Fort Collins-based author and barman Bryan Paiement wants you to drink more whiskey, especially in cocktail form.
In fact, Paiement, who currently tends bar at The Cache, just came out with “The Little Book of Whiskey Cocktails,” which details more than 40 recipes, both old and new, all featuring that beloved brown spirit. Paiement also penned a handful of his own cocktail recipes, such as the Durango (recipe below) and the Osaka Spritz.
We caught up with Paiement to find out how he ended up writing about whiskey, moving to Colorado, and his favorite local places to drink and/or buy the spirit.
Why was whiskey the spirit you wanted to feature?
The idea I had was a quick reference guide because there are so many whiskey cocktails out there that don’t get talked about. I was working at a bar in Estes Park [Dunraven] and everyone would come in and get an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Those are great drinks, but I think there are more that people should explore.
The whiskey category is so diverse. You have your Scotch, Canadian, Japanese, rye and bourbon. Plus you can be very playful with cocktails because the genre is so wide open.
How long did it take you to compose “The Little Book of Whiskey”?
I would say around two years. Some recipes were from earlier and I revamped them. Overall, it was fun, and I love researching the history of all the cocktails. For example, the Old Fashioned, it was thought of as a purifying spirit and was downgraded because you were un-purifying your bourbon. But once they started making all the herbal liquors and vermouth, people started accepting it more.
How did you end up writing a book?
I started to teach myself cocktails and I would read books by [award-winning cocktail expert] Dale DeGroff and Jim Meehan [award-winning bartender and owner of the famed PDT in New York City].
I learned more about the history and how to make whiskey cocktails and I wanted to make a book that was a quick reference guide for anyone wanting to learn. I included the history about how the cocktails came about too. Also, the whole idea of the book is to open the minds and show people that it’s not difficult to make these drinks or be intimidated by them.
How did you learn to make drinks?
I started making cocktails about six years ago. I was teaching in Roanoke, Virginia, and my wife started a small garden outside our apartment. I had never played with cocktails, but wanted to try something different. So, I got basil out of the garden, got some orange juice and rum, and I just loved it. Then my wife got me a cocktail set for my birthday and I began devouring cocktail books and learning from the masters. Her job took us from Virginia to Estes Park and the place needed a bartender.
Where are you now?
We are living in Fort Collins now and I am bartending at The Cache, which is part of Ginger and Baker. There we are starting a series of cocktail classes in September that I am teaching.
But will you talk about whiskey?
Yeah, I think we are going to do it. I taught one already that was cocktails 101. I think the next class will be devoted to New Orleans, so we will have the Sazerac and some other classic NoLa cocktails and pair it with food from there like crawfish etouffee and beignets. It’s going to be fun.
How did you choose which cocktails to feature in the book?
I wanted to do some that people are very familiar with. Something you might order at a bar, but not know how to make it. I also wanted to include some more modern ones like the Paper Plane [which was created by NYC bartender Sam Ross in 2008], and other ones that, if you went to NYC, they are everywhere. My favorite right now is Penicillin that was also invented by Sam Ross at the Milk & Honey bar. I think people don’t think about making it at home, but they should because it’s delicious. I also included timeless classics, and some none have ever heard of.
Colorado has a lot of whiskey, do you have a favorite?
I really like the Breckenridge Distillery’s bourbon. We have it The Cache and that’s my favorite right now. It’s a nice, rounded and smooth bourbon with notes of caramel and a little vanilla. We have a local distillery too, Old Elk. I like that they have the tasting room and it’s right in Old Town. It’s very inviting with a nice variety of cocktails like the Blackberry Whiskey Sour. I also like Mobb Mountain Distillers [across from Ginger and Baker]. They do mostly whiskey, and a nice rye. I really like rye, especially in an Old Fashioned and Manhattan because it adds a nice spice.
Do you have a favorite whiskey right now?
Right now it’s Angels Envy, the Caribbean rum cask. It’s a rye, so it has the spice, but there’s a nice sweetness also from the rum. It’s one of the ones you can just drink straight. I’m also a fan of the Balvenie Caribbean cask 14-year-old single malt whisky, it’s my favorite.
How about drinking whiskey, what places do you like in Denver?
It’s been a while, but we love The Cruise Room. They have all the pre-prohibition cocktails on the menu like the Sidecar. We also like Green Russell. It has a neat atmosphere and they have Penicillin on the menu, which is one of my favorite cocktails. I would like to get down to Denver more and explore, but we have a 2-year-old and my wife is 38 weeks pregnant, so I don’t think we will be down soon.
Local Whiskey to Try Right Now
Denver and the surrounding areas have a bevy of distilleries serving whiskey, and many sell bottles at local spirit shops and in other states, but some of the smaller operations only pour their spirits in the tasting room. Here are five spots that make Colorado whiskey sing.
Laws Whiskey House, 1420 S. Acoma St.; 720-570-1420; lawswhiskeyhouse.com
Opened in 2011, the whiskey coming out of the distillery is made with all Colorado ingredients, including the heirloom grains and water. There are two solid offerings, a four-grain straight bourbon and San Luis Valley straight rye, as well as seasonal bottles and special one-up whiskies.
Ironton Distillery, 3636 Chestnut Place; 720-532-0937; irontondistillery.com
Ironton makes three whiskeys including an American straight malt, Colorado bourbon and a Colorado straight rye. Though available in some local shops, it’s harder to find this brand outside the tasting room. Order a craft cocktail with the whiskey along with your taster.
Boulder Spirits, 5311 Western Ave. #180, Boulder; 303-997-6134; boulderspirits.com
This operation falls under the blanket of Vapor Distillery, the original name. The specialty is single malt whiskey in many forms, be that port cask, sherry cask or peated malt. Also find bourbon and whiskey that’s bottled in bond, a historical designation meaning the spirit is all from the same harvest, aged at least four years, and bottled at 100-proof.
Talnua Distillery, 5405 W. 56th Ave., Unit C, Arvada; 303-431-4949; talnua.com
Besides great-tasting whiskey, Talnua stands out because it is made in a single pot still, just like how it was originally done in Ireland. This one isn’t easy to get outside the Arvada distillery, so it’s worth a visit not just to taste the Gaelic-inspired whiskey, but to try a cocktail too.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, 200 S. Kalamath St.; 303-296-7440; stranahans.com
Stranahan’s is one of the best-known and oldest modern distilleries in Denver. Recently, it changed its classic American single malt, though, and now each bottle features whiskey that’s aged longer, giving it a little more depth that stands out. And while this one is easy to find in liquor stores far and wide, the distillers here are always doing special bottles and cask experiments too, many that can only be found at the tasting room.
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