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Cocktail the Vote: Denver Barkeeps Vie for Garnish Games Crown

BY STEVE LYSAKER

PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENT ANDECK

The football season is over, basketball and hockey are laboring through their winter doldrums, pitchers and catchers have yet to report for spring training, and the Summer Olympics are nearly a half-year away. But if you’re aching for some serious competition in the interim between big sporting events, the 2020 Denver Garnish Games has you covered.

At 6pm on Monday, March 9, at Improper City {3201 Walnut Street, Denver} 16 top bartenders from 16 of Denver’s best taverns and restaurants will face off with their most inspired custom cocktails complemented by their most creative garnishes. Admission and drink samples are free, though attendees are asked to RSVP via the Garnish Games website.

The bartenders and their cocktails can be viewed now on the Garnish Games site. Online voting for the best garnish is open through 2am on March 1. Following—in alphabetical order by participating establishment—is a look at the competitors and their creations.

ACORN {3350 Brighton Boulevard, Denver; 720.542.3721}

Mixologist: Logan Yakobson

Cocktail: Melt With Us

Garnish: Partially melted, soft-serve ice cream served upside-down in a homemade cone

Inspiration: “The opening of our neighbor dessert shop, Melted (in The Source Hotel + Market Hall). The beautiful cones caught our eye immediately!”

AMERICAN ELM {4132 West 38th Avenue, Denver; 720.749.3186}

Mixologist: Jesse Torres

Cocktail: Ocean Water Punch

Garnish: An ocean scene crafted from rock candy, ice spheres, herbs, and a sea star.

Inspiration: “Living here in the mountains, we are blessed with an abundance of gorgeous vistas and peaks. But one thing we are definitely missing is the ocean. Lucky for us, though, we have an incredible aquarium here and can explore the mysterious underwater world of our oceans. That mystique, beauty, and awe that I get when I visit our aquarium is the inspiration behind my garnish.”

ASH’KARA {2005 West 33rd Avenue, Denver; 303.537.4407}

Mixologist: Nicole Lebedevitch

Cocktail: Coast to Coast

Garnish: Coconut-oil “coral” accented with lemon peel and fennel.

Inspiration: “Colors of a coral reef and its surrounding environment. This drink is meant to transport you to the sea. In flavors of the Mediterranean and the bold colors of the coast, this drink makes you think of all the songs of the ocean.”

B&GC {249 Columbine Street, Denver; 720.925.8598}

Mixologist: Matthew Samson

Cocktail: Cover Band Baby

Garnish: Pineapple pandan foam topped with freeze-dried tropical fruit.

Inspiration: “Hanging out before shift, we take turns playing music. The mood is always changing, but ‘Escape (The Piña Colada Song)’ by Rupert Holmes is a staple on many a playlist. For this competition, we have reimagined the Piña Colada as a cocktail the same way a cover band might reinterpret a song in a style all their own.”

BIG TROUBLE AT ZEPPELIN STATION {3501 Wazee Street, Denver; 720.460.1978}

Mixologist: Ian Kelly

Cocktail: Dot + Box

Garnish: A glass “painted” with a matcha and powdered sugar mix, and accentuated with dehydrated citrus fruits, then topped with a cocktail-filled orb that includes Ketel One vodka, jasmine, pandan honey, and lemon juice.

Inspiration: “Playful games and stained glass. Something vodka, but not too sweet.”

CITIZEN RAIL {1899 16th Street, Denver; 303.323.0017}

Mixologist: Chris Burmeister

Cocktail: Cane & Cavendish

Garnish: A Thai tea-based cream floated on top of the cocktail, finished with banana-cinnamon powder and mint leaves, and served with a Thai tea macaron.

Inspiration: “The flavors and aromas of Thai tea, and pairing them with the rich rum and subtle smoke of single-malt Scotch whisky.”

ELWAY’S AT THE RITZ-CARLTON DENVER {1881 Curtis Street, Denver; 303.312.3107}

Mixologist: Josh Rock

Cocktail: The $4 Dream

Garnish: A bamboo leaf, tropical orchids, and dry ice for a full, warm-beach, Tiki feel.

Inspiration: “Last trip to Hawaii. The fun, relaxed island life, with a light breeze implemented into the drink with the (guava-heavy whipping cream) foam garnish. Taking the traditional tropical Mai Tai, but twisted it with bourbon, a bitter finish, and hints of tobacco cherry.”

GREEN RUSSELL {1422 Larimer Street, Denver; 303.893.6505}

Mixologist: Elyse Kimmel

Cocktail: Concerto No. 5

Garnish: Homemade foam infused with Concord grape and Schisandra berry, and accented with hardened-sugar coral and a sprinkling of rose petals for aromatics.

Inspiration: “Schisandra berries were the inspiration for every component of my cocktail, and being that they are known as the ‘Five-Flavor Berry,’ I wanted to keep the theme of five present throughout. Both the foam and the sugar tuile each consist of only five ingredients, five also being the number of ingredients in the cocktail. I wanted the experience of this drink to entice all five senses—the smell of the rose petals, the sight of the varying textures, the sound of the sugar pattern cracking, the feel of the velvet foam, and of course the taste of the delicious combination of flavors.”

IMPROPER CITY {3201 Walnut Street, Denver; 720.666.0043}

Mixologist: Victoria Buehner

Cocktail: Tiger’s Jaw

Garnish: Jagged, teeth-like shards of hardened sugar accompanied by pomegranate seeds and a sprig of baby’s breath.

Inspiration: “I wanted something that was elegant and powerful, like a tiger in the wild. I liked the idea of blending technique with organic simplicity. Plus sad-girl music.”

LEROUX {1510 16th Street, Denver; 720.845.1673}

Mixologist: Brandon Soto

Cocktail: Fated Beginning

Garnish: A solidified fig and beet puree in a fruit rollup-style form.

Inspiration: “Sustainability and the total utilization of available resources. To highlight bold seasonal flavors so that we may produce an elegant and perception-challenging beverage. Fated Beginning is an anagram of fig, beet, and gin, the major flavor profiles of the cocktail.”

LOST RESORT AT STAR BAR {2137 Larimer Street, Denver; 720.328.2420}

Mixologist: Les Baker V

Cocktail: Moses’s Burning Bush

Garnish: Tarragon, mint, and rosemary rooted in a large ice cube and surrounded by crushed ice; the garnish is lit just before serving.

Inspiration: “The moment the gods touched earth and spoke to one man.”

MIZU IZAKAYA {1560 Boulder Street, Denver; 720.372.7100}

Mixologist: TJ Vong

Cocktail: Girl With Balloon

Garnish: Ube cheese foam and edible paint topped with a lavender-filled balloon.

Inspiration: “The overall combination of garnishes was inspired by Banksy’s painting ‘Girl with Balloon.’ The cocktail is a painting. And brings the guest into the painting to enjoy an experience. The heart-shaped balloon found in the painting is believed to represent love, hope, innocence, childhood, and self-confidence. It’s thought that the piece symbolizes losing something which is within your grasp. In the cocktail the balloon is filled with the essence of lavender and is popped after the guest receives the cocktail.”

POKA LOLA SOCIAL CLUB {1850 Wazee Street, Denver; 720.460.2725}

Mixologist: Devin Chapnick

Cocktail: Ancient Horrors: Veil of the Deep

Garnish: A cocktail “tentacle” made with Ron Zacapa rum, Caffè Borghetti, and Amaro Averna.

Inspiration: “The dualistic nature of reality and chaos that exists just beyond our perception. And D&D. I tried to materialize a theoretical duality in drink form by making two separate cocktails in one.”

PONY UP {1808 Blake Street, Denver; 720.710.8144}

Mixologist: Michelle Glancey

Cocktail: Pony Land

Garnish: Absinthe marshmallows, rose-and-peach-blossom lollipops, and chocolate truffles made with Baileys Irish Cream and Ron Zacapa rum.

Inspiration: “We wanted to make a game out of the garnish and have it be another way to interact with the guest. I thought it would be interesting to have one of three homemade garnishes, depending on which card you choose, melt into the cocktail to give it added flavor.”

SUSHI DEN {1487 South Pearl Street, Denver; 303.777.0826}

Mixologist: Tracy Marshall

Cocktail: Imada’s Sugidama

Garnish: A sugidama and complementary florals.

Inspiration: “A ‘sugidama,’ or cedar ball, is the recognized symbol of the sake brewing process. At the beginning of the brewing season, most breweries hang a sugidama outside of their door full of green cedar leaves—as the sake matures, the cedar ball naturally begins to brown. Once the entire sugidama is dull, the sake-drinking season has begun. Utilizing this symbol as the garnish pays ode to the use of sake in this cocktail, which is married with one of our favorites, Tanqueray 10.”

WILLIAMS & GRAHAM {3160 Tejon Street, Denver; 303.997.8886}

Mixologist: Saydee Hopkins

Cocktail: Pearl Dragon

Garnish: A sugar-based nest with edible flowers and stardust.

Inspiration: “Watching a lot of ‘Zumbo’s Just Desserts!’ The inspiration behind the cocktail comes from my trip with my husband and his family to Vietnam. We had a Taiwanese-style boba milk tea made with brown sugar and cream cheese that was delicious. I was trying to imitate that flavor profile.”