Ask the Bartender: Meet Joshua Smith, Colorado Cocktail contestant

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Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions. But right now, he wants to introduce you to our sixth Colorado Cocktail Contest contestant.

The Colorado Cocktail Project, with its mission to create the official Colorado Cocktail, has begun. Over the next few weeks, we will profile each of the bartenders and all of the Colorado distillers involved in the process -- and not only can you read about them here, but you can sample the contestants for yourself at any of the participating bars and restaurants, then vote for your favorites. We'll decide the ten finalists by June 15, and they'll pour out their hearts -- and drinks -- in a head-to-head competition on June 27 at the culmination of the Colorado Cocktail Project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Today's bartender is Joshua Smith from TAG | RAW BAR, who lets loose on some LITs, working 90 hours a week and his love for tequila...

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Joshua Smith
TAG | RAW BAR

When and how did you start bartending?

At the ripe age of seventeen, just I was working part-time that summer at Fausti Pazools Itailian Bistro in Holland, Michigan. This was a fine dining establishment during lunch and dinner, and a Hope College Party Bar at night. We were getting your asses handed to us one evening, and my boss yells, "You're eighteen, right?" I said, "Yeah, I'm eighteen." He threw me behind the bar, showed me how to make some basic drinks in a haste, including LITs in pitchers. I was doing the four-bottle pour that very first night.

What sparked your interest in mixology?

Well, first things first, I do not have a degree in chemistry or biology, or any other science- oriented field, so I don't consider myself a mix-"ologist." That being said, I am a cocktail creator and chef. My interest was sparked that first night of slangin' at Fausti Pazools. The energy, the high-pace excitement, the happy faces of people getting smashed on Long Islands in pitchers. That was the start of the interest. Now, as far as becoming a cocktail creator and chef, that came much later. My culinary ambitions took hold first: cooking meals for family, friends and guests at my first line-cook job at a very young age was the start. If you can do it with food, you can do it with spirits, and vice versa. So as I continued on through my fifteen years of bartending, they came about around year number three, when I started taking my love for food and turning it into cocktails.

Tell us about your bar.

I'm the GM, beverage director and head cocktail creator of TAG | RAW BAR. We are Denver's first official raw bar. We serve everything from West and East Coast oysters to daily ceviches, to sashimi cuts of fish and red meat alike, along with fresh salads, fruits, desserts and hand-crafted cocktails. Everything is taken from its rawest form and transformed in front of you with raw passion, raw emotion, raw energy and raw talent, giving our guest the raw truth. My personal bar set-up is clean, fresh, seasonal, bright and filled with many of my homemade syrups, bitters, emulsions, essences, tonics, sodas, jams and purees. Everything is based on fresh, seasonal ingredients to be paired with our wonderful raw menu. My back bar has all that a growing boy needs to play, but is not overstocked. I brought in my very favorites: heavy on tequila and gin, and based on the hard-to-find product and the local and American-made great boutique products that are being produced here. All of my vodkas except my well are from Colorado, as are three of my gins, three of my whiskeys, numerous cordials and brandies. All Colorado.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm 31, from Holland, Michigan. I'm a 100 percent Dutch boy who grew up boating, hunting, fishing, gathering, harvesting, butchering, cooking and eating. I have always been very active in sports and outdoor activities. I traveled the country from coast to coast bartending and ski-instructing after high school, finally ending up in Missoula, Montana, for a six and a half year stay; I graduated from the University of Montana with a BFA in acting, a BFA in dance and an AS in business. In Montana, my outdoor love grew and so did I. I was on the Western Montana Mountain Rescue Team as a flyer, was an avid rock climber, backcountry skier and spelunker. I was fishing and hunting whenever possible, taking two bull elk via bow hunting. I also jumped on the kite-flying wagon. Active, active boy. At the same time I was cooking for three hours in the mornings before school, and bartending on the weekend nights, and nude modeling for art classes during mid-day. I was an acting and dance major, so I was retarded busy with productions, rehearsals, directing shows and writing them, all on top of my other academics. I am a very hard worker and have too many passions for my own good. After college I opened a theater company in Butte, Montana, but but left it to my partners the next year to move to Blue Lake California in Humboldt County to attend Dell Arte International School of Physical Theatre. This school is based on "via negativo," which means you learn by getting your fucking ass kicked on a daily basis. It is one of Cirque Du Soleil's main training grounds. I studied everything from basic movement and breathing, to trapeze, germain wheel, acrobatics, martial arts, dance, mask building as mask work, to straps and fabric. All of it, however, was based on the "Ensemble," working together with many minds to make amazing things happen. This is where I obtained my lifelong moto that has inspired me forever: "Believe Behave Behold Become." I moved to Colorado to take a year break from performing and "find myself" again after being accepted to Cirque Du Soleil's main U.S. training program for three years in San Fran. I was supposed to go back in June 2007, but after moving to Denver, my love for food and drink took hold of my very soul and I never looked back. This state encompasses all that I love in life. Outdoors and all the activities that go with it, sunshine and mountains, a great art and music scene, and more food and drink than you can shake a homeless guy at. The only thing it is missing is the Great Lakes. But I go home to visit those now.

What do you love about bartending?

I love being able to create every single day. It takes all that I'm passionate about, from food, flavors, improvisation and challenge to competition, and wraps them all into one every single day -- and the best part is, I still get to be on stage and take my guests through the "Human Experience," daring them to try new things with risk, momentum and joy.

What is your least favorite thing about bartending?

Well, where I am at right now, the hours: 84 to 90 hour weeks hurt a little. But hopefully the rewards will come.

Favorite cocktail:

My favorite to drink? Well, it's fairly simple and classic, but with a slight twist of new-age molding. I love tequila. My favorite cocktail to drink is my Classico Margarita Fume. It's 2 oz. Chumucos Reposado Tequila, .25 oz. Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal, .25 oz. Amber Agave Nectar, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, briefly shaken, poured up in a martini-style glass, with one mint leaf spanked and floated. So fucking good!

Favorite spirit:

Take a guess; we just talked about this. Okay, to be more precise: Reposados, many kinds and styles.

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Describe your cocktail and why it should be THE Colorado Cocktail:

For those of you who live in this amazing state, you know what Coloradans love, respect, admire and pride ourselves on. Some of these things are our sunny days; our snow-capped mountains; our amber fields of grain; our fresh fruit like peaches, apples, pears, and melons; our high alpine wildflowers; our fresh glacier water that helps to produce all of the amazing beer we pride ourselves on; our great produce from around the state, including one we named a town after, "Pueblo"; and the newly found nationwide respect we have gained for our award-winning spirits produced right here in Colorado.

My cocktail takes pride, history, tradition and respect, and puts them together in a glass that offers all that each and everyone of us loves about this state. It is also a cocktail that can be adapted for all seasons. My cocktail doesn't just represent the Rockies or the Western Slope; it encompasses the whole state, from the wheat and corn of the east that produces our bourbon and our beer, to the chile pepper of the south, to the honey from the Amish north made from the wildflowers found above 11,000 feet, to the Palisade peaches of the Western Slope, to a garnish of fresh pine sprig placed to hit the nose and make you feel like you're sitting in the Rockies, camping with your friends after a perfect day of fly- fishing. That's Colorado as we all know and love it!

The 300 Cocktail

2 oz. Peach Street Distillery Colorado Straight Bourbon
1.5 oz. New Belgium Sunshine Wheat (flavors of coriander, apple, honey and orange peel)
.5 oz. Ambrosia Pure Western Slope Honey
1/2 ripe Palisade peach, skin on, pitted, and cut into six equal segments.
1/4 inch thick, 1/2 inch diameter segment of Pueblo's famous Mira Sol "Green Chile Pepper."
Flamed orange rind
1 small Ponderosa or pine sprig for garnish (optional, but very nice for appeal and bouquet)

Directions: In chilled highball, muddle four peach segments, Mira Sol Pepper and .5 oz. Ambrosia Honey. Add Kold Draft ice to highball. In shaker or pint, stir Bourbon with flamed orange rind over Kold Draft ice just long enough to chill nicely. Pour over Kold draft in highball. Pour 1.5 oz. of New Belgium Sunshine Wheat into pint or shaker, and stir just enough to create 1/4 thick head. Float beer on top of bourbon in highball. Garnish with two peach segments and halved (lengthwise) Mira Sol Pepper. Skewer with pine sprig if available.

Have a question about the Colorado Cocktail Contest? E-mail bartender@westword.com.

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Location Info

TAG|Raw Bar - CLOSED

1430 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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