Deighton Cup: Cocktail Jockeys are off to the races

The classic Champagne cocktail gets inspiration galloping for this year’s competition

Alex Black, the Deighton Cup’s Cocktail Jockey mixology director. Dan Toulgoet photo

Don your fascinators and fedoras, raise your cocktail coupes, and you’re off to the races for the ninth annual Deighton Cup.

We’re not just talking about the ponies at Hastings Park, of course. We’re talking about the fifth annual Cocktail Jockey competition that’s part of all the swellegant action on the concourse on July 22.

“Everything is bigger, bigger, bigger this year, but with all the glitz and glam of the Deighton Cup,” says the event’s cocktail director, Alex Black.

This year, the cocktail competition will be held a day earlier at Reflections at the Hotel Georgia, so the competing bartenders can spend their time at the races talking to guests and actually being part of the Deighton Cup experience. That includes all the food, fashion, cocktails, art, live music, the traditional Style Stakes Best Dressed competition, the new Fanny Bay Oyster Bar and, of course, the eight horse races at the heart of the event.

At Friday’s Cocktail Jockey competition, 10 talented bartenders from across BC will create variations on a classic Champagne cocktail, sponsored by Piper-Heidsieck, which will also be the trackside pour. The winner takes home the coveted Boothby Julep Trophy and $1,000 in cash, joining past champions Sean McGuigan, Cam Brown and last year’s favourite, Kaitlyn Stewart.

But hold up a minute. Champagne cocktails? Aren’t they a bit of a punchline? As Eve so memorably says in the movie Blast from the Past, “I thought only hookers drank those things.”

True, the Champagne cocktail isn’t particularly fashionable right now except in a handful of Vancouver bars, largely because to make a proper one is so expensive: Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a flute or coupe, add a dash of Angostura bitters, followed by a generous splash of Cognac and top with chilled Champagne.

“Investing in it is hard because there’s no demand from the consumer,” Black says. “Hopefully this sparks a renaissance of the Champagne cocktail.”

The drink itself dates back to the mid-19th century, when it was often served with crushed ice and no brandy. It was recorded in Professor Jerry Thomas’s Bon Vivant’s Companion of 1862 and, according to legend, it was such a popular drink among prospectors returning from the Gold Rush to 1850s San Francisco that more Champagne was sold in California than in France.

It was Dorothy Parker’s favourite drink, Bogie drank it in Casablanca and it had a starring role in the soigné Thin Man movies.

It is chic and stylish and, despite the naysayers who consider it a terrible thing to do to Champagne, delicious with that lively interplay of sweet, bitter and bubble.

Black for one is thrilled to have the Champagne cocktail as the theme drink this year.

“It’s a cocktail that’s kind of a blank slate. We’ve done the julep and the cobbler, and this is another simple drink,” he says, noting that the basic formula is spirit, sugar, bitters, bubbles, “and do with the rest what you will.”

He anticipates that “blank slate” will allow for the creation of some pretty exciting cocktails.

“It’s going to be cool,” he says. “It’s going to be a lot more varied than in years past.”

The Deighton Cup

The ninth annual Deighton Cup, presented by Dax Droski and The Social Concierge, runs 11am-6pm on July 22 at the Hastings Racecourse. Post time is at 1:30pm prompt.

Festival tickets are $75 and available online at Partial proceeds benefit Variety – the Children’s Charity as well as imagine1day.

The fifth annual Cocktail Jockey competition, sponsored by Piper-Heidsieck, will be held July 21 at Reflections in Hotel Georgia, noon-3pm. Tickets are $25, but only available as an upgrade to the Deighton Cup ticket.

—by Joanne Sasvari

Make First to the Post, a variation on the classic Champagne cocktail.

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