday marked the end of that process and the beer should be ready right now. Approximately 270 barrels are being brewed, which translates to about 90,000 beers. Get drinking, Denver ($7 for a half-liter).
Captain Ron at Ace Eat Serve
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Bar Manager Randy Layman revamped Ace's drink menu last Tuesday, cutting back on cocktails but adding a few more creative touches, including a slew of shots. We stopped by that evening and knocked back a shot called Captain Ron. For this shot, Layman infuses cachaca, the Brazilian sugarcane rum, with green tea and dried ginger. To this, he adds honey and lemon juice, shakes it all up over ice and pours it. But wait -- there's also a watermelon cube, rolled in sugar and chile powder, suspended on a toothpick over your shot. Popping the cube in your mouth balances out the citrus and cools your palate. The chile powder heats you up, post-watermelon, lingers for a moment, then gently fades away ($5).