You can have a beer flight, but can you have a cocktail flight? Yes, because that’s what we did for this episode! From punk rocker to bar manager, John Stefanski knows his spirits. Originally from St. Louis, John recently moved to Littleton, Colorado (just outside of Denver) where he manages the bar at Rocker Spirits, a new micro-distillery serving up craft cocktails using their in-house whiskey, rum, and vodka. We discuss 3 of his crafty creations, John’s journey into the world of cocktailing, and a couple musical stories from his ska-punk days in STL, to John’s serendipitous run-in with his indie rock idol…
Rocker Spirits – Littleton, CO
Opened in August 2016, Rocker Spirits is a micro-distillery currently producing their own whiskey, rum, and vodka. They run an ever-rotating list of seasonal cocktails, as well as some mainstays served year-round. On a nice day, make sure to kick it on their patio, and grab a wood-fired pie from the Sprezzatura Pizza truck parked right outside.
- John Stefanski and I met in high school in St. Louis, MO through adolescent punk rock shows in basements and my parents’ backyard. At this point, I feel it’s important to note that his old band Disturbing Lou can still be found on MySpace…
- Rocker Spirits is a micro-distillery and bar that opened in August 2016 and is currently producing whiskey, vodka, and rum (their “three horsemen”). Future plans including gin, agave spirits, and more whiskey.
- We talk about John’s move to Denver, as well as the St. Louis cocktail scene where John cut his teeth in the industry. Shout-outs to Blood & Sand, Mission Taco, and Retreat Gastropub.
- Denver has nearly 300 breweries in the metropolitan area, but what about the cocktail scene? John lists some of his favorite cocktail joints in the area, including Retrograde and The Way Back, and sees it becoming a more cocktail-centric city in the future with the rise of some of the local distilleries.
- John started gravitating toward cocktails and the service industry after he really wasn’t feeling the whole business school thing. He switched his focus to graphic design while working restaurant jobs where he was offered an opportunity to jump behind the bar.
- The Rocker Spirits’ building in Littleton, CO used to house the owner’s construction business. Based on Denver’s distilling ordinances, they chose to locate their operation in the now-converted warehouse with features a spacious open interior.
- Littleton, CO is definitely an up-and-coming area right now with cool bars, including Jake’s Brew Bar, Ned Kelly’s, and Angelo’s Taverna.
- John’s drinking story involved a coincidental meeting with his rock star crush Emily Haines (Metric, Broken Social Scene) during his time at Blood & Sand.
- What’s next for Rocker Spirits? John and their head distiller have been experimenting with some liqueurs, and Sprezzatura Pizza just opened up their truck right outside of the bar. Expect to see some cool events at Rocker this summer, and look for them at festivals across Colorado (and the U.S.) in 2018.
- We’re crossing our fingers for a Disturbing Lou reunion tour in the near future…
Drinks of the Show:
- Smoke’em If You Got’em – A spirit-forward play on an old fashioned, containing Rocker Whiskey, turbinado sugar for some caramel notes, cold-pressed coffee from Corvus Coffee, baker’s chocolate for some bitter notes, and aromatic bitters. After being pre-batched in a mason jar, they take a smoking gun to it to give this cocktail a subtle hickory smoke finish.
- One Great City – Originally created by John himself at Blood & Sand in St. Louis, it contains a botanical-infused Rocker Vodka (juniper, sloe berry, lemon, and coriander, similar to a gin), curry (curry?), garam masala, tamarind, lime juice, and just a bit of cream to create a flavorful but surprisingly light cocktail.
- Wide Eyes – My personal fav, and John certainly agrees since this almost never leaves the menu. This one was a hot beverage – comparable to an Irish coffee – containing Rocker Rum, Corvus Chicory Cold-Pressed Coffee, one of John’s own brown sugar & chipotle syrups, a little bit of black strap molasses, topped off with a lavender cream float. You’ll feel that spice for a short while after you take your first sip!
John’s Favorite Cocktail Bars in Denver:
- Retrograde – This place is basically a speakeasy in the back of an ice cream shop. They don’t name their cocktails on the menu; they just list the flavor profile.
- The Way Back – A farm-to-table restaurant in Denver sourcing all of their ingredients locally (Colorado and the U.S.), they also run a “cocktail curriculum” which I’m sure is almost as good as “flight school” 😉
John’s Favorite Spots in Littleton:
- Jake’s Brew Bar – These guys have a great beer selection, and it’s a 2-generation-owned family joint right in downtown Littleton.
- Ned Kelly’s Irish Pub – Housed in a small brick building this lil’ spot is a cozy Irish pub with a patio to boot!
- Angelo’s Taverna – An eclectic Italian joint where Rocker Spirits recently did a cocktail dinner
- Sprezzatura Pizza – Gotta give these guys a shout-out as well! Sprezzatura just opened up their truck outside of Rocker Spirits, and are serving up delicious wood-fired pizza to the patrons at the bar. I accredit this pizza with my ability to stay sober through 3 cocktails in 30 minutes…
John’s Former Employers (i.e. Fav Cocktail Bars) in St. Louis, MO:
- Blood & Sand – A swanky cocktail lounge featuring new American fare as well. I guess the band Metric likes to party there as well…
- Mission Taco Joint – Badass tacos, craft beer, tequila…I love this place and its multiple STL locations!
- Retreat Gastropub – It’s described as “trendy, rustic, & modern”…sounds like a gastropub to me!
Connect/Drink with John at Rocker Spirits:
Look for Rocker Spirits on Facebook, but more importantly, make sure to visit them for a rotating and staple list of cocktails in Littleton. Also, you can find John on Instagram at @alwayshungoveralways, which is basically the best Instagram handle ever.
Visit Rocker Spirits:
Rocker Spirits is located at 5587 S Hill St, Littleton, CO 80120. Bar hours are Thursday through Saturday 5pm-11pm, and Sunday 11am-5pm.
“doublewhiskeycokenoice” by Dillinger Four. Check them out at http://www.angelfire.com/mn/dillingerfour/.