Socially-responsible alcohol enthusiasts that we are, we didn’t order out frequently enough to hit every bar offering cocktails to-go during the spring COVID-19 shutdowns. So when the fates decided to roll out Coronavirus Closures 2: Electric Boogaloo in November, we figured we’d try out the to-go options at some places we missed.
First up: El Moro Spirits and Tavern, a place that sits easily in our top five of places to drink in Durango.
That said, we started off with a mocktail: The Strawberry Cream Soda — strawberry, citric acid vanilla syrup, soda water, and vanilla cream. (Don’t judge us, we’d never had any of their mocktails before, and we were curious.) When they mention citric acid in the ingredients, they aren’t kidding. It’s pretty tart for a cream soda. But once you get past the initial surprise, it’s a lovely beverage. In terms of fruity sodas, it matches up with its namesake to an astonishing degree; it’s exactly like drinking a strawberry dipped in cream. Speaking of which, the presence of real cream is notable and lends a significant bit of authenticity.
Don’t dilly-dally, though. Eventually, the citric acid and cream react to each other and curdle. This is a desirable display of chemistry in action if you’re making cheese, less so when you’re sipping a mocktail.
When it came time for an actual cocktail, we started with Symmetry, a (relatively simple, especially for El Moro) house cocktail featuring Honey House Hex Vodka, Leopold Brothers Blackberry Liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup. At its most basic, it’s a boozy lemonade. The honey aspect of the vodka, if detectable at all, is on the very edge of perception — it’s the only spirit from Honeyville in which the honey ingredient is added pre-distillation, meaning that particular sweetness is consumed by the process. Similarly, the blackberry liqueur doesn’t distract too much from the lemony flavor.
And finally, we cracked open the one we were looking forward to the most: the Almost Famous. Made with coffee- and vanilla-infused Famous Grouse scotch, Colorado Honey Cold Brew Liqueur, Bitter Truth E.X.R. liqueur, Golden Moon Ex Gratia Genepy, tobacco bitters, and a chocolate cigarette, we can’t imagine anyone in the movie “Almost Famous” actually drinking it. Maybe Zooey Deschanel’s very-off-to-the-side side character, who is quoted on El Moro’s menu. This isn’t to say it’s not good — it’s actually quite tasty. It just doesn’t strike us as very rock and roll.
Of its spirits, the one that comes across most prominently is the coffee liqueur distilled at Honeyville, which is made using Durango Joes coffee. The prominence of the coffee flavor is no doubt aided by the infusions to the scotch and the chocolate cigarette. Together, they assemble to form a sort of mocha flavor that just barely obscures the scotch, which picks up steam after a second or two on the palate. The remaining ingredients then settle in with an herbal, earthy quality that closes the experience.
It’s worth noting that you can’t order alcoholic beverages from El Moro without also ordering food, so we did. The Porter Pounder — a ¼ pound Sunnyside burger, aged white cheddar, porter-braised onions, prohibition pickle, secret sauce, and house bacon on a black sesame pillow bun — sounded as good as anything. And it was.
The burger itself was fantastic. The wonderful thing about getting dine-in restaurant burgers to go is that you can choose its level of doneness, potentially preserving the flavor of the meat. But the two ingredients that really stood out were the porter-braised onions and prohibition pickle. The beer the onions are braised in comes across quite clearly, and there’s definitely something ever so slightly boozy about the pickles. The two vegetables end up slightly sweeter than normal, which may also match the secret sauce. And the bun tasted great and maintained its integrity through both transportation and consumption.
The fries were notable not just for the seasoning, which El Moro always seems to nail, but also for how well they held up. Many restaurant fries, if not overcooked in the first place, have a tendency to degrade and get soggy if you don’t eat them in the same amount of time you would if you were dining in. These, though, survived the trip to their destination intact and crunchy — without being burnt — if slightly cooler than we’d normally eat them.