Fort Collins author and bartender Bryan Payment wants you to drink more whiskey, especially in cocktail form.
In fact, Payment, who currently runs the bar at The Cache, just released “The Little Book of Whiskey Cocktails,” which details over 40 recipes, old and new, all featuring that beloved brown spirit. Payment also wrote a handful of his own cocktail recipes, like the Durango (recipe below) and the Osaka Spritz.
We caught up with Payment to find out how he ended up writing about whiskey, his move to Colorado, and his favorite local places to drink and/or buy the liquor.
Why was whiskey the spirit you wanted to feature?
The idea I came up with was a quick reference guide because there are so many whiskey cocktails that go untold. I worked in a bar in Estes Park [Dunraven] and everyone would come in and get an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. These are great drinks, but I think there are others people should explore.
The whiskey category is so diverse. You have your Scotch, Canadian, Japanese, Rye and Bourbon. Plus, you can be super playful with cocktails because the genre is so open.
How long did it take you to compose “The Little Book of Whiskey”?
I would say about two years. Some recipes were older and I have revamped them. All in all it was fun and I love researching the history of all the cocktails. For example, the Old Fashioned, it was considered a purifying spirit and was downgraded because you weren’t purifying your bourbon. But once they started making all the herbal liquors and vermouth, people started accepting it more.
How did you come to write a book?
I started to teach myself cocktails and I read books of [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 wanted to make a book that is a quick reference guide for anyone who wants to learn. I have also included the history of the creation of the cocktails. Plus, the whole idea of the book is to open minds and show people that it’s not hard 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 little garden outside our apartment. I had never played with cocktails, but wanted to try something different. So, I took some basil from the garden, I had orange juice and rum, and I loved it. Then my wife gave me a set of cocktails for my birthday and I started devouring cocktail books and learning from the masters. His job took us from Virginia to Estes Park and the place needed a bartender.
Where are you now?
We now live in Fort Collins and I’m a bartender at The Cache, which is part of Ginger and Baker. There we are starting a series of cocktail classes in September which I teach.
But will you talk about whisky?
Yes, I think we will. I’ve already taught one which was cocktails 101. I think the next class will be all about New Orleans, so we’ll have the Sazerac and a few other classic NoLa cocktails and pair it with dishes from there like crayfish stew and donuts. It’s gonna be fun.
How did you choose the cocktails to feature in the book?
I wanted to do a few that people know very well. Something you could order at a bar, but don’t know how to do. I also wanted to include more modern ones like the paper plane [which was created by NYC bartender Sam Ross in 2008], and others that, if you’ve been to NYC, are everywhere. My favorite at the moment is penicillin which was also invented by Sam Ross at the Milk & Honey bar. I think people don’t think of making it at home, but they should because it’s delicious. I’ve also included some timeless classics, and some no one’s ever heard of.
Colorado has a lot of whiskey, do you have a favourite?
I really like the bourbon from the Breckenridge distillery. We have it The Cache and it’s my favorite right now. It’s a nice round and creamy bourbon with notes of caramel and a little vanilla. We also have a local distillery, Old Elk. I like that they have the tasting room and it’s right in the 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 mainly make whiskey and a good rye. I like rye a lot, especially in an Old Fashioned and a 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 also a nice rum sweetness to it. It’s one of those that you can just drink straight. I’m also a fan of the Balvenie Caribbean cask 14 year old single malt whisky, it’s my favourite.
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 love 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 go 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 there anytime soon.
Local whiskey to try now
Denver and the surrounding area has a slew of distilleries serving whiskey, and many sell bottles at local liquor stores and in other states, but some of the smaller operations only pour their spirits into the tasting room. Here are five spots that make Colorado whiskey sing.
Lois Whiskey House, 1420 S. Acoma St.; 720-570-1420; lawswhiskeyhouse.com
Opened in 2011, the whiskey that comes out of the distillery is made with all Colorado ingredients, including ancient grains and water. There are two solid offerings, a pure four-grain bourbon and a pure San Luis Valley rye, as well as seasonal bottles and specialty whiskeys.
Ironton Distillery, 3636 Chestnut Place; 720-532-0937; irontondistillery.com
Ironton makes three whiskeys including a pure American malt, a Colorado bourbon and a pure Colorado rye. Although available in some local stores, this brand is more difficult to find outside of the tasting room. Order a craft cocktail with the whiskey with your taster.
Boulder Spirits, 5311 Western Ave. #180, Boulder; 303-997-6134; boulderspirits.com
This operation falls under the umbrella of Vapor Distillery, the original name. The specialty is single malt whiskey in many forms, whether port cask, sherry cask or peated malt. Also find bail-bottled bourbon and whiskey, a historic designation meaning the spirit is from the same harvest, aged at least four years, and bottled at 100 degrees.
Talnua Distillery, 5405 W. 56th Ave., Unit C, Arvada; 303-431-4949; talnua.com
Apart from the great tasting whisky, Talnua stands out for being made in a single pot, just as it was originally made in Ireland. This one isn’t easy to find outside of the Arvada Distillery, so it’s worth a visit not just to sample the Gaelic-inspired whiskey, but also to try a cocktail.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, 200 S. Kalamath St.; 303-296-7440; stranahans.com
Stranahan’s is one of Denver’s best known and oldest modern distilleries. Recently, however, he changed up his classic American single malt, and now each bottle contains longer-aged whiskey, giving it a bit more depth that stands out. And while this one is easy to find in liquor stores around the world, distillers here still do special experiments with bottles and casks, many of which can only be found in the tasting room.
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