Boulder’s reputation for having a competitive restaurant scene provides us with so many opportunities to experience good-spirited, albeit heated competition. Movers and Shakers, a competition focused on naming ‘Boulder’s Best Cocktail,’ has been influential in ranking some of our city’s best since 2013. This year, Montanya’s Plantino Rum was the spirit inspiration for Boulder’s best mixologists to create the most coveted drink, and thus, bar program, a huge point of distinction in such a competitive market. Each competitor also provided a ‘bite’ inspired by their cocktail and this year’s spirit. Creativity, presentation and balance were all under scrutiny from judges and citizens alike, and once again, Boulder’s best mixologists showed their ability to surprise and delight while competing at the highest level.
The spirit of competition is palpable as you enter the Dairy Center’s open reception area. The chatter of friendly debate and the clink of glasses fill the room with a vibrancy, subtly disguising the tension. I head to Montanya’s booth, greeted by a lovely display of rum varietals, bitters and the cheery bartender ladling out a vibrant yellow cocktail. I’ve always had a sweet spot in my heart for Montanya; born and bread in Crested Butte Colorado, this American craft, High Mountain Rum is impeccably made, smooth and complex. I can honestly say that visiting Montanya’s Distillery and bar in Crested Butte was one of the most memorable cocktail experiences I’ve ever had, their nuanced and complex flavors are an immediate stand-out. This year, competitors were to showcase Montanya’s Plantino Rum, barrel-aged for one year in American white oak and distilled from American sugar cane, the rum is filtered through a coconut husk to create a pure, clear color and the most natural, smooth and complex flavor. Void of the syrupy, sweetness of some rum, the addition of a small amount of Colorado Rocky Mountain Honey at bottling enhances the natural flavors imparted by the barrel and aging process. This provides the perfect foundation on which to build a beautiful cocktail.
Movers and Shakers showcases a unique, home-grown spirit and provides the opportunity for each restaurant to show their own perspective. In a sense, mixology is a creative endeavor, just as art is; each cocktail we tried is the representation of a unique perspective that hopefully, represents the restaurant’s culinary point-of view.
Montanya was represented by Renee Newton, an integral part of the distilling and bottling processes and event rep. In addition to providing a delicious cocktail, “The Fiery Passion,” Renee dolled out tastings of their different varieties of rum and acted as brand educator to all of the attendees. Their sweet and spicy, vivid yellow drink was composed of pineapple habanero-infused Montanya Platino rum, organic passion fruit purée, fresh lime, agave and mint. The pineapple garnish, echoed the tart, fruit forward flavor with a subtle spice and distinct, yet balanced rum flavor. I was immediately taken-aback by the vibrant flavors and fell in love with the drink. I also had the pleasure of tasting their Montanya Exclusiva, which boasts smooth caramel notes and the distinct complexity a of barrel aged spirit. The Exclusiva rests in American White Oak whiskey barrels until it is transferred into French Oak for another 6 months, taking on the subtle qualities of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Port grapes that previously resided in them. After a three year aging process, the Exclusiva boasts a “dry, tannin finish that is very rare in aged rums. The smoothness from being longer aged at altitude and proofed with mountain spring water from a well under our facility makes it a connoisseur’s sipper. The flavor profile is extremely complex as cinnamon meets red wine, honey meets vanilla, and none of the above overwhelm you palate with sweetness.”
Mateo‘s “Mai Tainapple,” presented by Mara, consisted of grilled pineapple, rum, orgeat, mezcal, contratto aperitif and hibiscus-thyme water. A complex and refreshing take on the classic Mai Tai, this cocktail really shined, showcasing the rum, while elevating the traditional easy-drinking tiki drink to a complex, yet balanced and enjoyable summer cocktail. The ‘bite’ accompanying the drink was a tuna poke on top of cucumber, refreshing and simple in flavor.
Blackbelly‘s “A Sweet Piece of Fun,” made by Ben, their mixologist, was made with Montanya Plantino and Oro Rums, Maison Rouge vsop, passion fruit, pineapple, lemon, whole milk and baking spice. This balanced drink was light and fruity, refreshingly elegant, and smooth with a subtle dryness. The ‘bite’ was a “Charcoal Terrine” with mango, fresno and shiso. I, unfortunately, didn’t have a chance to taste this, but it sounds enticing.
Oak at Fourteenth– “Crumbs and Rum” (take on Milk and Cookies) presented by Scott, consisted of coconut filtered rum, Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Drambuie, Curacao and “milk washed.” This cocktail, was distinctly spirit-forward; Drambuie, a scotch whiskey made with honey, herbs and spices, and Curacao lent the subtle flavor of dried citrus fruit, and a natural, spicy sweetness. The cookie “crumb” was traditional, buttery and the coconut cream on top paired well with the inherent coconut undertones of rum itself.
Basta’s “Dr. Rutherford Nightcap” made by Nick, dazzled with burnt caramel, lava salt bénédictine, liquid nitrogen topped with coffee almond biscotti. A whimsical take on the traditional liquid cocktail form, this boozy ice cream was a stand out for creativity and flavor. The rich coffee notes resembled the flavor profiles of Irish coffee and a frozen latté with the distinct bite of the Montanya Plantino.
Fresca Food and Wine‘s “Rum Bull” made by Allison was composed of PX Sherry, Amaretto, vanilla, meyer lemon and pineapple juices, citrus oleo sacchrum and Montanya Plantino Rum. The cocktail had a fascinating flavor profile, evoking thoughts of a warming, vanilla and “tea-like” drink, as one taster described, and a subtle hint of citrus to brighten. Frasca’s Tuna Tartare “bite” was topped with French curry and micro greens on top of a chip, the taste was both explosive and distinct, yet simple. The dish was contrived of the most basic, yet powerful flavor notes, elevating the fresh taste of the tartare to something truly unique. Never having heard of French curry, I now realize that it must accompany every dish I eat from now on. It was that good.
River and Woods‘ “Fire and Ice Plantino Rum Oyster on the Half shell” with caramelized Montanya Plantino, lime, fresh coconut water, Picaflor local hot sauce, smoked sea salt and a pea shoot. This ‘bite’ was incredible; I’ve never had a better oyster. Period. Their cocktail may have taken a back seat to these oysters, but the herbal notes played well with the Plantino rum, providing a drinkable, summery cocktail. Cocktail by Jack.
Now that you have a complete and concise run-down of all participants, cocktails and dishes, we can announce the winners for the 2017 Movers and Shakers Competition! Every year since the beginning of the competition in 2013, there has been a Judges and Citizens choice, and it’s never been in agreement… until this year!
Best Cocktail (Judges + Citizens Choice): Mara at Mateo! “Mai Tainapple”
Runner-Up: Ben at Blackbelly! “A Sweet Piece of Fun”
Best Bite (Citizens Choice): Frasca’s Tuna Tartare with French Curry!
Eat Drink Boulder’s Choice:
Drink: Montanya and Mateo!
Bite: Frasca and River and Woods!
All Images Courtesy of Shannon Hudson Photo!