By Jim Angell and Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
NOTE: This story was filed in December, 2019 (before the pandemic).
Seasonal adult beverages have been associated with Christmas for as long as the holiday has been celebrated.
From Bob Cratchit’s gin punch in “A Christmas Carol” to the “flaming rum punch” mentioned by Clarence the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” cocktails and mixed drinks have been a fixture in countless holiday celebrations.
So in the spirit of the holiday (pun intended), Cowboy State Daily set out to visit 10 Cheyenne establishments to see what they could offer up in terms of holiday drinks.
Since I have the most experience at taste testing (see my in-depth review of carnival food at Frontier Days), I won the enviable job of trying out special holiday drinks around town.
Some were warm, sweet and inviting, like a grandmother’s hug. Other’s were refreshing and brisk, like a walk on a snowy winter’s night. But they were all delicious.
As you can see in the accompanying video, I gave each drink a score on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. I based my scores on one simple idea: how universally enjoyed the drink would be.
Now, I have to note a couple of things here:
I did not drive. My beautiful Irish bride was kind enough to take the wheel.
I did not finish all the drinks put in front of me. That would have been dangerous. Although I must admit, some were too good to give up on.
So here is a list of the establishments we visited in the order we stopped, along with a brief description of the drink I enjoyed at each stop.
The drink: Poor Richard’s Winter Storm
Ingredients: Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Frangelico, coffee.
Poor Richard’s has been a favorite Cheyenne restaurant of mine since I moved here. The food is wonderful, the service is great and the bar is intimate, quiet and well-stocked.
The Winter Storm is a coffee-based drink, with the kick coming from coffee, orange, almond and hazelnut liqueurs. It is a great drink for those seeking something warm and somewhat sweet without the overwhelming taste of alcohol.
2. The Albany
The drink: Irish Coffee
Ingredients: Irish whiskey, sugar, coffee, whipped cream, creme de menthe.
The Albany has been operating as a restaurant since 1905, although under some different names in its early years. The history in this building is palpable and it’s a wonderful place to enjoy a meal or a drink.
The Irish coffee is a staple for cold weather and every establishment has its own twist on it. At The Albany, the twist comes when the bartender pours creme de menthe on top of the whipped cream topping the coffee itself. The minty finish is a wonderful addition to the traditional flavor of the coffee and whiskey.
3. The Metropolitan
The drink: Old Fashioned
Ingredients: Rye whiskey, brown sugar, simple syrup, bitters, orange bitters and a brandied cherry.
The “Met” is one of Cheyenne’s newest restaurants and is generating quite a few positive reviews. Its list of specialty cocktails is impressive, as is its collections of top-shelf liquors.
The Old Fashioned isn’t really a holiday drink, but it is a classic, something often associated with the elegance and glamour of the “Rat Pack” years of the 1950s and 1960s. To put it simply, the Metropolitan’s Old Fashioned is the best I have ever tasted. Complex and well balanced, it would appeal to someone who wants just a hint of whiskey flavor backed up with mixers that in themselves are not too strong. So grab one when you’re feeling like belting out “New York, New York.”
4. Rib & Chop House
The drink: Chop House Peanut Butter S’mores
Ingredients: Peanut butter whiskey, hot chocolate, whipped cream.
Rib & Chop has restaurants scattered across Wyoming and by some accounts, it offers up the finest steak in the state. Its bar is always lively and inviting.
I’ve got to be honest: I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a peanut butter whiskey. And once I learned there was, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to try it. But Rib & Chop’s Peanut Butter S’mores is a delicious dessert drink featuring — believe it or not — the great taste of peanut butter and chocolate. Sort of like dunking a chocolate bar into a tub of peanut butter. This is going to be popular with anyone who likes to end the night with a sweet drink.
5. Little Bear
The drink: Little Bear Nudge
Ingredients: Frangelico, Amaretto, Irish cream, hot coffee, whipped cream and sprinkles.
Talk about historic — the Little Bear has been around in one form or another since an important stagecoach line ran between Cheyenne and Deadwood, South Dakota. The atmosphere is wonderful, like a neighborhood bar and restaurant, and always inviting.
The Little Bear Nudge is another coffee-based drink getting its flavors from the hazelnut and almond flavored liqueurs, along with the Irish cream. The Irish cream adds an interesting taste to the hazelnut and almond and cuts the strong flavor of the (home-ground) coffee to yield a pleasantly balanced drink that is sweet, but not too sweet. The green sprinkles, it was explained, are just there for decoration.
6. Uncle Charlie’s
The drink: Gingerbread martini
Ingredients: Pumpkin-flavored Irish cream, butterscotch-flavored schnapps, half-and-half cream, cinnamon.
Uncle Charlie’s has been a popular gathering place in Cheyenne for years, particularly famous for its happy hour snacks and treats. It’s always fun and there’s always something going on.
On our arrival, bartender Pam created — on the spot — what I consider to be the most Christmassy of all our drinks: the gingerbread martini. She pulled it together while we waited. And the name doesn’t lie — the mixture of the pumpkin and butterscotch flavors yields a gingerbread taste. Served cold in a martini glass, it’s an instant Christmas classic, sweet and creamy. Make sure you ask for it when you visit.
The drink: Rachel’s Reindeer Revenge
Ingredients: Vodka, peach schnapps, cinnamon-flavored whiskey, holiday Red Bull (plum flavored)
The Peppermill is a very popular spot on Dell Range, with numerous pool tables, video games and various special events occurring through the week.
The drink created by bartender Rachel was slightly sweet, but not cloying. The carbonation provided by the Red Bull gave it a certain lift and left it very light on the tongue. The peach schnapps reduced the influence of the vodka and whiskey, creating a very easy-to-drink cocktail that was very refreshing.
Plus, we were given the honor of naming it, so there’s that.
8. The Office
The drink: Peppermint Cranberry
Ingredients: Peppermint schnapps, cranberry juice, splash of soda water.
The Office is one of Cheyenne’s newer establishments and has received extremely good reviews for its food and specialty cocktails.
The one made specially for me during my tour, the peppermint cranberry, was the first at The Office, but not the first for our experienced bartender. It was like drinking a candy cane. The bright red color made it visually appealing and the strong peppermint flavor, boosted by the carbonation, made it a very refreshing drink. An excellent choice for an after-dinner drink.
9. Alf’s Pub
The drink: Irish coffee
Ingredients: Irish whiskey, Irish cream, coffee
Alf’s is famous in Cheyenne for hosting a number of charitable events, raising more than $2 million in the last several years for donation to various causes. It’s a friendly bar with a “neighborhood pub” feel.
The Irish coffee at Alf’s was basic and comforting — kind of like an old friend. The Irish cream helped blunt the edges of the coffee and smoothed out the wonderful Irish whiskey. Served in a standard coffee mug, the drink stayed satisfyingly warm throughout.
10. Paramount Ballroom
The drink: The Land of Nod
Ingredients: Brandy, butterscotch liqueur, spiced rum, apple cider, cinnamon, orange, cloves and cranberry, all topped with butter.
The Paramount has gained fame as a Cheyenne home of specialty cocktails. The atmosphere is upscale and bright, making it a perfect place to meet after work or before dinner.
The Land of Nod tops the list for Christmas cheer on the warm drinks list. The various flavors blended beautifully and the butter melted on top of the drink gave it a smooth, warm finish. Although it tends toward the sweet side, the orange peel and cloves help keep it from being too sweet, all while adding a very “Christmassy” nose.
So that was my trip. I’d encourage anyone to stop by any of these establishments if they get a chance at any time of the year — don’t wait for Christmas!
Remember, though, if you’re going to try to replicate my five-hour journey, do it safely. Bring a designated driver. And, if you can, somebody to record the experience. The fear of appearing in an online video doing something, well, undignified should keep you on your best behavior.
Slainte (Gaelic for cheers) and Merry Christmas!