RiNo Yacht Club 3350 Brighton Boulevard 720-443-1135
Much of what we perceive as flavor, say scientists who study such things, is actually aroma. We've all had that experience of being sucked back into a memory where we first caught the scent of a lemon, fresh-baked bread, the ocean. For McLain Hedges of RiNo Yacht Club, one quick route to his childhood is the smell of apples. He tied his love of apples into a seasonal cocktail which he called Olfactory Hues ($10), and paired that flavor with other evocative seasonal fruits and spices.
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"I love apples and I love apple juice," says Hedges. He grew up in Tennessee, where he was surrounded by apples each Autumn. "It was a big thing, growing up in the South," he continues. "All the adults in my family made their own apple toddies, but we also always fresh-pressed cider, we always made apple butter, different jams, apple pies. These are some of the nostalgic things in my mind that a lot of people growing up experienced."
Hedges' cocktail is based, roughly, on the French 75: a gin-based cocktail topped with Champagne. Working with that template, Hedges brought together pear brandy, a locally made amaro, allspice liqueur, lemon juice and sugar, and topped that mix with sparkling cider. It's served in a gold-rimmed coupe glass and garnished with a lemon wheel.
"I wanted to do something with sparkling wine or cider, this time of year," Hedges says. "All the apples and pears and baking spice flavors are definitely comforting and nostalgic."
Hedges incorporates a St. George pear brandy, which the California craft distillery has been making since 1982. St. George estimates that it takes about 30 pears to produce one bottle of brandy. "The pear brandy itself is pretty fantastic," Hedges says. "It's very focused, but dry."
St. George has an interesting relationship to a Colorado distiller, and Hedges is astute in making the connection between them in his cocktail. Peak Spirits, located in Hotchkiss, produces CapRock Colorado Bitter, which Hedges was keen to add to his recipe. St. George and Peak Spirits both use German-made Holstein stills.
George distillers helped Peak Spirits start producing spirits with the copper still. "There are only a few people in the United States who have that still," Hedges explains. "And there are only a few people who know how to use it, and work on it." The St.
But Peak Spirits doesn't just run a distillery; they also maintain a biodynamic farm that surrounds the wooden cabin where their spirits are distilled.
"There are three vintages of their grape harvest in it," Hedges says, talking about Peak Spirits' dry, full-boded amaro, called Colorado Bitter. Each tall, slender bottle contains a blend of distilled, barrel-aged amaro and a fresh, aromatized version of the spirit. "It's probably one of my favorite Colorado spirits," he adds.
Hedges piles on the seasonal aromas with St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram, a Jamaican rum flavored with allspice berries -- a lot of them. It's found frequently in holiday-season food and drinks, because it adds flavors of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's practically Christmas in a bottle, this stuff. Hedges uses only about seven dashes in his cocktail, to get that pungent, seasonal aroma and taste.
"Allspice is such a comforting flavor," Hedges says. "It's something that transports you when you taste it -- whether it's gingerbread cookies or pumpkin pie, or whatever -- it takes us somewhere. Allspice is in almost every cuisine around the world, and I think we've all experienced that comfort when we taste it."
Back to apples: when all other ingredients are shaken and strained into a coupe glass, Hedges fills it to the gold-lipped rim with an unfiltered, unpasteurized French cider. "I use sparkling cider from Etienne DuPont," Hedges says. "It's nice and dry, with really amazing fruit characteristics. It's like adult apple juice."
Hedges used to pour the cider from 750-milliliter bottles, but started buying kegs of it as soon as they became available. "The cider itself is a truly rustic experience, through and through," he says. It's made in a part of Normandy that is well-known for the quality of ciders, and it's made in the traditional fashion, which yields an earthy, "barnyard" aroma and lots of bright fruit. A twelve-ounce. glass of Etienne DuPont is $12.
Bubbly cocktails are fun and celebratory, Hedges explains. "It's sparkling, it's refreshing," he says of Olfactory Hues. "It kind of feels fancy, even though it's very rustic at heart. It's familiar in so many ways, but also highlights the best of this season."
When Hedges goes out for a cocktail, sometimes he likes to get a little more out of it than just a drink in his hand. Sometimes he talks with the barkeep, sometimes he just wants to enjoy his drink. "I think that's what a lot of us look for in cocktails -- we want a drink that's tastes good and will make us feel good, but I think we're looking for an experience."
That sparkling, rustic, nostalgic cocktail is, for Hedges, like a snapshot of his childhood: apples, allspice, family and fun.
Olfactory Hues 1 ounce St. George pear brandy .5 ounce Cap Rock Bitters .5 ounce lemon juice .5 ounce simple syrup 7 dashes of St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram
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Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass or Champagne flute, and top with sparkling cider. Garnish with a lemon wheel.