2010

Looking back at the year that changed Vancouver’s cocktail culture

The Olympic flame isn’t the only legacy of 2010—so is Vancouver’s vibrant cocktail scene. Istockphoto.com photo

When Vancouverites look back at 2010, we think of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, a rain-soaked Wayne Gretzky and all those red mittens. But the really big news that year could be found at the bottom of a cocktail glass.

Proper cocktail bars were finally opening all over town. Global spirits brand reps started showing up to dole out samples. The organizers of Tales of the Cocktail reached out to see if Vancouver would be a good site for Tales on Tour. (Spoiler alert: Yes, in 2011 and 2012.) And Imbibe  magazine discovered “a Galapagos of mixology, a place where cocktails have evolved independently from the rest of the drinking world.”

Ten years later, we revisit the year that changed the city’s cocktail culture.

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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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Three parties, one marriage

It’s wedding season. Here’s some advice for keeping the party going from a bartender who’s seen it all.

David Wolowidnyk. Ben Duffy photo

The notion of having three different parties to celebrate a marriage sounds like a great idea to many brides-to-be, but for some, the stress can be overwhelming. And as the bartender tasked with making the party happen, I’ve seen it all, the good, the bad and the really messy.

If you’re the one planning the party, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of: “OMG, what am I going to serve? Maybe I can get that hot bartender to create custom recipes, buy the ingredients, prepare everything, and bartend each of the parties.” Anything is possible—for a price, of course.

But before you get started, here’s what I’ve learned from the parties I’ve either tended or attended.

The shower

The bridal shower, an afternoon sprinkled with feigned innocence knowing that your grandma, mom and nieces will be there, runs a risk that one friend may drink a little too much and confess some indiscretions or possibly gift you a Kama Sutra book, detailing all the fun you will have, noting some of the pages not to miss. This is not that type of party. It is meant to be a sea of pastel-clad women, eating cute little cucumber sandwiches and tiny flaky pastries, sipping on bubbly rosé and perhaps a Pimm’s Cup or an Aperol Spritz. Floral cocktails also tend to be a hit with this crowd. They’re fresh and lively, delicate yet complex and low in alcohol. Shots are not OK here, unless it is grandma who instigates.

The bachelorette party

The bachelorette party, now this is when a bride can let loose with the girls. Debauchery is common. Do not invite anyone you can’t be your true self around because skeletons will likely come out to play even if you don’t want them to. This is not a drinking marathon; walk instead of run your way through the vodka sodas. It’s going to be a long night. Drink water before, between and after the shots or, better yet, show some restraint and limit the shots. The last thing you want is to be the one spilled into the taxi while the night is still young.

The wedding

My favourite wedding receptions have a modest yet thoughtful drink selection, catering to a wide range of preferences. A couple of craft beers, one crisp and clean, the other with a hoppy bite. A few decent wines—one white, one red and possibly a rosé—that aren’t begging to be paired with food. (Pro tip: Sticking to white wine eliminates the inevitable stains on clothing and teeth.) The cocktail selection should be simple, with a maximum of five choices, including the reception cocktail served upon arrival. At least one cocktail should be light and low in alcohol. Also offer one that is a little fruity, another that is spirit forward and one that is tart and dry. There are a lot of positives to batching cocktails for large parties, notably keeping things consistent and expediting service. But having cocktails prepared to order adds a level of personalized service that may be more important to you.

Whatever the occasion, leave the stress behind, leave the bartending to us, and have some fun!

Try this floral bubbly drink for any of your summer gatherings.

—by David Wolowidnyk

Schwing

David Wolowidnyk’s Schwing pairs perfectly with any summer party.

This floral bubbly drink created by David Wolowidnyk is ideal as a reception cocktail for any of your spring flings.

• 1 oz gin or vodka
• 1 oz Aperol
• 0.5 oz lemon juice
• Dash orange flower water
• 2 oz sparkling wine

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A barrel of fun

Private-cask whisky sales are a “futures” investment in B.C.’s small-batch distillers. Here’s how and why they do it.

istockphoto.com photo

They’re lined up like Papa, Mama and Baby Rye: 20-, 10- and five-litre mini-barrels, their ends embossed with the names of proud owners who, in eight weeks or so, get a crash course in craft spirits aging—and their own one-of-a-kind bottles of Custom Rye.

“We were kind of inspired by beer growlers,” says Brian Grant. He and Resurrection Spirits partner David Wolowidnyk charge customers once for the barrel ($150 to $350 depending on size), which they can pay the distillery to fill with white rye (or even gin) multiple times, at the bargain price of $37.50 a bottle. Vancouver’s Homer Street Grill and Unwind are among bar clients already serving their own private batches.

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Resurrection Spirits arises in East Van

City’s newest craft distillery is focused on making ‘spirits for bartenders’

Resurrection Spirits co-owner Brian Grant got interested in distilling around a decade ago when, as a bartender, he couldn’t find the bitters he wanted and started making his own. Photo: Dan Toulgoet
Resurrection Spirits co-owner Brian Grant got interested in distilling around a decade ago when, as a bartender, he couldn’t find the bitters he wanted and started making his own. Photo: Dan Toulgoet

A new artisan distillery opening up in B.C. isn’t exactly news these days. There are already 51 of them around, with another 13 in the works and as many as 80 licences floating around out there, according to B.C. Distilled founder Alex Hamer.

What is news, though, is when that distillery is co-owned and operated by one of Vancouver’s best bartenders.

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