With 20 breweries, six wineries and four distilleries, the city of Boulder in Colorado is definitely worth a drink-lover’s detour. In a state that’s more associated with beer – the world’s biggest brewery, Coors, is 20 miles from Boulder in Golden, and neighbouring Denver hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival – the exciting Colorado cocktail and distilling scene is fast catching up.
There are now about 65 distilleries in Colorado, and counting, making every spirit you can imagine, even single malt whiskies and bourbon (no, it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky). It’s a booming time for bartenders too, and on a recent visit to Boulder I spoke to one of the best-known, making cocktails as creative as anyone anywhere.
At the casual restaurant/bar Bramble and Hare, Griffin Farro shows that you don’t need a foot-long beard and a gallery of tattoos to make great cocktails. Looking like a floppy-haired Buddy Holly, Farro’s official title is Bar Tzar.
‘The boss, Eric, has a fun attitude to job titles,’ Farro says. Farro has a fun attitude to cocktail titles too.
‘Sometimes the name of the cocktail comes first,’ he admits. ‘We use cute names related to pop culture, with jokes. Right now lovage is something we’ve been obsessing over. It enhances sweetness and you don’t have to use as much sugar. We’re playing with a cocktail we’re going to call Fear and Lovage in Boulder, Colorado.’
Some names on the current cocktail list, though it changes constantly, include Caraway My Wayward Son (Tequila, Caraway Carrot Maple Syrup, Amaro Lucano and Grapefruit) and My Mom Listens to Slayer (Reposado Tequila, Raspberry, Strawberry, Vanilla and Wild Sour Gastrique).
Farro’s attitude to naming cocktails might be frivolous but when it comes to what goes in them he’s deadly serious. He knows his spirits and sources many of them from within Colorado.
‘We use Anvil, a brand-new distillery, they have a fabulous creamy vodka. We also use spirits from Leopold Brothers out of Denver, they’re very good. They have everything – good vodkas, their gin won Top New American Gin, and we’re working with them to develop a house gin for us. And we use their American Orange Liqueur. We like Peach Street Distillers from Palisade, they have a fantastic line of vodka and gin, and they make an amazing pear brandy too.’
If the spirits are mostly from around Colorado, some of Farro’s cocktail ingredients are even closer to Boulder. The owner and chef of Bramble and Hare and the neighbouring Black Cat Bistro, Erik Skokan, has a 130-acre farm just outside the city. The label ‘farm to fork’ is way over-used, but in Skokan’s case it’s a passionate belief. Farm produce is harvested daily and the menus derived from what’s fresh.
‘I work closely with the kitchen,’ says Farro, ‘even using kitchen waste. For example we always have beets, and the bits of the beet they can’t serve on the plate can be processed and the juice extracted and used in cocktails. We have one called So Much More Than a Toy, which is like a Rocky Mountain Cosmo. We have more carrot peelings than even the pigs at the farm can eat so we take some of them, purée them, and mix them with honey and coriander. We bounce ideas back and forth all the time with the kitchen, and it’s a creative and cool place to work. My favorite part about cocktails is that it’s fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?’
Bramble and Hare
1970 13th Street
All Photos of Griffin Farro (c) Douglas Brown