The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2017

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48  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2017 ON OUR PANEL F ollowing in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, both bar owners, Sean Kenyon was wash- ing dishes at age 12 and bartending in New Jersey by the time he was 18. A promising career as a musician got him to Austin, Texas, where he continued to bartend in his spare time. Eventually the band split up, and an opportunity to manage a bar took him to Denver, where he opened Williams & Graham in 2011. At the time only the second cocktail bar in Denver, Williams & Graham's drink menu spanned 13 pages of spirits and classic cocktails that changed quar- terly. Successful from the moment it opened, Sean was awarded Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014; Williams & Graham would receive Best American Bar at Tales a year later. Occidental became his second bar in 2016. It has a more relaxed, neighbor- hood bar feel.; drinks feature a maxi- mum of four ingredients that are free poured in a lively atmosphere. How does the collaborative process work when developing cocktails at Williams & Graham? When we are developing a menu, we hold three bar labs. At the first, all of the bartenders are directed to bring at least three drinks to be tasted by the entire staff. Based on the collective thoughts, either our bar manager or I will give them one of three directives: bank it (going on the menu), fix it (with advice, ready for next lab) or bag it (fundamentally unsound). Then in the next two labs, we refine the choices and whittle down to a balanced menu. Is food necessary in a neighborhood bar? I believe that it is. It is always important to offer food when you are serving booze. Not only as a means of mitigat- ing the effects of alcohol, but also as a way to take care of all of your guests needs. But you don't necessarily have to have a kitchen if you have a relation- ship with some restaurants who deliver or a food truck. Does the fact that people have to wait to get into your bar change their expectations? Yes. It absolutely heightens their expectations. Sometimes our guests have waited up to three hours to get into Williams & Graham. So we are already up against that when they walk in the door. We can't just give them a good experience; we have to blow them away. What are the similarities and the dif- ferences between bars in Denver and those in other cities? The Denver bar community comes from a place of humility, because our cocktail scene rose from behind restau- rant bars, where drinks took a backseat to the chef's menu. The advantage to that is that many of us learned from our chef. Most importantly, we learned how to have command of our ingredients. So, once we opened dedicated cocktail bars, we kept our roots in mind and pushed boundaries while keeping our heads out of the clouds. What type of spirits or liqueurs do you really like but find challenging to work with in cocktails? Gin is the darling of the cocktail world, and I love to drink it. But I find it the most challenging base spirit, just because you always have to keep the complexity and botanicals in mind. Many bartenders go a bit wild with gin, which is a quick way to overwhelm someone's palate. Death by botanicals. Of all the classic cocktails, which one seems to have benefited most from its rediscovery by modern mixologists? It's the bartenders who have benefitted from the rediscovery of the classics, not the other way around, but many of the classics have been improved by modern bartenders adjusting them for balance and flavor. A couple of "equal parts" cocktails come to mind: The Last Word and Blood and Sand (particularly awful as originally written). BARTENDER Q&A WITH Sean Kenyon OWNER, WILLIAMS & GRAHAM AND OCCIDENTAL, DENVER by Bob Bath, MS PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAMS & GRAHAM

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