by Andrew Morrison | In what I think went down as the most memorable and exciting bartending competition that Vancouver has ever witnessed before, Boneta barman Ben de Champlain defeated The Keefer Bar’s Dani Tatarin yesterday to win the title of Scout Magazine’s 2012 Bartender of the Year. And boy is my palate still tired. All told, local titans of the trade Mark Brand (Save On Meats, etc), Steve Da Cruz (Tacofino), Ron Oliver (The Diamond) and David Greig (L’Abattoir) and I must have judged some 60+ drinks on the say, which made for some good times indeed and bellies full of drunk bread. It was an incredible turnout – standing room only – and a superb thing to see our local bartending community out as one to celebrate their very best talents.
From the outset, this tournament was designed by bartenders for bartenders. It actually began a month ago on June 4th, when over 30 of BC’s top barkeeps wrote a 50 question entrance examination (just like school). One exam was given at the Diamond in Gastown, and another was served to a group of keeners across the Strait in Victoria. It was not at all an easy test. It was specifically designed to favour booze nerds of the most bizarrely devoted kind. Of course there were some sneaky questions among the serious ones. These ranged from essential intel, like “What time does Gyoza King close on a Saturday night?” to totally obtuse poseurs of urban legend, such as “In which Victoria neighbourhood did a cougar once famously break into a basement suite?”
A couple of weeks later we announced the 16 bartenders with the highest marks. They were, from 16th to 1st: David Bain of Diva at the Met and Josh Boudreau of Victoria’s Veneto (tie); Ryan Malcolm of Victoria’s Sauce; Alistair Bell of Revel Room; Dani Tatarin of The Keefer Bar; “JS” of Tableau Bar Bistro; Jay Browne of Calabash; the irrepressible “H” of Jules Bistro; Brendan Brewster of Victoria’s Fiamo & Svelte; Brooke Levie of The Marina in Victoria; Jon Smollensky of Hawksworth; Marc Smolinski of Max’s; Gez McAlpine of The Keefer Bar; Josh Pape of The Diamond; Ben de Champlain of Boneta; Simon Kaulback of Boneta; and Shaun Layton of L’Abattoir. A tough field, indeed.
Fast-forward to yesterday, where the 16 gathered to first blind test 5 spirits and make an original cocktail which was judged blind (we were sequestered in the back room behind a curtain). Some of the drinks in the latter challenge were outstanding. Others, not so much. Still, the level of commitment from the competitors was made very plain. Once the scores were added up, we had to eliminated the lower half of the field. Those who remained were Josh Pape, J.S., Marc Smolinski, Simon Kaulback, Brooke Levie, Dani Tatarin, Alistair Bell, and Ben de Champlain.
Now we entered the most gruelling part of the competition: a no hold’s barred series of timed, head to head smackdowns. In twos, the eight bartenders were presented with chits of four drinks to replicate a real world scenario. Some of the these were familiar (eg. Mint Julep, Sazerac), while others were less common (eg. Mary Pickford, Clover Club). Points were awarded for style, speed, and accuracy/taste. When the smoke cleared, we were left with Pape, Tatarin, de Champlain and Bell.
In the next round, Tatarin took out Pape by a close margin and de Champlain laid waste to Bell, setting up a final that was more riveting than any competition I’ve ever been involved in before (it made the Black Box challenge at the Canadian Culinary Championships look like a bag of dead dolphins). Dani was the first to finish, which gave her some points, but she dropped the ball on a couple of drinks, letting the turtle thwart the hare. Ben took his time to both entertain (in his own inimitable way) and concentrate, and ended up with a series of cocktails that swayed every one of the judges. It was a hard won thing, and he owned it like a fucking boss.
In addition to winning our 2012 Bartender of the Year title and a framed award designed by Glasfurd & Walker, de Champlain took home a holiday package put together by our good friends at Tourism Kelowna. It includes two nights accommodation at the very gorgeous Clarance House, two tickets to the always amazing Okanagan Feast of Fields, and a round of golf for two (with power cart) at the Graham Cooke-designed Harvest Golf Club. He also gets $600 cash, a lovely pair of sneakers from Alife, a whole bunch of glassware, and the respect of his peers and the city at large.
Everyone here at Scout would like to thank our amazing hosts and the staff at The Keefer Bar; the tireless tournament coordinators, David Greig and Keenan Hood; everyone on the Island who helped facilitate; all of the judges (you poor dears); and everyone who got their asses to Chinatown on a holiday to watch it all go down. I had the most fun I’d had in a while, and I’m already looking forward to next year.
The GOODS from Pourhouse
Vancouver, BC | Beard appreciation has become a passion for a few of us at Pourhouse. Though few in numbers, our in?uence is strong. I can?t help but wonder if perhaps the beard has something to do with that? In any case, on the last Monday of every month we have decided to invite our bearded comrades to gather with us and just ?be?. Starting February 27, from 4pm – 7pm, Pourhouse will host An Afternoon Gathering of Bearded Gentlemen. Our Chef will prepare delicious beard friendly snacks (on the house) and our sophisticated bearded bartender will be at your command. Enjoy the company of other bewhiskered chaps. There will be discussions on the bene?ts of beards, beard maintenance, bearded ladies, as well as other beard and non-beard related gentlemanly topics of conversation. Come enjoy an afternoon of nosh and libations with other men that share your values…men that just want to be men. Read more
We’ve invited the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association to join our GOODS section as a recommended organisation that is well worth checking out. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we’ll be posting their news front and center and hosting a page for them on our curated list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this chance to thank them for their support of Scout, and for making BC a more discerning (and tipsier) place to live!
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.
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.
Chances are if you’ve ever tied one on at Gastown’s kickass Shebeen in the rear of the Irish Heather, it was veteran whisky slinger Randy Gaudreau who helped you with your laces. It’s usually his job to listen, but this time it’s yours…
Three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there?
Well, I live over in the Broadway-Granville or South Granville area which is pretty great in terms of getting around because its easy enough to get downtown, or over to Commercial or Main. There’s great spots around like Salade Des Fruits, Vij’s, West, The Ouisi Bistro and now Go Fish! which I”m happy about and others – which is helpful because there’s nothing really else around but shoe stores and horribly pricey – yet gourmet groceries. And because of the easy to get around aspect – I don’t have a car to do big grocery runs sadly. I love cooking!
The thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating:
Easy. Chips and pop. Not the French Fry variety – I’m talking Ruffles, Old Dutch, Miss Vickies etc.. All about the Tim’s plain Old Fashioned right now. Plain and really crunchy is the way to go. As for pop – I flip between diet no caffeine colas. Love to have one without aspartame. That worries me.
Default drink/cocktail of choice?
Just one? Hmm. Kinda torn between the Boulevardier and variations of, as well as a good Old Fashioned. Guess I like my chips like I like my drinks. Generally, any classic whisk(e)y cocktail that involves a touch of depth and a orange twist and I’m a happy camper.
Drink/cocktail you’ll never have again?
A vodka soda. Can’t remember if I ever have had one. But if I did, I’ll never do it again. Promise.
The Vancouverite that you admire most?
Right now, Rob Brown – the CTV journalist that went out and covered the game seven riots. Watching him work his way through those people made me say – “I don’t know if I could do that without losing it.” And he didn’t. I admire that.
What is your favourite word?
“Twit.” If I ever get cranky, I’ll generally call myself or anyone else a twit and it always makes me laugh.
What is your least favourite word?
“Enjoy.” I don’t know why. I think it’s just the way it’s said, or the way the word is made up. It just seems like a really pretentious word to me. I don’t enjoy “enjoy.”
Your favourite curse word?
Curse words for me are kind of a like a random lottery. There’s many words that can result from a need to curse for me. French, English, various other languages. As far as PG ones, “Living Lord” came out one day, and I’ve been using that pretty frequently. As for rated “R” ones, nothing beats the old classics.
The cliche that you overuse?
The wildest place you’ve ever been to?
A completely cliché watering hole bar in Missoula, Montana. I swear it was the penultimate, proto-typical Cowboy shack of a bar at three in the afternoon with a capacity of, like, 20 people max. Toothless guy playing a bucket and a string, one haggard girl working the room and the boys at the bar, another dude falling off his chair and howling laughing; all in the span of the two minutes it took me to walk in in hip waders, order a tray of six rum and cokes in styrofoam cups to-go like a drive through and leave. Crazy place that Montana. Miss it. Had a great time camping out and fly-fishing there. Read more
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
by David Greig | For the uninitiated, Tales of the Cocktail (aka “Tales”) is an industry-oriented trade show specialising in the promotion and study of all matters concerning mixed drinks. It is a haven for the geeky bartender and anyone who can sit and discuss barrel charring levels and dilution/temperature ratios without fear of social ostracism, and it is traditionally held at the birthplace of the American cocktail, New Orleans, Louisiana. It is also responsible for several entries into the Annals of the World’s Worst Hangovers.
As most Scout readers are likely aware, Tales recently upped sticks and found its way to Vancouver in its first step toward a life on the road. Tales of the Cocktail On Tour Vancouver was the official moniker of what was in effect a traveling jamboree, and like so many screaming groupies, the city’s bar nerds (noted for their dramatic swoons and hurling of panties) flocked in their hundreds to worship in shrines of their own making.
It’s over now – come and gone through the Ides of March – but it’s not something that I hope to ever forget.
That this city was chosen as the first stop in a presumably long and lucrative line of road shows was a punctuation point that showed how Vancouver had arrived as a destination for drink lovers. It makes solid sense, as the multi-faceted bar scene here runs the gamut of options. Venues like The Refinery push boundaries with textures, homemade bitters and the like; Calabash serves up mainly rum-based Tiki-style libations; the ever busy Diamond plays it straight with the tastiest of old-school classics; and so on (there are to many worthwhile joints to list). That it got to be this way is a testament to the passion and drive of local bartenders and entrepreneurs who, in the face of restrictive liquor laws, decided (not long ago) that their discerning drink disciples deserved not just a handful of top notch watering holes, but many. It’s only natural that the resulting mosaic of bars, restaurants and taverns that we now enjoy captured the attention of the international cocktail community. And thus, Tales. Read more
The GOODS from The Refinery
Vancouver, BC | After seven long months of incredible food, cocktails and performances, the Cocktail Kitchen Series finally wraps up with an ultra-Russian themed party to celebrate. At the finale party, two Cocktail Kitchen guests will be randomly selected by raffle for a trip for two to Napa Valley (you must be in house to receive the prize). The winning bartender will also be announced, based on who has the highest score from the January finals, winning a trip to Napa Valley. See who the finalists are after the jump… Read more
It went briskly from a bottle of Campari poised between Salma Hayek’s breasts to a Bulgarian model being attended to in a restaurant by a man under her table. Which begs the question, which brand will do hardcore first?
by Andrew Morrison | What’s the longest you’ve ever waited for a drink in a bar? Ten minutes? Twenty? Yesterday afternoon I learned that Shaun Layton, the 2010 Van Mag Bartender of the Year and Lord of the Wood at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, was about to start making a drink that could take as short as six weeks and as long as four months to adequately construct. In a first for Vancouver, a barman will age a cocktail in a whiskey barrel. It’s been done elsewhere (Montgomery Place in London, as Layton points out, and at Clive’s in Victoria, as reader MR reveals in the comments), and the results have proven especially interesting for drink wonks. For my part, I find the idea of a couple bottles of sweetened gin mutating unpredictably with hardly inert bitters for months on end inside a 3 gallon whiskey barrel to be straight up fascinating. As a fan of both drinks in sum (and of all their delightful parts), I can’t help but be freaky curious as to what they will taste like. Layton will be checking as time goes by, waiting for the perfect time to stop the woody infusion and load the mix into a few carefully considered bottles. Cooler still, he’s secured two barrels from Tuthilltown distillery in New York’s Hudson Valley: a bourbon cask and one that, until recently, contained a Yankee single malt.
And so, to soak in the bourbon barrel will go a Negroni, the ultimate aperitif of gin, vermouth and campari, whilst the single malt staves will impart mystery unto a Martinez, that maraschino-licked classic of gin, sweet vermouth and bitters (the original Martini, if the lore is to be believed). The experiment begins Wednesday, and we’ve invited Mr. Layton to keep us abreast of how things develop as the drink evolves.
PS. I’ve already called shotgun on the second sip.