Summer spirits

The Alchemist tasting panel reviews sips for the sunny season

Hot weather demands lighter spirits and less complicated cocktails. Getty Images photo

Once summer’s warmer, sunnier weather finally arrives, we crave drinks that are lighter and easier, more refreshing and less complicated. No one knows that better than the bartenders who craft all your Margaritas, G&Ts, spritzes and other summertime thirst quenchers. So we asked them to share their favourite warm weather spirits, and the cocktails they would make with them. This issue, our tasting panel team comprises bartenders J-S Dupuis, Robyn Gray, Jeff Savage, Grant Sceney and David Wolowidnyk. Here’s what they had to say. 

Note: Some of these products may not be available due to shipping delays.

J-S Dupuis
Cinzano Rosso

15% ABV, $12.99, 1L

“Definitely not the most commonly used summer ingredient, Cinzano Rosso for me is the perfect summer spirit as it makes a very refreshing spritz and always keeps the ABV nice and low for those full afternoon sessions,” says J-S Dupuis, the beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality Group.

Suggested cocktails: The Americano or Negroni.

“With its beautifully rich and herbal notes and lovely dark cherry and dark fruit flavours and aromas, Cinzano Rosso is the perfect vermouth for one of my all-time favourite refreshing summer sippers, the Americano cocktail,” says Dupuis. “With its rich dark fruit and herbal notes, paired in equal parts with Campari, which brings bitterness and sharpness, then mixed with sparkling water in a 2:1 ratio, you get a low-ABV, refreshing and crushable cocktail that is still full flavoured and just light enough to carry you through a sunny afternoon.” 

He notes that you can also use the Cinzano in a frozen drink. Just add a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice and lots of ice, then throw it in the blender. “It goes to make a great slushy to be enjoyed by the pool or at the beach (in a plastic container only, of course).” 

Once the sun goes down, he suggests starting the evening with a Negroni, adding, “Cinzano Rosso makes a great one. Or just add some Dr. Pepper to your Cinzano—the sugar and caffeine will keep you going for the rest of the night, without adding too much alcohol to your system.”

Robyn Gray 
Avuá Bálsamo Cachaça

40% ABV, $86, 750 mL

Robyn Gray, the general manager at Queens Cross Pub in North Vancouver, chose cachaça, a Brazilian rum made from fermented sugar cane juice. “This differs from industrial rums made from molasses,” he says. “Production methods include aging in interesting wood barrels such as Bálsamo wood, in this case used in Avuá Cachaça, the only cachaça available in market at the moment.”

Suggested cocktail: The Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. “It’s a delicious, refreshing summer drink simply made with sugar and lime,” he says.

Jeff Savage
Santanera Blanco

40% ABV, $112, 750 mL

“When the summer starts, for me nothing compares to tequila,” says Jeff Savage, the head bartender at Botanist Bar at the Fairmont Pacific Rim and 2019 Diageo World Class global runner up. “Few things beat the combination of sun-soaked skin and agave, particularly blanco. To me, it just tastes like captured sunlight, and whether it’s served neat, with a touch of soda and lime, or in a mixed drink, it just screams summer to me.”

He adds: “When it comes to brand names, I prefer highland-style tequilas, with their robust floral and saline notes, but valley tequilas definitely have their place. Standouts to me include Santanera, Don Julio and Tequila Ocho.”

Suggested cocktail: “For mixed drinks, of course the Margarita stands out, as well as the Paloma, one of my personal favourites and the name of my Mexican rescue pup,” says Savage. “For a switch up, I really like the modern classic, an El Diablo.”

Grant Sceney
Tanqueray Gin

40% ABV, $27.49, 750 mL

“Gin, it’s a great spirit all year round, but summer is really its time to shine,” says Grant Sceney, creative beverage director of the Fairmont Pacific Rim and 2014 World Class Canada Bartender of the Year. “It works well in stirred cocktails such as Martinis and Negronis, but come summer you really get to play off its light citrus, floral and botanical nature. Think fun, long and refreshing yet complex cocktails!” He suggests trying twists on your favorite summer classics such as a Gin & Tonic, Tom Collins, Southside or a Gin Gin Mule.

Suggested cocktail: “A drink we have just put on the menu in the Lobby Lounge is the Check In,” he says. “It’s a delicious blueberry-and-lavender take on the French 75, perfect for when you ‘check in’ to the hotel.”

David Wolowidnyk
Barsol Pisco – Quebranta

41.3% ABV, $44.99, 750 mL

“I’m glad I was able to highlight pisco this year—it’s been a favourite of mine for a long time,” says David Wolowidnyk, bartender at Acquafarina and distiller at Resurrection Spirits. “I’ve always been a fan of Peruvian pisco, wishing more people to experience this South American brandy.”

Pisco is a grape-based spirit made in Peru and Chile, with significant differences between the two countries’ styles. “All varieties of Peruvian pisco are wonderfully aromatic due to regulated production methods that help to highlight unique profiles,” Wolowidnyk notes. There are eight grape varieties commonly used in Peruvian pisco, both as single-varietal and multi-varietal expressions (acholado), yielding a depth of character and diversity of flavours not found in similar spirits. Quebranta is the most common grape used for single-varietal Pisco. “Quebranta is known for having the aromas of fresh apples, hay, pastry, vanilla and dark chocolate,” he says. “These flavour profiles follow through on the palate, adding toasted nuts into the mix.”

Wolowidnyk adds: “If you’re not yet familiar with Peruvian pisco, pick up a bottle and have some fun mixing it into both classic and contemporary cocktails.”

Suggested cocktail: Pisco punch

—by Joanne Sasvari

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