Drinks in the Desert: Coachella Edition

Whether you’re catching Coachella this weekend or heading to the Palm Springs area for some spring sun, here’s where to taste the hot drinks scene.

The vintage inspired bar at Bar Cecil is one of the most coveted seats in town. Photo courtesy of Bar Cecil.

Modern Cocktails

For proper cocktails, head uptown the small, dark and sexy new Tailor Shop (look for the vintage sewing machine in the green hedge). If they’re wheeling the cart, have an Old Fashioned mixed at the table, or declare your Canadian cred with a Spifflicated Butterfly starring Empress 1908 Gin. Japanese whisky and mixology fans should head straight to Sandfish (same owners), a sushi restaurant with inventive cocktails and a killer whisky list topped with Yamazaki. On the LGBTQ-friendly strip of bars on Arenas Road, choose Blackbook for a seriously comprehensive, bourbon-heavy whisky list.

The toughest reservation in town is Bar Cecil, where you want to be sitting at the pretty vintage-inspired bar ordering a French 75 Regal, topped with Moët & Chandon. Truss & Twine‘s big, horseshoe bar is a late-night industry hang, and serves an excellent Hanky Panky. In the same uptown ‘hood, the poolside Colony Club bar at the Colony Palms hotel and the house Negroni on Birba‘s patio are also worthy stops. In a town with few rooftop bars, the High Bar at the Rowan Hotel is a mountain-view, poolside spot to grab a drink..

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Beyond Mezcal: Distilled and Fermented in Mexico

Dip into the back bar, behind-the-counter and unlabelled jugs of fermented and distilled goodies on your next visit to Mexico or the southern U.S.

A flight of blanco or unaged agave spirits at Nómada in San José del Cabo. In a flight they can look benign—just several glasses of colourless liquid—but be prepared for weird flavours, aromas and textures. Charlene Rooke photo

Like many Western Canadians, I’ve been to Mexico too many times to count—but typically on holidays, not at work as a drinks writer and educator. On my latest trip, I was determined to go beyond margaritas, and way beyond even some of the excellent agave spirits we’re now able to purchase in Canada. Here’s what I found.

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Vancouver Cocktail Week: Nerd Edition

For those in the tiny club of Canadian drinks journalists, an event like Vancouver Cocktail Week (VCW) provides a rare opportunity to nerd out on niche, unexplored and trending topics in drinks.

While professional drinks writers regularly get to sample spirits, taste cocktails and interview bartenders and experts, rare are the opportunities to, well… completely nerd out. My friends tire pretty quickly of a nuanced debate on which Italian amari is more bitter, the ideal proportions of a house vermouth blend for a Manhattan and the finer points of making directionally frozen, diamond-clear ice. But at VCW 2022, all this and more was possible—served up with guided tastings and dinners were seminars deep-dive enough to satisfy even minutiae-thirsty writers and drinks superfans.

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Choose A Woman-Made, Woman-Led Spirit Day

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
Supplied photo

Though countless women contribute to the vibrant local, national and international distilling industry, for International Women’s Day each year we give a nod to some of the trailblazers in top production, management and ownership positions at distilleries.

For a fresh perspective on the hidden history of women in spirits and cocktail, we highly recommend the recently released book Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara.

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Give Us Five

A B.C. spirit comes out on top for the fifth consecutive year in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: cheers to DEVINE Distillery’s Ancient Grains, also the Best in Class Young Whisky.

DEVINE Distillery’s Ancient Grains is CASC Spirit of the Year. Photo courtesy of Artisan Distillers Canada

The grains may be ancient, but a globally unique, made-in-B.C. whisky is making modern history: Ancient Grains from DEVINE Distillery in Saanich is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year 2022.

The top-scoring spirit across every category of the national competition, Ancient Grains is also the Best in Class Young Whisky for the third time (so classified because it matures for less than three years, which is the minimum requirement for labelling as “Canadian Whisky”). The whisky was originally created by master distiller Ken Winchester in 2017, using B.C.-grown heritage barley, einkorn, emmer, spelt and kamut, and matured in smaller quarter-casks.

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Third-wave terroir

“Terroir” spirits define B.C.’s flavours, culture and sense of place

Comparing B.C. craft spirits from a decade ago to today is like comparing 1970s drip coffee to artisanal, fair-trade Chemex pour-overs. While B.C. has a long distilling and even rum-running history, the first wave of local, small-batch distilleries debuted not even 20 years ago. The second wave happened when 2013 B.C. liquor laws defined “craft” spirits as those using 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw materials.

Now, a third wave of modern distillers is bottling the flavour and culture of the province, defining the future of B.C. spirits. Follow their progress through distillery newsletters and social media feeds.

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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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