The age of craft cocktails
Special to the Daily
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Vail Lifestyle magazine.
There was a time when most bartenders weren’t expected to do much more than pour beer, dish out shots and mix simple well drinks — well, times have changed.
It’s the age of craft cocktails, and imbibers expect a selection of small-batch liquors, fresh ingredients and unique flavors. Bars are incorporating house-made tinctures, fresh-grown herbs, exotic bitters and carefully crafted liquor combinations that range from pre-Prohibition to ultra-modern.
There are many places to get a good drink in the Vail Valley, and many talented bartenders. Where to start? Meet two of Vail’s craft cocktail specialists, who invited us behind the bar and dished on what they’re mixing.
The Remedy Bar — Four Seasons Resort Vail
Four Seasons Vail’s Steven Teaver discovered the food and beverage industry while teaching at a band camp. A fellow camp teacher was a kitchen manager at a local Italian restaurant and invited Teaver to apply for a job.
“I took a job in the kitchen, and I immediately fell in love with it — the energy and lawlessness that ruled the back of the house,” he said.
Teaver, now Four Seasons Vail’s director of beverage and mastermind behind the hotel’s hip lobby bar, The Remedy, has come a long way from those kitchen beginnings. These days, you’ll find him traveling the world to bring back small-batch liquors and behind the bar creating house-made syrups and shrubs for The Remedy Bar’s cocktails. The lounge is a wide-open, modern space with a centerpiece bar where patrons can watch all the action behind the counter. Drinks are classified apothecary style as “elixirs” and “potions,” with fun, spirit-inspired names.
Teaver has turned The Remedy Bar into a spot for on-point, spirit-forward drinks that feature hyper-seasonal, local ingredients. He makes all the bar’s shrubs and syrups in-house, so he can get just the right flavor profile, and relishes the chance to get creative behind the bar.
“When I started in the industry, bartending was making gin and tonics. Now there’s a culture of creativity, and people understand fine wines and cocktails, so they don’t mind waiting a few minutes for a custom-made drink,” he says.
What to try at The Remedy Bar
This classic has been reworked at The Remedy Bar, unique in that it’s spiced with a few different bitters and shaken — yes, shaken.
“Our Old-Fashioned breaks every rule for an Old-Fashioned,” said Teaver. “It’s got a very different, lighter mouth feel and has become our signature drink.”
The Medicine Cabinet
This old-style, boozy nightcap melds 14-year-old Knob Creek whiskey, sweet vermouth, Pimm’s, bitters, chartreuse and fernet, to name a few ingredients.
Donovan Sornig started in the bar industry at the front door — literally. He began by checking IDs at the door, worked his way up to bartender, and eventually became beverage director and restaurant manager at Vail Village’s rustic, casually refined Mountain Standard.
Over the years, he discovered that cocktails, with their history and complex artistry, were his real passion.
“I love building the flavors in cocktails like a chef does with food,” he said. “At Mountain Standard, we spend a lot of time working directly with the chef, talking about flavor profiles and how dishes can translate into a cocktail.”
The restaurant’s menu revolves around fare from the wood-fired grill, and Sornig saw no reason to limit that concept to the food selection. The cocktail list features drinks made with various wood-fired ingredients, from pineapples to tomatoes.
“The wood-fired grill really adds a savory element. It almost has a personality of its own. There’s more flavor and smoke, and the result is a delicious drink,” he said.
Sornig tries to incorporate other chef methods for his cocktails, too. The dehydrator might create a unique lemon garnish, while the flash chiller might make a cool, flavored ice.
“We try to really think outside the box and keep things interesting,” he said.
What to try at Mountain Standard
The bar’s No. 1 selling cocktail features fresh-squeezed lime juice, tequila, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and gum syrup, a pre-Prohibition style simple syrup. The elixir is straightforward, but has a cult following.
“This drink is really special to us,” Sornig said. “It’s not your average bloody. It’s hearty, made with wood-roasted tomatoes and garnished with pickled green tomatoes.”