Sunday, 16 October 2011

Art of The Cocktail 2011: Recap

This past weekend was host to Victoria's 3rd annual Art of The Cocktail.  Canada's first festival recognizing cocktail culture for more then just a vehicle for alcohol. This three day festival holds various seminars with some of the industry's brightest minds from the bar and spirit world.

Day one was a packed with events.  To begin, "A long and mysterious Histroy of Bitters" hosted by Manuel Dias Barreira on behalf of Bitter Truth.  Diving deep into the history of bitters, Manuel took us through the once medicinal nature of bitters, all the way to its current use in modern cocktails.  Along side, we talked about the various liqueurs equally rich in history, including: Benedictine and Chartreuse.  An array of recently reborn liqueurs courtesy of  bitter truth were sampled including, creme de violete, pimento dram, sloe gin, pink gin, apricot liqueur and Elixir, a sweet vermouth that rivals Antica Formula is quality. Those lucky enough to attend had the opportunity to purchase the Bitter Truth travel pack.

Next was the home bartender's competition. The theme of herbs resulted in five wonderful creations by five passionate cocktail enthusiasts.  For the competition I decided to focus on one main herb.  Thyme was the focal point of my cocktail. Detailed in a recipe below, "Caught Some Where in Thyme" incorporates several advance techniques resulting in a classic style cocktail with a few modern twists.  This was my first competition, while I was expecting a larger crowd, similar to last year's professional bartender's competition, it was some what of a relief to only have to compete in front of 20 or so people.  To judge the performance and cocktails of the participants were; Simon Ogden, head bartender of Veneto Tapa Louge, Darcy O'neil, molecular pathologist, author of fix the pumps and website, Art of Drink, lastly, Peter Hunt, master distiller of Victoria Spirits rounded off the judging panel.  Here is a look at my performance for the event.

Caught Somewhere In Thyme
- 1.5 oz Sazerac 6 Year Old
- 0.75 oz Thyme & Lemon Infused Dry Vermouth
- 0.25 oz Strega
- 0.25 oz Thyme Syrup *
- 2 Dashes Peychaud's Bitters
- Thyme Lemon Foam **
- Absinthe

- Toast thyme on wooden plank (or cutting board) with absinthe
- Cover smoked time with cocktail glass
- Add all liquid ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into smoked cocktail glass
- Add a 1/2 inch layer of thyme lemon foam
- Garnish with fresh sprig of thyme

Janice Mansfield, owner of House Made won over the judge's palates with her cocktail, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.  An in-depth round up of Janice's cocktail can be found at her blog,

Thyme Syrup *
- Place 2 cup of water and 2 cups of thyme (whole) in a pot over medium heat
- Boil thyme water until water has turned a green hue
- Strain out time
- Place 1 cup (make sure you have some thyme water left over, you need it for the foam) and 1 cup sugar in a pot over low heat until all sugar has dissolved
- Let cool, bottle and refrigerate

Thyme Foam **
- 6 oz Thyme Syrup
- 3 oz Lemon Juice
- 2 oz Thyme Water
- 4 Eggs Whites
- 1 Packet of Whip It, Whip cream stabilizer

- Dissolve whip it in lemon juice and syrup
- Add all ingredients to isi whip cream maker
- Double charge and chill for a minimum of 2 hours

The evening ended with the grand tasting.  Hundreds poured into Crystal Gardens in downtown Victoria to taste the best food and drink the west coast has to offer.  A few memorable sips came from the CPBA booth, Cariel Vodka and Solomon Siegel's Riato, a mixture of gin, lychee liqueuer, lemon juice, lapsang souchong syrup and chocolate bitters.

Day two begin with my absolute favorite presenter and personality, Philip Duff.  Boarding on a mixture of a standup routine and informative seminar, Philip's "Going Against the Grain" allowed us to taste strain corn, wheat, rye, malted barley distilled along with spirits incorporating them.  Some of the highlights of the seminar included the opportunity to taste old pure malt Geneva and a recreation of Irish whisky from the 1800s.

Pur Malt Geneva

To cap off the day, a panel discussion of in-house vs. Store bought products was debated between Danielle Tatarin of Keefer Bar, Trevor Kallies of the Donnelly Group, Cameron Bogue of Earl's New York and Craig James of Fetimains Cola.  All participates brought up valid point on both sides of the argument, including: health and safety of customers, consistency and final cost (calculating time and product cost to make things such as house made ginger beer and syrups.)  While it may be difficult to win over a room full of bartenders, Craig of Fetimians brought up some very valid points.  In the end everyone agreed that a balance of house made and pre-bought is necessary.  After all,  Fetimians does make superb products, of which the ginger beer and tonic water are two I always keep on hand.

Art of The Cocktail G&T
- 2 oz G'Vine Floraison
- 0.25 oz Lime Juice
- 1 Dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
- 4 oz Fetimians Tonic water

- Add all ingredients to a highball glass filled with cracked ice
- Gently stir to combined ingredients
- Garnish with lime twist

The last seminar of the weekend was hosted by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.  "The spirituality of Mezcal" included a tasting of Del Maguey Vida and five single village mezcals.  Ron detailed the production of each mezcal along with various stories, including how he fell in love with mezcal and a brief history of distillation in Mexico.  To learn more about some of these single Mezcals, here is a link to a tasting I participated in at Clive's this past July.  Mezcal Tasting

Ron Cooper of Del Maguey

The event Art of The Cocktail indefinitely ended with a bang, flames and all.  This event was the Professional Bartender's Competition.  Nine bartenders from across the northwest took to the stage at the Veneto Tapa Lounge to display their most innovative creations utilizing the theme of "Farmer's Market Fresh."  After nine creative concoctions were presented to the four judges the three medalists were announced.  In 3rd place, Ryan Malcolm of Glo with a twist of the Old Fashioned that included vodka and a blueberry eau de vie of questionable legality.  2nd went to Nate Caudle of Clive's Classic Lounge with his carbonated bottled cocktail, Old Thyme Prairie Berry Fizz .  In 1st place, Josh Boudreau of Veneto Tapa Lounge took home the gold this his cocktail "The Headless Horseman".

Veneto's Josh Bourdreau

Old Thyme Prairie Berry Fizz (Nate Caudle)
- 1 oz Dobonnet Rouge
- 1 oz Thyme Infused Tanqueray
- 1 oz Lemon Juice
- 1 oz Sweetened Saskatoon Berry Juice
- 1 oz Water

- Build in perlini system over ice
- Carbonate perlini system with C02 Charger until full
- Shake
- Let settle for minimum 10 seconds
- Unscrew cap of perlini to release gasses
- Pour into Vessel of Choice

*Recipe courtesy of

The weekend undoubtedly stood up to my expectations.  Exceptional seminars, a fabulous grand tasting and great drinking company made for a unforgettable weekend (not many can say the same considering some of the nasty hang-overs that ensued).  Thanks most of all to those at Art of The Cocktail who helped assemble an outstanding event.

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