The English wrote the book on gin – Tim Pawsey photo

We’ve been taking stock of last week’s cocktail infused days, sifting through images and notes from Tales of the Cocktail—the New Orleans success story brought to Vancouver by TOTC founder Ann Tuenneman. Kudos to the contingent of savvy folks behind the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association—such as Jay Jones—who brought to this event an energy that wowed everyone—and certainly made more than a few people elsewhere sit up and take note of Lotusland’s blossoming cocktail culture.

NOLA meets LOLA

I approached the Vancouver edition of Tales of the Cocktail with some trepidation.  After all, it’s one thing to go to a wine tasting and adroitly expel into a bucket. But are we really going to start spitting Mai Tais and Whisky Sours? Probably not, we thought.

Tales of the Cocktail has become something of a New Orleans institution in its brief ten year history—so we weren’t surprised to find TOTC’s first on the road edition (a big nod to Vancouver’s blossoming cocktail scene) came with a healthy dose of pizzazz and polish—not to mention a line-up of serious sponsors.

Right off the bat, registration yielded an embarrassment of swag, including Victoria Gin’s Twisted and Bitter Orange—arguably the best thing to come out of the provincial capital since Rogers Creams—and maybe, dare we suggest, even more healthy

Snap: not quite your childhood root beer, Tim Pawsey phot

We picked up a couple of summer contenders here (that we’ll revisit once things warm up) and managed to get away unscathed, probably because we had only one Appalachian Flip, a creamy concoction of soon-to-arrive Root (made from sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other roots and herbs) with pale ale and egg white. Kind of like root beer for grown ups. Be warned.

Even if BCLS doesn’t quite have the bottle yet, here’s the recipe, courtesy of Root’s makers: Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction…

Appalachian Flip

Ingredients:

2 Parts ROOT
1/2 Part Rich Demerara Syrup
1 Whole Egg
Pale Ale

Directions:

Dry shake (without ice)

Then shake again with ice, and double strain.

Pour into fizz glass and top with pale ale

Opening night’s Black & White True North Opening Gala set the tone. At the Terminal City Club, it was a polished affair by Vancouver standards, with a number of creative drinks to highlight Gibson’s Finest Canadian Whisky. Somewhere in there we came across the well travelled Cameron Bogue (onetime Smirnoff ambassador and ex db Bistro) who lately hitched up with Earls as beverage director.

 

Dave Arnold: Ultimate cocktail and culinary geek, Tim Pawsey photo

Serious cocktail geeks were rewarded with Dave Arnold’s presentation The Science of Cocktails. Not only is the man consumed with what he does (he’s Director of Culinary Technology at The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center), he’s a  truly witty and gifted presenter, who yielded more about ice behaviour than you could absorb in a lifetime (complete with exhaustive PowerPoint-laboratory back up. He also got into some pretty interesting rapid infusion techniques that we’re pretty sure will be popping up around town soon, if not already.  Check his website for some brilliant culinary and cocktail geekage.

Chainsaw mixology, Tim Pawsey phot

We may never quite look at a chain saw again without recalling the the prowess of Hendricks Gin ambassador Jon Santer, who used a neatly compact (he packs it in his suitcase) chainsaw to reduce a 300 pound block to usable mini bricks for shaving, or for splitting into ultra clear usable cubes. All the rage in top US bars. Santer was careful to explain to everyone that (unlike your typical logger’s weapon) it’s really crucial to remove every drop of oil from the chain before you start…

It all went nicely with uber-mixer Charlotte Voisey’s informative primer on the history of harvesting, storing and transporting block ice, and the role ice played in early cocktail culture. (It would be interesting to dig up a Canadian version of must have been a pretty solid industry…)  Voisey was also entertaining—and quick to note that in her native London, even these days, ice can still present a bit of a mystery.

What do you do between seminars at a cocktail convention? Well, you don’t drink coffee, that’s for sure.

Sippin for the Best Caesar, Tim Pawsey photo

Post ice-class, we were up for the Mott’s ‘Best Caesar in town taste-off between finalists Arthur Wynne (Cascade Room) and Lauren Mote (The Refinery). No offence to Arthur, but we found Mote’s complex and multi-herbed, Victoria Gin based ‘Denman Street’ (celery and Nigella seed infused bitters-tweaked) to be the more intriguing taste. Not everyone agreed with me, though, and the final (if somewhat haphazard public ballot) gave the nod by a whisker to Wynne —Congrats, Arthur!

Here’s Lauren Mote’s ‘Denman Street’ recipe for those inclined…

“Inspired by the different flavours of cuisine and culture located right here on Vancouver’s Denman Street.”

Ingredients:

1.00 oz Victoria Gin

0.50 oz Refinery’s Celery & Nigella Seed Bitters

1.00 oz Freshly Pressed “Unfiltered” Cucumber Water

0.50 oz Chile & Celery Pickling Brine

0.50 oz Lemon Juice

2.00 oz Mott’s Original Clamato

2 turns on a pepper mill

1/4 tsp dried black mustard powder

Chive & Tarragon Salt Rim

Steamed local manilla clam, topped with a mignonette of bruinoise raw cucumber, pickled celery & chiles, preserved lemon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put all ingredients except for the salt in a shaker – dry shake once to combine ingredients (without ice).

Rim a tall collins with lemon and chive & tarragon salt. Pack with finely crushed ice.

Pour ingredients from the shaker over the ice leaving 1 inch of room to the top lip of the glass.

Place straw and opened manilla clam on top.

To make:

1) Cucumber water: using a juicer, juice 1 cucumber. Ready to use.

2) Celery & Nigella Seed Bitters: this is a Refinery product, so I can happily sub Bitter Truth Celery Bitters instead

3) Pickled Chiles & Celery – 1 part sherry vinegar to 2 parts salt & 2 parts sugar – large slices of chiles (serrano or jalapeno) and celery in large jar. Heat sherry vinegar, salt and sugar mixture just to dissolve. Pour over vegetables. Seal and place in refrigerator.

4) Chive & Tarragon Salt – in a food processor, 2 branches fresh tarragon, 10 strands of fresh chives, 2 cups Maldon Sea Salt. Preserved for at least a year!

 

Next up, longtime master distiller Desmond Payne (who insists he’s ‘the oldest gin distiller on the planet’), the man responsible for blending Beefeater.  He came up with the best quote of the week for saying: “The ultimate flavoured vodka is gin!”

The drinks presented in this seminar were sip-for-sip among the best we tasted—although they barely scratched the surface of what was poured over the three days. They included a revival of the soon to be famous ‘Vancouver Cocktail’, now resurrected at the Sylvia Hotel, and this little morning pick-me-up:

The English Breakfast Cocktail, as follows:

2 oz / 50 ml. Beefeater – 24 Tea Infused Gin

1 oz / 25 ml. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 oz / 25 ml. egg white

1/2 oz / 13 ml. sugar syrup

1/2 tsp. marmalade

Shake with crushed ice, strain and garnish with zested orange peel.

Serve … in a teacup.

An aside: All this chat about London Gin reminded me of my dear old Uncle Rick, who I wrote about elsewhere:

“Long ago, in another life, in another city, I was introduced to the joys of Beefeater Gin by my wonderful, slightly eccentric (and therefore favourite) late uncle Rick—who, amongst other things, drove a second hand London taxi (it was the only car big enough to schlep a 6 by 7 foot painting from Christie’s) and was a reservist with the Honourable Artillery Company.  Part of those activities involved getting dressed up as a pikeman and musketeer, occasionally with some Yeomen connections. All of which led him to believe that no self respecting Londoner would use anything other than Beefeater to make what I’m sure was the driest martini on earth. As for Vermouth? “Just show it the cap, my boy.”

After I wrote that, I realised that Rick would probably have said, ‘Old Chap’ and—somehow, in the way that the web seduces—I found myself googling his obit. It gives me a chuckle, as it captures him very well. He was a dear and considerate man—as I found out when I worked for him for a couple of years.

 

The trouble with writing is that deadlines tend to get in the way of drinking, so we limited ourselves to just one day of Vancouver’s Tales of the Cocktail.

The good news? It was such a resounding success, organisers are already talking about next year.

We’re primed.