August 4, 2022

Review: Vancouver Cocktail Week, a celebration of Canadian whiskey brands

A Dainichi cocktail was paired with egg yolk raviolo at the Botanist Restaurant on March 6, 2022.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

“Welcome to Vancouver Cocktail Week! I’ve been waiting to say it for a long time.

Dave Mitton, the global Canadian whiskey ambassador for Corby Spirit and Wine Ltd., was in Vancouver last week to lead a masterclass in rye and blended whiskeys at Gastown’s Clough Club.

But before he began his deep dive into our national mind (did you know that more Canadian whiskey is consumed in Texas than in all of Canada?) and allowed us to wet our whistles with eight tell-tale tasting samples, he took a moment to recognize the significance of the inaugural five-day event, presented by The Alchemist magazine.

“Vancouver was the first city in Canada to kick off the craft cocktail renaissance,” he explained. “In the early 2000s, when I owned a bar in Toronto, all the guys on Bay Street were sending their Manhattans away because the drinks were too strong. Prominent food writers have given us the thumbs down for serving local beer and wine. No one was interested in serious cocktails. But here in Vancouver you were way ahead of us and this week has been a long time coming.

Let’s toast to that!

Vancouver Cocktail Week, filled with more than 70 events, wrapped up Thursday with the Fun City Gala at the newly renovated rooftop bar at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

I don’t usually write about food or drink festivals once they’re over. But booze is such a big part of Vancouver’s bustling history – the city was founded in the saloon district of Gastown, for Pete’s sake.

Against all odds (including antiquated liquor laws and limited supplies at liquor stores, which forced local bartenders to regularly travel to Seattle to buy staples like bourbon, bitters and crème de violette), Vancouver’s bartending community flourished.

It caught the eye of Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier business conference and festival based in New Orleans, which held its first offsite touring tales here – in 2012.

There have been other cocktail and spirit festivals in British Columbia, including Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail, Hopscotch (focusing on whisky) and BC Distilled. Central Canada hosts Toronto Cocktail Week (a consumer event) and the Toronto Cocktail Conference (industry only).

But Vancouver Cocktail Week, which hosted events for trade members and the general public, came out with unprecedented ambition. There were seminars on how to sculpt spheres of ice, cheesy technical classes on macerations and infusions, walking tours of Gastown led by actors, cocktail dinners galore and high happy hours at bars. of the whole city.

The event was originally scheduled for last year. It was postponed by the pandemic, but the timing couldn’t have been better.

Cocktails at home have been one of my greatest joys during those two long years of social isolation. I know I’m not alone because liquor sales have skyrocketed and interest in the home bartender has reached new heights. Now that public health restrictions are easing, we are all emerging into the public sphere ready to take our rightful places at the bar more curious, jubilant and thirsty than ever.

In the meantime, here are some tips and trends to watch out for.

The lamb poutine goes perfectly with the buffalo milk punch

The first Vancouver Cocktail Week kicked off at Botanist restaurant on March 6, 2022 with a salty donut.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

The festival started under the sun with a Sunday brunch for 140 people at the Botanist Restaurant. All five courses were accompanied by cocktails created by some of the best mixologists in town. In an unusual reversal of the usual order, chef Hector Laguna created his dishes around the drinks rather than the other way around. I don’t know many chefs who would be willing to play second fiddle to their bar team. But this isn’t Laguna’s first cocktail rodeo — he and head botanist bartender Jeff Savage have been hosting exclusive cocktail parties throughout the pandemic and I highly recommend you book one.

Some bartenders say it’s easier to pair dishes with cocktails than with wine. “A wine is what it is, but with cocktails you can manipulate the ingredients. It gives you more room to play,” says Sabrine Dhaliwal of The Chickadee Room, who paired a toast of duck prosciutto with a bold cognac and bitter coffee libation.

But some of the drinks on this menu seemed so complex it was hard to imagine they would work on their own, not to mention the egg yolk jam and braised lamb breast. Max Curzon-Price’s Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee is a good example. The buffalo milk punch was made with cherry blossom tea, rum, grappa and calvados. The drink was round, floral and clear yet creamy. And when paired with Laguna’s lamb belly poutine, served on a bed of cobbled potatoes with Full Moon Valley cheese, the citrus notes burst out as bright as a new dawn. It was one of the best food and drink pairings I’ve had.

Good cocktails don’t require alcohol

Bartenders whip up drinks during Vancouver’s first cocktail week.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

“Ten years ago, no one would have imagined mocktails would be a thing,” Kaitlyn Stewart, Canada’s first world class bartending champion, said at Monday’s Diageo World Class seminar.

But the trend is here to stay, she stressed. Many bars now list alcohol measurements by volume, or ABV, on their menus. And that forces bartenders to be more creative.

It’s not so easy for home bartenders who don’t have all that hard-earned creativity at their fingertips. And I, for one, had a bottle of Seedlip zero-proof distillate tucked away in the back of a kitchen cupboard for over a year with no idea how to mix it.

Ms. Stewart had tons of great tips to share – use non-alcoholic modifiers like verjuice, switchels, shrubs and different types of sugars (molasses, honey, maple syrups, agave) for depth and complexity. Find out more at: diageobaracademy.com

You need a high-speed juicer for fluffy drinks

The Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee cocktail was prepared by bartenders.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

“What do you think of the Oregon grape? The question was asked by a homemade drink lover, not a professional bartender. And that surprised Robyn Gray, the managing partner of the Queens Cross Pub in North Vancouver, who co-hosted Ms. Better’s Bitters’ highly technical seminar on extractions, infusions, macerations and powders.

But this question and others from the deeply engaged crowd show just how serious home bartenders have gotten throughout the pandemic. (The Oregon grape, by the way, is a bitter agent, sometimes replaced by gentian, which grows wild in West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park.)

Of the many tips I learned that night, one of the most interesting was that I can make my own Garibaldi fluffy orange juice, the drink made famous by New York’s Dante bar, with a juicer. high-speed Breville citrus.

More importantly, “The best bars in the world don’t become the best because they do all this science stuff,” said co-host Tarquin Melnyk. “They become the best bars because they create communities and places where people want to come together.”

After two years of this pandemic, I think we could all use a drink. So get out there and support your local pub, bar and craft cocktail shops. They are back and they are ready to welcome you.

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