City in a Glass: Denver

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City in a Glass: Denver

Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round, in Denver, Colorado, is on us.


People in Denver

seem to have that whole balance thing down. They’re equally known for their outdoorsy nature as they are for their love of craft beers. Here, you can stumble into a yoga class at a winery or join a running club at a brewery. As far as cocktail-drinking goes, the Mile-High City residents are into East Coast and West Coast styles. “Denver’s cocktail scene is really fun at the moment,” local barman (and marathoner) Bryan Dayton says. “A lot of whiskey, a lot of tequila … those are definitely the big hitters here.” Randy Layman, another neighborhood drink-slinger, agrees: whiskey and agave-based spirits reign supreme in this approachable scene. “Old Fashioneds, Palomas and bitter-brown-stirred cocktails are mainstays across the city right now,” Layman says. On this city drinks tour, we’re going to introduce you to three very-Denver drinks, show you where to find them and reveal when you can get your sun salutations on at the same locations.


1. Central Slope Sour

Where to order: Acorn

Central Slope Sour.jpeg
Photo courtesy Acorn

For a very thorough lesson on what Denver’s drink scene is about, stop into Acorn, an American bar and grill in a cool, graffitied industrial space in the River North District. Here you can order a cocktail called the Central Slope Sour that includes bourbon from Breckenridge, Indian Pale Ale brewed in Boulder, Colorado honey, and pine liqueur distilled near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Phew. Bar manager Alexandra Flower came up with the drink for a cocktail competition and it won a spot on Acorn’s menu. “The drink was inspired by one of my favorite drinks, a whiskey sour,” she says. “I wanted to get beer into a cocktail and whiskey and beer go together really well. It’s kind of like an alpine-whiskey sour variation with a touch of hops from the IPA.” Bryan Dayton, Acorn’s co-owner and beverage director, says he’s never been a beertail guy, but the Central Slope Sour just works. “Denver has a huge beer culture, and this drink really ties that craft beer experience into a cocktail experience while being well balanced,” he says.

Central Slope Sour

2 oz. Avery Brewing Co. IPA
1¼ oz. Breckenridge Bourbon
¾ oz. Leopold’s Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur
¾ oz. honey syrup (1 part honey: 1 part water)
½ oz. lemon juice
1 dash Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Luxardo cherry wrapped in a sage leaf and secured with a bamboo spear, for garnish

Combine all ingredients, except beer and garnish, in a shaker tin with ice. Shake. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass. Top with beer. Add ice and garnish.


2. Bubble Universe

Where to order: The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery

There’s an old mathematical theory that says a monkey sitting at a typewriter could hit keys at random for an infinite amount of time and replicate any great literary text. The Infinite Monkey Theorem, as its called, is where Denver’s urban winery of the same name draws its inspiration. According to the winery, the theorem is “all about creating order out of a chaotic system, and there is nothing more chaotic than growing grapes at 4,500 feet in Colorado and making wine in a warehouse in an alley in a city.” Located in the RiNo Art District, Infinite Monkey Theorem offers tours and tastings, plus art and music shows, yoga classes and watch parties. Oh yeah, and wine. Every year they make eight to 12 different wines, depending on the growing season that year, sourcing most of the grapes from within the state. “Colorado has such a small growing region at this point, there’s only so much you can get,” director of wine operations Meredith Berman says.

Bubble Universe.jpeg
Photo courtesy Infinite Monkey Theorem

One of the most unique bottles available now is its Bubble Universe, a sparkling wine made from local Albarino grapes using méthode Champenoise, the traditional method for making Champagne. “It’s the most time consuming and most difficult way to do it,” Berman says. “You bottle the base wine and then you ferment it again in a secondary fermentation inside of the bottle. And because that fermentation process is happening inside the bottle—yeast eats sugar and creates alcohol and CO2—the CO2 stays inside the bottle. That’s how you get the bubbles in Champagne.” Most other sparkling wines are either carbonated or undergo a secondary fermentation process in tanks, which reduces costs because méthode Champenoise often results in exploding bottles. In addition to bottles, Infinite Monkey Theorem also sells wines on tap and four varieties of wine in cans. “The portability component was huge for us,” she says. “The lifestyle in Colorado is so active and that tiny little can can go hiking or boating or to the park.” The winery’s hyper-local focus is spreading: Infinite Monkey Theorem just opened a second location in Austin, where many of its wines are made using Texas grapes.


3. Year of the Monkey

Where to order: Ace Eat Serve

Ace Eat Serve is a ping-pong hall slash juice bar slash actual bar that also happens to offer yoga classes on the weekend. Located uptown, its food and drink menu is pan-Asian-inspired, so you can nosh on a plate of bibimbap and wash it down a pint of Sapporo. On the cocktail list you can find drinks with ingredients such as sake, matcha green tea and plum wine, plus an interesting take on an Old Fashioned called Year of the Monkey (pictured at top). “Every year we feature an Old Fashioned variation that changes when we ring in the Chinese New Year in late January, early February,” bar manager Randy Layman says. With each turning of the calendar, he tries to use flavors that represent the animal of the zodiac. This year (the year of the monkey) he incorporated the Chinese Chrysanthemum flower. “Chrysanthemum flowers happen to be a good luck charm for people born during the year of the monkey and are also used in several varieties of Chinese teas,” he says. “The greens of the Chrysanthemum plant are often used in Chinese cooking, as well.” He steeps the flower in a sweet syrup and then mixes that with bourbon and orange bitters to create a slightly floral bitter-brown-stirred cocktail.

Year of the Monkey

2 oz. Wild Turkey 81 bourbon
½ oz. Chrysanthemum syrup (recipe below)
3 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
Lemon peel, for garnish

Make Chrysanthemum syrup: Combine 50 mL (by volume) of dried Chrysanthemum flowers (available at most Asian markets or online) with 500 mL (by volume) of hot water in a pot. Let flowers steep for 10 minutes. Strain liquid through a cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Combine hot liquid with 500 mL (by volume) sugar. Stir to dissolve. Store in the refrigerator.

Make drink: Combine all ingredients, except garnish, in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass containing one large ice cube. Garnish with lemon peel.

City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel, restaurants and bars for She spent many years drinking in New York before resettling in the great state of Texas.