“I want everybody to feel good about their cocktail,” says Bryan Dayton, co-owner and beverage director of Oak at Fourteenth Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado.
Dayton started bartending 18 years ago. He was named America’s most inspired bartender of 2011 by GQ and Bombay Sapphire. Opening up his own place was something he always wanted to do, and when the opportunities finally “fell together” in 2010, Dayton and his business partner, Steven Redzikowski, opened Oak at Fourteenth.
The food is seasonal and American, “with an emphasis on wood-fired cookery…and a strong focus on our beverage program,” Dayton explains. “My chef partner and I look at it as if you were coming to our house every night. We would throw a big party and give the best that we could give you.”
You’ll notice something unusual when you look at Oak’s seasonally inspired cocktail menu. It’s organized into three sections: No Alcohol, Low Alcohol, and High Alcohol. Many cocktail menus leave it up to the drinker to figure out how much alcohol is in each drink. Dayton believes his menu is “a more civilized style of giving people options in their drinking.”
The Low Alcohol section, perhaps the most interesting part of the cocktail menu (it’s Dayton’s favorite part, he says), offers aperitif-style cocktails made with liqueurs like Aperol, as well as ingredients like port and sparkling wine. The cocktails in this section are based on European-style drinks like Campari and soda, bitters and soda, or vermouth on the rocks. “In that same way you would look at a half-glass of wine to start your night off,” says Dayton, his Low Alcohol cocktails allow you to drink at your own speed. “It gives you the option to say, ‘hey, is this going to be a wild Friday night or am I going to take it easy?’”
This part of the cocktail menu is also inspired partly by Dayton’s passion for running — he’s a two-time national trail running champion. Dayton says he gets occasional inquiries from customers asking if he can make a healthy cocktail. He chuckles, then says that the Low and No Alcohol sections of his cocktail menu allow “a little bit more of that healthier option.”
Be sure not to miss the Palisade Spritz from the Low Alcohol section, made with muddled cherries from Colorado’s western slope, as well as honey from an urban beekeeper in Boulder. To that, Dayton adds some Campari and lemon juice, then tops with a sparkling Zweigelt wine called Punkt Rose.
Under the No Alcohol section, you’ll find a selection of seasonal house-made sodas and teas — like Passion Fruit and Lemongrass Housemade Soda — that also occasionally make their way into other cocktails on the menu. The High Alcohol section delivers what it promises: Martinis and a range of boozy delights that “take you to the promise land,” jokes Dayton. His favorite is the Mint Julep, made with Knob Creek bourbon from a barrel that Dayton selected himself for this cocktail.
With everything that Oak at Fourteenth puts on the table, from the food to the cocktails, “we want you to have the best products available,” Dayton says. Sometimes that means using a spirit that’s made just up the road, and other times, it means looking for a great product from somewhere else. “It’s about getting things we really believe in and can stand behind.”