Kevin Burke: Mentorship is the hallmark of a mature bartending scene
Favorite drink on your list: The Jack Rose in the classics section. It's incredibly simple, one of those rare cocktails that's more than the sum of its ingredients. It's one of the first cocktails I made that was a real gateway into classics and understanding classic balance, and it has perfect fall and winter flavors: American apple brandy, pomegranate, fresh citrus. Seasonal right now isn't mint, basil or cucumber. But we do have beautiful lemons and pomegranates the size of your fist -- it's citrus season. The Laird family is maybe the oldest in the U.S. cranking out traditional apple brandies -- Applejack is the American equivalent of Calvados. Even their blended tastes apple-y and bright, so you really get the citrus and pomegranate coming through. For people who like simple drinks like cosmos, lemon drops or traditional sours, there's no reason why they wouldn't love Jack Rose.
Favorite item on your back bar: The black and white TV? No, honestly, I'm so promiscuous when it comes to the back bar. Here's what I poured for myself last night: a Utica Club and a half dram of A.E. Dor Napoleon Cognac. It's a cool story. Napoleon means the Cognac has to be at least six years old; A.E. has 17-year-old going in, and it uses brandies from less sexy areas of Cognac, which gives it a wonderfully fruity and mature profile. Most producers stay away from it, but this Cognac house says they'll make a beautiful, delicious cognac in a way that's not popular.
What was your craziest night behind the stick? The entire first Christmas season that we were open at Colt & Gray. It was Parker Ramey and myself running the program, and we just got slaughtered. It was pretty gnarly. We were busy, and we were stubbornly trying to run the bar like a cocktail bar instead of like a restaurant. We were going overboard as far as how we did service at the bar and trying to make it more formal than we needed to. There were too many cocktails, and they weren't well-planned. Now, we take many of our cues behind the bar from how the kitchen sets up. There was a level of prep and learning how this monster and this beast was going to operate -- we had to figure out what we needed to do to make it successful. It took about half a year to nail it down and get it done. Our drinks were good, we were just working far too hard to get them produced every night.
Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: My Brother's Bar. It's my office. Usually, they'll see me coming and there will be a tasting glass in front of a bar seat, and I just figure that one's mine. We play a blind game. It's fun. Colt & Gray is eclectic, but they get ornery and pour me Canadian Club or Hennessy or something I haven't tasted in awhile. Then I'll have a beer or cider and a whiskey. For fancy drinks, I go to Linger as close to last call as possible, and I'm totally fine with ordering a beer and a whiskey or a beer and a tequila if they're too busy. they have a great selection of tequila. In LoDo, I go to Green Russell for a platonic ideal of a Manhattan with impeccable service. I will be visiting Matty Durgin at Adrift once that opens. It's on my way home from ballet rehearsal, which is my day job, so he may have to put up with me sitting at his bar in sweaty tights.