Honouring a Bartender Handshake

Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto represent Canada’s hot bar scene at North America’s 50 Best Bars 2024 in Mexico.

Vancouver’s Botanist Bar was number 24 at north America’s 50 Best bars 2024. Supplied photo

On a balmy night in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a new North America’s Best Bar 2024 was crowned: Handshake Speakeasy in Mexico City. At the same time, 2024 represented a strong showing for Canadian bars, with seven places landing on the list from the Great White North. Dozens of Canadians representing several bars made the trip to San Miguel de Allende for the ceremony, busily making plans for collabs, guest shifts and pop-ups with their North American and global colleagues in attendance.

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Where to drink right now in New Orleans

Post-Mardi Gras and before Tales of the Cocktail is the best time to visit NOLA: The cocktail scene is hot, and the weather not-yet swampy.

The Brandy Crusta is the crown jewel of Jewel of the South. Facebook.com/jewelfothesouthnola photo

Bar Stars

Jewel of the South

A 20-year vet of the New Orleans bar scene, co-owner Chris Hannah presides most nights over this restaurant bar, shaking up his perfected Brandy Crusta and other iconic drinks. Though you can hit it on a Wednesday for Casual Caviar happy hour, or dine lavishly on the likes of tripe, pig head and beef tongue made into savoury dinner plates, the bar itself hits hard enough to have landed at No. 5 on North America’s 50 Best Bars and be named the Best Bar in the South in 2023.

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Sipping, Dining and Learning at Vancouver Cocktail Week

The Baijiu seminar by Hope & Sesame co-founders Bastien Ciocca and Andrew Ho ran through the major styles of baijiu, and how to use it in cocktails. Charlene Rooke photo

The Seminars

Chinatown speakeasy Laowai opened its freezer-style door to an international cohort of bar colleagues, who gave daytime seminars recounting their personal journeys to world-class status, then held court in the evenings with guest shifts showcasing their creations.

On March 3, the co-founders of Chinese bar Hope & Sesame, hospitality school pals Bastien Ciocca and Andrew Ho, recounted their journey bringing the first speakeasy-style modern bar to southern China, in Guangzhou. Today, they have several bars plus a spirits consultancy (catering to the likes of Ralph Lauren’s hospitality group) in their mini-empire, ranging from café-fronted speakeasies to heritage-themed Chinese bars and elegant, tasting-menu cocktail flights. Their San You bars feature all-Chinese spirits and produce, a perfect segue to their brief session on baijiu, the Chinese spirit in which Laowai specializes (with 50-plus bottlings, the largest selection in Canada). Illustrated with bottlings from SinoCan agency, Ciocca and Ho ran through the major styles of baijiu, and how to use it in cocktails. Bartenders in the room took notes on creating split-base cocktail and using baijiu smartly, as in Hope & Sesame’s famous Moutai Milk Punch, a clarified cocktail with Black Forest Cake flavours, served later that night of Laowai.

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The Legacy of Julie Reiner

Raise an International Women’s Day toast to the Drink Masters bar star who inspired a generation of women in the drinks industry

Julie Reiner is a key player in the rebirth of American cocktail culture and an industry mentor. Daniel Krieger photo

Some of us encountered Reiner two decades ago, as the smiling face behind the curved bar at Flatiron Lounge, the first of her pioneering New York craft cocktail bars. Others know the transplanted Hawaiian from her now-shuttered tropical bar Lani Kai or perhaps Pegu Club, which she owned with fellow trailblazer Audrey Saunders. Many others have tippled at Brooklyn’s long-running Clover Club, or at her joyful revamp of vintage Soho bar Milady’s (both which placed on the North America’s Best Bars 2023 list) in Brooklyn.

Yet more fans met her as the voice-of-reason judge on Netflix’s debut 2022 season of Drink Masters (a second season is in the works). Along the way, she became a key player in the rebirth of American cocktail culture and a mentor to its next generation of stars.

I caught up with Reiner recently when her bars popped up for guest shifts at Kimpton Seafire’s Library by the Sea bar on Grand Cayman earlier this year. Reiner and her team gave an inspiring industry talk about mentorship, collaboration and creativity. She unpacked her impactful career while dishing out snacktail-sized Clover Clubs, a drink she helped popularize in the modern age.

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Where to Drink Right Now on Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman is a Canadian-favourite winter destination. Photo courtesy Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

This expat-filled, Canadian-favourite winter destination is planting a flag on the world-class bar map. With pretty perfect daily weather and literally a Seven Mile Beach to enjoy during the day, and plenty of sunset and nightlife spots, there’s no need to wait until Cayman Cocktail Week (an annual festival, in the last week of October) to visit.

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From cornflakes to corn whisky

Ontario’s Paradigm Spirits Co. wins Whisky of the Year at the 2024 Canadian Whisky Awards

Paradigm Spirits 2022 Heritage Collection: 19 Year Single Grain Oloroso Blend Whisky is 2024 Canadian Whisky of the Year. Photo courtesy of Canadian Whisky Awards

For nearly a century, residents of London, Ontario, smelled toasty corn aromas coming from what was formerly a grain facility and then a Kellogg’s Cornflakes factory. These days, it’s the scent of whisky mashes — and victory — that’s wafting from Paradigm Spirits Co., a distilling and blending enterprise located in that space since 2020. It won Whisky of the Year on January 18 at the 2024 Canadian Whisky Awards for its 2022 Heritage Collection: 19 Year Single Grain Oloroso Blend Whisky bottling.

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Dry, Damp or Doused? What to Drink this Winter

With the Dry-uary season upon us, here are some favourites for those taking a break from cocktails, or looking for some fresh 2024 drink-spiration.

Seedlip is a pioneering non-alc brand. Supplied photo

When renowned a popular U.S. drinks writer began curating a list of non-alcoholic spirits on his Alcademics blog (pioneering brand Seedlip was the first entry), it felt like a novelty niche on the cocktail scene. Today the list is approaching 200 brands, and with so many non-alcoholic alternatives on the market, including many Canadian brands, it can be hard to know what to try.

But first, to tackle the elephant in the room: why can non-alcoholic products cost the same as traditional, boozy ones? High-quality products often use the same distillation process as traditional spirits, which are then de-alcoholized (those with allergies, note: de-alcoholized spirits can legally still contain less than 0.5 per cent alcohol: about the same as a ripe banana, and less than soy sauce). That means a more involved, often more expensive, production process. Others are developed in a complex process of combining flavours, textures and botanicals to re-create the taste and mouthfeel of alcohol.

Amongst these favourites, we’ve leaned into low-sugar, low-additive Canadian brands, because although there are fewer international barriers to shipping these products than with alcohol, why not support local?

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The new rules of tasting rooms

A top 10 list on how to be a great guest on a distillery tour or tasting-room visit

It pays to remember that a distillery isn’t a bar, it’s a working space with a bar, like this one at Wolfhead Distillery in Ontario. Photo courtesy of Wolfhead Distillery

Distillery tasting rooms are hotspots in any city’s drinking scene. Author Janet Gyenes naturally included some in Vancouver Cocktails (new in October from Cider Mill Press; a Toronto edition is forthcoming). Distillery bars are a different breed: “You’re basically in someone’s workshop… Respect the skill and craft that goes into distilling,” Gyenes says. “Let’s face it: most people don’t know if you’re supposed to swirl spirits like you would with wine, if you should sniff or spit or do something else altogether.”

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Winter of Whisky

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler

A great bottle of whisky has always been the ultimate holiday gift, but this year Scotch brands are leveling up with immersive whisky experiences that include exclusive tastings, food pairings and even hotel stays. If your whisky tastes run more local, snap up a presale bottle of Sheringham’s rye-forward whisky, coming in 2024: it’s bound to be as stellar as their award-winning gin.

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Where to Drink Right Now in Whistler

Whether it’s for après or waiting out a no-snow day, the mountain village has plenty of fine drinking options. And if what you crave most is a beer while watching the game in good company, you’ll find the locals huddled at Stinky’s on the Stroll and other casual watering holes!

The Phoenix cocktail at Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar. Charlene Rooke photo

Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar

Whistler’s most-lauded new restaurant is fronted by a big, beautiful, boomerang-shaped bar, just as pleasant a place to while away an evening as the plush, shiny dining room: the full menu is available at the bar, and service is superb. Crush a plate of raw oysters with a Martini (there are six on the menu, but ask for one made with Copperpenny 006 Oyster Shell gin), and try creative mixology like the Phoenix, a Lot 40 Rye sipper fortified with Cocchi Americano Rosa and sherry, and topped with Laphroaig for a smoldering, savoury finish. A helpful glossary of “Intriguing Techniques & Ingredients” is your cheat sheet to deciphering some of the complex culinary-bar techniques used here. The B.C. edition of Fernet Hunter (a collab with Endeavor Snowboards) is available here, and would make an amazing amaro caldo on a chilly day.

Watch for: An eye-popping $49 deal this winter for a three-course menu during the week (Sunday through Thursday).


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