Stuart Jensen is the beverage director and owner Brass Tacks in Denver.
What was your first bartending job?
My first bartending job was at Green Russell, here in Denver. I had spent the majority of my career in the back of the house up to that point, and was fortunate to get my foot in the door as a bar-back there.
What is your favorite spirit to work with at the moment?
We have a couple of fun events coming up focused on Scotch, and I’ve really been enjoying putting menus together for those. People have a lot of strong preconceptions about that category, and I think it can be intimidating for people.
Using Scotch in an approachable, familiar style of cocktail can be a good way to build some trust and introduce them to another style of whisky that they can enjoy.
Brass Tacks offers several beverages on tap—six cocktails, 20 draft beers, four wines. Tell us about them.
As far as beers go, we try to have most styles represented, and do our best to source the best examples of those styles that we can. Those lines we keep pretty consistent.
We also have a handful of taps that we rotate beers of a specific style—an IPA line, sour line, dark line, cider line, etc. That gives us an opportunity to bring in exciting limited release offerings or work with new breweries, and keeps it interesting for the beer nerds—ourselves included.
Our house wines on tap are really meant to be super approachable and crowd pleasing. We’ve got the red and white Workbook blends from Hobo wines right now, and a Zweigelt rosé from Pratsch that are all easy drinking and affordable options. People are really enjoying them. If guests want to get into something more specific or eclectic, then we have a variety of options by the glass or bottle.
Our draft cocktails take a lot of time and testing to get to the point where we think they’re the best that they can be. A couple of those have become popular and something that we’re known for—The Paloma and a Peanut-infused Bourbon and Coke—and those will remain. The others we’ll change up seasonally.
How do you manage it all?
It takes a lot of organization from our bar managers and our staff to stay on top of inventory and prep lists to make sure that we don’t have any gaps on those lines. We’re fortunate to have a team that is excited about what we’re doing with our draft program and works very hard to stay on top of maintaining it.
Where do you get inspiration for new drink recipes?
Sometimes it’s from a new or exciting spirit—as soon as you taste it, you think of the perfect application. Sometimes it’s looking at a classic recipe and trying to update it slightly to make it the best version possible or add some other layers of flavor.
I think a big part of what we do at Brass Tacks is try to find approachable entry points for people by taking familiar cocktails and then expanding on those flavors or concepts. We’ve got a Bay Breeze going on our next draft list that I’m excited about, for example.
Another is our Peanut-infused Bourbon and Coke. People are excited that it has a little more depth and complexity than their usual whiskey-coke, even if they don’t know that it’s from the Fernet Branca or Creme de Cacao that we add.
Our industry friends dig it because it has those layers of flavor, and people that stop in without knowing anything about what we do aren’t intimidated by it and don’t hesitate to order it.
What’s been your most popular cocktail since Brass Tacks opened in February?
Our Paloma, by quite a long shot. It’s a drink that we wanted to perfect from the beginning, and one of the reasons why we spent so much time and energy on our draft cocktail system.
We took some liberties—adding fresh grapefruit juice and a little Aperol—but kept the Squirt soda, and I think it has all the flavors of a Paloma, slightly amplified. Because it’s on draft, we’re able to carbonate the entire cocktail and get a surprisingly crisp bubble that you can’t get otherwise, and it’s especially refreshing.
You don’t actually have a cocktail menu—you encourage guests to talk to the bar team and go with the bartenders’ choice. How is that working out?
We’ve been really happy with the dynamic that we’ve created in that regard. I think that cocktail menus can really alienate a lot of people that might not be into “craft” cocktails. We wanted to be a place where everyone felt comfortable and excited about visiting, even if all they want is a Vodka Soda or a beer and a shot.
We’ve got an amazing team with a lot of experience and we really want people to engage and talk to their bartender about what they’re looking for. I think that increased interaction is important and what people are missing in a lot of bars, and it generally means that people are more likely to get exactly what they want.
We do have about 200 standard recipes for classic and contemporary cocktails, so there is still consistency among the staff and plenty of variety for people, it’s just a more engaging way to get those drinks in their hands.
We’re currently in the process of printing those recipes in a cocktail book that people will be able to flip through if they want to browse, but it won’t be a “menu” that is presented to everyone that walks in.
What’s your go-to cocktail at the end of a shift or long day?
A No Scruples Daiquiri.
Would you share the recipe?
No Scruples Daiquiri
1 ½ oz. Damoiseau 110 proof Rhum
¾ oz. Manzanilla sherry
¾ oz. Lime juice
¼ oz. Simple syrup
Combine ingredients and shake. Pour into coupe glass and garnish with a lime wedge.