Distinctly Canadian Cocktails
Images by Joern Rohde
What makes a cocktail Canadian? Is it the rye in a Manhattan or the clam juice in a Caesar?
To celebrate Canada's 150th Anniversary,we've asked some of Whistler's top bartenders to share the stories behind the most patriotic libations on their summer lists.
Basalt Wine + Salumeria
604-962-9011 | basaltwhistler.com
VOLCANIC CAESAR The Bloody Caesar is as about as Canadian as cocktails come. The now-traditional blend of vodka and Clamato juice seasoned with Tabasco, Worcestershire and a celery-salt rim was created — or so it is said — in 1969, by a Montenegro-born bartender named Walter Chell, who worked at the Calgary Inn. To celebrate the hotel’s new Marco’s Italian Restaurant, he added hand-mashed nectar from baby clams and turned the classic Bloody Mary into a boozy rendition of pasta vongole.
But like many a fishy tale, Chell’s claim to fame has lately come under scrutiny, with some suggesting that he might have been influenced by the Clamdigger, a trendy cocktail that swept New York in 1968.
Basalt Bar Manager Kevin Broderick shrugs off the debate. “What makes hockey or curling Canadian? The way they have been adopted is what matters. And the Caesar has definitely been as adopted as our national drink.”
His own spicy adaptation elevates the original with Unruly Vodka (a B.C. craft spirit made with honey), Walt’s Caesar Mix (a thick, all-natural juice made in Canada), a touch of maple syrup in his seasoning slurry, and a strip of candied bacon for garnish. But the crowning glory is the black lava salt, poppy seed and ground-habanero rim. The crunchy ring of fire — in homage to the restaurant’s name (basalt is a volcanic rock) — blows this smashing cocktail over the top.
604-962-4540 | baroso.ca
SMOKED ROSEMARY SOUR Prohibition-era bootlegging is a legendary chapter in Canadian history. But the best-known stories revolve around whisky, Eastern Canada and the Bronfman brothers of Seagram Distillers, who made their fortune smuggling billions of dollars of booze across the American border. So when Jason Redmond, bar manager at Bar Oso, read about the Smuggler’s Moon on the back label of the rosemary-flavoured Black Moon Gin, a B.C. craft spirit from Legend Distilling, he was captivated by the tale:
“Legend has it … backwoods distillers of B.C. would covertly work under the moon, and through the night, to concoct their handmade gin using mountain juniper and other nearby herbs and botanicals. One dark evening, a branch of wild rosemary smouldering from the fires of the still found its way into the gin …its distinct character became sought after at speakeasies throughout the central interior and western Pacific coastline.”
Is it true? “I don’t know,” Redmond laughs. “When people go drinking, they don’t necessarily want to know the truth, but they do enjoy a good story.”
The aromatic spirit was a perfect fit for Redmond’s gin-forward bar. This creamy yet refreshing sour is shaken with fresh lemon juice, house-made lavender syrup and egg white. Garnished with a hand-torched sprig of rosemary, it’s smokin’ hot.
604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com
THE STALLION The rebirth of Canadian rye whisky has been one of the most welcome spirit revivals of the past decade. Historically, Canadian whisky was made with fermented rye in place of, or in addition to, corn, barley and wheat. In modern practice, however, most brands only contain a small fraction because of lax regulations. (In the U.S., rye whiskey — it’s spelled with an “e” south of the border — must be distilled from at least 51 per cent rye mash). Until recently, many premium Canadian ryes weren’t even available here.
There have, however, been exceptions. Alberta Premium, sold only in Canada, has always been made 100 per cent rye grain. And the distiller’s super-premium Dark Horse, a barrel-aged blend of six- and 12-year-old ryes, is a robustly oaky standout with rich notes of vanilla and caramel.
“And it’s slightly over-proof,” enthuses Scott Barber, bar manager at the Bearfoot Bistro. He lassoes the dark-golden beauty into a Manhattan-style cocktail with Sortilège (a maple-syrup whisky made in Quebec), Wayward Order Depth Charge (an espresso-and-cacao-bean liqueur made in B.C.) and a dash of black walnut bitters.
Stirred with ice, a squeeze of orange zest and a grating of toasted cinnamon, it’s a smooth and boozy sipper that makes you want to kick off your leather slippers à la Mad Men’s Don Draper — or perhaps his French-Canadian father-in-law.
Cure Lounge and Patio at Nita Lake Lodge
604-966-5700 | nitalakelodge.com
REFRESH Strawberries, with their sweet and juicy scarlet flesh, are one of the world’s favourite berries. They are grown in every province of Canada, where a wild variety holds an important place in First Nations’ creation stories, having been brought to earth by Sky Woman, who used them as medicine. They are also the first fruit to ripen in spring — not just on farms, but also on the rooftop garden at Nita Lake Lodge.
To celebrate her in-house, sky-high crop, Cure Lounge Bar Manager Rhiannon Csordas muddles them with basil in this supremely quenching version of a summer-time iced tea mixed with Oaken Gin (from Victoria Spirits on Vancouver Island), fresh-brewed green tea, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup and a crack of black pepper. It’s one of several earthy elixirs on her rotating “From the Garden” summer menu.
Although the bar will also feature a selection of Canadian cocktails — and a whisky flight — this season, she predicts this chunky, fruity patio sipper (served in a big garden pot of ice) will be the biggest seller. “It’s dangerous,” she explains. “You don’t even taste the booze. Then all of a sudden it hits you with a warm, fuzzy glow.”
Sidecut Bar at Four Seasons Resort & Residences Whistler
604-966-5280 | sidecutwhistler.com
THE LEFT HOOK This liquid tour of Canadian cocktail history wouldn’t be complete without an ode to the Chinese labourers who built the Canadian Pacific Railway and were often delegated to the most dangerous jobs. More than 17,000 Chinese workers came to Canada from 1881 through 1884. And without them, there would be no transport of corn, rye and barley — without which, Canadian whisky would never have been possible.
The Left Hook, named after a local ski run (as is the bar), is mixed with Forty Creek Canadian Rye Whisky and maple syrup infused with lapsang souchong (a Chinese black tea). It’s been a favourite on the Sidecut Bar menu for several years, created by a bartender who is long gone. Lead Bartender Oliver Scott Knight isn’t sure if his predecessor had the Chinese railway workers in mind when he came up with the recipe. But it’s a good yarn, one befitting such an intriguing drink.
The mild smokiness of the tea-infused maple syrup and smooth heat of the whisky is balanced with a few sharply spicy dashes of house-made allspice peppercorn, steeped in Knob Creek bourbon. Served on a big chunk of ice with two brandy-soaked cherries and orange zest, it will keep you chugging along until the next stop.