Bringing craft cocktails to a higher elevation

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor

It makes sense that Dale Roberts was born in Germany. A certain precision informs his demeanor, language, views— and the way he makes cocktails.

Roberts has been bartending at Rainbow Ranch for nearly five years— and 16 altogether— but to say he’s merely a bartender is an understatement. Tucked away behind Rainbow Ranch’s warmly lit bar, downstairs in the glass-encased wine cellar and locked in a dark closet are bottles, jars and miniature barrels filled with his handmade concoctions.

PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

A small sampling of his creations include fresh pressed ginger beer, homemade bitters in flavors that range from citrus to coffee pecan and cardamom. Also stashed around the lodge are brandied Flathead cherries, fruity gastriques, quinine tinctures extracted from cassia root and other medicinal barks and twigs, and cocktails soaking in the subtle notes of charred oak whisky barrels.

“I think it elevates the cocktail menu,” Roberts said of his creations. “A chef doesn’t serve soup out of a bag. If you make everything in-house you control the ingredients, the freshness, the flavors. It gives you a library of ingredients to pull from and put together.”

Roberts considers himself a beer nerd with a rivaling passion for whiskey. This past spring he clocked more than 6,000 miles visiting 28 of the most highly rated breweries west of St. Louis, Missouri. The tour also included four distilleries and, begrudgingly, one winery.

Lately, Roberts has been able to stay within a shorter radius to find beers that suit his discriminating palate, a standout being Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, Idaho.

“In my opinion they’re the best regional brewery at sour beers,” said Roberts, who has been drinking the tart, Belgian-style beers for 20 years and is excited about their newfound popularity in the U.S. A summer visit to Grand Teton Brewery— and the five hours spent tasting there— led to the first of four beer-pairing events at Rainbow Ranch on Sept. 7. (Two more microbrew dinner pairings are slated for Sept. 21 and Sept. 28).

“I really like making cocktails, especially the back end, but when I go out I don’t drink cocktails,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of technique involved and if I go into a bar and they’ve got Rose’s lime juice, I’m not going to go there. If there’s a dusty old bottle of Martini and Rossi, I’m not ordering a martini.

“I’m not pretentious about cocktails,” Roberts added. “I’m particular about them.”