Behind the bar at Vesta Dipping Grill, tucked away with several other books on mixology, sits a well-worn book titled Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Bar manager Scott Ericson often thumbs through the (now) ragged book, searching for a bit of inspiration, which is exactly how he came up with one of Vesta's new cocktails, The Luck Of Lucien ($10).
The inspiration came from the Lucien Gaudin Cocktail, created to honor French athlete Lucien Gaudin, who won gold medals for fencing in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics. Ericson's version is an homage to this sword master (who died broke in 1934) and also to one of this favorite hip-hop songs.
"I really love A Tribe Called Quest," Eriscon says. "One of my favorite songs of theirs is 'The Luck of Lucien,' which is kind of a funny song. I always loved the name and wanted to name a cocktail after it."
While the recipe for the original Lucien cocktail contained gin, Campari, vermouth and Cointreau, Ericson switched it up for his modern version.
For The Luck Of Lucien, Ericson combines, Plymouth gin, Alvear fino sherry, Leopold Brothers American Orange Liqueur, Amara CioCiaro, and a few dashes of Fee Brothers gin barrel-aged orange bitters. He stirs his ingredients over ice, strains them into a chilled cocktail glass and garnishes the drink with an orange peel.
Ericson starts with Plymouth gin, which is made in only one place: Plymouth, England. Slightly less dry than other gins, Plymouth also goes lighter on the juniper, the dominant flavor in most gins. "I love Plymouth gin in certain cocktails just because the juniper doesn't overpower the cocktail," Ericson says. "It's a touch more subtle -- you're still getting those nice botanical flavors without making it taste like Christmas."
Ericson also uses Alvear fino sherry as a vermouth substitute. His decision to use this Spanish fortified wine gives the drink a light, refreshing quality, but it also adds a little depth and flavor, as well as a dark orange color.
"I don't think a lot of people are familiar with sherry, or the types of sherry," he says, "so including it might expand their idea of what a sherry cocktail might taste like."
Ericson replaces Campari with CioCiaro, an Italian amaro with herbal and citrus flavors. As far as amaros go, it's less astringent than, say, Fernet Branca. It's also pretty rare to see it used in a cocktail recipe. In the Lucien, it lends a bittersweet orange flavor.
The Vesta bar staff is tight with local distillers Leopold Brothers. Ericson has, on a few occasions, helped produce whiskey at the distillery. This relationship spurred him to use Leopold Brothers American Orange Liqueur.
"We just really like what they do, and we love their products," he says. "I love the fact that they're using fresh fruit ingredients in all of their spirits. So, the thinking behind that was that we could have used Cointreau, but we wanted to use something that was local."
In the end, this is a lightly boozy cocktail, shot through with herbs and botanicals from the gin and amaro, and made more complex and fruity with the addition of orange liqueur and sherry. Is it a hip-hop cocktail, or a re-working of a forgotten classic? You can decide for yourself.
"I want people to try something that they might never have had before," Ericson says. "They might like something that they probably think they wouldn't. That's kind of the overall goal of the cocktail."
The Luck of Lucien 2 dashes Fee Brothers Gin Barrel-aged Orange .5 ounce Alvear Fino sherry .5 ounce Leopold Bros. American Orange liqueur 1 ounce Plymouth gin .5 ounce Amaro CioCiaro
Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
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.