The cocktails that the original Mad Men drank are back. Classic cocktails are the new, new thing — and the fact is, these old standards generally taste better than all those contemporary cocktails. They taste more like alcohol and less like bananas, pomegranates and apples; they taste more sophisticated. Depending on who's mixing them, of course. So when I spotted a recipe for a Rock and Rye, a drink that's been practically extinct for the last fifty years, I knew exactly who to call. Sean Kenyon, the bar manager at Steuben's, is Denver's cocktail historian. He's as knowledgeable about the history of spirits as Tom Noel is about the history of this town's saloons. When I asked Kenyon if he'd heard of the Rock and Rye, he asked if I'd been spying on him: He was just perfecting his recipe. The result, Steuben's Rock and Rye ($8), is an amazing cocktail. Basically an infused bourbon, it's made with Rittenhouse 100 Rye infused with orange and lemon zest, cassia bark and horehound and rock candy. Like many legendary cocktails, the original Rock and Rye was touted as a medicinal blend that could cure the common cold, which explains the horehound — a nasty-tasting herb that's renowned as a natural cough suppressant. The rock candy combats the horehound's bitterness without adding the water of a simple syrup, creating a drink that's smooth, complex...and very potent. Kenyon has also resurrected the Sazerac ($9), made with Ri 1 Premium Rye Whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, sugar and a glass washed in Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte. You'll go mad for one of these classic cocktails.
Turn the page for excerpts from Nancy Levine's Behind the Bar interview with Sean Kenyon. Contact her at [email protected].