London Calling

An on-trend bar crawl during World’s 50 Best Bars week recaps some top watering holes of the year, and what leading bartenders are mixing up for the coming year.

The legendary martini cart at The Connaught Bar. Charlene Rooke photo

Pandemic be damned, I went to London for the World’s 50 Best Bars event in December 2021. Here’s a curated crawl of award winners, bars to watch and insider hangouts that hints at what the bar world might deliver in 2022.

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B.C. Spirits Gift Guide: 2021 Edition

Start your festive shopping now.

Photo courtesy of Okanagan Spirits

In a holiday season with some international supply-chain blips, shop local—and shop soon!—for B.C. small-batch spirts holiday gifts. Limited-edition and seasonal items sell out fast, so if you happen to miss out this season, get on e-newsletter lists or follow distilleries on social media to watch for the next drop, and be very nice (not naughty) until next year. Many items from last holiday season are bound to be available again, so check out last year’s guide, too.

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A whisky time machine

Whisky in just two weeks? Get a taste of the “synthetically aged spirits” world

To make his synthetically aged whisky, distiller Steve Watts uses staves from Okanagan wine barrels. Photos courtesy of Mainland Whisky

It’s amber in the glass, with aromas of toasted bread, fresh-cut wood, apple and pear. It’s flavours of butterscotch with clove and pepper spice. I’d blind-taste it as a young but promising Canadian whisky from a craft distillery, somewhere on its three-year journey to the glass.

“It’s two weeks old,” says Steve Watts, distiller and founder of South Surrey’s Mainland Whisky, of his Time Machine Hungarian Oak bottling. One of the craft renegades experimenting with accelerated maturation and “synthetic” aged whisky, the Texas-trained distiller says, “There are so many people who are traditionalists in this industry—I don’t need to be a traditionalist.” While his Time Machine spirits can’t be labeled “Canadian whisky,” Watts says, “I see this as a product not to replace barrel-aged whisky, but as something totally different.” (He eventually plans to release traditional wood-matured whiskies, too.)

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Lounge in “Patiotown” for your summer stay-cation

Vancouver’s Gastown creates a safe, social outdoor oasis for the return of cocktail culture this summer. It makes perfect sense for the neighbourhood founded on the bar that helped build a city.

Supplied photo

Under some welcome umbrella shade on the Jules Bistro patio, live music wafts over from a nearby performer, the all-day-happy-hour Chambord kiss of French Martinis flow for $14, while cocktailians sip under vintage lamposts festooned with lush flower baskets. It almost feels like the “before times.”

As life slowly returns to normal this summer, Vancouver’s Gastown—the neighbourhood where the city started, and where our most famous bar ever was started by its namesake, nicknamed Gassy Jack (aka John Deighton) more than 150 years ago—has embraced pandemic conditions to enhance its reputation as patio central.

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If the spirit moves you

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 by buying or drinking a woman-made spirit, such as these global brands that have women master blenders, distillers and more.

At Ron Zapaca in Guatemala, master blender Lorena Vasquez is credited for pioneering the a “solera” aging method in rum. Photo courtesy of Ron Zacapa

American whisky

Down in Tullahoma, Tennessee, master distiller Nicole Austin is shaking up the nearly 150-year-old George Dickel whiskey brand. One state north in Kentucky, although legendary Michter’s master distiller Pamela Heilmann retired in 2019, she passed the torch to master of maturation Andrea Wilson. At Woodford Reserve, Elizabeth McCall is the assistant master distiller, at Old Forester Jackie Zykan is master taster and Eboni Major is the master blender at Bulleit.

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Four’s the charm: Results of the 2021 Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition

For the fourth year in a row, a B.C. craft spirit has won the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: raise a toast to Vancouver Island’s Ampersand Distilling, makers of Nocino!

Ampersand Distilling Company’s Nocino! is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the year for 2021. Supplied photo

The Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year is the Nocino! from Ampersand Distilling Company on Vancouver Island. Founded by the Schacht clan, Ampersand operates from a Duncan-area farm, using stills that were designed and built by father and son Stephen and Jeremy; Jessica Schact is instrumental in product development; and Ramona Froehle-Schact manages the farm and more—a true family affair.

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Dangerous drinks

10 things not to do at home—or anywhere, according to CocktailSafe’s Camper English

Writer Camper English, the San-Francisco-based founder of Alcademics, created cocktailsafe.org when he saw the risky techniques being used by some bartenders. Bastian Bochinski photo

The Roof is on Fire! That was the name of a dangerous-drinks seminar that San Francisco writer Camper English (of alcademics.com fame) and Bittermens co-founder Avery Glasser gave in 2016 at Tales of the Cocktail. Their warnings on potentially dangerous bartending ingredients, equipment and techniques were so eye-opening, English later nabbed a grant to develop cocktailsafe.org, a geekily helpful website packed with deeply researched information and resources.

“Bartenders on Facebook were chatting a lot about potentially dangerous drinks … and I thought it would be useful to put all this information, and a lot more, in one place as a reference to bartenders everywhere,” he says.

Here are his top 10 red flags for home mixologists—and pros, too.

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Unleaded: the Best Alcohol-free Drinks of 2021

Let’s retire the mocktails and let these placebo drinks, “nocktails” and free-spirited bottles happily get you through Dry-uary

A huge range of non-alcoholic spirits and other drinks are increasingly easy to find in Canada, since non-boozy drinks can ship almost anywhere. Sobrii photo

This year could be peak Sober Curious: just check out the new booze-free vending machine at Larry’s Market in the Shipyards, featuring mickeys of Solbru booze-free spirit and cans of Sober Carpenter and Partake near-beer in slots that recently held healthy salads and takeout—proof that Dry-uary is a full-blown lifestyle trend.

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Power Tools

Shake and mix like a pro with this starter list of essential bar gear

Essential tools include jiggers, barspoons, muddlers and strainers—and these days they come in a variety of finishes such as stainless steel, rose gold and gunmetal. Fifth & Vermouth photo

Ask a pro bartender for their must-haves, and the answer might be practical: bar mops (a cheap pack of these thin, absorbent white towels is smart, even for home) and pens. However, the essentials below look more aspirational on your home bar cart: always chic in stainless steel, they’re especially envy-inspiring in on-point finishes from gold and rose gold to gunmetal and matte black. (For a roundup of additional tools for the advanced bartending pro, read here.)

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