We recently helped throw an epic dinner party at the Knapp Ranch in Edwards, Colorado with the Colorado FIVE team. I'm sharing highlights from the evening, along with a recipe for a Five-Spice Old Fashioned, crafted by my friend Jen Mattioni of the award-winning Q House in Denver. This riff on the classic cocktail is savory, spiced, and slightly sweet. If you've been wanting to amp up your cocktail-creating game, read on for tips on how to give your own personal twists on the classics, starting with this recipe.
Just over two weeks ago, Steve and I helped host and orchestrate a dinner at the most epic location. Expansive hillside views, lush and abundant wildflowers, and cool and fresh mountain air, alongside a culinary team of which dreams are made. Hosted by Chef Bryan Redniss of The Rose, in Edwards, Colorado, this Japanese kaiseki-style dinner was a bucket list event not only for us, who helped produce, execute, and capture the dinner, but also for the 80 people who were lucky enough to snag a seat before the experience sold out.
That evening was one of those moments that doesn’t come along very often, where you look around and take notice of what’s actually happening – you truly can’t imagine someplace else that you’d rather be. It felt like it may have been the highlight of the Colorado food scene this year. The scenery was so beautiful that photos can’t even capture the magnitude of the S P A C E there at Knapp Ranch. For the design enthusiasts and foodies out there, this property is owned and curated by the former owner of Architectural Digest and Bon Appétit magazines, Bud Knapp. I had the pleasure of meeting him and touring his home and expansive gardens at his ranch that sit at 9,000 feet above sea level.
I am sharing one of my favorite cocktails that evening from my friend and fellow Colorado FIVE beverage team member, Jen Mattioni, owner of Q House in Denver. She crafted this bright, savory, spiced version of the classic Old Fashioned cocktail for the appetizer course at the Knapp Ranch dinner and paired it alongside savory bites like Duane Walker of Morin Restaurant‘s panko-fried confit chicken thighs with black garlic, sweet chili fish caramel, spicy mustard, foie gras aioli, and furikake.
The group of chefs and beverage professionals, which I am part of this 2019 season, alongside my husband, Steve Steese, is a small group chosen by Leigh Sullivan Enterprises. Since 2008, FIVE has been a dedicated collaboration between Colorado’s most influential and innovative chefs and beverage professionals in an effort to put our state’s exceptional, regional cuisine on the national culinary map. Our FIVE team exemplifies the passion, creativity, and purpose that has become the staple of the Denver and Colorado dining scenes.
It has been such an honor and so much FUN to be part of this stellar crew. Not only do we volunteer our time together to produce amazing dinners that focus on the cuisine, produce, and products here in Colorado, we also donate 100% of our ticket sales to Firefly Autism in Denver, Colorado, which helps children within the autism spectrum discover the world and helps the world discover them.
FIVE-SPICE OLD FASHIONED
- 2 ounces Leopold Bros. Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- 1/2 ounce five-spice turbinado syrup (see recipe below)
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- freshly peeled orange twist
- In a mixing glass, combine the whiskey, five-spice turbinado syrup, and bitters.
- Add ice and stir until well integrated and chilled.
- Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a freshly peeled orange twist.
FIVE-SPICE TURBINADO SYRUP
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup turbinado sugar
- 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
- dash of dried Thai chili pepper flakes
- In a saucepan, combine the water, turbinado sugar, and five-spice powder.
- Bring to a low boil, fully dissolving the sugar.
- Remove from heat after the sugar dissolves.
- Let steep until the mixture returns to room temperature.
- After steeping, toss in a dash of dried Thai chili flakes for an extra kick. No need to strain.
- This cocktail recipe yields one drink.
- The five-spice turbinado syrup lasts up to two weeks refrigerated and will yield well over a dozen cocktails.
- This cocktail recipe is totally batch-able! Make a large batch in advance and store in the refrigerator. Only add ice once you are ready to serve the cocktails.
- What exactly is five-spice powder? Five-spice is a combination of five or more spices used in traditional Chinese cuisine. It is usually a combination of fennel, Sichuan pepper, star anise, clove, and cinnamon. It’s exceptional with savory meats like duck, pork, or goose, and it pairs perfectly with the woody, spiced, slightly sweet tone of this particular bourbon whiskey.
THOUGHTS ON THE COCKTAIL
I was super excited to try the newest release from Colorado’s Leopold Bros. – their straight bourbon whiskey. Not only is their recent rebrand by Denver’s Consume & Create sleek and gorgeous, this spirit also proves it is delicious on its own, as well as a superb mixer. Coming in at 90 proof, the bourbon whiskey is a mixture of 64% corn, 21% two-row barley and a touch of various brewers’ malts, and 15% Abruzzi heritage rye. It’s pot distilled, unfiltered, and aged four years in charred, new, American, white oak barrels.
Jen’s inspiration for this particular cocktail came from her love of the sweet-spicy flavor combination. At Q House, a James Beard Award nominee for Best New Restaurant this year, her team cooks with five-spice seasoning (a traditional combination of fennel, Sichuan pepper, star anise, clove, and cinnamon) and she thinks it is such an interesting ingredient, especially when paired with such an amazing bourbon whiskey. The sweet notes of Leopold Bros. straight bourbon whiskey are a natural match for a kick of spice and the savory notes of five-spice seasoning.
HOW TO USE THE CLASSICS TO CREATE COCKTAILS
I often get asked how to go about creating cocktails when first starting out. Learning how to make a balanced cocktail takes time, but getting there requires the best form of homework – mixing and drinking! Instead of trying to experiment by throwing a bunch of well-intended ingredients together, I suggest learning the basics – how spirits, flavors, textures, and aromas actually work together.
Master some of the classic cocktails, like the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan or the French 75. Then start to make your own riffs on those, like Jen’s Five-Spice Old Fashioned. Experiment with swapping out a different spirit, making a seasonal syrup, or subbing in a different form of bubbly. You’ll find which ratios work well together and why certain cocktails are either shaken or stirred.
One of my favorite classic cocktails is the Negroni, and I have shared several versions both here on the site and in other publications. It is a great classic to experiment with because it is equal parts gin, bitter, and sweet vermouth. Classically, it uses Campari as its bitter component, but there are so many different amari on the market today (and gin and vermouth versions, for that matter), so it is quite fun to play around with substitutions.
Here are a few of my own riffs on my favorite classic cocktail:
- Negroni d’Pampe | a Suze and grapefruit-forward twist
- Frozen Blood Orange Negroni | my favorite version ever
- Sparkling Spiced Blackberry Negroni | a bubbly, fruity riff
- Crushed Blackberry Negroni | a summery version with star anise ice cubes
I will close with the dinner’s menu and more photos from the evening’s celebrations and courses. We are gearing up for our next Colorado FIVE dinner tomorrow night at Grand Junction’s Bin 707 Foodbar, hosted by owner and executive chef, Josh Niernberg. I’m off to go and make sure our irrigation system is ready for a short break and finish lopping the rogue elm trees that keep popping up within the vines.
It is a never-ending string of chores and tasks here at the vineyard, leading up to harvest. I’m just happy I get to escape tomorrow night, enjoy some amazing food and drinks, and pretend that I don’t have an epic to-do list ahead of me.
Big thanks to Charles Townsend for capturing these gorgeous moments in photo form for this post and to FIVE team member Jeff Fierberg of Sora Digital for the one photo I sneaked in for this post of his capture of the new label for the Leopold Bros. straight bourbon whiskey!
AND mega thanks for the vision and support of our local friends here in the North Fork Valley, who so generously donated product for the pairings in this FIVE dinner – Big B’s Cider, Chrysalis Barrel-Aged Beer, and The Storm Cellar! Steve and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this team and to share our wines with each of the attendees and supporters of the Colorado FIVE concept of promoting local products, people, ideas, cuisine, and produce.
The Passed Appetizer Hour
Panko-Fried Confit Chicken Thighs | black garlic, sweet chili fish caramel, spicy mustard, foie gras aioli, furikake
Palntain Miso-Roasted Japanese Eggplant | crab, cherry kosho, sourdough furikake
Confit Trumpet Mushroom Mielle Fuielle | sake black vinegar glaze, shitake-tomato dust, seaweed puff
Sea Urchin Risotto | uni, kelp, shio-koji, shiitake, yuzu crema
Toasted Rice and Shiitake Mushroom Tea | green chili oil, celery leaves, raw shallot
Kaki Furai | wasabi, quail egg, scallion, lemon
Carboy Winery, “BLAN.CO”, White Blend, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado, 2018
Chrysalis, Barrel-Aged Yuzu Saison, Paonia, Colorado
Colorado Sake Company, American Standard, Junmai Ginjo, Unpasteurized Sake
Lychee Martini Popsicles | lychee purée, shochu, Fee Bros. cranberry bitters
Five-Spiced Old Fashioned | Leopold Bros. Straight Bourbon Whiskey, five-spice chili turbinado, orange bitters
The Seated, Eight-Course, Kaiseki-Style Dinner
Langostine | lobster, coconut miso, amaranth
The Storm Cellar, Dry Riesling, Estate, West Elks AVA, Colorado, 2018
Hassun (Seasonal Platter)
Wagyu Short Rib Nigiri | kamut-cooked dashi of Colorado mushrooms with lacto-fermented grape leaves, confit of mushroom with fresh elephant heart plum, chilled sweet corn broth, sweet corn tofu, grape leaf oil, puffed kamut
Big B’s, Ciaison Grand Cru, oak-aged saison Winesap cider with orange peel and coriander, Hotchkiss, Colorado
Shima-Aji Au Poivre | black pepper striped jack, peach curd, mint kosho, dashi jello
The Storm Cellar, Sauvignon Blanc, Estate, West Elks AVA, Colorado, 2018
Crab and Abalone | foie gras, scallion dumplings
Yuzu 75, Joto yuzu liqueur, Rohu gin, lemon, Thai chili simple, Cava
Yakimono (Seasonal Fish)
Salt-Baked Sea Bream | sweet avocado mayo, smoked tobiko, pickled watermelon radish
Plum Saketini, Ban Ryu Honjozo, cucumber purée, ginger-plum simple, Haku vodka, lemon
Shizakana (Savory Snack)
Tempura Zucchini | shichimi, black garlic, chive oil, ginger, puffed rice
Colorado Sake Company, Soto Junmai Daiginjo
Juniper and Shiso Char Siu Duck | black quinoa donabe, seasonal pickles, mushroom ponzu
The Storm Cellar, Rosé of Pinot Noir, West Elks AVA, Colorado, 2018
Yuzu Cream Tart | togarishi graham cracker crust, apricot emuboshi, wasabi coconut ice cream, ginger-candied cashew, pickled Western Slope cherry sauce
Tea Hammer | Beefeater 24 tea-infused gin, lemongrass simple, togarashi-spiced green tea, apricot bitters