Written by Lauren Glendenning
INVENTIVE CUISINE, COCKTAILS that feature fresh and custom ingredients, a setting with breathtaking views and a staff that lives and breathes a passion for what they do — welcome to the Breckenridge Distillery.
With its industrial chic, open-air design, the energy from this staff permeates throughout the building to create a warm, welcoming environment. Food and Beverage Director Chris Metts is proud of the fact that service at this upscale-casual restaurant isn’t staunch or stuffy — instead it delivers elements of fun and surprise. “We are passion-driven — we care innately about putting out the best we can,” Metts says. “To be in such a unique setting as Breckenridge, where everyone cares about what they’re putting in front of guests, I think is something really special. From glass to plate, everything we do is unique and personal — as approachable as we can make it.”
The Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant didn’t open until December 2016. That expansion and evolution has allowed for even more creativity, including the attention that comes with world-renowned chef David Burke behind the menu as the “culinary ambassador.”
Burke’s modern American cuisine delivers dishes that are outside the box. Executive Chef Richard Calton, who grew up with Burke in New Jersey and has worked with him for years, is the man executing Burke’s vision every day at the Distillery restaurant. “Things that may sound simple on the menu arrive with a lot of unexpected flare,” Calton says. “You see people taking pictures of the food a lot.”
Burke, a two-time James Beard Award winner, even has a patent for his dry-aging process, Metts quips. The dry-aging room where the Distillery’s steaks come from has three walls lined with pink Himalayan sea salt and UV lights.
“I think fans of David Burke understand his cuisine is very unique to him. From small plates to large, family-style offerings, there’s a certain showmanship about it,” Metts says. “He has a really unique approach, from using classic French techniques to techniques he’s developed himself.”
Bacon arrives hanging on a small clothesline, while pork rinds are accompanied by a signature “siranchalot” sauce (think Sriracha mixed with ranch) and malt vinegar powder. High alpine favorites like the Colorado ranch beef burger and bison short rib are staples during ski season, as are the pasta dishes and family-style steaks.
From healthy, vegetarian and vegan options to carnivores’ delights, the menu has something for everyone for lunch and dinner. “We’re doing a BBQ for lunch every day that’s awesome,” Calton says. “I could supply the whole town with BBQ from the smoker.”
When your restaurant is an extension of one of Colorado’s most famous distilleries, the craft cocktail list is the cream of the crop. All of Breckenridge Distillery’s spirits are hand- bottled — an impressive feat considering its products are available in 48 states.
Starting with the finest spirits helps Liquid Chef Billie Keithley feel inspired when she’s developing new cocktails. She likes to ensure each spirit can shine with ingredients of the season and with the chef’s menu, meaning she’s always creating. “If it’s edible, I can make a cocktail out of it,” she says. But Keithley can’t just order things to mix in to her creations. Because the restaurant is part of the Distillery, the laws regulate that everything be made in-house.
“As a spirit manufacturer, we’re only able to sell what we’re able to produce,” she says. The result of these regulations is fun for Keithley, albeit sometimes challenging, and even better for the customer. But the complexities of creating everything from scratch keep her in check.
“When I want to put 40 cocktails on the menu, I have to back it down,” she says. Keithley is creating everything from bitters to schnapps to syrups to juices for the nearly two dozen cocktails on the menu at any given time. She’s even making an in-house Fernet, an Italian herbal liquor.
“It’s pretty badass,” she says. Every ingredient shines, too, in cocktails that don’t let innovation get in the way of flavor and quality. Some of the hottest sellers include the Genever Juice, made with rosemary, lemon and Breckenridge Gin; the Obi Wan Old Fashioned with Breckenridge Port Cask Whiskey, raw sugar simple, barrel-aged whiskey bitters and a brandied cherry; and the Permafrost Pear, with Breckenridge Pear Vodka (made with Palisade, Colorado pears), brown sugar cinnamon simple syrup and fresh lemon juice.
Written by Lauren Glendenning/Colorado Mountain News Media