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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Business in the back, party in the front

Distillery tasting rooms are some of the hottest cocktail bars in B.C. Here are a few to try in the Vancouver area.

The tasting room at Surrey’s Central City Brewers & Distillers is a welcoming space to sample spirits and enjoy a cocktail or two. Duncan Joseph photo.

Distillery visits aren’t just for spirits geeks—although staff (even the distillers) are usually keen to tour guests through the production line. Even micro-distilleries now offer flights, cocktails and tastings, some spiked with snacks or entertainment. More reasons to visit: You can buy bottles right from the source, including seasonal and limited releases, only-at-the-distillery products (such as collaborations with local brewers or food producers) and even cocktail accoutrements. Since many distillery tasting rooms are small, family-run affairs, call ahead or check social media for hours, especially if your group is more than a few or would like a tour.

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The Joyce

Try The Joyce at Long Table Distillery. Jennifer Gauthier photo

INGREDIENTS:
• 1.5 oz Long Table London Dry Gin
• 1 oz fresh lemon juice
• 0.75 oz rhubarb syrup (see note)
• 1 dash Ms. Better’s Green Strawberry Mah Kwan bitters

METHOD:
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice. Give it a hard shake, then fine-strain into a chilled coupe. If you like, garnish with a dried citrus wheel, preferably blood orange. Serves 1.

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Star Anise

How a Scandinavian classic is warming hearts in B.C.

iStockphoto.com photo

It takes about three seconds for a shot of ice-cold aquavit to pass your lips and slide down your throat, leaving its distinctive hit of caraway and liquorice tingling on your tongue and introducing a pleasing warmth into your belly. The Swedish Shot, as it is known — raise your glass, lock eyes with your fellow toasters and drink up — is swift and satisfying.

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Burrard Gimlet

The Burrard Gimlet cocktail, made with salt water, created by Justin Taylor, general manager of The Cascade Room in Vancouver. Cascade Room photo

Justin Taylor of The Cascade Room makes his own salt water for this refreshing update on a classic cocktail.

INGREDIENTS:
1.5 oz (45 mL) Long Table Cucumber gin
0.5 oz (15 mL) Green Chartreuse
0.5 oz (15 mL) chamomile cordial (see note)
0.75 oz (22 mL) lime juice
3 dashes Bittered Sling Lem Marrakesh bitters
1 tsp (5 mL) salt water (see note)
Pinch of sea salt
Garnish: Taboo absinthe mist; lime twist

METHOD:
Rim half of a coupe glass with sea salt. Place all ingredients except garnish into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Double strain into coupe. Spritz surface with a mist of absinthe and garnish with a lime twist. Serves 1.

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Vancouver #2

The Vancouver #2, Grant Sceney’s update on the Vancouver classic.

Before the team at Botanist installed the bar top, creative beverage director Grant Sceney “bought a drink for the next generation of bartenders” by embedding a bottled cocktail, a handwritten note and a copy of the first bar menu inside the bar itself. This is the cocktail they left for the future: an updated version of the classic Vancouver cocktail. “We’ve made the Vancouver Cocktail as Vancouver as we can,” says Sceney.

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Gin fizz

The gin and tonic is sophisticated again

Whistler’s Bar Oso is just one of many drink-forward destinations elevating the traditional gin and tonic. Pat Allan photo

Jason Redmond expected to be impressed by many things about Spain, but he couldn’t have guessed the biggest takeaway from his trip last summer would be a new take on a humble highball.

“I was really surprised at the big signs outside all the little cafes and bars claiming they were selling the best ‘Gin Tonic,’” the bar manager of Whistler’s Spanish-influenced Bar Oso recalls.

“It was a really big deal, and one I had no idea about beforehand.”

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Gin Tonic

Long Table, Vancouver’s original micro distillery, is fuelled by passion.

Lou Lou Childs photo

Charles Tremewen loves gin. So much so, he hocked his house to start making it himself. He launched Vancouver’s first micro distillery, Long Table, in February 2013, and hasn’t looked back.

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Vancouver Cocktail

The Vancouver cocktail. Laura McGuire photo

The Sylvia Hotel’s signature cocktail was created in 1954. 

INGREDIENTS:
1.5 oz London Dry style gin such as Victoria Gin or Long Table Gin
0.75 oz sweet vermouth such as Punte E Mes or Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth
0.25 oz or “a good splash” of Benedictine liqueur
2 dashes of orange bitters

METHOD:
Place all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

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