Having served as a cocktail judge at this year’s Pikes Peak Food & Wine Expo, where 31-year-old Adam Gasper was crowned as Best Bartender, I know the man can mix. Now the 31-year-old, with the support of the same ownership that runs Club Q, has relaunched downtown’s V Bar as 1806 Craft Bar, a destination spot for the cocktail-inclined.
“It’s going to be so much better,” Gasper says from across the bar one night. Behind him are reclaimed wooden slats artfully arranged in varying patterns. The whole renovation was done in just four days by the barman himself. “Just the fact it’s a little less Miami Vice and a little more Colorado. … I wanted to make this a spot where it’s an event. Our stuff takes a minute to do. Nobody does this, at least downtown.”
This includes an array of uncommon mixers, like aloe vera or cactus water, and an obsession with the new and unique. While explaining his approach, Gasper started shaving strawberries and cucumbers with a mandolin, deliberately placing each paper-thin slice against the inside of the glass. “My opinion is: You should have a drink that looks as good as it tastes, and tastes as good as it looks.”
“My goal is not to get you drunk,” he continues. “I can get you there, but that’s not the sole purpose. And honestly, if you want to get drunk that bad, go to Gasoline Alley and take shots. That’s not what I do. We can get there throughout the evening, but my intention is not to get you drunk — my intention is to change what you think.”
He does this through little touches — like the pot on a back counter full of boiling apples, nutmeg and cinnamon, filling the air — and through a confrontative approach that is designed to pull you in.
“Certain aspects of how I do things, I’m a total asshole,” he says with a grin. “And it’s in good humor and good fun, but it’s almost necessary. … If you ask me for anything, I will specifically not make that for you, just because you asked me for it. The goal is to find out what you don’t like. I always say, ‘What do you normally drink? Do you like gin?’ ‘No, I don’t like gin.’ ‘Then that’s what we’re doing.'”
In the drink he’s making, strawberries and cucumbers are soon joined by lemon, blueberries, basil, mint, lavender syrup, POM Wonderful, Pimm’s No. 1 and Hendrick’s Gin before coming out as a stacked bit of beautiful. The taste is fresh and naturally sweet, the flavors clean and distinct. It’s impressive.
It’s also a little top-heavy for those accustomed to bourbon and bitters. “I make what’s called a ‘salad drink,'” Gasper happily acknowledges. “And that’s OK. This is totally not what [mixologists at places like The Famous] do. And that’s OK.”
Gasper visits Whole Foods daily, using his fruit budget to full advantage. This shows up in the fantastical creations pumped out daily, with a new one invented every morning. The recipe then makes its way to Gasper’s Instagram page.
“If you’re going to go drinking, hell, at least once go get something that tastes really good. Because Jameson don’t taste good.”
What does is the drink he makes after hearing I’m fond of an Old Fashioned, and the showmanship of it is no small aspect. First, Gasper pulls ice from a plastic cup mold and chips it into two fat hunks. He then burns hickory smoke into a glass decanter, which he later fills with Alberta Rye Whiskey, fresh orange juice, Bitter Truth bitters, and Maraska maraschino liqueur. The combination absorbed, he turns to the glass, torching both an orange spray and an orange slice and bringing out the clove in both.
The result is unique and exciting, the smoke mixing perfectly with the citrus and bitterness. It’s more than a reinvented classic — it’s a whole new level of cocktail. And it’s what Gasper’s all about.
“My goal is to change how you think,” he adds in a later email. “People have had their opinions of specifics spirits they don’t like. I want to show them how ridiculous their way of thinking is. I will create something with their least favorite spirit and show them just how amazing it can be.”
[Images: Bryce Crawford]