Like Colorado's craft beer industry, there's an ever-growing population of microdistilleries. One of the newer ones is the year-old Dancing Pines Distillery  in Loveland. Here, owners Kimberly and Kristian Naslund create small-batch spirits that range from an anise-forward gin to a smoky black-walnut bourbon.
To showcase their work—and to drum up excitement—the Naslunds staged a President's Day cocktail competition that brought out impressive talent. Seven bartenders (culled from 20 applicants) hailed from spots such as Salt Bistro  in Boulder to the soon-to-open Adrift  on Broadway. The challenge: Mix four Dancing Pine cocktails in eight minutes and have them judged on appearance, aroma, and taste. The winner would find himself or herself pouring that drink at Tales of the Cocktail  in New Orleans, the largest cocktail festival and trade show in the world.
The judges—Mark Stoddard (formerly of the Bitter Bar  and recently crowned brand ambassador for Hendrick's Gin ), Kimberly, and myself—were tasked with sniffing, swilling, and ultimately deciding the winner. The competition was so fierce that two champions emerged: The Bitter Bar's Justin Lavenue created the sophisticated Silent Winter Night (bottom left) with Dancing Pines' bourbon and chai liqueur, Dolin Blanc , verjus , and a float of 16-year-old Scotch. Eryn Latterman from Linger  impressed us with her Tree Line Punch (middle back in the punch glass), a very drinkable, grapefruit-and-orange cocktail featuring Dancing Pines' spice rum and black-walnut bourbon.
That's the beauty of mixology: In the hands of two sound bartenders, Dancing Pines' quality spirits were transformed into two entirely different but equally inspired cocktails. And both Lavenue and Latterman will pour their cocktails and represent the distillery at Tales.
1527 Taurus Court, #110, Loveland, 970-635-3426