'You have been naughty ... report to the Principal's Office."
So reads the menu at the Ivywild School's other drink spot, the one for serious coffee, smart cocktails and respectable wines — all drinkables that aren't Bristol beer down the way. The school puns continue with Detention, Suspension and Expulsion sections to the cocktail list, a playful spirit clearly abounding under the care of 27-year-old bartender/barista Eric Harry Nicol.
On an early April day when I'm treated to a Principal's Office sneak-peek (at the Blue Star's bar), I find Nicol dapperly dressed in tie and sweater vest and poised confidently behind a contraption fit for a Breaking Bad set piece. Its bland-ish name, the Proper Coffee Cold Drip system, fails to capture its engaging design.
On the top tier, a bulbous glass water vessel tapers into a straw-thin neck clamped to drip 35 times a minute. About 6 inches down on a second rung, coffee grounds catch and briefly hold the cold water in an upside-down handbell-shaped beaker, which then drips into a basic carafe on an underlying shelf, over the course of 12 hours.
The whole setup's framed in boxy aluminum for a somewhat Art Deco feel, and its Kickstarter-launched makers boast low acidity "with a nice caffeine kick."
Nicol, who worked at Colorado Coffee Merchants before spending his last year training with mixologist Nate Windham at the Blue Star, personally pitched $600 into the Kickstarter effort. That landed him two units that he's since customized with measuring-stick framing and placed on the Principal's Office's back bar.
The idea, he says, "is you have less carbon that gets pulled out of it than you get in full saturation, like in toddy variations ... You get a lot better flavor because there's no heat involved; hot water pulls out more undesirable flavors than cold ... but time will pull out more undesirable solids depending on your grind size and water temperature. It dissolves oils, sugars, acids and burnt sugars, which is carbon."
Got it? No? Regardless, you can grab a basic $2 cup of drip coffee to-go, either from Colorado Coffee Merchants or Denver's Novo Coffee, or a rotating seasonal from any number of respectable roasters. There'll also be single-origin coffee pour-overs, French press service and espresso available.
Nicol says the latter is his forte and what he's most excited about, partially on account of his new La Marzocco machine, which offers a "manual pre-infusion option ... which can affect sweetness, acidity, body, etc." (Yeah, more awesomely nerdy shit.)
After tasting a Novo-roasted Ethiopian brew with great grassy hop notes and an earthy, toasty CCM-roasted Mexican coffee, we explore another Novo-roasted Sumatran bean put through the cold-brewed contraption. Treating it like a spirits shot, Nicol pours it over the rocks for us; a co-taster pegs the flavor with "molasses."
"I want coffee to be an experience," says Nicol, "like how you go out for cocktails or wine or beer."
On that note, we discuss how five of his cocktails are coffee- or tea-inspired before sampling the kick-ass Colorado Dog Coffee, which incorporates Distillery 291 White Dog Rye whiskey (see p. 27) as part of a twist on Irish coffee.
Then we're on to two drinks still in development that day. The Smoked Beez Neez, is a honey-ginger gin cocktail that draws fire's breath from a spoonful of scotch's peat, while sporting an Everclear-flambéed lemon for garnish. The dessert-friendly Cafe Mole bears house-made, pepper-infused tequila, Crème de Cacao, the cold-drip coffee, mole bitters and a Chai-ish spiced syrup mix.
I'm already pleased by the latter, but the mad scientists tinker onward: After a taste, Windham, in a friendly mentoring manner, inquires which peppers Nicol used. Serranos and jalapeños, he replies.
"I would go more toward a red-pepper infusion than green-pepper infusion — roasted chipotle or something in that direction ... that'd make it roastier ... which will bring out the chocolate, whereas the green makes it herby ..."
And there it is again: that meticulous micro-adjusting, perfectly fit for a chem lab. But lucky for us, it's instead focused on the new small bar where old swing-set materials have been re-purposed as an overhead glass-rack and cabinet handles have been fashioned to resemble teachers' paddles. Being reprimanded has never been so cool.