A distinctive, very French sense of style, Tim Pawsey photo

Vancouver’s classiest cocktail salute is back with a vengeance this week. Judging by the weekend pre-show and first day’s activities, it promises to far outshine last year’s inaugural event, which was impressive—even more so considering it was the first run.

Where cocktails and bartenders mix, even the most functional of activities is likely to turn into a party.

Take the TOTC registration, for instance, which essentially involves turning up to collect your pass, seminar details and a veritable treasure trove of goodies from just about every corner of the bar and beyond. And cocktails.

(We haven’t yet had time to fully digest the contents of our Lagniappe tote, also promoting Legacy Liquor Store, which is turning out to be a major player. But we did notice a few treats, ranging from a ultra-mini bottle of Angostura to Fentiman’s Ginger Beer and some pretty darn tasty Buffalo Trace Bourbon finished beef jerky, prepared by Save On Meats. Not to mention a full-on mini DIY Mojito / Daiquiri / Cuba Libre / Piña Colada kit, complete with mini ice-bucket, courtesy of Bacardi.)

Lauren Mote launches Bittered Sling, Tim Pawsey photo

The registration party reception, sponsored by St. Germain Ederflower Liqueur, offered an indication of how evolved the Vancouver cocktail culture being celebrated here really is. It included a broad selection of bartending equipment, an assortment of good cocktail books from Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, and a few other neat things, such as the roll-out of local maven Lauren Mote’s (Kale & Nori Culinary Arts) Bittered Slings.

In particular, we couldn’t resist the Elderflower (maybe it was a trend…) and bought a bottle. Among others, Lauren has been at the fore of Vancouver’s cocktail renaissance. If you’re not familiar with Kale & Nori, you should check out their theme dinners at Legacy Liquor Store.

Just to help ease the stress of registration, on offer also was a series of cocktails using the wonderfully subtle and lightly floral St. Germain Liqueur. We’ve bookmarked the classic Hummingbird (2 parts Brut Champagne or sparkling wine, such as Cava; 1 1/2 parts St-Germain; 2 parts Sparkling Water—and a generous lemon twist) as the perfect summer refresher.

Check it out. We got a good chuckle out of the “Variation” …

St. Germain’s packaging is some of the prettiest around. It has a true perfume feel that’s entirely fitting. Plus, maybe their promotional material just seems to appeal to my afinity for all things French. Or something like that…

It all turned out to be a pretty good kick-off to a rainy afternoon in Vancouver.

Tap sommelier Leagh Barkley looks pretty happy, Tim Pawsey photo

As we were sipping we ran into Leagh Barkley, sommelier at South Surrey’s Tap Restaurant, who picked up a noteworthy honourable mention for his entry into the 4th Annual St. Germain Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition (BC). Congrats to him, and also to winner Gerry Jobe from Rod Butters’ RauDZ, Kelowna.

The Hummingbird was the perfect way to ease in gently to this three day marathon.  And we even had the good sense not to finish it. Probably because that morning we had come across TOTC’s very helpful “How to Drink All Day Without Getting (Too) Drunk”, which served to remind us that, in the event of not spitting (real bartenders don’t spit anyway…), not finishing is the next best thing.

(The ever perceptive Anya Spethmann retweeted and renamed it “A how-to manual for high-functioning alcoholics”… Needless to say we were truly touched!)

Next up, the first, no-holds-barred hit of the week: L’Amere Michel Cocktail.

OK. Get the kids off the street. Evidently, the Hummingbird was just a tease, a little foreplay before the main event.

Tableau's JS adds finishing touches to some St. Michel Amer, Tim Pawsey photo

We’re into serious cocktail territory here, with a kick-ass combination of St. Germain, Bruichladdich Peat Single Malt, Vancouver Island Philips Blue Buck Ale, and Cynar artichoke liqueur, created by ‘JS’, aka John Sebastian, the bartender at Hotel Loden’s Tableau Bar-Bistro. The peat aroma was extraordinary. Then again, we’re a push-over when it comes to single-malts—and Islay’s Bruichladdich is a wonderful, storied distillery.

When tasted, the combination of mild, slightly sweet hop, the peaty whisky, the gentle bitter streak and elderflower was absolutely delicious—effectively banishing all thoughts of sipping and running. In fact we (almost) finished it.

Single malt purists might have a hard time treating  their revered Bruichladdich in such a manner. But that is, after all, what bar culture is really all about: pushing the proverbial envelope.

Just don’t tell Homeland Security…

One cocktail you won't want to put down, Tim Pawsey photo

1 1/2 parts Bruichladdich Peat

3/4 part St. Germain

1/4 part Cynar artichoke liqueur

2 parts Phillips Blue Buck Ale

Stir the spirits over ice, strain into a rocks glass, add the beer, mix and add ice. Garnish with a large orange zest.

Sip.

And marvel at such harmony of French, Scottish, Italian and Canadian ingenuity!

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to get back to our research!