Handcrafted Cocktails in Breckenridge

Bar and drinks

Let’s set the scene. Imagine that you are a bourbon loving gentleman that loves to snowboard. It is your birthday and your wife has planned the best surprise ever: a cocktail class taught by the famed mixologist James Lee in —wait for it– Breckenridge.

This is what my friend and successful food blogger Whitney planned for her husband Brian and she was kind enough to bring me and a few other friends along for the ride. We surprised Brian by meeting up with Lee at a liquor store in Silverthorne to buy supplies. Confused at first as he walked up to our group, Brian soon recognized who he was meeting, having sipped a few masterfully crafted recipes created by this man in various establishments around the Boulder and Denver area. When we explained to Brian that we were going to have Lee over as a guest for the night at our Breckenridge condo to teach us how to craft perfect cocktails, Brian’s face went pink and he lit up with childlike wonder, whispering, “This is awesome.” The next twenty minutes were spent trailing Lee around the liquor store as he gave us basic advice on how to choose liquor and spirits, what to steer away from, and the best bang for your buck.

James Lee with Wine in Breckenridge
James Lee shows Brian a few select wines.

Playboy Magazine recently named Lee one of the top mixologists in the nation, proof that there is far more to making a drink than pouring ingredients and shaking a tumbler. Lee spends his days working in his own business, Blackbelly Catering, which he runs with Top Chef winner and close friend Hosea Rosenberg, and tending bar at the Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colorado. He has written and perfected the house drink menus for over a dozen restaurants in Colorado, whether as a bar manager or as consultant. Lee left his job as an engineer when he was a young adult and fell in love with the hospitality industry and making people happy. He says he became enamored with mixology when he discovered the concept in 2004 and has never looked back since.

Lee treated us to a variety of cocktails, showing us the ratios of citrus fruit to alcohol and whether or not to use agave nectar or another sweetener. We continued to be surprised as we sipped each drink and realized the harsh taste of boozel was usually disguised by the gentle and insistent flavor of whatever he had muddled or coaxed into each drink; strawberry, cucumber, anaheim pepper, or watermelon.

It’s next to impossible not to get excited about mixology when Lee is your teacher. His passion is obvious and it comes through in the explanation of each step of a recipe and in the glistening, dewy result of a rocks glass filled with a refreshing elixir. Combine Lee’s enthusiasm for mixology with Brian’s birthday smile receiving these gems of wisdom as a birthday gift and you have yourself the perfect evening in Breckenridge.

– Clare Tischer