Say hi to rye

The Alchemist tasting panel samples Canadian and American rye spirits

The lineup included both American and Canadian whiskies, as well as unaged rye spirit. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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A botanical bonanza

The Alchemist tasting panel gathers for a round of international gins

The lineup featured gins from Japan, Italy, Spain and Canada, as well as the spirit’s traditional UK home. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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Sugar and spice

The Alchemist tasting panel gathers for a round of Caribbean aged rums

The lineup featured aged and some spiced rums from Jamaica, Nicaragua, Cuba, Guyana, Bermuda and the United States. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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Amour for amaro

The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs

The lineup (l to r): Long Table Distillery’s Linnaeus Amaro No. 1, de Vine’s Moderna Vermouth, The Woods Spirit Co’s Pacific Northwest Amaro, Goodrich and Williams’ Bitterhouse Rubato, Bitterhouse DaMan and Bitterhouse LaDame aperitifs, Legend Distilling’s Naramaro amaro, Odd Society’s Mia Amata amaro and Bittersweet Vermouth. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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A shift out of neutral

The Alchemist’s tasting panel samples B.C. vodkas for a taste of the province’s most crowd-pleasing spirit

The lineup of vodkas tasted by the panel reflected a range of flavours from clean and neutral to surprisingly lush, fruity, bold and intense. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

Here’s what they had to say.

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It’s G&T time

The Alchemist’s tasting panel searches for the best B.C. gin to enjoy with your tonic

The G&T is a warm-weather classic. But which B.C. gin is the best choice?

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.

Here’s what they had to say.

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