A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a special event at Acorn, a local restaurant that is new on the Denver scene and one I was excited to visit. Hosted by George Dickel Whisky and award winning chef Adam Perry Lang, the invitation was for a whisky tasting and dinner. George Dickel and Mr. Lang have teamed up to create some amazing recipes for sauces and more to complement the George Dickel whiskeys. Those recipes include this amazing spice rub that I’ll be sharing with you today. Everything at George Dickel is done by hand, from the selecting of barrels to whiskey distillation and our evening would include a whiskey tasting as well as food inspired by Mr. Lang’s recipes; a collaboration that seems a match made in Heaven, or maybe even better, in Tennessee where the George Dickel brand is located.
Who else would bring his own customized traveling toolbox that he uses when traveling around the country preaching the holy grail of barbecue?
Acorn is located in The Source; a cluster of local brewers, bakers, butchers, specialty grocers and more, all sharing space in an old 19th-century steel foundry a bit north of Denver proper. We were in a private room upstairs but I enjoyed watching the action below. Absolutely my new favorite and if it is representative of what other vendors have to offer, I’ll be back and not just with bells on but with friends in tow.
Acorn did not disappoint. Working with the Dickel staff, the restaurant prepared a meal that worked beautifully with an array of the George Dickel whiskys that were offered for tasting. While everything that was prepared was fantastic, I have to share that the one thing friends encouraged me that I ‘had to’ try were the Crispy Fried Pickles with Green Goddess Dressing; lucky for us they were served with cocktails. I can see why; those little crispy rounds were totally addictive!
We had our choice of two cocktails before dinner and I selected the Amore Tennesse Cocktail, a version of a mint julep made with George Dickel Rye Whisky, Angostura Amaro, Grand Marnier, Honey and Mint Leaves. It reminded me that I’ve wondered before why mint juleps are only relished during The Kentucky Derby; they deserve to be a year round libation and that cocktail will appear one day in my Friday Cocktails! My friend Amy chose the Kamptal Kooler made with George Dickel No. 12, Zwack (new to me too), Lemon Juice and Honey Syrup with a Luxardo Cherry. Both were unique and excellent. If I can locate some Zwack I might give it a go at recreating that one too.
Our appetizer was Ahi Tuna Lomi Lomi; fresh tuna with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro-jalapeno vinaigrette, cucumbers and fried bread. This was fantastic and if I’m honest I would have to say it is not an appetizer I would typically order but am so glad it was presented; everything was perfection. You know what stood out the most? Those gorgeous tomatoes; many a dish has been ruined by adding tomatoes even in season that don’t make the cut. These were fresh and flavorful and combined with the cilantro vinaigrette, cucumber and the crispy fried bread, I was wishing for seconds. The Ahi Tuna was served with both George Dickel White Whisky and George Dickel No. 8. I can’t deny the white was the most interesting; although the age might suggest nothing but mere moonshine, this whisky was definitely smoother, fresh and really…how cool is a WHITE whiskey?
Every course of our meal was accompanied with a different whisky to taste and we saw a progression in both process and resulting colors as the whiskys were aged longer and longer.
Our second course was Shrimp and Grits Agnolotti; a gorgeous pasta which was accentuated by fresh corn from Olathe, Colorado. If you are not from Colorado you are probably unaware but we think our corn from Olathe and our peaches from Palisades are the best you can find. That Acorn offered both of these Colorado favorites during our dinner? Priceless. Served with George Dickel No. 12, this course might have been the most surprising for me. I’ve enjoyed the George Dickel No. 12 in cocktails but I admit, I would not have contemplated serving it with a pasta course but the two were so compatible that it might have been my favorite course of the evening. The rich pasta held up perfectly to the robust No. 12 which is a 90-proof Tennessee Whisky. Blended with older whiskies to achieve a deep, assertive flavor; it is considered by many to be the gold standard of Tennessee Whisky.
I should just say, ‘There are no words.’ and leave it go at that but this Smoked 7X Ribeye ‘Porchetta’ was so amazing that I can’t. I’ll be honest, I’m often the type who loves the salad and appetizer and even a second course enough that I could call it quits before getting to the Main Course. I’m so glad I paced myself. Beef procured from a local producer that was simply beyond compare. Prepared with pork belly and accompanied with carrots, wild mushrooms and a chili and bread jam that elevated the entire dish. All finished with George Dickel No. 12 jus. The meat was served family style and everyone at that table was wondering if there would be enough for a 2nd bite.
Served with George Dickel Barrel Select and George Dickel Rye, the combination was exquisite. While I enjoy Rye Whisky and it was fantastic in my cocktail, I have to give this round to the Barrel Select. Mellowed with charcoal and the unique aging process used by George Dickel, this is their smoothest whiskey with hints of vanilla, spice and charcoal. The company hand selects a mere 10 barrels a year for this small-batch handcrafted whisky which is aged between 10 and 12 years. I thought it the perfect complement to such a rich and flavorful dish.
As we were being served the main course, our hosts mentioned that jars of the spice rub Adam had made especially for George Dickel and talked about during cocktails were available on the table. The suggestion was that we try sprinkling some on the porchetta. Have I said amazing enough? While I typically leave dinners like this hoping I can get a recipe for a cocktail or a dish to share on the blog, on this night my ONLY goal was to secure a recipe for that rub. I don’t call it a rub though; it has become a mainstay in my kitchen as a finishing salt (I was given both a bottle to bring home and the recipe…whew!). If you’re family or friends look away; I don’t want to spoil that this will be included in your holiday foodie gift baskets. Not just for meat, I use it to season eggs and salads and chicken and…well, almost everything. A combination of chile flakes, coriander seed, cumin seed, cardamon, dried mint, dried ginger, black peppercorns, and salt it is an unlikely combination that is simply a fantastic boost to anything it touches. That small amount on an already fantastic piece of beef? The room went quiet as we all sat in awe and enjoyed one of the best pieces of beef I have ever had in my entire life. No exaggeration. Look for these roasted potatoes on the blog soon. They are great. With my new best friend? They’re what? AMAZING!
Not to be forgotten was dessert and it was perfect after a meal of such magnitude. A small slice of olive oil cake was topped with a peach compote made with the aforementioned Palisade peaches and it was served alongside some vanilla bean ice cream on oat crumble. You might imagine that the whiskey tasting was over but not yet. Our hosts provide one last sample to enjoy with dessert; the George Dickel 9 year old. I was not expecting another whisky product to be dessert worthy but it was a nice smooth taste with the peach dessert even if I might have liked it even better if it had been poured into some coffee; I might have to try that myself at home.
All in all a fantastic evening. One funny note? My friend Amy was chatting with the guest on the other side of her. Amy mentioned she had come with a local food blogger and when she told her I was from the blog Creative Culinary, she recognized my blog and me! Katie with Good Life Eats had moved to the Boulder area in the last couple of years and since I’m further from Boulder than I had been, my forays to that part of town are few and far between and we had never met personally. So, great to meet you Katie, now we have to find that in between spot to meet. Soon.
I can’t say enough good things about this experience with everyone behind the George Dickel brand or the folks who did such an amazing job at Acorn. Both should be on your must try list! Amy and I were particularly lucky as we had the company of Alastair Menzies, a Scotsman whose job title is ‘Whiskey Ambassador for Colorado’ for Diageo’s Whisk(e)y Portfolio. Really how fun is that job?
As promised, here is Adam’s recipe for the
Spice Rub Finishing Salt. Who wants me to feature his recipe for George Dickel No. 12 Barbecue Sauce too?
George Dickel Whiskey Tasting and Adam Perry Lang Spice Rub
- 1 tsp chile flakes
- 1 Tbsp Coriander Seeds
- 1 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
- 1 tsp Cardamon
- 1 Tbsp Dried Mint Leaves
- 1 tsp Dried Ginger
- 1 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 cup Kosher Salt
- Lightly toast first six spices (chile flakes through ginger) in a pan over medium heat until fragrant. Grind through finest setting on spice mill or pulse lightly in a coffee grinder until fine; set aside.
- Lightly toast black peppercorns in a pan over medium heat and pound in mortar and pestle until cracked and coarse. Mix into the spice blend and set aside.
- Combine all ingredients with salt; working in with fingers.
- Seal in air tight container.
I used my coffee grinder to make the mix at home which taught me a lesson. I'll be buying a spice grinder. Cleaning out the coffee grinder before grinding the spices and then again after grinding them was a hassle; I'll be doing this enough it seems worth the investment.
If you don't have a mortar and pestle, put the peppercorns into a plastic bag, cover the bag with a cloth and roll the seeds with a rolling pin or hit with a meat mallet until the pepper is small enough,