The Alchemist tasting panel reviews their at-home essential spirits
For most issues of The Alchemist, we gather our tasting panel and sit in a room somewhere sampling our way through a dozen or so bottles of, say, rye whisky or vermouth. But with a pandemic upending everything, we couldn’t do that this time around. At the same time, since we’ve all been spending so much time chez nous, we wondered what our panelists were drinking at their own homes. So we asked them to recommend a bottle they consider essential for a home bartender, and what cocktail they’d make with it. This issue, our team comprises bartenders Sabrine Dhaliwal, Adam Domet, J-S Dupuis, Robyn Gray, Jay Jones, Trevor Kallies, Jeff Savage and Kaitlyn Stewart. Here’s what they had to say. Sip and shop accordingly.
The Alchemist tasting panel samples the fortified, aromatized elixir
Vermouth is not just an essential ingredient in many cocktails, it is already a cocktail, a wine fortified with spirits and flavoured with herbs, spices and other botanicals. And it’s enjoying a major comeback right now.
Five of Vancouver’s top bartenders gathered on a rainy afternoon at Tableau Bar Bistro to taste this beguiling product: Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager of Juke Fried Chicken and Beetbox; Adam Domet, bar manager at Pourhouse; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of Elisa Steakhouse; and Katie Ingram, bar manager at Elisa Steakhouse.
They all love vermouth. “It’s rich in flavour and lower in alcohol,” Ingram said. “And we’re all flavour junkies. So we get that fix of citrus and bitterness and everything you’re looking for.” Besides, with prices as low as $12 for a litre bottle, vermouth is also a complete bargain.
The panel tasted 16 local and international vermouths. Here’s what they had to say.
The Alchemist tasting panel samples Canadian and American rye spirits
Our bartender tasting panel is never short of opinions, but no other spirit has ignited passion the way rye whisky did. Maybe because it’s our national spirit (sort of). Or maybe it’s just because bold flavours inspire bold statements.
Seven of Vancouver’s top bartenders gathered on a rainy afternoon at Homer Street Café for the tasting panel: Alex Black, bartender and mental health advocate; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia; Katie Ingram, bar manager at Elisa Steakhouse; Grant Sceney, Fairmont Pacific Rim; and, from Homer Street Café, Rob Scope and David Wolowidnyk.
They loved the sweet spice and rich, bold flavour of the rye. But they differed on whether Canadian or American is better, and whether it has to be 100 per cent rye or can be a blend of grains. And they admitted that as much as they love rye, it’s a hard sell to consumers, many of whom are unfamiliar with it and prefer the simple sweetness of bourbon.
The panel tasted 12 rye-based spirits. Here’s what they had to say.
The Alchemist tasting panel gathers for a round of international gins
Summer is the season for refreshing gin cocktails, so it was only natural to think juniper for this issue’s tasting panel. Juniper, of course, is the signature flavour that defines gin, which is typically a grain spirit (though there are some fruit-based ones) that has been infused with botanicals that can include citrus peel, flowers, herbs, spices, stems, roots, seeds and fruits.
Think gin and you tend to think London Dry, the crisp, juniper-forward style developed in London in the 1830s. But there are a wide range of styles from all over the world. To sample a selection of them, we gathered at Tableau Bar Bistro with some of the city’s top barkeeps: Alex Black, bar manager of Wildebeest; Sabrine Dhaliwal, cocktail consultant and Pourhouse bartender; Adam Domet, bar manager of Pourhouse; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia; and Ryan Johnson, bar manager of Tuc Craft Kitchen.
The panel blind-tasted 12 international gins. Here’s what they had to say.
The Alchemist tasting panel gathers for a round of Caribbean aged rums
Nothing says “tropical getaway” like the sweetly spiced flavour of rum. Although it is made all over the world, the sugar-cane spirit originated in the Caribbean islands, where we’re seeing a surge of richly complex aged rums. So when The Alchemist decided to dive into tiki culture, it made sense for our tasting panel to sample as many aged rums as possible.
Just how sweet can rum be? To find out, we gathered at Tableau Bar Bistro with some of the city’s top barkeeps: Alex Black, bar manager of Wildebeest; Max Borrowman, bar manager at Juniper Kitchen; Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar; Sabrine Dhaliwal, cocktail consultant and Pourhouse bartender; Adam Domet, bar manager of Pourhouse; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia; Ryan Johnson, bar manager of Tuc Craft Kitchen; and Olivia Povarchook, bar manager of Juke Fried Chicken.
The panel tasted 10 different rums; here’s what they had to say about them.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs
Consider them the supporting actors of the cocktail world: complex, helpful and a little bitter. Vermouths, aperitifs and amaros are typically fortified wines—though some are sweet enough to be considered liqueurs—flavoured with botanicals such as citrus peel, spices, roots and herbs. They typically have a somewhat bitter profile, hence the name “amaro,” which means bitter in Italian.
It takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate a good bitter drink, so not too surprisingly, Vancouver bartenders were eager to sample the best of B.C. amaros. We sat down with Alex Black of Tableau Bar Bistro, Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar, cocktail consultant Sabrine Dhaliwal, Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and The Botanist’s Jeff Savage to get at the bitter truth.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel samples B.C. vodkas for a taste of the province’s most crowd-pleasing spirit
Nazdarovya! With the FIFA World Cup kicking off this month in Russia, our thoughts have turned to vodka. (That and Neymar’s incredible comeback, of course.)
Vodka is often described as a “colourless, odourless, flavourless” spirit, but its clean subtlety is sometimes just what we crave. And so we asked our Alchemist tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Olivia Povarchook of Vij’s Restaurant, Katie Ingram of Toptable Group and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—to sample eight artisanal B.C. vodkas, share their thoughts and suggest cocktails to make with them.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel searches for the best B.C. gin to enjoy with your tonic
Now that spring has finally sprung, we’re craving lighter sprits and fresher flavours. In other words, we’re craving gin, especially when it’s mixed with tonic water.
Our tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Max Borrowman of Juniper Kitchen & Bar; Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar; J-S Dupuis of Wentworth Hospitality (Tableau Bar Bistro, Homer St. Café); and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—sampled nine B.C. artisanal gins, suggested the best cocktails to make with them, and then mixed them with tonic water to determine which worked best.