Boulder’s mixology scene the place for holiday spirit(s)

mixologyBy now, we’re well into the Third Wave of the mixology craze. Cosmopolitans begat new types of martinis begat the revival of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (which begat bartenders donning suspenders or dapper suit vests).

The revival of classic cocktails and trending toward intelligent, seasonally-driven mixology made with craft-distilled spirits has been driven by America’s mania for all things artisanal and/or local.

Ignore the pretentious b.s. that muddies the waters of the food and wine et al. industries. You’ll find that most consumers, chefs, farmers, and food artisans are merely interested in the provenance of certain ingredients, and the traditional methods used to produce or prepare products like cheese, charcuterie, boutique wine, craft beer, and distilled spirits. This is a good thing. And, I might add, who doesn’t appreciate a great meal or well-made beverage?

That, in a nutshell, is why Boulder, Colorado has been making headlines as one of America’s most progressive dining destinations. As a former resident, (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I move. A lot.), I can attest that Boulder is on the cutting edge of conscious eating. But where it really shines, in my opinion, is its mixology scene.

Bonus: Boulder’s best drinking spots are located on or just one block off of Pearl Street, which runs through the heart of downtown and the pedestrian mall. This time of year, Pearl is aglow with fairy lights adorning the trees, and (if you’re lucky) snowfall: it’s a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If you like to imbibe, try a glass (or three) of good cheer at any of the restaurant/bars following the jump.

mixologyWhen I first moved to Boulder in 2006, I lamented the shortage of decent watering holes (meaning, places not overrun by frat boys; it is, after all, a college town). Fortunately, the two best restaurants in town, nationally-acclaimed Frasca, and The Kitchen, (in this instance, I refer to its adjacent, second-floor sister spot, [Upstairs]), put the same thought and care into their beer and wine lists and the crafting of cocktails as their food. Thus, I happily spent many nights cozied up to the bar of one or the other.

Frasca has since undergone a remodel and expansion, and last spring opened Pizzeria Locale next door, which has its own impressive beer and wine list. The cocktail progam at Frasca–overseen by bar manager Allison Anderson–is still fantastic, as are the selection of apertifs and digestifs, including premium grappas. For a light, festive holiday drink, try the Promessa d’Italia (Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, Blue Gin, and Prosecco).

Former Frasca beverage program director Bryan Dayton opened OAK at Fourteenth with chef/co-owner Steven Redzikowski in November, 2010. The restaurant immediately attracted attention for both its localized New American cuisine focused around the oak-fired oven and grill, as well as Dayton’s stellar mixology program. Sadly, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant several months after opening.

But, as they say, every cloud has a (Don Julio) Silver lining. In September, Dayton won Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Inspired Bartender of 2011,” and is currently gracing the cover of 5,000 copies of the December issue of GQ as part of his handsome reward (his winning drink: a “Colorado-inspired blend of juiced pears: simple syrup infused with sage, fennel and juniper; blackberry; Bombay Sapphire East; yellow chartreuse, and lime”).

OAK just celebrated its reopening on December 14th, with a revamped design and slew of inspired takes on classic cocktails, featuring Dayton’s passion for craft spirits. On the menu for the holidays: Oaxacan Winter (Sombra mezcal, Antica Carpano, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Navan, molé bitters, and agave), and the Oak Martini (Death’s Door Vodka or Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and grapefruit bitters). New to OAK’s beverage program are house-created and -bottled sodas, in flavors such as kumquat and tarragon or cucumber and basil.

Last June, The Kitchen opened [Next Door], a “community gastropub.” There’s more of the same rustic, localized fare The Kitchen is known for, but you’ll also find an abbreviated selection of beer, wine, and natural sodas served on tap. It’s part of The Kitchen beverage program director Ray Decker’s ongoing commitment to source the best craft beers, boutique wines, and distilled spirits available.
mixology
At The Bitter Bar, located around the corner from The Kitchen, you’ll find a short, appealing American bistroish menu, but mixology is the star of the show just as proprietor/manager Mark Stoddard intended. Thumbs up, too, for the “staff picks” section on the menu listing cocktail and entree pairings.

If late night cocktails are your thing, I suggest making The Bitter Bar your last stop, but be prepared: these drinks pack a wallop. Friendly, informative mixologists serve seasonal cocktails (in warmer weather, some ingredients are sourced from the property’s own herb garden) in vintage crystal stemware–a nice touch. There are always seasonal specials, but don’t dismiss “Bitter Originals” such as The Gunner’s Daughter (Eldorado 5 Year Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaica Rum, Domaine de Canton–a ginger liqueur– Cynar, and Allspice Dram) and the Hokkaido Highball (Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Japanese whiskey, elderflower cordial, and apple drinking vinegar). Happy holidays indeed!

Tip: Boulder is located at 5,430 feet, so if you’re not used to the altitude, you should be more concerned with drinking water than alcohol. Remember that one drink is equivalent to two at this elevation. Pace yourself, drink lots of water, and pop a couple of aspirin before you turn in for the night.

From Mark Stoddard at The Bitter Bar comes this sophisticated upgrade on eggnog.
Tom & Jerry
serves 1

1 egg
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. hot milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 allspice berry, ground
1/2 clove
4 oz. hot water
nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. In one bowl, add rum and brandy to the yolk and beat together until frothy. In the other bowl, beat the egg white until it forms a peak, and then add milk, sugar, ground allspice, and clove. Fold the rum, Cognac, and yolk into the egg white bowl, and stir. Strain into a tall mug or tempered glass and top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg on top (a microplane zester works well).

[Photo credit: Tom & Jerry; Bryce Clark]

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Boulder’s favorite outdoorsy chefs describe their perfect day in “Sliced and Diced” guide

Boulder's best chefsBoulder, Colorado, is an anomaly when it comes to the complicated relationship between mountain towns and great food. Whether it’s a slice of pizza or a charcuterie plate; a well-crafted cocktail, or just a damn good cup of coffee, it’s generally hard to find quality ingredients and skilled artisans, chefs, and cooks to produce them in enticing high-altitude settings. Ski towns are a prime example: who wants to work on an epic powder day? Fortunately, Boulder is setting the bar on combining the two aesthetics, thanks to its “Sliced and Diced” guide.

As I mentioned in a post last week, Boulder takes its outdoor pursuits and sustainability seriously. The city boasts one of the highest concentrations of tri-athletes in the nation, and is famed for its hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, backcountry sports, fly fishing, and mountaineering. It also has the highest number of yoga classes, physical therapists, massage specialists, and top bike fit specialists per capita than anywhere else in the world. This might explain why some people are a bit…irked by Boulder, and even I tend to feel self-conscious about my resting metabolic rate when I’m in town (and I used to live there).

Now, the city’s most talented chefs–some of them competitive/former athletes themselves–share their ideas of a perfect day in Boulder in the “Sliced and Diced” guide, which is available online, at area hotels, and the Boulder Visitors Center kiosk at 1301 Pearl Street (on the pedestrian mall).

Unsurprisingly, the guide’s focus is on Boulder’s edible and outdoor charms. It’s not unusual for ski town chefs to be avid outdoor enthusiasts, as I’ve discovered from living, working, and attending culinary school in the Rockies and Sierras. Until I moved to Boulder, however, I’d never met entire restaurant staffs comprised of pro-climbers, tri-athletes, competitive cyclists, and ultra-runners. How they find the time and energy for both are a mystery to me, but I admire the hell out of them.

Since my first visit to Boulder in 1995, the food scene has changed dramatically. In the last couple of years, sourcing from local or regional family farms and food artisans whenever possible (remember, this is Colorado, where there’s a short growing season) has become an integral part of the Boulder dining scene. Where five years ago only a few estaurants featured product from family farms, now there are dozens of eateries and shops featuring local, usually sustainable, product.Boulder chefs, outdoorsThere are excellent farmstead goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses from the region. You’ll find farm dinners, grass-finished beef, dozens of coffee houses, and locally-roasted beans. The growing number of acclaimed craft breweries and distilleries makes for a white-hot beverage scene. If you care about excellent beer, wine, or well-crafted cocktails, don’t miss the Bitter Bar, Upstairs, Frasca, or Oak at Fourteenth (which will reopen soon, following a fire). If that doesn’t convince you that Boulder’s become a serious drinking town, it’s also home to five of Colorado’s ten Master Sommeliers (there are only 112 in the U.S.).

Some “Sliced and Diced” contributors include former Food & Wine Best New Chef/James Beard winner Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson of Frasca (which he co-owns with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey–himself a former pro-cyclist and active marathoner). The two recently opened an adorable Italian pastry, panini, and espresso bar, il caffe (don’t skip the housemade pastries, baked fresh throughout the day), and the excellent Pizzeria Locale.

There’s also chef/farmer Eric Skokan of the charming Black Cat Farm Table Bistro. When he’s not cooking, he’s riding his tractor so he can supply his restaurant and CSA-members with produce from Black Cat Farm. Boulder’s food scene, while still nascent, is most definitely blowing–and growing–up.

“Sliced and Diced” contributor/chef Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen helped launch Boulder’s communal dining and green restaurant design/business ethos trend when his seasonally-inflected restaurant opened in 2003. Now known as a community bistro, Matheson and his partners have spawned two spin-offs. There’s Upstairs, a community wine, beer, and cocktail lounge (the bar menu includes affordable small plates, and incredible Happy Hour deals), while Next Door, a community pub, opened in mid-June.
Boulder chefs, outdoors
The Boulder Farmers Market is, I believe, one of the finest in the nation. Saturdays, April through November, it’s where everyone–locals, students, tourists, tech entrepreneurs, chefs, climbers, cyclists, hippies–goes to shop and socialize–usually before heading off for a run, peddle, paddle, or hike.

And that’s the thing about Boulder. It may take its fitness a little too seriously, but it’s hard to mind when the soul of the community is so intertwined with the pursuit of good things to eat and drink and enjoying the outdoors. Now, thanks to “Sliced and Diced,” you can, too.