Summer is coming and with it the craving for something flavorful to sip on under the sun or in the air conditioning. For everyone 21 and over, cocktails are an indulgence that can satisfy that thirst. At Bear Creek Distillery in Denver, owner David “Dbo” Baker and bar manager Megan Heenan are the masterminds behind the cocktail menu, and they really understand the components necessary to mix a drink with summer vibes.
With Colorado being a hot spot of fresh, organic, local ingredients, these high quality components are found in drinks, too. Heenan commented that at Bear Creek, “We make everything in house that we use. We use all fresh ingredients, all fresh juice. The bell pepper juice, we’re cutting up bell peppers and juicing them. Turns out you can do that. We really like to focus on what we can get fresh and local.”
Heenan also thinks seasonally when it comes to creating Bear Creek’s drink menus. “We’ve switched to quarterly menus, and that’s because we want to use the freshest ingredients that we can. Strawberries in December,” she shrugged, “they’re not great, so we don’t put that cocktail on our menu.”
During the summer however, the Strawberry Balsamic Smash is a taste sensation. With strawberries, cucumber, lime, and balsamic vinegar accompanying Bear Creek’s own rye vodka, it’s 100% refreshing. Sticking with a fruit base, “Salinity Now is a salted watermelon vodka cocktail with Himalayan pink sea salt,” explained Heenan. “We make our own saline solution for it,” added Dbo. Their summer cocktail menu highlights more rum and vodka. With the winter menus, Heenan noted, “we go more whiskey and bourbon forward.”
Something else Heenan looks for in a summer drink is that it’s light. “We do a really great version of the Painkiller called Feeling No Pain. Sometimes Painkillers use that cream of coconut that is really heavy. Ours is a lot lighter, so it’s kind of a twist on that.”
In a similar vein, Heenan noted, “I love our version of a mojito because it’s not too sweet. I feel like we’ve all gotten those crappy mojitos that are, like, way too sugary and way too sweet. So it’s really nice and light.”
One of Dbo’s favorites is the Tiger Shark, “that particular cocktail was one of those things where it was seasonally appropriate as a tiki cocktail and kind of has that ocean vibe to it that can be carried all the way through the year. There was something about just trying to hone in on a shark and water for me.”
“One of the silver linings of the whole pandemic thing, is that we’re now able to sell packaged, to-go cocktails. Everything that you need is in there, all you gotta to do is shake it up and pour over ice. Sometimes, depending what you get, you might have to add some soda water or some ginger beer, but we’ll give that to you too.”
Dbo reflected that to-go cocktails are much more convenient than trying to help people mix their own Bear Creek cocktails at home, “Here’s a bottle and a bunch of complicated ingredients to go home and try and make on your own. Nine times out of 10, you don’t want to go home and coconut fat wash a bourbon … or juice a bell pepper.”
How long does a to-go cocktail last? “That kind of depends on the cocktail.” Heenan explained. “Obviously, the ones that are more spirit forward, like our Bold Fashion, any kind of Old Fashioned-style drink that’s mostly whiskey is gonna last a lot longer than, say, the Red Panda or anything with a lot of fresh juice. That will probably only last a couple days versus like a week or so for the other ones. You’ve still got a little bit of time. You can always kind of freeze them too.”
Dbo expressed, “We’re excited to be able to share this space again with everyone. Honestly, this month of April has felt more normal than the last few years.” Stop by Bear Creek Distillery’s tasting room or pick up cocktails to go, which are available until 2025 under HB21-1027.
In addition to Bear Creek, distilleries are popping up all over Colorado, many of which are also creating their own concoctions. Pay a visit to DEKI Spirits, formerly On Point Distillery, in Lafayette, Spirit Hound Distillers in Lyons, or Mad Rabbit Distillery in Westminster, just to name a few.
If you’re looking for something a little more family-friendly, Hops n Drops in Broomfield has unique cocktails, some of which are served to you in a glass made of ice, or you can pay one of our 2022 Best of the West East Boulder mixologist winners a visit; Jennifer at 24 Carrot Bistro or Hannah at Piripi.
If alcohol isn’t for you, there are bars for the sober-curious, such as Awake Denver. Some restaurant and bar menus already feature mocktails, but if they don’t, feel free to ask your server or bartender what they can put together.
If Heenan and Dbo have inspired you, sign up for a mixology class or two and invite your friends or make it a date night. They aren’t just for people interested in a certification for bartending, they can be a fun way to better understand how drinks are formulated and can be taken in person or online. You’ll be able to mix your own drinks at home for yourself, or for your guests, to get your perfect summer flavor combo.