Worthy of an Encore?

Encore (on-kor) n.: A demand by an audience for an additional performance.

(Image thanks to thedenverdishblog.com)


Holding true to its etymological meaning, Encore on Colfax (2550 E. Colfax Avenue, attached to the Tattered Cover) closed temporarily on March 28th and will reopen on April 5th with a new menu, new cocktail list, and new beer selection that will exceed its prior performance.

Encore is notorious for its flatbread pizza, with fresh ingredients and a delicate balance of sweet and savory flavors.  Prosciutto, fig jam, arugula, homemade sausage, house-made mozzarella, and more adorn the tops of these pies.  Rounding out the menu are jalapeno poppers served with bacon and the pulled pork sandwich reminds me of summers spent on my grandfather’s farm, playing pinochle in the hot summer haze.  Taste buds still not tantalized? Encore has captured some “Best of” awards for their burgers and fries.

But I wasn’t there for the food.  Libations were on my mind.

Adam Dunbar, captain and director of the beverage program at Encore, came to this position at the end of 2010 from Freshcraft in downtown Denver, a local beer nerd oasis.  Before that, he was at Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, a cocktail lover’s paradise under the rule of master mixologist and former president of the Colorado Bartender’s Guild, Bryan Dayton.  He knows his beers, wines, and his spirits.

Prior to the revamp, the draft beers were decent.  A tap handle for Great Divide Hoss, Oskar Blues Old Chub, Uinta Brewing Monkshine, Trumer Pils, and Deschutes Inversion IPA.  However, the bottled beer selection was limited.  Dunbar knew the program needed a face lift and set out to do just that.

Avery Maharaja

Upon the reopening, Encore’s tap list will include Great Divide Colette, Twisted Pine Hoppy Knight, Avery IPA, Left Hand Sawtooth, and Ft. Collins Brewery Pomegranate.  Avery’s Maharaja will headline the new bottle list.  There will also be a rotating reserve list by the case.  Ska Dubbel Blonde, Uinta Cockeyed Cooper, Great Divide Grand Cru, Julian Cider, Duvel, Liefman’s Goudenband, Boulevard Sixth Glass, and Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner are in the pipeline.  Absolute deliciousness.

It was easy to bond over beer with Dunbar.  His love for Lefthand’s Wake Up Dead and his vision for his bar’s program showed through.  He peppers his conversation with strong opinions, and yet remains very attentive to the questions of his customer and tailors the experience to his or her desires–all with a coy smile.  Dunbar is a talented mixologist who can transform a palate by introducing new combinations of flavors, producing a gorgeous cocktail that pushes the envelope ever-so-slightly within its conventional style.  He’s practiced, he’s smooth, and he knows what he’s doing. His captivating style left me wanting to know more.

His bar is carefully backlit and artistically showcases each bottle, ranging from G’Vine gin and a myriad of Leopold Brother’s bottles, to other necessary spirits as well as lesser-known aperitifs and digestifs only found in the bar of a true connoisseur.  Including my beloved Fernet Branca.

Encore’s previous cocktail list caters to the neophyte’s palate. There are four classics: a cosmopolitan, a rickshaw, a mojito, and a vodka/prosecco concoction called the Rose Petal. In addition, it also features a Moscow Mule, the famed briny barnacle (which uses home-made pickle juice), a Remy Sidecar, a variation of a Manhattan, and even a Shady Lady.  This list appeals to a wide audience,  from the elderly and retired in the day to the young, hip(ster) in the evening.  While these are well-executed cocktails, Dunbar has a desire to expand the palate of his clientele, as will be demonstrated in the new menu.

When we bellied up to the bar, we inquired of Dunbar’s new spirits, his new philosophy, and asked him to flex his mixing muscles and queue us up a few new cocktails.  He didn’t disappoint.

First up was the Avenue Vesper.  A Vesper is a combination of gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc, as originally featured in Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale. If you know me at all, you know I’m not excited about trying this. But Dunbar surprised me. With Leopold’s gin, Silver Tree Vodka, and St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, it’s a basic cocktail.  However, the crispness of the gin and the slight touch of the elderflower helped blend the vodka and gin to a palatable point.  Balanced?  No.  But blame that on the cocktail recipe.  This was as balanced as a Vesper could be.

Domaine de Canton

Next up: Discrepancy Theory.  After sharing my love for whiskey, Dunbar had this rearing to go.  With Old Overholt Rye, Benedictine (an herbal liqueur created by Benedictine Monks), Root Liqueur (a root-y, bark-y, herbal liqueur), and bitters.  The structure was sound, sweet and bitter pirouetted on the tongue, though the Root overpowered the other flavors a bit.  With that small tweak, this will be a wonderful cocktail for whiskey lovers looking for a twist.

As our finale, we had the Sincerely, Darcie; a delectable rye whiskey fizz.  Dunbar served up Domaine de Canton (ginger liqueur) with Old Overhold Rye, Kirschwasser (a cherry brandy), Orange Juice, egg white, and bitters.  The egg white softened the flavors and lifted them to a light and refreshing point that primarily emphasized the ginger and whiskey.  But you get the ginger flavor without being beat over the head.

Other cocktails on the new list?  The Centennial (Leopold’s Gin, Leopold’s Michigan Tart Cherry, Crème de Violette, with an herbsaint mount), Dark Knight (Powers Irish Whiskey, Vermouth, Strega), Spring Fizz (Gin, Lemon, Sugar), East Side Daiquiri (Appleton Rum, Sugar, Citrus), Mint Julep (Four Roses Bourbon, sugar, mint), and a Rob Boy (Famous Grouse scotch, vermouth, bitters).  And as a finale, the Allied Roots cocktail (G’Vine gin, Domain de Canton, Root) is Dunbar’s submission for the Domaine de Canton Bartender of the Year competition on March 30th at TAG Restaurant (open to the public). Folks, it’s gonna be fun.

An added bonus to Encore on Colfax?  Allie Geppert from Root Down has joined the crew.

For Encore on Colfax, this is no ending.  This is just the beginning.

(Image thanks to thedenverdishblog.com)

About Jess Hunter

Jess is a lady and a scholar. If she's not mulling over the various names of famous mustaches and their respective bitter cocktails, she's nibbling on American Craft Singles and Cantillon. Connect with her by email at jesshunter@denveroffthewagon.com.

  • Jess Hunter

    As an update: Encore adds to its “Best of” belt with Best Martini. I can vouch.


  • http://www.denveromeletteblog.com Mama Monroe

    Man… I love a good martini. And, I’ll go anywhere to get some True Blonde Dubbel by Ska. But with Encore I just need to travel a few blocks. NICE! Lucky me!