Cool and creative summer drinks crafted with colorado based spirits exclusively for Modern in denver by two of denver’s finest mixologists – cheers! The people responsible for this are also our salvation, they are ambassadors from the drink to our palate, wizards and artists of libation. The mixologists have come to Denver.
So who are these mixologists? “Mixologists are people who craft cocktails. Who create drinks,” Anika Zappe, head mixologist, cocktail artist, and bar manager for Punch Bowl Social, explains. “A person can be a mixologist at home. It’s about the creation.” Gerard Collier, Corner House’s drink wizard and bar manager, adds “There is a passion there for creativity, personal style, and finding just the right mix and it is this that differentiates the mixologist from someone who is just pouring drinks.”
Zappe and Collier both shy away a bit from the title of mixologist. There is a humility, a certain modesty showing. But there is also a feel that titles distract from the essence of their craft. Collier, a Denver import from Hawaii, wasn’t very interested in these things until he came to Denver.
Denver is uniquely positioned at the forefront of mixology. The Front Range has been an epicenter of the micro-brewery movement and spawned now internationally known labels such as New Belgium, Great Divide, and the Avery Brewing Company. This passion for excellence and a population full of foodies that is eager for the best has now spawned a wave of micro-distilleries. These smaller companies are able to put much more care into their products than the giants of liquor and are producing bottles of whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, and so on that are light years beyond what was previously available. Stranahan’s, Leopold Bros, Peach Street, and Goat are producing spirits with flavors, nuances, and pleasure that transform even the simplest drinks. A whiskey cola or a vodka tonic are transformed by what these small-batch distillers are bottling.
As important as ingredients are, the people in Denver make an enormous difference. A receptive audience needs artists and the Denver bar scene is distinct from those even in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. “Denver has a standard of excellence that stems from it having wonderful fine dining and also a great casual scene,” Zappe says. “This builds an audience that has an unspoken high level of expectation that everyone has to live up to.” Competition is always a good thing but great artists need inspiration. “Other cities are a bit more cut throat and competitive while Denver is much friendlier. All of the best people in town know each other and are friends. There is a friendly competition and a collaborative spirit. We all want everyone to be great,” Collier adds.
There is an immediate satisfaction in this art form. While painters and writers toil away alone and wait for an appreciative audience to somehow materialize and reward their efforts, these mixologists get the reward of approval instantly, or get the idea of what to tweak. “You are right there with your audience,” Zappe says “and I get that instant feedback for my work.” The rewards of making great drinks at home are just as satisfying. More so. You get to drink it along with your guests.
Great bars in town are often stocked floor to ceiling with exotic and mysterious bottles but having a great bar at home that can make dozens of different satisfying drinks requires very little. Buy high quality. Purchasing local spirits is an excellent way to support the local scene and get excellent drinks at a reasonable price. According to Zappe and Collier, all home bars need a few basics: whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila, bitters, and some kind of fresh citrus, preferably lime. Pick one liqueur you are intrigued by. Maybe some St. Germain. Some Pimms. Whatever you like. Then whatever else you have around can be used and transformed. Have some soda water? How about orange juice? Maybe there was a fruit salad and there is left over watermelon. A little care and playing will yield excellent cocktails, perfect for sitting on the patio and watching the sun set.
Can everyone be great? If one doesn’t have a waxed mustache and suspenders, can they be a great mixologist? Absolutely. And the rewards of developing a few mixology skills as the summer heats up are tremendous. Zappe and Collier have given Modern In Denver readers exclusive cocktails to help beat back the summer sun.
SUERTE SHRUB | Annika
2 oz watermelon shrub*
1 1/2 oz Suerte Reposado Tequila
1/4 oz mezcal (optional)
1/2 oz lime juice
Dash of fees grapefruit
Shake first four ingredients and strain into a Collins glass with crushed ice and a smoked salt rim. Top with a dash of grapefruit bitters and stir lightly. Garnish with a grapefruit twist and a watermelon slice.
*1/2 of a large watermelon, 2 cups organic cane sugar, 2 cups apple cider vinegar. Crush watermelon in a large jar and add sugar and vinegar. Keep refrigerated for three days and strain.
SILVER ARROW | Annika
1 oz Leopold’s Silver Tree Vodka
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz red verjus
2 dashes rose water
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir until well chilled and properly diluted. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Verjus is the juice of immature wine grapes. Available in gourmet supermarkets. It’s there to provide some balance to all of that sweetness. If it proves hard to find, maybe experiment with some very tart citrus, or even a dash of good balsamic vinegar!
PELIGOSO | Gerard
1.25oz CapRock Gin
.5oz fresh lime juice
10 mint leaves
1.5oz Rocky mountain lemon lime soda
Lightly muddle all ingredients except for the soda. Strain and pour over ice and finish off with the Rocky Mountain Lemon Lime Soda. Garnish with a mint leaf. A refreshing alternative to a mojito with a berry twist. A perfect drink for the patio.
CALL ME BOB | Gerard
1.25oz Leopolds rye whiskey
.75oz Dancing Pines Chai Liqueur
.5oz ginger agave
.5oz fresh lime
1.5oz Rocky Mountain Ginger Beer
Fee brothers gin barrel-aged
Shake all ingredients except for the ginger beer and bitters with ice. Pour into a glass then top with the ginger beer and a quick dash of the orange bitters. A drink with a bit of zip from the spice in the chai, the heat of the ginger, and the smooth burn of rye whiskey. A change of pace from the classic whiskey and ginger ale.
Annika Zappe has been in the restaurant scene since she served an internship with a chef at the age of twelve. Her degree in Fine Arts and time on the road in a band has shaped her worldview in knowing that everything comes down to being a matter of taste. She has cultivated this knowledge and her exquisite sense of aesthetic pleasures and combined those with years of industry experience to leap from standard bartending to taking her craft seriously. She credits a visit to New York’s Milk and Honey bar with inspiring her to take the style and attention to Denver. She now demonstrates her talents at the wildly popular Punch Bowl Social.
Gerard Collier worked at restaurants in his home state of Hawaii and eventually was put behind the bar. It didn’t stand out to him as an extraordinary thing until he came to visit Denver and he was instantly struck by what was happening here, the change in perspective so large that he moved here and began to hone a skill set that has grown by such leaps and bounds that he was made the head of the bar at the Corner House, one of Denver’s newest hotspots.
Images | Crystal Allen
Words | Rob Bowman