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Lee’s Distillery in Colorado Springs is bringing back the gin cocktail

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Add together two ounces of gin, a splash of dry vermouth and orange bitters; stir, then strain over a chilled cocktail glass, and finish with a lemon twist garnish thus creating a gin martini.

Sound fancier than your run of the mill martini? It is.

Invented in the late 1800s, before prohibition, the gin martini is considered to be a classic cocktail. It is one of many classic cocktails on the menu at Brooklyn’s on Boulder, the Colorado Springs tasting room for the onsite gin distiller, Lee Spirits.

Hidden behind the facade of a haberdashery – a richly decorated, old-fashioned speakeasy turns out pre-Prohibition-style cocktails with each drink starting with pre-Prohibition style gin.

Cousins Nick and Ian Lee founded Lee Spirits in 2013 but didn’t put product on the market until April 2014.

Nick Lee said before the distillery he had a tech startup, but wanted to create something more hands-on that could contribute to a growing creative culture in Colorado Springs.

He said his cousin Ian’s family had experience with wine, and both were passionate about classic cocktails and the era that came with, which led them toward gin.

“We made 32 different iterations before we landed on the recipe we have now,” Lee said.

He said they started distilling in a basement, until they found their current location in November 2014.

The current location serves both as Lee Spirits Distillery and Brooklyn’s on Boulder, which is the tasting room associated with the distillery. The two areas are separated by a just glass garage door that goes down when the tasting room is open. It’s the law.

Legally one can’t have a liquor license and also have a distillers and whole-sale liquor license, so they have the tasting room separate.

The distillery itself is no bigger than a one-car garage and looks more like a mad scientist’s lab rather than a distillery.

Large barrels filled with distilled gin, one being flavored with peppers and cinnamon sit on the floor, while off to the side a table is scattered with miscellany of current flavor experiments being constructed.

The distillery at Lee’s Spirits is riddled with jars of spices and ingredients the bunch use to experiment. Photo by Kara Mason

The gin is corn-based and flavored through botanicals added in during the distilling process; the main rule for gin is the lead botanical must be juniper. Lee said the process they use to distill their gin is called single-shot distilling, which means they leave their botanicals in the still while the gin is distilling.

“By leaving ours in, it gives it a fuller flavor,” Lee said.

After the gin has finished cooking in the stills, they are then put into the barrel drums to be diluted down with water and then bottled.

Lee said they can bottle about 1,000 bottles in a week.

“Nobody really sits around sipping gin, so we made a gin that could be made with any and all cocktails,” said Lee, who said the duo decided to distill gin the way they did before prohibition because it was the golden-age of cocktails.

Cole Chapman, one of the distillery’s employees, said if Lee Spirit’s gin didn’t make a perfect martini, a perfect Negroni or a perfect Martinez, then they would go back and see what was wrong with the gin and figure out how to tweak it to make it work for any drink they make.

“A lot of distilleries would make their product and go with how it tastes like on its own, but gin is meant to make into a cocktail,” Chapman said.

As Lee Spirits got closer to its final product, the distillery’s head bartender Nate Windham would make five cocktails to see how their gin tasted in each cocktail.

In addition to gin, Lee Spirits has also created their own liqueurs, some that have gone to market and some that have been made just for the tasting room.

“Because we don’t have a liquor license we can’t buy some of the other things you need to make certain in drinks, so we make everything in house,” Chapman said.  

One example of a cocktail “ingredient” they had to make on their own is Campari, which is used when making a Negroni.

At Lee Spirits, they made their own version of Campari, spelled Kamparee.

Chapman said no one really knows what is in Campari, because the recipe hasn’t been released, so when creating their own it was mostly from taste.

“It’s a clear knock off of the original…but it’s not just distilling gin here, but we are making everything,” he said.

Windham is also responsible for creating a lot of the liqueurs used at the distiller’s tasting room.

“We’re really lucky to have him (Windham) making us all these products,” Lee said of Windham, adding their diverse and extensive cocktail menu is one of the reason’s why Brooklyn’s on Boulder does stand out in Colorado Springs’ growing nightlife scene.

Last year, Chapman said the tasting room had 16 drink menus in one year.

“Because this is a tasting menu, not a full service bar we can put a bunch of eccentric menus,” he said.

Last Christmas, the tasting room had a Christmas-themed menu based on the song, “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Chapman also said they have something for everyone on their menu.

“Say if you like whiskey, well we have five cocktails that you wouldn’t realize is made with gin,” Chapman said. One those “whiskey” cocktails are made with gin that was made with staves from a Maker’s Mark barrel.

“It (gin) will bring out all sorts of nuisances hiding in the background,” Chapman said about the complexity of gin’s taste.

Lee said they’ve enjoyed the success of the tasting room, and like how it can give them instant feedback about the products they are trying out.

“The great thing about the tasting room is we use it has a tasting bed, to test if we can use something on the larger market,” Lee said.

At this moment, the distiller’s lavender gin and a handful of liqueurs have each found their way out of the tasting room and onto liquor store shelves throughout the state.


Lee’s Gin Recommends

A Gin Buck

What you’ll need:

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1.5 oz lime juice
  • Ginger beer
  • Limes

How to make it:

  1. Chill a copper mug
  2. Crush up some ice in a bag
  3. Pour that ice into the chilled mug
  4. Add in gin
  5. Add in lime juice
  6. Fill the rest of the mug with ginger beer
  7. Make it handsome and garnish with a lime

The Classic Martini

What you’ll need:

  • 2 oz gin
  • ¾ oz dry vermouth
  • Orange bitters
  • Lemon twist

How to make it:

  1. Chill a cocktail glass
  2. Add gin to a glass
  3. Add dry vermouth the same glass as gin
  4. Add orange bitters to the gin and dry vermouth
  5. Add ice and stir — yes, stir
  6. Strain into the cocktail glass you have chilled
  7. Finish it off with a lemon twist
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Beer

Fresh pressed: Cider comes to Colorado’s Apple Valley

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A long, winding drive through the mountains on the way back from Grand Junction gave Kevin Williams time to reflect and think about his future. Inspired by a brewery he had recently visited, Williams was racking his brain for a way to incorporate a location or aspect related to Pueblo into a nano brewery he had long planned to open. And as the winding roads continued to clear Williams’ thoughts, it hit him: Penrose is known as Apple Valley. Why not open a cidery there?

Kevin Williams, former brewmaster at Walter’s Brewery in Pueblo, wants to put Penrose on the beer map with his Apple Valley Cider.

A week later he mentioned the random idea to his dad, who a few days later had a building picked out for him just off of Highway 115 next door to Broadway’s Bar & Grill. Starting with a blank space, the building owner worked with Williams and has built the location to fit the needs of a cidery.

Floor drains have been installed, a large walk-in cooler has been constructed, and an office is in place. A few more finishing touches and Williams will begin making cider under the aptly named brand Apple Valley Cider. His current plan is to have bottles of his three ciders: a semi-sweet, peach, and black currant on store shelves near the beginning of February.

No stranger to what it takes to come up with craft recipes, execute on the tasty ideas, and then market and sell, William’s started his professional brewing career at Walter’s Brewing in Pueblo. He has since moved on, citing the desire to move from employee to owner of his own business as the main reason.

Williams has been experimenting and making cider almost from day one of his homebrewing days, and has continued to do so even when he moved on to brewing professionally. It has been a learning process, but one that he feels has led up to the point where he’s ready to share with the outside world.

Brewing beer and making cider are similar in a few ways, namely starting with a sugary substance that you add yeast. However, the process is vastly different when it comes to the amount of labor required during the brewing process itself. Instead of long, hot, and heavy brewing sessions where larger burners and heavy bags of grain are required, making cider consists of mixing juice with water, adding some yeast, and waiting for nature to do its thing. That may be a bit simplified, but you get the point.

The more intense part of the process is going to be bottling and kegging cider for distribution. Currently, Williams plans to distribute everywhere he can within an hour drive of Penrose. So, that means Pueblo County, El Paso County, and Fremont County. Salida and Buena Vista will potentially be included in the first round of cities he will self-distribute in.

As a member of the Steel City Brewers homebrew club, I’ve known Williams for a couple of years now. During that time, I’ve had the chance to taste some of his ciders. More recently, he started asking the club to taste what (unknown to us at the time) would soon become his first three cider variations for Apple Valley Cidery. Over the course of several months and several iterations, I tasted ciders that went from decent to OMG YOU NEED TO SELL THIS.

Apple Valley Cider

The semi-sweet cider has plenty of apple flavor with a pleasant amount of sweetness. The peach cider is, in not so many words, delicious. It tastes exactly like the peach candy rings you can get from a convenience store—only better. It’s not overly sweet, and the peach is clearly present from start to finish. As for the black currant cider, there’s a notable tartness to the cider that’s rather enjoyable.

Apple Valley Cider won’t have a formal taproom. Instead, the Broadway’s Bar & Grill next door will serve as an informal taproom where you can try out any of the currently available ciders. Williams will have a grand opening party and special tastings as new flavors are released in the front room of Apple Valley Ciders.

Speaking of special tastings, Williams is working with Jenkins Farms to create a special release Apple Valley Cider made with apples from the Jenkins’ orchard. Exact details and timing are still being worked out, but I could tell by the excitement on his face that it’s going to be big.

If you want to keep tabs on Apple Valley Cider, like the Facebook page where Williams will post more details about his impending launch and release party.

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Books

Crouch’s ‘Dark Matter’ and our ever-present what ifs

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Colorado author, Blake Crouch, in his most recently published novel, “Dark Matter,” explores and aims to answer one of humanity’s most pressing existential questions: what if? Crouch writes on the dedication page of his newest novel, “For anyone who has wondered what their life might look like at the end of the road not taken.” And indeed it is.

The story follows the journey of a man named Jason Dessen – a brilliant physicist living in Chicago with his wife and son. Although Jason had the opportunity at one point in his life to achieve his career dreams and become a star in his field, he chose to lead a more family-focused life as a local community college professor.

One night, he is abducted and drugged while walking home. He awakes in a world where his wife doesn’t know him, his son doesn’t exist, and he has achieved that professional success that eluded him in his previous life. Jason’s quest to return to his reality leads him on a thrilling and psychologically probing goose chase through the multiverse that, as Crouch writes in an afterword of the novel, “forces him and the reader to reckon with the quantum-mechanics principles that make our universe tick.”

Science fiction is not uncharted territory for Crouch. He is most well known for his “Wayward Pines” trilogy, which was adapted for television and premiered on FOX in May of 2015. Like the “Wayward Pines” series, “Dark Matter” weaves elements of the fantastic and the actual, with themes of love and family truly making up the core of the story. Crouch is already working on the screenplay for the film adaptation of “Dark Matter” – this time on the big screen. Sony bought the movie rights for the film, and will begin production in the near future.

Crouch was inspired to write the novel by his interest in quantum mechanics, despite his limited scientific background. In an afterword of his book, Crouch writes: “I wrote ‘Dark Matter’ so if you’d never heard of quantum mechanics, it wouldn’t matter.” And he is true to his word. Crouch’s narration weaves in the scientific aspects nearly seamlessly, and makes even the more complicated points understandable to his readers by being concise with his language and clear in his analogies.

A common error among sci-fi stories is piling information on the reader to make the author sound more credible. Crouch avoids this error, striking the right balance of factual information that applies to the narrative with the more fictitious elements that are then bridged effortlessly in the reader’s mind.

While Crouch’s novel does dwell heavily in the science-fiction genre, it is a love story as much as it is an existential thriller. Rather than highlighting the ecstasy of being able to trade a life you’re dissatisfied with for another, Crouch’s approach is more to point out how shallow the reasons are that create that sense of dissatisfaction. His main character, Jason, is motivated throughout the story purely by the love he has for his wife and son – and the realization that his biggest mistake is taking that love for granted.

Detailing Jason’s grappling between his family life and his professional life is where Crouch really hits home with so many of his readers. Detailing that struggle on a larger existential scale where virtually every choice creates another competing life, and that these lives aren’t just possible separately, but also simultaneously, is what lends so much ingenuity to Crouch’s entire premise.

Every single one of us wonders what would have happened if we’d taken another job, gone to a different college, moved somewhere different, married someone different, didn’t marry at all; the list goes on and on. “Dark Matter” is an intelligent proposition of an answer to our ever-present what-ifs. Not to mention an altogether riveting and touching tale.

Originally from North Carolina, Crouch currently lives in Durango, Colorado and has ever since he received his Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina. When asked in an interview what drew him to Colorado, Crouch said: “I love everything about the West. The wide-open space. The history. The mentality. Rain curtains over the desert. How much deeper and more rattling thunder sounds as opposed to everywhere else. Sage brush. Mountains. Desert. Snow. But most important, a serene, contemplative place to write.”

Crouch is currently working on a new novel from his home in Durango. In addition to “Dark Matter” and the “Wayward Pines” trilogy, he has written more than a dozen other novels and short stories; most of which can be found for sale on his personal website: www.blakecrouch.com. His other television projects include the TNT television show “Good Behavior” starring Michelle Dockery, which is based off of a series of three interlinked novellas Crouch previously wrote and published.

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Arts & Culture

Her Paris

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When we open an art history book or go to a major art museum, male artists dominate the narrative. A woman may be represented here and there, but the overall impression given is that women were negligible players in the history of art, outliers and curiosities.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, especially in 19th-century Paris. From the French Revolution on, women were a major presence on the Parisian art scene. They may not have been allowed into l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, France’s largest art school, until 1897, but they were allowed to exhibit in the Paris Salon, Europe’s preeminent art exhibition–and did, in great numbers. Women studied art under private tutors or at smaller art academies like the Académie Julian, all while pushing for greater equality in the art world and, by extension, society as a whole. They were also major contributors to independent exhibitions, including those of the French Impressionists.

Her Paris goes a long way toward bringing more attention to these “forgotten” artists with an exhibit devoted entirely to women painters from the latter half of the 19th century. This huge exhibition is divided into seven sections covering portraiture, genre scenes, fashion, childhood, landscape, history painting, and “jeunes filles,” or young women.

The exhibit opens with portraiture, which seems a straightforward subject. But this section is more than just a series of portraits. It’s the perfect way to start the conversation about female artists in Paris because it demonstrates they weren’t a negligible presence on the Parisian art scene: they were part of an entire community. They were friends, sisters, roommates, neighbors, and rivals who lived, studied, socialized, and worked together to gain recognition for their artistic talents–not just individually, but as a group. From Berthe Morisot and her sister, Edna; once-famous Marie Bashkirtseff and the only person she considered her artistic equal, Louise Breslau; to Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, an American painter who was friends with Rosa Bonheur and later wrote her biography. These portraits show that women artists didn’t just come to Paris because it was the epicenter of European art; they came because in Paris they could find encouragement and support amongst other women.


The next section of Her Paris continues that theme, with scenes from everyday life, also known as genre. The theme may seem innocuous at first, until one looks closer. Between moments of eating dinner and pouring tea are women smoking (scandalous!), reading–which for a woman at the time was still a revolutionary act, underscoring they were human beings with an intellect and interior “life of the mind,” as the exhibition puts it–and performing the commonplace tasks and chores that formed the underpinning of Parisian society.

The grandest painting in this section is Lunch in the Greenhouse by Louise Abbéma, which dominates the wall at the far end of the gallery. When it was first exhibited in public, it was criticized for being “flat” and “emotionless.” But its rich color and high level of detail make it nearly irresistible: you feel like you can step right into the piece and sit down at the table.

There’s also a very modern rejection of narrative or moralizing in Lunch in the Greenhouse; it’s merely a snapshot of a moment, although Abbéma couldn’t resist adding the charm of the little girl with the big pink bow or the dog beside her. The other figures are friends and family of Abbéma, most notably the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, with whom Abbéma is rumored to have had an affair. If true that makes Abbéma’s expression in the painting as she reclines behind Bernhardt all the more intriguing.

Abbéma also painted one of the stand-out pieces in the next section, devoted to fashion. Among the Flowers shows a woman in a gorgeous flower-printed white dress, whose form is mirrored by the black urn overflowing with flowers beside her. Abbéma’s association of a woman with a decorative object (indeed, the woman seems to be greeting the plant as if it were a person) sums up the theme of this section: that by focusing on fashion, these female artists weren’t just conflating fashion with art, but rejecting the idea that decoration of themselves and their homes should be their only creative outlet.

The next section focuses on paintings of children. While the idea that women artists are innately better able to depict children is patently stupid (men had been doing it perfectly well since the Renaissance), it can perhaps be said that women had greater access to child models. In fact, female artists of the 19th century usually used friends and family as models exclusively, since models for hire tended to have unsavory backgrounds (cough prostitutes cough).

The childhood section introduces the most unique artist by far included in Her Paris, German painter Paula Mendersohn-Becker. One of the earliest expressionist painters, Mendersohn-Becker is frequently referred to as the first female modernist and with good reason. Her paintings look like something out of the 1930s rather than the 19th century. Becker’s figures are flatly modeled, with a limited palette and expressive facial features. Far from pretty, there’s no denying the irresistible charm of Becker’s work in her use of line and her focus on the emotions, rather than the appearance, of her sitters.

The landscape section serves as the lynchpin of the whole exhibition because it’s here where you can really see how 19th-century women were pushing painting forward in new directions.

One of the most unique pieces is Waterfall by Fanny Churberg, which was described as abnormal and “strange” by contemporaries. It is unusual, but in an intriguing way. Churberg’s painting is highly naturalistic and textured, almost as if one is looking at it through a stereoscope (a way to combine two images into one to create a 3D effect). Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz’s atmospheric Unter den Linden in Berlin is another standout piece, as is Helen Schjerfbeck’s The Door, which captures a church door in Brittany. It’s a landscape, but could just as easily be called a still life, one that uses light and color to suggest a spiritual and symbolic component.

The last two sections of Her Paris–history painting and jeunes filles–are not as tightly themed as the previous sections, although they contain some of the exhibition’s best pieces. One of these is Plowing in the Nivernais by Rosa Bonheur, by far the most famous female painter of the 19th century, or any century before it. A child prodigy, she was the first woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest artistic award, which the Empress Eugenie herself pinned to Bonheur’s breast at her chateau outside of Paris.

Plowing in the Nivernais is one of Bonheur’s most well-known works, painted just after the 1848 Revolution that instituted the Second Republic. The stars of the painting are the Nivernais oxen clomping across the canvas, rendered in exquisite and loving detail. But Plowing in the Nivernais doesn’t just demonstrate Bonheur’s skill as an animal painter: her treatment of the soil, atmosphere, and sunlight is the height of realism. You can almost feel the heat of the sun, smell the turned earth, and feel the soft ground beneath your feet. Indeed, the very solidity of the oxen and landscape conveys a sense of permanence and on the grand scale of a history painting. Bonheur may not have been painting history as such, but she was undoubtedly commenting on the endurance of France, despite the ups and downs of political changes.

Other artists of note include Anna Archer, whose paintings are quiet, yet luminous; Eva Gonzalès, the only pupil of Edouard Manet, who has several charming pieces; Marianne Stokes, with gorgeously rich canvases inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites; and Julie Delance-Feurgard, whose Le marriage exudes an intense feeling of movement and suspense, despite the rather staid subject matter.

Her Paris is an extraordinary exhibition that introduces art lovers to the best painters they’ve never heard of. The sheer volume of work in this exhibit is staggering, especially when one considers it covers just 35 female painters who trod Paris’ cobblestoned streets for a mere fifty years. Her Paris, along with The Women of Abstract Expressionism that took place earlier this year, marks the DAM as an institutional leader and innovator. This show is definitely not one to be missed.

Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism will be on view through January 14th, 2018. Advanced tickets are highly recommended. For more information, visit denverartmuseum.org.

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