The Week in Cocktails

iron bar

The last few weeks of August were all about the cocktail, which was great because now that I am on a crazy diet that has no sugar, dairy, alcohol or grains in it, I can reminisce about the hey days.  This will be a long post but there was the Giffard Iron Bar Competition, the gin tasting at Legacy, Summer of Love at Market by J-G and the Made with Love Cocktail Competition to tell you about. Bartending is serious business, let me tell you.

But before we get started, let me share with you this post on the etymology of the word “cocktail.” It’s brilliant.

Giffard Iron Bar Comp

The Giffard Iron Bar Competition was held a couple of Mondays ago at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Giffard has a new violet liqueur out, so that was one of the required ingredients, combined with Louis de Grenelle Crémant. Crémant is sparkling wine from French regions other than champagne. It’s not new but there was a big push at the VPIWF last year and it seems the French want to get the word out.

Most of the bartending competitions I’ve been to have been in bars. They were more or less casual affairs with an entrant from every major cocktail bar in town whipping up concoctions and hanging out. But this one had 39 entrants! There were bartenders from out of town, bartenders in prohibition era outfits, and cocktails all over the place. And it was in a conference room. What did I tell you about bartending being serious business?

After hours of tasting fizzy violet cocktails (poor palates!) the judges announced Jacob Sweetapple (Fairmont Pacific Rim) as the winner. His cocktail was called simply “Eau de Vie.”

Legacy Gin Tasting

Thursday I did double-duty – a gin tasting at Legacy liquor store followed by Market’s “Summer of Love” cocktail flight. At Legacy we tasted 12 gins (well, 11 gins and a sample of Pimm’s gin-based liqueur). The host suggested that  we would favour 3 on average but we went though them all in a blind tasting and there were only a couple we didn’t like.

Here are the tasting notes:

  • *San Miguel Ginebra, Philippines. This one came home with us. For $36 you can’t go wrong with this pretty, fruity gin.
  • Pinnacle, France. A clean, clear, terrible-tasting gin. Strong chemical aftertaste.
  • Boomsa Genever, Netherlands. Sweet with a medium viscosity, I didn’t have strong feelings either way on this one.
  • Juniper Green, UK. This is organic gin that my old roommate used to keep a bottle of but I can’t stand it. The 20-somethings beside me seemed to agree. I snuck a look at their tasting notes and saw, “tastes like jagger and tequila”.  Heh.
  • *Martin Miller, UK. This one is an old favorite from the Martin Miller cocktail comp during the Olympics, and although I didn’t recognize it in the blind tasting I did give it a “++” rating. It tastes like a meadow, with notes of honeysuckle and violet with a bit of cucumber.
  • Bulldog, UK. A good, classic martini gin but otherwise unremarkable.
  • Spirit Bear, Kelowna. A bit of a grappa feel to this gin, with a strong alcohol nose. Would be a good mixer.
  • Van Gogh Gin, Netherlands. This line of flavoured vodkas has now produced a gin. The honeyed flavour is nice but not enough to stand on it’s own.
  • G-Vine, France. Reminiscent of absinthe and anise.
  • Victoria Oaken Gin, Victoria. One we already have on our shelf at home, but definitely a favorite. The gin is pale gold, the nose is full of sugar and while the gin is delicate, it’s enjoyable.
  • Frog Gin, Hornby Island. Smells a bit grassy and grappa-like again. The flavour is complex but not enough to make me go out of my way for it.
  • Pimms. We HATED this sample so much that we put it aside after a small sip, it was so sweet. But finishing with all that sugar was a bit unfair and I do like a Pimm’s Cup cocktail once in a while.

It was so cheap – $25 to taste that many gins – but clearly aimed at consumers. There were a couple of pages on the history of gin printed out and taped to the wall, but they didn’t make it into the presentation. Or maybe they did. It was a long table and a loud room and a lot was lost. Next time we’ll grab seats at the front.

Summer of Love: Tequila

And then it was on to tequila. Jay Jones hosted a weekly “Summer of Love” cocktail series at Market by J-G in August. We sampled 5 cocktails for $25 on the patio and were asked to tweet our favorite. Here’s the flight:

  • El Mariachi: Cazadores Blanco, Campari, Mirabelle plum, fresh lime juice, sparkling wine
  • Carolina: Cazadores Reposado, Maraschino liqueur, Liquore Strega, fresh lemon juice, peach bitters
  • Jalisco Sour: Herradura Reposado, red bell pepper, Taboo absinthe , agave syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white
  • Machete: Cazadores Anejo, green chartreuse, chili pepper, fresh lemon juice, lemon zest
  • Anticuado: Aha Toro Anejo, Vanille de Madagascar, brown sugar, Aztec chocolate bitters, lemon & orange zest

The Jalisco sour stood out because of the red pepper but it wasn’t quite the refreshing drink I wanted on a summer’s evening. Instead I loved the Anticuado with its rich sugars and vanilla, reminding me of fine scotches and rums instead of tequila. The Machete was a close second.

Jay is a master bartender and I wouldn’t hesitate to try anything he put in front of me, but these evenings were very popular and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these kinds of events at Market and other places in the city.

Made with Love

Finally it was time for the Made with Love cocktail competition at the Roundhouse in Yaletown. This was a cross-Canada event, happening in Halifax, Toronto and Montreal this summer, as well as Vancouver. 10 bartenders created a showcase cocktail and the public voted for their favorite by hanging a custom dog tag around the neck of the bartender.

We used to have martini “tastings” in Vancouver with a similar structure to them – I remember one particularly drunk night at the VPL where we sampled many more than one of each table’s drink. But laws seem to be firmly in check in 2011 and cocktail samples were reined in with regard to both size and strength. But not in creativity! There was cannabis and watermelon foam from Calabash, pandan leaf syrup from the Cascade room, and so many flavour combinations it made your head spin.

I had a couple of favorites. The first one we tried – Arthur’s “Vivid Memory” from the Cascade Room – was made with Zubrowka vodka, the aforementioned pandan leaf syrup, coconut, cucumber, caramelized kaffir lime juice and rum and in fact I think it was tied for best. Hawksworth‘s Cooper Tardivel made my short list with his “New Song, Old Story” cocktail. It contained Maker’s Mark enhanced with cherries, ginger and peat smoke. Bourbon and peat are music to my palate but the ginger was a bit too hot in this mix. My other favorite (along with the crowds’) was Graham Racich from the Refinery. He made a gin-based cocktail called “Belle Verte” which is listed as “pear oolong infused Henrick’s gin, Boiron pear puree, homemade green Chartreuse pop and fresh squeeze of lime juice” but it was so much more than that. Ever the showmen, Graham and the Refinery’s chef were dressed in their prohibition era outfits and surrounded by Hendrick’s sexy/silly publishing kit

While the bartender prepared the cocktail, the chef prepared a tasting spoon of black pepper and pear sorbet, finished with pear and oolong salt. It was designed to be a palate cleanser for whatever drink might have come before, as well as to prepare your mouth for the flavours that were coming up. Then the cocktail with matching flavours; the gentle pear-oolong infused gin giving a nod to the Refinery’s tea-infused list as well as their new trend of homemade pops. The Chartreuse pop was not carbonated Chartreuse but rather, he had deconstructed the ingredients of the liqueur and made it from scratch with Champagne yeast. The effect was heady and effervescent and delicious. Clear winner.

I missed Tales of the Cocktail this year but it makes me proud to have been hanging around on barstools for long enough to see this culture changing in Vancouver. Our hard working bartenders are getting recognition all over the world and it makes me proud to be a part of it.


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