Colt & Gray sets the swank stage for a Craft Cocktail Powwow with Colonel Hector Bravado & Mark Antonation, Pt. 2. With bonus whiff of Benton Essence!
Continued from Part the Oneth.
Round 2 included an order of blue cheese–dusted gougères—or what Mark called, when The Colonel requested a definition, “The trick in James Bond where they stick their fingers in your eyes & push.” Heh, good one. Granted, they didn’t fit any definition I know either, looking & tasting more like fried cheese nuggets than the mini savory profiteroles they usually are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Down they went.
So far, then, every single thing I’d tried had been a surprise in one way or another—& all, in the adventure-oriented scheme of things, pleasant ones.
The Seis was no exception.
Since in the US, most of the flavor has been hybred right out of it, the thought of watermelon rarely grabs me (except in Italy, & even there my appreciation is a function of context—because it’s called cocomero, & it’s often kept by the slice along with fresh coconut in a sort of fountain bath at the carts of street vendors, & in short it’s all kinds of whimsical & picturesque). But watermelon juice with rum, falernum & Benton essence—not that I knew what the latter was—piqued my interest. I’m glad it did, because it was delicious—lightly flowery, a touch spicy, with some sort of spiced sugar rim.
Having since found out what Benton essence is, I’m all the more impressed. Per head barman Kevin Burke, who satisfied my curiosity via e-mail:
Mmm Benton essence. Benton’s is a heritage pork producer. They cure prosciutto as well as bacon. Their bacon is incredibly rich and smoky. I have the kitchen render the bacon and use a fat-wash infusion as well as atmospheric compression to infuse a blackstrap rum. The aromatic compounds in the bacon fat are alcohol soluble, so the smoke and sweetness is left behind when I let the rum/bacon emulsion sit and break like a salad dressing. I then freeze it to solidify the fat and filter it through a coffee filter. I’m left with what is essentially smoke-infused rum that is a little bit salty and a little bit sweet, just like bacon.
Well ding-dong dang & hot damn. No wonder the watermelon tasted so good.
The Director’d joined us by then, & though he just stuck with his usual single malt, the sight of handmade ice cubes was a thrill.
Meanwhile, Denver Six Shooter’s own Max Vitesse had also swung by; as the conversation was turning to our favorite local watering holes—which Mark had defined for us as “the perfect combination of atmosphere and drink”—Max gave a nod to TAG. “Downstairs on Monday nights, when Mike’s at the bar, he just lays everything out & then says, ‘What do you want? What kinds of things do you like?’ And makes you something on the spot.” I can’t confirm his claim firsthand, but I plan to.
As for our experts’ list-toppers:
Antonation: Delite. They’re not killing it, but the bartenders know what they’re doing, & they make a perfect mojito. Plus there’s that whole open garage door thing.
Lola. I don’t know if they have a reputation for cocktails, but they have a great tequila list. I order the Sotol margarita with Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol, usually reposado or añejo. Sotol is pretty similar to tequila or mezcal, & the Hacienda añejo has a really nice smoky flavor that goes well with the lime. Plus, Lola uses sea salt to rim the glass, so you also get a nice oceany taste.
I order mine straight up in a martini glass. The first time I ordered one, the bartender was quizzing me about my flavor preferences & suggested the sotol instead of tequila. Now I order one every time I go there. If I’m ordering from a waiter instead of the bartender, I usually have to describe it in a lot of detail to get the right drink. Makes me want one right now just thinking about it.
Full disclosure: I’d never heard of sotol before this conversation; I thought Mark said a “so-tall margarita.” Which makes me want one right now just thinking about it
. Or at least I think I’ve never heard of it—sounds like the kind of thing I’d be trying long past the point at which I might remember trying it.
Meanwhile, Mark was also trying to remember whether Lola still has a build-your-own-bloody-mary bar, prompting The Colonel to retort, “I never understood the ‘build your own’ concept. ‘Here, fuck up your own drink!'”
The Pioneer on University, because they were really good to me when I was unemployed.
I’m also gonna have to say Dazzle. The drinks are heinously overpriced, but I’ve more or less lived at Dazzle, legless, 2 or 3 times a week. And, this is so embarrassing, but the Village Tavern at the Flatirons Crossing. The bartender was the first one that signed up on Denver Six Shooter to give me a shoutout. And they have the best happy hour.
Moving on to Round 3, we stuck with wine & beer. At some point Mark also snagged some fried oysters; handsome though they were on their bed of rock salt, they were also few & far between, so I let him & them be. His thumbs up: “Briny!”
Delving deeper into the topic, I found it mighty interesting that, in response to the question, “What’s the best drink you’ve ever had here in town?” both gents recalled classic juice glasses as served to them at high-end joints that weren’t on their list of go-tos. Goes to show, I guess, how key pure comfort is when it comes to naming favorites.
The Colonel: The best Manhattan I ever had was at Oceanaire. It was a fuckin’ kitty wading pool, perfectly chilled—I love it when there’s a layer of ice flecks on the top—and mixed so that the good bite of the bourbon remained in the foreground. I had two. It was also that the cocktail waitress on duty had this courtesan grace about her: quick-witted and warm and in total command of her environment, attentive without being servile. I wish I could remember her name.
Antonation: I was at Venice & I saw a Rusty Nail on the bar menu, which you never see. Because of the Drambuie, I think it’s a difficult drink to hit the right balance with. But before it even hit my lips, I caught the aroma & I was like, this was what my dad used to drink at cocktail parties!
Now that we’d covered the past & present, I had to ask: what would you most like to see in Denver bars? How should the scene evolve from here on out?
Antonation: Actually, it’s what I don’t want to see. I don’t think I want to see everyone doing [what Colt and Gray is doing], because I don’t think everyone would do it well. For instance, I love The Meadowlark, it’s just an awesome place, but they’ve got one of those cocktail lists that I avoid.
Agreed. Pay heed, PS Lounge.
The Colonel: I’d like to see more people doing coke right off the bar. It’s 2009. Whey should you have to go hunch over in the bathroom like a fucking animal? Also, I think I should be paying for drinks less often.
Oh, Colonel. Agreed, agreed.
OK, seriously? About ten years ago, I suggested a steak martini as a lark: cold vodka with a piece of rare–medium-rare steak wrapped around the inside of the glass, maybe a piece of pickled carrot floating in it. You polish off the hooch as the meat bleeds into it, then eat the vodka-soaked piece of steak. Everyone thought I was nuts back then, but with bacon-infused vodka available now, it doesn’t seem so nuts.
And with that, we headed off into the night, visions of ribeye dancing in our heads—as well as of, at least in my case, the lobster bangers & mash I’d spied on Colt and Gray’s menu. ‘Til next time—which had better be in no time.
*** I zonked out for a second at this point, but the Colonel filled me in on the Broadway later by quoting fellow Denver Six Shooter Abbott Westwind: “Into my glass go the bitters, Makers Mark, Amaretto & Grand Marnier, with a squeezed lemon hugging the rim.” I’m sure there’s a joke here about bitters-laced rim-huggers, but I don’t know what it is, do you?