First Sip boozes up a Boulder spring

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Martin in Michigan, Farow, Niwot, CO - 4/12/22
Matt Maenpaa

For 15 years, First Bite Boulder has been celebrating the county culinary scene with tasting menus and dining deals. Now, the organization is trying a different sort of celebration with Boulder County’s blossoming bar scene. With more than 30 participating bars, restaurants and distilleries, First Sip Boulder is challenging cocktail and wine enthusiasts to sample something new and different at the end of April.

Running from April 28 through May 1, First Sip participants are flexing their cocktail menus and wine lists to entice locals through the doors and onto patios just in time for warmer weather. The event is two years in the making, according to First Sip communications director Rachael Caraluzzi, and the shackles of pre-fixe menus have come off.

“Each restaurant really chose what was an authentic fit for them and their diners and what they wanted to showcase, so we have an array of things happening,” Caraluzzi says.

From Vapor Distillery and Cafe Aion’s pairings of chocolate, cheese and whiskey, to cocktail classes hosted by Japango and OAK at Fourteenth, to international tasting tours of wine from wine-education magazine Opening A Bottle, First Sip offers some interactive experiences for discerning drinkers. 

Those looking for a more self-guided experience can scope out the participant list at the website firstsipboulder.com, with more options than any one human should drink in a long weekend. Caraluzzi says establishments that haven’t participated in First Bite events in previous years have jumped on board, including Lafayette’s Acreage by Stem Ciders, Niwot’s Farow and Boulder’s Blofish.

Some spots, like Ash’Kara, are leaning into the social aspect of tasting events like First Sip. Ash’Kara’s tableside cocktail—a 64oz Cointreau-and-tequila concoction called “The Ritual”— is intended to be shared by at least six people. If the thought of a full gallon of cocktail is daunting, or you just don’t want to drink with that many people, Ash’Kara is also offering single servings.

Most participants are offering bolstered discounts and happy hour menus during the four-day event, showcasing some house favorites that include wine flights and snacks. For newer restaurants like Farow, located in the former Lucky Pie space in Niwot, it’s an opportunity to lure in new guests to sample their farm-to-table kitchen and sustainably curated wine list.

Farow’s specialty cocktail for First Sip is called the Martin on Michigan, a striking cocktail that walks the line between martini and Manhattan. Blending gin, sweet vermouth and maraschino with the Scandinavian botanical spirit aquavit, the Martin on Michigan is a remarkable libation. The bite of gin and slight bitterness of vermouth are quickly balanced out by the carraway notes from the aquavit, finishing with a sweetness from cherry and citrus that encourages a second sip, followed by a second round. It manages to be light and refreshing, while still intensely flavorful.

“For me, it’s the perfect cocktail for this in-between season we’re in,” says Farow co-owner Lisa Balcom. “We’ve got some talented folks behind the bar coming up with some really fun stuff like this.”

Farow chose the Martin on Michigan for its First Sip offering because it highlights the creativity and simplicity the restaurant offers throughout their menu, Balcom explains.

“Our food is creative but it doesn’t have 10,000 ingredients. We let each ingredient shine in its own right and they blend the way they’re supposed to when put together, but nothing overpowers or overshines,” Balcom says. “I think that’s representative in this cocktail. It lets everything play and shine in its own way.”

Farow is well worth a trip up the Diagonal, and First Sip is as good an excuse as any. As for the rest of the First Sip participants, there are no wrong choices. Support your favorites, find something new and start hydrating now to combat the inevitable hangover. 

Contact the author with comments or questions at mattmaenpaa@gmail.com

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