Justin Lavenue becomes third Coloradan in a row to head to international Domaine de Canton competition

Two years ago, Sean Kenyon bested a handful of international bartenders to take home $10,000 -- and much respect for Colorado's bartenders -- for his work in the Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur competition in St. Maarten. Last year, Noah Heaney was the West Coast representative in the same contest, outdoing bartenders from California and Oregon. And this year, Justin Lavenue, bartender at the Bitter Bar and brand ambassador for Dancing Pines Distillery, made it a three-peat: He heads to St. Maarten next month for his own chance at the big prize.

But first, he had to outdo nineteen fellow West Coast mixologists, including two of his co-workers and two other Front Range tenders: "They were telling us that there were hundreds of submissions, but Noah [Heaney], Michael [Cerretani] and I all got in," he says. "We were three of twenty finalists for the West Coast. We kept saying that we'd be pretty upset if one of us didn't win to make the trip worthwhile." They were also joined by Mike Henderson of Root Down and Dante Reefman of Lala's, who placed second.

Lavenue says the competition, which was held in Vegas, was quick and painless. "We all had our own cocktails that we had submitted and approved," he explains. "We just had to make them for the judges and tell them the story behind it."

He named his own cocktail Amber Waves for the color it took on after he combined Domaine de Canton, mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, Verjus -- a tart juice that comes from unripened grapes -- and a pair of homemade bitters, one from vanilla bean and the other from damiana, an herb grown from Texas to northern South America that's considered an aphrodisiac. "I knew a lot of people would be doing citrus-forward cocktails, and I wanted to make mine more of a spiritous cocktail," he says.

The bitters took three and a half months to make, which means that if you want to try this drink, you probably need to go to Bitter Bar and have Lavenue make it for you. If you'd like to try to mix it at home, though, he's graciously provided the recipe:


1.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur .75 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida .75 oz Amaro Montenegro .5 oz Fusion Verjus 4 dashes Damiana bitters 2 dashes Tahitian Vanilla Bean bitters


Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, stir well to attain proper dilution and chill. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cucumber rose.

Want to make that garnish? Here's a video demo:

Lavenue heads to the islands on June 12.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk