We launch our new weekly cocktail column, The Alchemist, with the hottest drinks of the season
What’s the best way to get into the festive spirit? Why, with some festive spirits, of course.
All over Vancouver, the city’s best bartenders are shaking, stirring and mulling the best seasonal flavours into cocktails designed to warm body and soul. And truly, can you think of a better way to bring this cold, dreary year to a close?
Summer may have us craving light and refreshing thirst quenchers, but on wintry days, when the skies fill with sleet and slush piles up at the curb, we yearn for comfort, richness and deep flavours. Think luscious eggnogs, steamy mulled ciders, brown spirits and, above all, plenty of spice.
“I like spice. I like that sensation of warmth, whether it’s a hot cocktail or not,” says Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager at Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar.
She’s featuring five seasonal drinks on her “cool weather cocktails” list, including a toasty toddy – a creamy concoction that’s like a slice of apple pie crossed with eggnog, and a spiced berry drink she’s called What’s Haskap’in? (See recipes below.) The punny name refers to Okanagan Spirits’ new haskap liqueur. The haskap, also known as the honeyberry, is an antioxidant-rich, cool-climate powerhouse with a flavour that hits the sweet spot between blueberries, raspberries and saskatoons. “It’s super delicious, it’s super tart and it’s really cool,” Dhaliwal says.
Meanwhile, over at L’Abattoir, head bartender Katie Ingram is taking inspiration from her historical Gastown neighbourhood for some seasonal gallows humour. She recently won the Knob Creek Whiskey Cup competition in Toronto with her Gaoler’s Mews cocktail, referencing her restaurant’s origins as the city’s first jail. Her Slaughternog, on the other hand, is a nod to its location around the corner from the city’s first slaughterhouse. “We make a custard and add booze and shake it up and make it delicious,” she says. Her version of eggnog is lighter and fruitier than most, with a healthy slug of citrus juice and an appealing splash of Sons of Vancouver’s locally made amaretto.
And for those who dream of escaping to someplace tropical, Ingram has created the Donner & Blitzen, with flavours of cranberry, clove, cherry, pineapple and mezcal. “It’s smoky and sweet and spicy,” she says.
Of course, for many of us, the holidays are all about tradition, and that includes Kaitlyn Stewart, bar manager at Royal Dinette. Her winter cocktail list includes the rosemary-scented Just Like Heaven (think coastal forests) and the Kumabaya (“My nod to the Pacific Northwest, with hickory-smoked rye and a toasted marshmallow on top,” she says.)
But her special holiday feature, The Little Lebowski, is a homage to the movie she and her family would gather to watch each year. “It’s a spinoff of The Dude’s favourite cocktail: the White Russian,” Stewart says.
Instead of the traditional vodka, coffee liqueur and cream, Stewart mixes together house-made eggnog, vodka, Tia Maria, Galliano, espresso and chocolate bitters. “It’s what the season reminds me of,” she says. “When I’m putting together cocktails, it’s what my family traditions are. It’s the flavours, aromas, and fun traditions – like watching The Big Lebowski with my family.”
Still thirsty? There’s also Max Borrowman’s mouthwatering mulled wine at Juniper Kitchen + Bar, Lauren Mote’s spirit-forward Northwinds at Yew Seafood + Bar, and Justin Taylor’s hot buttered rum at the Cascade Room.
Whatever your own holiday traditions, why not make Vancouver’s terrific cold-weather nogs, toddies, flips and punches part of them? They’ll keep your spirits warm, no matter what winter throws at you.
Make these festive recipes:
This tart, juicy and refreshing take on wintry flavours is created by Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager of Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar.
Recipe created by Katie Ingram, bar manager at L’Abattoir, in a nod to her restaurant’s location on the edge of Blood Alley, once home to the city’s slaughterhouses.
• 1.5 oz (45 mL) Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon
• 0.5 oz (15 mL) Sons of Vancouver Amaretto
• 0.5 oz (15 mL) lemon juice
• 0.5 oz (15 mL) orange juice
• 0.75 oz (20 mL) honey water (1 part honey to 1 part water)
• 0.5 oz (15 mL) cream
• 2 dashes Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate Bitters
• 1 whole egg
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker along with one ice cube. Dry shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Add more ice and shake for an additional 10 seconds. Double strain into a large coupe glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg or tonka bean.
Donner & Blitzen
Smoky and tropical, this cocktail created by Katie Ingram, bar manager of L’Abattoir, is a perfect pick-me-up for a chill day.
The Little Lebowski
Kaitlyn Stewart, bar manager of Royal Dinette, takes inspiration for this creamy, coffee-laced libation from The Dude’s favourite cocktail, the White Russian. So drink up and let’s go bowling!
• 2 oz (60 mL) house-made or purchased eggnog (see recipe below)
• 1 oz (30 mL) vodka, such as Absolut
• 0.5 oz (15 mL) Tia Maria coffee liqueur
• 0.25 oz. (7 mL) Galliano herbal liqueur
• 1 oz (30 mL) espresso
• 9 drops chocolate bitters, such as Mrs. Better’s Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds. Fine strain into a mini milk bottle, chilled coupe or rocks (Old Fashioned) glass.
Garnish with a pinch of cocoa nibs and serve with a side of chocolate chip cookies.
Sure, you can buy a carton of eggnog, but homemade is always better. Note that this recipe includes raw eggs; if that’s a concern for you, use pasteurized eggs, available in some grocery stores.
• 3 cups (750 mL) whole milk
• 1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream
• 3 cinnamon sticks
• 1 vanilla bean pod
• 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 5 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup (160 mL) granulated sugar
In a saucepan, combine milk, cream, cinnamon, vanilla bean and nutmeg. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and steep for 20 to 30 minutes, then strain out solids.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until combined. Slowly whisk in the steeped milk until combined and smooth. Bottle and refrigerate; consume within two days.
Makes about 1 quart (1 L).
—by Joanne Sasvari