A man walks into a bar and orders a drink. Sounds like a joke, but that was the concept behind last night's cocktail competition at BSide presented by Breckenridge Distillery. The goal of the contest was to create a drink called Vengeance, which is also the name of a 2014 novel by Denver-based author Bryan Koepke. In his next book, the main character walks into a bar in a Colorado mountain town and orders a "Vengeance" -- which, until last night, didn't yet exist. At the BSide contest, fourteen Colorado bartenders offered up their version of what that drink might look and taste like, in hopes that their recipe will be included in the next installment of Kopke's series, called Sabotage, which should come out next summer.
Joshua-Peter Smith, a bartender at Justice Snow's in Aspen, won the competition with a recipe that included vodka, Aperol and Grand Marnier. Smith stirred his ingredients, then poured them into a cocktail glass rinsed with iced bourbon, and garnished it with and orange twist.
Smith drew inspiration for his cocktail from the series' main character, Reece Culver, an aerospace engineer and pilot. In Vengeance, Culver is drawn into a murder mystery; in Sabotage, he finds himself at the center of an enigmatic assassination --and also at a bar in Colorado, where he orders a drink.
"When you think of anger, you think of blood and passion, and all those things wrap up into the the idea of vengeance," Smith says. "The character in the book is seeking vengeance. He almost loses his life and his attackers believe that he's dead. So for him to still be alive allows him to be able to methodically plan to wreak havoc, to make his would-be murderers suffer. I wanted something that reflected those basic steps."
Smith played on the nature of vengeance being both bitter and sweet, incorporating the bitterness of Aperol and a touch of sweetness from Grand Marnier. He also carefully considered what color the cocktail should be. "At one point in the book, the main character is bleeding and his body is covered in blood," Smith says. He found that blood-red color in Aperol, a bitter Italian aperitif. "I wanted to make something booze-heavy, red and bitter."
While every other recipe entered into the competition used bourbon as a base, Smith chose Breckenridge Distillery's vodka as his main ingredient. "Vodka pays the bills," he explains, referring to that spirit's popularity. "It's something that could be acceptable across the globe."
And when Smith created this recipe, he was thinking not only of Reece Culver, but of the possibility that his drink could have wide appeal, and might even become a classic someday.
Keep reading for more on Smith's winning cocktail.
"I like simple, three- or four-ingredient cocktails," Smith says. "And I wanted to do something different with vodka. I wanted to make something that would be accessible to a lot of people: a beginner drinker, a veteran drinker, female drinkers, something that could be easily crafted at every bar in the world. I didn't want to alienate anyone. When you're building these kinds of cocktails, you have to look at these things."
To that end, Smith took inspiration from another book: Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, published in 1953. In that book, James Bond drank a Vesper made with vodka and gin. Smith's strategy was to create a similarly simple recipe that could be reproduced at most bars in the world. "Down the road I would love to see this cocktail become a new classic," Smith adds. "Maybe ten or fiften years from now."
Competing bartenders included Allison Widdecombe, James Vickers, Carly Raemer, Nathaniel Maston, Brandon Parker, Charles Oh, Andreas Pejovic, Jake Novotny, William E. Golde III, Adam Douglas, Patrick Ruberto and Mike Chary. Over $1,200 was raised in the competition; proceeds benefited Heroes Like Us, a Denver-based organization of chefs working to facilitate culinary events that fight children's hunger.
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While Smith's Vengeance is both bitter and sweet, so was winning the competition. At the end of October, Smith and his wife will be leaving Colorado to open a bar in San Francisco, called The Silverwing Supper Club and Imbibery. "It was a fun win," he says, "and a fun way to leave the state."