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.
Distillery tasting rooms are some of the hottest cocktail bars in B.C. Here are a few to try in the Vancouver area.
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.
• 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
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.
How a Scandinavian classic is warming hearts in B.C.
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.
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.
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.
The Sylvia Hotel’s signature cocktail was created in 1954.
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.