St. Regis' Kyle McElwain Talks Aspen Cocktail Culture

ERIN LENTZ | August 21, 2013 | Peak Eats Latest The Latest

1 - St. Regis' Kyle McElwain Talks Aspen Cockt…
August at the St. Regis brings handcrafted cocktails with special souvenirs.

The St. Regis Aspen is celebrating the country’s most legendary cocktails in the Shadow Mountain Lounge this month. Four drinks by four bartending pioneers will be featured throughout August, with $15 cocktails complemented by special souvenirs. Featured gifts include a mini flask from Woody Creek Distillery with Fernand Petiot’s “Bloody Mary,” a Courvoisier compact mirror with Charles H. Baker’s “Jimmy Roosevelt,” and a Pernod Absinthe spoon with Harry Johnson’s “Turf Cocktail.”

Teaming with Southern Wine & Spirits for the new libations, St. Regis Beverage Manager Kyle McElwain gives the dish on Aspen’s evolving cocktail culture.

Who do you consider the most influential bartender of the 20th Century?
The gentlemen I selected to honor this month all have made a significant impact. The French are given a great amount of credit for food culture because they were the first to begin writing recipes down. In that respect, I would say Harry Johnson deserves a fair amount of credit for modern day influence. Mr. Johnson was one of the first to write a detailed “how-to” guide for mixing cocktails. Although his friendly rival, Jerry Thomas, beat him to the punch—his book Johnson’s Bartender’s Manuel Of How To Mix Drinks printed first, in 1888, and is still in print and respected by bartenders everywhere today.

Top current trends in mixology?
I’ve noticed a consistency in two trends maintaining their place in the cocktail world, first being Prohibition-era beverages. It’s interesting to see how intrigued people are by drinking the same beverages they would have drank in a back-alley speakeasy or something The Rat Pack may have indulged in. My motto through culinary school was “classical food is classical for a reason,” and that is applicable to cocktails today. The other is fusion with culinary aspects. I’ve seen many forms of cocktails that can be classified as both beverage and food. You start to see things like S'mores shots, liquid nitrogen vodka ice cubes, incorporating herbs and roots (such as rosemary, ginger, sage) that may not have been common in the past.

How would you describe Aspen's cocktail culture?
One of the things I [first] found fascinating about Aspen was that there are bars serving things like the Pegu Club or Corpse Revivers. Cocktail culture in Aspen does move with the current trends, but I can appreciate the fact that there are still places serving the classics.

What spirit do locals and tourists currently ask for most?
At the St Regis, we move through a ton of the Woody Creek Distillers Vodka. When people find out it’s made right down the street and the love that goes into each bottle, it instantly grabs people’s attention, and for good reason. It’s a phenomenal product. We move through a ton of scotch and bourbon, but I think vodka moves faster than anything.

The Bloody Mary originated at the St. Regis New York. How does the St. Regis Aspen continue this long-standing tradition?
After Fernand Petiot perfected the Bloody Mary at the St. Regis in Manhattan, [the hotel] continued to serve it in its original fashion for many years. Fast-forward to today, and every St. Regis worldwide serves its own signature Bloody Mary. In Aspen, our version is served with the classic Bloody Mary mix, fresh muddled dill and basil, and locally made Woody Creek Distiller’s Vodka. It’s a surprisingly refreshing take on a classic beverage.

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