Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
First of all, to be clear, I’m an equal opportunity skier, surfer and imbiber. If there is a powder day to be skied, a solid right point break to be ridden or a cold craft beer to be quaffed, I’ll be there. No matter where they may be found. Even if anywhere means Vail.
So this past week, on a visit to Rocks Modern Grill in Beaver Creek’s Beaver Creek Lodge, I had no problem participating when General Manager and cocktail connoisseur Jim Lay presented me with a fresh Peach Smash cocktail. It was the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous early August Colorado evening.
This is the time of year when fresh fruits, herbs and veggies are at their best. Here in the high country – and yes, that includes Vail for all of you Roaring Fork snobs out there – one can spend an entire August eating exclusively from the garden.
And for those who love cocktails and the thrill of fresh flavors that burst from the glass, the garden is also the go-to place. Regardless of what your spirit of choice is, you can come up with a concoction that includes the peaches, cherries and berries that grow so well here in the Colorado sunshine.
While you don’t have to work as hard as Jim Lay and his mixologist, Carlos Martorell, do behind the bar at Rocks to make great seasonal cocktails; if you do, the results will be worth it. Sometimes spending a little extra time to create special elements for your cocktails makes all the difference.
For example, Jim Lay’s Colorado Cherry Martini at Rocks makes use of some of the best stone fruit from the local farmers’ markets. Lay begins with 30 cherries, half Rainer, half Bing, de-stems and pits them and puts them in a saucepan. He pours 2 ounces of Kirchwasser, a cherry brandy that is popular in Switzerland, 2 ounces of maraschino cherry juice and 2 ounces of simple syrup (make your own by dissolving equal parts sugar and water in a pan; bring it to a boil while stirring, remove and cool) over the cherries and lets them simmer and reduce over a low heat for half an hour. He then mixes it all in a blender to create kind of a cherry compote that is the killer ingredient in this cocktail.
After the cherry reduction has cooled, Jim fills a shaker with ice, adds 2 ounces of the cherry slurry, 3 ounces of the hyper hip Ciroc Red Berry Vodka (a French ultra premium product distilled from grapes), and a good squeeze of fresh lime. He shakes it well and strains it in a Martini glass with a pair of fresh cherries for garnish. While I personally would prefer to use the preserved wild Italian cherries called Amarena Fabbri for garnish (these babies rock!), the point is that Jim Lay and his staff go the extra mile and you can too. While this may seem like a lot of work for a drink, once you make the slurry you’ll be drinking fantastic Cherry Martinis for the rest of the week.
Say you want to make a Colorado Peach Bellini or a Peach Smash with those wonderful little fuzzies that they sell at the Buttermilk produce stand, brought fresh from orchards in Palisade. Jim says that with a little effort you can make a peach nectar that will be perfect for any number of cocktails.
Simply pick eight to 10 perfect peaches, blanch them in hot water, peel them, remove the pits and cut them into slices. Mix them with a half-bottle of a sweet white wine (Lay suggests a late harvest Riesling or Moscatel) in a saucepan and let them cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes. Put the mixture in a blender and blend until smooth, then pour into a jar or pitcher and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
You can make a great Bellini by adding the nectar to a glass of Champagne or Prosecco or the sparkling wine of your choice, and garnishing it with a sprig of fresh mint from the garden. Mix it with some vodka in a shaker and you’ll come up with a Peach Martini. Or mix with some Bourbon, a little simple syrup, some lemon juice and a few drops of bitters in a rocks glass for a peachy take on an Old-Fashioned.
Summer is the season for experimentation with the tastes and ingredients you like. Simply be creative and you can make great cocktails using the best of the garden.
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