4 Top Tequila/Mezcal Drinks & Tips from Their Star Bartenders

Here's how four top Denver/Boulder bartenders enjoy working with - and sipping - agave-based spirits
April 29, 2014
by Ruth Tobias

This town’s awash in swell margaritas, from the grilled-pineapple version at La Biblioteca to the mezcal-based alternative at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina (pictured). But there are countless other ways to sample the agave-based spirits of Mexico. Here, four of Denver and Boulder’s most beloved bartenders weigh in on their own preferences. (Spoiler alert: silver, straight.)

Ace Eat Serve
The Straight Talk: At this Pan-Asian hangout in Uptown, head barman Randy Layman observes, “Everything gravitates toward sour recipes, because agave works so well with citrus. But keeping in mind that they both have more rustic, earthy, floral notes, using silver tequila in place of the gin in a gin cocktail, like a Martinez, works really well. For a gateway tequila drinker, say a whiskey fan, a Manhattan made with an añejo is fantastic. Or for a scotch drinker who’s more up for the challenge, a Bobby Burns with a dash of really bright mezcal is super-tasty; it plays great with sweet vermouth and Bénédictine.”
Top Cocktail: The Rocksteady with Milagro Silver, housemade chile-pineapple soda and lemon

501 E. 17th Ave.; 303-800-7705

The Straight Talk:
As owner and beverage director of both this RiNo smash hit at The Source and equally acclaimed Boulder flagship OAK at fourteenth, Bryan Dayton aims to make tequila and mezcal cocktails that are “built around the flavors of Mexico to complement the natural DNA of the base spirit.” But left to his own devices, “I drink silver tequila neat or in a well-made margarita. Silver hasn’t been influenced by oak, so you get the real spirit - what’s genuine that comes out of the agave plant.”
Top Cocktail: The Picante Grenada with Milagro Silver Select Barrel, pomegranate, cranberry, Cocktail Punk orange bitters, chile flakes, cocoa powder and Bénédictine, which “adds a nice herbal note” to the fruit and spice flavors.

3350 Brighton Blvd.; 720-542-3721

The Bitter Bar
The Straight Talk:
James Lee, who’s reopening The Bitter Bar in Boulder as sole owner after minor renovations on Friday, says he’s “a purist with tequila - it’s my first love. So I drink silver bottlings. You taste all the flavors of the soil, the state of Jalisco. My go-to is El Tesoro Platinum, which is easy to find. As for mezcal, I like tobolá, named for a particular type of agave plant. It’s not readily available; it’s only released at certain times of the year. But I’m going to try to have a couple bottles of that.”
Top Cocktail: The Green Shadow with Sombra mezcal, avocado and jalapeño. “We muddle the avocado, so you get its oils and texture, which is almost like that of an egg-white cocktail.”

835 Walnut St.; 303-442-3050

Williams & Graham
The Straight Talk: Sean Kenyon, the James Beard-nominated owner of this LoHi destination - and its just-announced upcoming sibling, The Occidental - echoes his colleagues in saying that “my drink of choice is a nice, unaged mezcal straight or a blanco tequila. Though I do think oak can bring something to the table in reposado tequilas, blanco tequilas like Siete Leguas and Fortaleza are really raw expressions of agave. These are truly native spirits, representative of the place they’re made in and the people that make them. And a new one that just came out that I really love is Cabeza. Those are my top three in tequila land. As for mezcal, I really don’t like it in oak. Mezcal already has a smoky quality and some salinity; wood-aging takes away from that. I’m definitely a devotee of Del Maguey Tobalá, but it’s not the cheapest thing in the world. Mezcal Vago’s Ensamble Olla de Baro is amazing - one of the best things I’ve tasted in a long time, along with Pierde Almas Dobadaan. And yes, I sell all of those. Agave spirits are kind of my wheelhouse.”
Top Cocktail: The Oaxacan Dagger with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Bonal and Pedro Ximenez sherry

3160 Tejon St.; 303-997-8886

bryan dayton
sean kenyon
taco tuesday
james lee
randy layman