Dana Rodriguez (left) and Karen Ashworth-Macfarlane talk about their new Mezcal brand, Doña Loca, at Work & Class in Denver on Wednesday April 28th. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
To be clear: With regard to Cinco de Mayo: “We don’t do anything (expletive) in Mexico,” laughs Dana Rodriguez at the largely American celebration.
Rodriguez, who comes from Chihuahua, Mexico, has earned her affectionate nickname “Loca” over the years in Denver. However, their reputation goes way beyond a fun, almost disrespectful approach to cooking and tradition.
After immigrating to Colorado in 1998, Rodriguez worked her way up through some of the best restaurants in Denver, eventually receiving US residency and opening her own restaurants.
Today, the James Beard nominated chef owns and operates two extremely popular RiNo restaurants, Work & Class and Super Mega Bien, both of which will reopen this week in time for the Cinco de Mayo after long pandemic breaks.
And in both restaurants, Rodriguez will serve her new brand of mezcal, aptly named Doña Loca, made from planting to bottling by a small palenque (distillery) in Oaxaca that she handpicked after visiting the region.
When you go
Super Mega Bien and Work & Class were both reopened in time for Cinco de Mayo at 1260 25th St. and 2500 Larimer St., respectively. For more information and bottles of Doña Loca Mezcals in your area, visit donaloca.com/locations.
“I wish I could be George Clooney or The Rock and have all the money to buy it (a brand of tequila),” laughed Rodriguez. “But I think the story behind Doña Loca is (the brothers who make it) Marco and Juan.”
“I’d rather do it the way we do and support families in Mexico,” added Karen Ashworth-Macfarlane, CEO of Doña Loca, a former financial planner who is Rodriguez’s co-founder of the mezcal company.
The Oaxacan brothers, Enrique Diaz Cruz’s distillery is behind Doña Loca Mezcals, which are made in a traditional, artisanal way using wood fires and mule-pulled mills for fermentation.
The spirits come from three types of agave – Espadín, Tobalà and Tepeztat – and mature over the course of five to 30 years, making some bottles rarer and more complex in taste than others.
Dana Rodriguez will make a grapefruit-habanero-rosemary with Espadín Mezcal at Work & Class on Wednesday, April 28th. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
While mezcal is known as a smokier relative of tequila due to its pit-cooking process, Doña Loca has a softer taste, both Rodriguez and Ashworth said. Your separates the burnt agave.
The distillery also uses extra plant material to create bottle labels so nothing is wasted.
The purity of the end product was important to Rodriguez, who said she only wants the facts when it comes to their sourcing and partnerships.
And that’s another important part of Rodriguez’s reputation: she’s a smart businesswoman, known for taking care of her employees and being transparent to them (as well as her customers) about the company’s finances and the decisions it makes .
The restaurant industry “has been broken for so long, but we still have a chance to fix it.”
Rodriguez will be opening a new bar, Cantina Loca, in the Highland neighborhood of Denver by early fall. It will serve as a tasting room for the mezcal, as well as the upcoming tequila, raicilla, sotol, and more traditional Mexican agave-based spirits made under the Doña Loca brand. And street food – tacos, posole, cactus fries – is served alongside the tasters and mixed drinks.
Until then, customers can try Doña Loca’s mezcals at restaurants on Rodriguez’s Larimer Street or other local bars and liquor stores.
With all its serious liquor training, Loca still lives up to its name, reopening two restaurants at the same time, welcoming customers again, and breaking out the slushie machines (to make frozen palms and margaritas) for some proper American Cinco de Mayo celebrations .
“This is real, this is life,” said Rodriguez with a smile. “It’s not presumptuous.”
A grapefruit habanero rosemary cocktail with Espadín Mezcal by Dana Rodriguez at Work & Class in Denver on Wednesday April 28. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
Recipe: Spicy Grapefruit Rosemary Oaxacan
(Makes three drinks)
- 1 cup of grapefruit juice
- 1 fresh lime
- ¼ cup spicy syrup (recipe below)
- 4 ounces Doña Loca Espadín Mezcal
- Fill three glasses with ice
- Put the grapefruit juice, the spicy syrup and the mezcal in a mixing glass / vessel
- Squeeze in the fresh lime
- Stir all ingredients well
- Pour ice over glasses
- Garnish with rosemary
Spicy syrup ingredients
- 3 habanero peppers, chopped
- 10 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed from the stems
- 1 liter of hot water
- 1 liter of sugar
Spicy Syrup Directions
- Mix the chopped paprika and rosemary leaves in a large bowl
- Add hot water and sugar and mix well
- Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes
- Strain the mixture into another container and then let it cool in the refrigerator for an hour
- Use the syrup in abundance in cocktails
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