Trying to eat better this spring? Or at least trying to look better when you bust out the shorts and swimsuits this summer? Boulder Weekly sat down with James Lee, owner/partner of Blackbelly Catering and The Bitter Bar to discuss his favorite seasonal drinks and ways to tailor them for the health-conscious.
What seasonal foods are you looking forward to this spring?
My two favorites are cucumber and watermelon. They go really well together in a combination. I love cucumber in general — just the scent and the oils give you a really nice, refreshing, vibrant cocktail. Watermelon is my distant second, and they supposedly have really great health benefits like antioxidants. The flavors come out really nicely in a cocktail, especially in the summertime.
I also look for cherries. Cherries are very short as far as seasonality goes. They only last like two and a half months. To get fresh cherries in season is awesome.
How can health-conscious people still make a great cocktail?
I use a lot of natural sugar. Agave nectar is the easiest, it has great taste and is soluble. You put it into a cocktail and it dissolves immediately, and you don’t have to worry about it being sticky. Agave nectar comes from agave, which is what tequila is made of. It looks like a big, giant pineapple. It has lots of sugar inside, and you can ferment it and make tequila, or you can take the actual sugar and extract it. ... Another form of sugar that I use, as far as being healthy, is natural honey. With honey, it’s so thick, and it lumps up when it gets cold. So I use half honey and half hot water and I dissolve it first. Then I use it in my cocktail when I’m making a cold drink.
What is big in your cocktail repertoire for spring?
Anything citrus — I’m really into half lemon, half lime combinations. Use the juice from each in a cocktail, with agave nectar, and your choice of fruit. Add a little bit of herb like Thai basil or rosemary. Muddle those ingredients together and add your favorite spirit, and shake the hell out of it — that’s like your “superfood” cocktail. It’s very low-calorie in that sense because it’s all-natural.
What else do you like about using natural ingredients?
I was doing an all-natural cucumber margarita about five years ago. I was in North Carolina when I went back home to visit a couple of friends. My friend’s wife didn’t want to drink and I was making those cucumber margaritas. She goes, “I get a horrible, horrible hangover.” I told her, let’s do an experiment:
This is all-natural margarita with really high-end tequila, agave nectar, fresh juices. If you want to get drunk, and you have a horrible hangover tomorrow, I’ll babysit your kids in the morning. She ended up having eight that night; she was trashed! She loved it, and sometimes you don’t taste the alcohol because you have all these fresh and light flavors and scents coming through. The next day, she didn’t have a hangover because she didn’t have a lot of artificial sugar
content. That just gave me a lot of hope; if you do it the right way — a healthier way — it’s possible.
Where do you source your ingredients? When I’m in Boulder, I get most of my ingredients from the Farmers’ Market. In Denver, there’s one on East Colfax [City Esplanade Farmers’ Market] and one in south Wash Park [Old South Pearl in Denver]. I also really love Sunflower [Market]. I think they have great selections for low prices.
Hosea [Rosenberg, Lee’s Blackbelly Catering partner] and I have a farm in between Erie and Longmont. We have eight Berkshire pigs and some Blackbelly sheep. Blackbelly originally came from Barbados; it supposedly tastes twice as good as regular lamb. And the Berkshires are from England, and they’re really tasty ... and really cute at the same time, so it’s hard. They have characters and personalities, but we treat them really well. We feed them such good food, sometimes better than us, and they’re totally vegetarian. They lead a happy life.
Lee outlines one of his favorite seasonal beverages, “Rose Water”:
1 oz. gin or vodka 1 oz. Lorenza Rosé (or a rosé of your choice) 1 slice fresh watermelon 1 slice of cucumber wheel 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice 3/4 oz. agave nectar 3/4 oz. water Muddle the cucumber and the watermelon in a mixing glass. Add all the other ingredients and ice. Shake for 5-10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cucumber twist and watermelon slice.
For more information on James Lee visit BlackbellyCatering.com or drop in to The Bitter Bar at 9th & Canyon (www. thebitterbar.com).