Smoke Break #919: The Water/Whisky Trick (Or How To Entertain Yourself While Alone)

January 23, 2012 

Chances are if you’re pouring yourself glasses of Jack that big, spilling a few drops is the least of your problems. Also, poor Susanna!

TAKE ANOTHER BREAK

BOOZER: On Why The City’s Top Bartenders Aren’t All That Into Serving Us Vodka Drinks

October 17, 2011 

by David Greig | Chances are if you’ve stepped into a cocktail bar of real repute in the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard the bartender sound off about the evils of the world’s most popular spirit, vodka. Failing that, he or she may well have fielded one or two requests for a cocktail including said spirit, and tried, hopefully subtly (but occasionally forcibly), to steer the patron in a different direction. The ‘vodka debate’ is one of the most contentious issues in the admittedly often bewildering world of bartenders, and has drawn more than one person into situations which could be politely described as ‘combustible’. Yes, feelings run that high on the matter, so high, in fact, that Tales Of The Cocktail in New Orleans, the world’s premier bar meet, staged an ‘I Love Vodka/I Hate Vodka’ seminar last year which proved to be one of the biggest draws of the jamboree.

So what is it about this spirit, ubiquitous in bars around the world, that causes so much tension in bartenders that one world famous bar even went so far as to say “We have one bottle of vodka. And we use it to clean the bar”? Such condescension is surely just pretentious sneering, an elitist’s view of a popular trend, right? Well, not quite. This article is intended as a brief guide to understanding your barkeep’s behaviour, and hopefully setting straight a few misconceptions about why we shy away from vodka.

First, the big one. The US legal definition of vodka is “a neutral spirit, so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal and other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” If there was a meat, cheese, wine or beer out there with such a damning definition (hello Bud Light), then surely people would just scratch their heads and leave it well alone. The point of food and drink is to taste good, no? So why legally bind people to produce something that is defined by an absence of character? Bartenders, addicted to flavour, would much rather be using gin, white rum or a blanco tequila, that is if their customer isn’t interested in going brown in their spirit choice.

But this alone isn’t enough to draw such serious ire. The modern-day maxim of ‘it is what it is’ surely applies, and most bartenders, when pushed, would admit they have nothing against vodka itself. Unhelpful soundbites in the media such as ‘vodka is stupid’, only serve to polarise opinion and insulate bartenders from their customers. Vodka is a spirit with a colourful history, rich with tradition, and when made well can be delicate or robust, fruity or spicy, smooth or fiery. And let us not forget, vodka was the engine for the resurgence of cocktail culture around the world during the late 90’s and early 00’s. A fabulous ‘flavour-carrier’ when used in conjunction with fresh fruits and herbs, without vodka the craft cocktail movement wouldn’t have been able to blossom into what it is today.

However, as is often the case, people wanted more. More flavour, more complexity, more range. And vodka, with its limited profile, just couldn’t cut the mustard anymore. So barkeeps moved on. To whisky, to rum, to tequila, to gin; to all these other categories bursting with new flavours, subtleties and variety. Vodka was left behind, the poor man of the backbar in their eyes, despite its popularity. The problem was that most people’s experience of these other spirit categories was not always, shall we say, benevolent. The shot of Jose Cuervo that pushed you over the edge in a dive bar in Portland? The chimney-like finish on your Grandad’s bottle of Laphroaig that you sneaked a wee dram of when you were young? The bartender attempting to turn you onto gin for the first time by serving you a bone dry Martini? These are common experiences that lead to an instinctive distrust of entire spirit categories in one fell swoop.

As a result, customers were pushed into a comfort zone (aided and abetted by a drinks industry saturated by companies trying to make a buck from the vodka craze) of frequently fruity and distinctly un-boozy beverages in which many are still stuck. When asked what they would like, the V-word was always on their lips. All of which leads us to today. Patrons regularly ask us for anything with vodka in it when what they actually mean is something fruity with as much masking of the alcohol as possible. But when you compare that style of drink with the complex, rich flavours of say, a Negroni, it is like comparing The Spice Girls to Mozart. And as any devout fan should, bartenders want you to appreciate the more intricate nuances of their world.

So the next time you order a vodka drink and the bartender tries to steer you onto something else, take a leap of faith and go with it. If you still want something fruity, no problem! Order a Clover Club, Passionfruit Batida or a Singapore Sling, perhaps. Trust us when we tell you that the juniper and citrus notes in gin offer more scope for delicious drinks. And please don’t feel we’re being pretentious. Because really, it isn’t vodka we’re against. It’s the mindset behind the order of a vodka drink. There’s a whole world of flavour out there, and we promise to hold your hand while you explore.

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United Kingdom import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine. He can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping his way around town.

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VANCOUVER SPECIALS: Robyn Gray Of The Hotel Georgia Makes Us “The Jazz Singer”

by David Greig | Welcome to the second sipper in the Scout series we call Vancouver Specials, wherein we take a close look at original cocktails of note that have been homegrown by our better bartenders.

“The Jazz Singer” | by Robyn Gray | 1927 Bar | Rosewood Hotel Georgia

10ml Plymouth Gin
15ml Lemon Juice
10ml Simple Syrup
5ml Maraschino Liqueur
5 Black Cherries
100ml Prosecco

Muddle 4 cherries and add the rest of ingredients except Prosecco
Shake hard and strain into a champagne flute
Top with Prosecco
Garnish with a cherry on the rim

The Deal

Inspiration? This drink takes its name from the very first movie to have an audio track, The Jazz Singer, released in the same year as the original opening of the Hotel Georgia, 1927. Where and when would you drink this? At the 1927 bar, as would be appropriate. Maybe at dusk, to the strains of a finely played saxophone. And with what? A dozen locally grown Ocean Wise oysters. Elegance and simplicity combined.

BOOZER: Shattering Pigeon Holes While Drinking Whisky And Gin At “The Shebeen”

by David Greig | Every bartender has a favourite spirit. In the name of entertainment and at the risk of massive generalisation, their choice reflects their personality and drinks style. Gin lovers tend to be refined, classically-inspired types, while bourbon fanatics are more rugged, carnivorous characters. A tequila-imbiber leans towards the more hedonistic way of life, while rum drinkers enjoy sunshine and smiles. The less said about vodka enthusiasts the better.

What of Scotch, though, my favourite spirit, and traditionally the tipple of choice for those of a more, shall we say, wizened  character? A romantic at heart, the (slightly patronising) connotations of salt-of-the-earth types sitting around a blazing hearth dispensing nuggets of wisdom appeals to my heightened sense of sentimentality, while the rough and tumble terroir-like variety of regions keep the category as a whole continually fresh and interesting. And on Monday, Jim McEwan, Master Distiller of Islay distillery Bruichladdich (meaning ‘brae by the shore’, or ‘slope by the shore’), one of the most innovative distilleries in the UK, was holding court at The Shebeen to shed more light on some of his fine single malts along with an intriguing new gin produced on the island as well. Here was an opportunity to shatter some pigeon-holes and try a little liquor cross-dressing… Read more

City’s Best Bartenders Sweep The Leg At Chinatown’s “Keefer”


by David Greig | In a dark bar in Chinatown, flecked with some of the first rays of a long overdue summer, a hush fell over the gathered masses. Breaths were held, as two pairs of eyes scanned the bottles lying before them. Years, nay decades, of experience tensed their minds and hands. All was about to be laid on the line in the cause of cash and glory. A judge rose to his feet, ticket in hand…

“LAST WORD AND A BOULEVARDIER!”

It was on. The Bar-ate Kid had begun. Read more

BOOZER: On Campari’s Little Sister “Aperol” And How To Make A Lovely Cocktail With It

by David Greig | Aperol is an Italian aperitif, created in Padua in 1919 by the Barbieri company. Bright orange in colour, it is flavoured with bitter oranges, gentian, rhubarb and other naturals. It’s produced nowadays by Campari, and bears a striking similarity to it, although it weighs in at a positively wine-like 11%, making it a distinctly lighter alternative.

What is it, really? Relatively new to BC, the sultry little minx of a liqueur is a perfect way to move the fruit-loving masses gently toward bitter flavours. It has two popular descriptions: “Baby Campari”, and or my personal favourite, “Campari’s younger, hotter sister.” It is the Pippa Middleton of every back bar, straddling two worlds with ease – those of the Fun, Simple Drink and the Dreaded, Serious Bartender – and keeping everyone happy in the process.

What to make with it? An Aperol Spritz (pictured above)

2oz Aperol
3oz Prosecco
Splash of club soda
Build over ice
Garnish with orange slice

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United Kingdom import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine. He can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping his way around town.

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BOOZER: 16 Brave Competitors Named For “Bar-ate Kid Invitational” Bar Competition


by David Greig | The final line up of bartenders for the Bar-ate Kid Invitational has now been confirmed. A total of 16 barkeeps will ready for battle at The Keefer Bar on July 4th at 1pm. The brave, representing competitors are as follows:

David Bain (Uva)
Josh Pape (Diamond)
Shaun Layton (L’Abattoir)
Trevor Kallies (Donnelly Group)
Simon Kaulback (Boneta)
Jess Nichol (Boneta)
Dani Tatarin (The Keefer)
Jason Browne (Calabash)
Steve Da Cruz (Waldorf)
Jacob Sweetapple (Fairmont Pacific Rim)
Robyn Gray (Hotel Georgia)
Brad Stanton (Hawksworth)
Ron Oliver (Diamond)
Robin Holl-Allen (Jules)
Gez McAlpine (The Keefer)
Brian Grant (Pourhouse)

A mighty fine line up if ever there was one! Also, the three judges who will be calling proceedings will be Andrew Morrison (Scout Magazine), David Wolowidnyk (West Restaurant) and yours truly (L’Abattoir, Scout Magazine).

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United Kingdom import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine. He can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping his way around town.

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BOOZER: “Bar-ate Kid” Barkeep Contest To Determine Our Ass-Kickingest Drinkslinger

by David Greig | On July 4th, a bartending contest will take place at The Keefer Bar in order to determine who rules the roost as the deadliest sensei of Vancouver’s cocktail scene. The Bar-ate Kid Invitational – with support from Havana Club, Beefeater and Jameson – will determine who has the all-round skills to be declared the Mr. or Ms. Miyagi of Mixology.

Themed on the 80’s movie Karate Kid, we foresee a fast and furious fight to the death with head-to-head knockout competitions based on three criteria: speed, style and drink quality. There’ll be no foams, jellies, smoke or mirrors permitted, and the only rapid infusing will be between a can of beer and every loser’s tears.

This is just 16 of the best guns this town has to offer, duking it out for nothing more than pride, bragging rights among peers, and the small matter of a $600 cash prize.

Head to Chinatown at 1pm to see it all go down. Again, that’s 1pm at The Keefer Bar on July 4th.

Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy.

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United Kingdom import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine. He can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping his way around town.

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VANCOUVER SPECIALS: Shaun Layton Of L’Abattoir Makes Us A Mighty “Meat Hook”

by David Greig | Welcome to the first sipper in a new Scout series called Vancouver Specials, wherein we take a close look at original cocktails of note that have been homegrown by our better bartenders. Expect travels and drinks from farther afield in rounds to come, but to begin I’ve turned to the fellow next to me at my own bar, Shaun Layton…

“Meat Hook” | by Shaun Layton | L’Abattoir

40ml Wild Turkey 101
20ml Punt E Mes
10ml Ardbeg 10 yr
5ml Maraschino liqueur
Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with brandied cherry

THE DEAL

What was your inspiration? The now modern day classic Red Hook; a drink from NYC’s Milk and Honey, created in 2003. These days, I love drinks that incorporate two spirits, with the Islay whiskey here giving the Meat Hook a nice smoky finish. The name ties back to the restaurant (L’Abattoir meaning “Slaughterhouse”). Where and when would you drink this? I’d drink this during or after a long, leisurely dinner in a room with a blazing hearth, plenty of taxidermy and lots of mahogany furniture. What would you drink it with? Maybe a Montecristo #2 cigar, chef Lee’s sweetbreads or anything with big, bold flavours.

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U.K. import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine and can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or imbibing around town.

BOOZER: So What Is The Deal With Fernet Branca, Your Bartender’s Secret Sauce?

by David Greig | First produced by self-taught apothecary Bernandino Branca in 1845, Fernet Branca is an Italian amaro, specifically a fernet.  It is a type of potable bitters made by infusing a base spirit with a number of herbs and spices, thereby creating a secret, proprietary recipe. In this case, the blend includes saffron, gentian, rhubarb, chamomile, myrrh and up to 40 others. It is then aged for 12 months in Slovenian oak.

Yes, but what is it really…

Fernet was (and still is) prized for its medicinal qualities, particularly in aiding the digestive system in times of need. It was also, oddly, the inspiration behind the Booker Prize-listed novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson in 2004. Some refer to it as the Thinking Man’s Jagermeister – making it pretty much the very definition of an “acquired taste”. Most recoil at their first sip, but learn to cherish it as one would an endearingly abusive lover. It serves a modern purpose as a bartender’s secret handshake, garnering a knowing look, nod and wink from any self-respecting barkeep upon order. Setting its stall staunchly in the so-bad-it’s-good category, it’s as close a thing as there is to drinking with irony. In other words, it’s “Snakes On A Plane” for bar geeks.

And How Should I Use It?

“Hanky Panky” (created by Ada Coleman in the American Bar at The Savoy in 1925)

1.5 oz Gin
1.5oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dash Fernet Branca

Stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist. Enjoy.

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U.K. import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine and can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping around town.