Sunday, April 30, 2017

Durango, part 3

After the Belle, we could have called it a night, but I had more of the breweries to try that I wasn’t going to be able to get to before they closed. Instead, we parted ways with the saloon girls and visited the dark and quiet recesses of the Office Spiritorium, a quaint one-room affair that is bedecked with antique western flair, a staircase to more private seating above the bar, and a big stuffed peacock. The bar menu is really an extension of the Belle’s and awkwardly out of place for the ambience. You would expect the Spiritorium to be a shrine to old whiskey and specialty mescals, instead you get a ‘martini’ menu straight out of 1986. So I drank beer like a good Wisconsinite.

The first order (and third brewery sampled) was a Amber Ale from Durango Brewing Company. It is their regular amber, a year-round seller. It pours out clear amber with a rapidly diminishing beach-sand colored head. The Amber Ale is well-balanced; however, it’s a rather one-note version of a beer I love (American Amber), since the caramels were lacking for me in general, but drinkable. I compared it to a second Amber from the fourth brewing Company- Ska Brewing. Their amber, named Pinstripe Red, is not as clear as the Durango’s and more of a golden hint to its color. I thought that its flavor was similar as the Amber Ale, unfortunately, too watered-down and looking for a commercial audience I believe (tourists!). That said, both beers would have been just fine on a hot day, just not something you drove a 1000 miles for. Or maybe Carver’s Old Oak Amber spoiled my red beer drinking palate forever!

After sleeping off my beers and whiskey, it was time to say goodbye to Durango. But before leaving, I stopped across the street from the Strater to the rather chintzy-named Durango Liquor World for a bottle of Colorado something. The something that landed in the cart was Rocky Mountain peach whiskey from Leopold Bros., respected brewers-turned-distillers. Their peach whiskey is made with macerated Colorado Palisade peaches, rested in deep-charred American oak, and hand-bottled to keep its long, dense peach-cobbler-in-cast-iron characteristic finish. The thick tart peach flavor sings through in two and three part cocktail recipes. Here’s one below to transition your spring rains into the summer sunshine-

Peach Whiskey Mule 
Classic Pour

1 ½ ounces peach whiskey (we used Leopold Bros)
4 ounces ginger beer (we used Rocky Mt. Soda Company)
Juice of half a small lime

Find yourself a copper mule mug and fill with ice. Build all ingredients in the order presented. Stir gently for a handful of revolutions so as not to kill the ginger beer’s carbonation. Drink. I hope it’s hot out!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Durango, part 2

As you might have guessed from our first post, Durango is all about beer. Having six major craft breweries (Carver, Durango, Brew Pub & Kitchen, Animas, Ska, and Steamworks) in a town of less than 20,000 people is pretty incredible; it speaks to the tourist area that Durango has become. To those ends, our family set up shop in the Strater Hotel. The Strater opened in 1887 as a grandiose hotel (which sucks up the better part of a modern block) offering comfort to well-to-do ranchers, traveling businessmen, and Wild West authors. It also houses two drinking establishments: the famed Diamond Belle Saloon and the quieter Office Spiritorium.

Before we got our drink on, though, we had to get something to chew on for supper. So we walked the two blocks from the Strater to Steamworks Brewing Company. Steamworks features a huge beer hall/dining hall plastered with kitschy cartoon art, historical pictures of the Old West, and drink advertisements; the crowd was so large, it spilled to the tables on the balcony behind the eatery.

We started with their feature beers; Cindy ordered a Backside Stout and I got a Ginger Ninja. The Backside Stout is easily Steamworks’ best beer. In a pint glass, it is dark as chocolate and has flavor hints of the same. Its head retention wasn’t as solid as its lacing, but looked good going down. The flavor was everything Cindy likes- sweet upfront, chocolate malt in the middle and finishing with a touch coffee bitterness. The Ginger Ninja, however, was pretty awful. I rarely pan anything in the FWL (I just don’t write about it), but you really don’t need the Ginger Ninja in your mouth. It was a flat shandy, an jumbled combination of wheat and ginger that fought each other for supremacy, neither of which won. I quickly replaced the Ninja with a Lizard Head Red, a clear amber-red brew that gave off scents of rock candy and a bit of citrus. The Lizard Head’s aroma was its best characteristic, however, because it really didn’t present much flavor- it was thin, somewhat sweet and overall blah. Lucky for Steamworks, their cajun boils and burgers are great, because we’d probably just rather head back to Carver to drink beer.

But since it was getting late, we went back to the Strater to tuck in the kids. After they were snug in their beds, we went down to give the two hotel bars a try. We started in the Diamond Belle, where a raucous crowd was being entertained by an old-school saloon pianist who was banging away on the keys with fervent gusto. We ordered cocktails from a dancing-girl-coiffured waitress who, like in the Wild West days, was far too busy being flattered by amorous and drunken patrons at the bar than to serve our table with promptness. I surmised that the bartenders were a bit suspect as well, so my cocktail was a simple one.

Drink: Bustamonte 1957
Establishment: Diamond Belle Saloon
Location: Durango, Colorado
First Connoisseur: Holly

1 ½ ounces Colorado whiskey
3 ounces grapefruit juice
½ ounce real grenadine

Build all ingredients in the order presented in an old-fashioned glass pre-filled with ice. Stir gently to combine grenadine. Garnish with a swath of lemon or grapefruit peel.

After drinking the Bustamonte 1957, the piano player still had a tune or two in him, so we ordered one of the Belle’s Colorado whiskey flights. The flight was tasty trio of Stranahan’s straight whiskey (one of our all-time faves), Beckenridge malt mash, and Peach Street small batch. Each of the whiskeys were very pleasant, with Beckenridge’s offering leading the flight.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Durango, part 1

Cowboys, saloon girls, and beer. What more could you ask for? The dusty trails that lead to Durango, Colorado, are long. Almost 20 hours worth of long, as Google-mapped from the Firewater Lounge. That kind of trip works up a thirst for even the most stalwart Lounge Lizard. So, obviously, if you are like us (and so many of you are), you have to have beer for breakfast, am I right? If that is the case, you need to stop at Carver Brewing.

The Carver Brothers, Jim and Bill, founded a bakery in Durango in 1986. Two years later, they added a brewery, blending breakfast and beer together in a early-morning marriage of convenience and inspiration. We have to say, no one does either better than Carver. Cindy ordered up some monterey jack and green chiles pancakes along with a Power House Porter, a draught with big coffee aroma and flavor due to its cold-extracted espresso blend. I dug into a miner’s breakfast of eggs and country potatoes with a cold Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale. The perfect companion to spuds in every way, the CT Nut Brown, like many of Carver’s brews, is made to drink with food.

The prize at Carver was dessert. Liquid dessert. I ordered the Old Oak Amber Ale. The Old Oak is a medium-bodied amber rested with toasted oak for sweetness. In glass, the Old Oak is dark copper in color with a medium non-sustaining head. Its nose is all toasty malt. As you drink the amber, you will appreciate the balance that Carver has developed- the creamy malt, the roasted sweetness, and a touch of hops, just to let you know they’re there. Its lacing makes an empty glass a work of art...and makes you want to order another one. Hands down one of my all-time favorite beers.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rite of Spring

Artichoke. The little edible thistle makes a darn good dip or enchilada, but a cocktail? Well, let’s introduce you to Cynar. First, the pronunciation- it’s closest to ‘chee-nar.’ Two, it doesn’t really taste like artichoke. Cynar is made, allegedly, with 13 separate botanicals including artichoke, which has a prominent enough role to be pictured on its bottle. In actuality, the flavor of Cynar is full of upfront clean sweetness, like drinking double-rich simple syrup, which gives way to a green olively vegetal bitterness. This, trust me, sounds grosser than it is.

Cynar is the youngest of the Big Four Italian digestivos marketed commonly in the United States. The others, Campari (bitter orange), Fernet Branca (bittersweet peppermint oil), and Averna (bittersweet caramel and herbs) all had been introduced almost 100 years before Cynar. What the Big Four’s popularity comes from, though, is that they are all great to help digest a huge meal and they mix tremendously well in cocktails. Given the cocktail revival in the early 2000s, the Big Four, including Cynar, started popping up in drink recipes all over. Like Campari, Cynar blends beautifully with gin; together they scream the spring flavors of refreshing juniper, the greenness of newborn herbs and cold sweetwater. To that, we added the floral wine notes of St-Germain and a splash of lime citrus boldness for punch. Chase away the remnants of winter with the recipe below.

Rite of Spring
Holly’s Original Series

1 ½ ounces barrel-aged gin (we used Smooth Ambler)
1 ounce Cynar
½ ounce St-Germain
Dash fresh-squeezed lime juice

Add all ingredients into a stirring vessel with ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lime twist.