Ken Kodys is no stranger to victory. In 2009, the Boston native, who was then tending bar at Bacaro, in Boulder, created a memorable cocktail ironically called Amnesia that took the whole kit and caboodle in the DeKuyper Mix Master Bartender contest at the Denver Food & Wine Festival.
Earlier this year, the star-bartender was a finalist -- one of only twenty in the world -- in the International Finlandia Vodka Cup, a elite cocktail competition held in Helsinki, Finland. And he's not done yet: Last night, Kodys, the head bartender at Root Down (he also consults on the bar menu at Ghost Plate & Tap, while pulling shifts behind the Coupe Bar, a guest bartending throne inside Ghost Plate & Tap), bested eleven other mixologists in the regional finals of the Campari-United States Bartenders' Guild competition, which took place within the confines of Green Russell, Frank Bonano's Larimer Square speakeasy.
The battle, which was judged by Eryn Latterman, the "whiskey guardian" at Louisville Distilling, which makes Angel's Envy Kentucky bourbon; Anika Zappe, treasurer of the guild and bar consultant around town; Brian Melton, who works at Leigh Sullivan Enterprises and yours truly, featured a dozen apertivo cocktails, all created with Campari -- and all of which were evaluated on appearance, aroma, creativity and taste in a blind-tasting.
Mike Henderson, the mixologist at Root Down and president of the Colorado chapter of the guild, judged the technical merit of each cocktail, and suffice it to say, he was impressed. "It was awesome. The field of competitors really brought their A-game, and I was super-impressed with their technical proficiency. Everyone did really, really well," he says.
Kodys, who emerged victorious with his Campari Peppari cocktail, will soon compete in the national USBG Campari competition finals in Manhattan in May, and then, if he wins that, he'll head to Beijing, China to compete in the international Bartender Association showdown.
In the meantime, here's his winning cocktail recipe:
1.25 oz Campari 1 oz JMXO vodka .75 oz lemon juice .25 oz agave nectar 5 arugula leaves 2 rings red bell pepper Lemon twist
Muddle rings of red bell pepper and arugula leaves. Add all liquids measured with jiggers. Shake for twelve seconds and double strain into a double Old Fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist and a skewer of red pepper and arugula leaves.
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.