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Shake it up

An increasing selection of local spirits gives Atlantic Canadian mixologists the tools for making great classic and contemporary cocktails

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Jaded by your G&T? Cool to the cosmo? It can get boring serving the same cocktails on every occasion.

Maybe at your next house party you could offer guests a cocktail with rum caviar and coconut-infused syrup. Or step back in time and serve a “Sidecar,” a 1920s Parisian invention featuring Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice.

High-tech and pre-prohibition are two of the hottest trends in bartending. Another is the use of local spirits. That’s an exciting development here in Atlantic Canada, with two new artisanal distilleries operating on Prince Edward Island and two commercial stills in Nova Scotia.

Flavour-of-the-month trends are common in the alcoholic beverage industry, as in other areas that involve entertainment and art. Science plays a part, as new technology is allowing wine, beer and spirits producers to do things more efficiently, more precisely, and in new and exciting ways.

Following the popularity of “molecular gastronomy” in the fine-dining scene of the past decade, “molecular mixology” apples scientific techniques to cocktails. If you visit high-end restaurants regularly, you may see foams, gels, powders, sprays and little round caviar-like
creations made from ingredients that don’t normally come in those forms. It’s largely about playing with texture but there’s also an element of exploring how things react with each other.

A common example of molecular mixology is layering fluids of varying densities (B-52, anyone?). But these days, mixologists use special devices and techniques to extract aromatics and flavours, combine elements and even alter forms to come up with original, one-of-a-kind signature drinks.

“It is a wonderfully interesting way to take the complete flavour profile of a particular cocktail and pull the individual flavours apart, thus enhancing those flavours and experiencing the various flavours of the cocktail in a deconstructed sense,” says mixologist Cooper Tardivel, bar manager at Mosaic Social Dining Lounge in Halifax.

Molecular mixology isn’t the easiest thing to do at home, unless you bone up on your chemistry and invest in some fancy equipment. But it can be a fun challenge for an ambitious home bartender. “I have used gelatin, xanthan gum, dry ice, sodium-alginate baths and fire to merge two or three ingredients together while set ablaze,” says Saint John, New Brunswick bartender Shawn Horgan.

Finding creative ways of reinterpreting traditional cocktails is another growing trend. One great thing about classic cocktails is they are easy to make once you have the right ingredients. The classics are very cool right now, particularly drinks from the late 1800s and early 1900s, so-called “pre-prohibition” cocktails.

At Mosaic, Tardivel enjoys recreating these historically significant beverages, either with a modern twist or to the letter. One of his favourites is the Sazerac, a New Orleans cocktail anchored on whisky, absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters. “Globally, the trend has always been to respect and understand the classics,” Tardivel says. “The preparation of classic cocktails has everything to do with proper technique, methodology and a keen understanding of the character and flavour profiles of the spirits and ingredients being used.”

The trend is spreading into the other Atlantic Provinces as well. In New Brunswick this past October, the Fairmont Algonquin in St. Andrew’s held a 1900s-themed event dinner during the Indulge Festival, an annual fall celebration of food and drink. The event featured pre-prohibition cocktails matched with several courses, including the classic Champagne cocktail served with local sturgeon caviar on blinis.

Cocktails are also making a splash in Saint John. The Saint John Ale House is now a destination for fancy drinks. Horgan developed a unique cocktail menu there, making many of his ingredients the traditional way, including syrups and fruit components.

Atlantic Canadian mixologists and spirits-loving consumers are also witnessing the development of an artisanal distilling industry, adding another new component to the modern cocktail. On Prince Edward Island, Prince Edward Distillery, near Souris, makes a wild-blueberry infused vodka. Nearby in Rollo Bay, Myriad View Distillery, of the iconic brand Strait Shine, also make a special Strait Gin, along with rum and vodka.

New Brunswick has Winegarden in Baie Verte. Founded by German immigrants, the company has been distilling fruit-based spirits and liqueurs since the 1980s. They have 13 different choices for schnapps, grappa, brandy and eau-de-vie. “Eau-de-vie” means “water of life” and is the European term for clear spirits distilled from fermented fruit. Most people serve eau-de-vie straight but a creative mixologist can build a nice drink around it, too.

Nova Scotia has the groundbreaking Glenora Distillery, in Cape Breton, that makes single-malt whiskey that compares favourably with premium Scotches. Most people drink these straight or with spring water but there is a trend for single-malt mixed drinks.

Malagash’s Jost Winery is now producing craft spirits. It entered the eau-de-vie market with gusto, specializing in German style plum eau-de-vies as well as grappa and maple spirit. Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg on the South Shore makes fruit-based vodka and apple brandy, as well as liqueurs and is working on a wood-aged rum.

When it comes to Newfoundland, Screech rum is often the drink that springs to mind. But there are other notable spirits worth highlighting. The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation (NLC) blends, ages and bottles numerous spirits brands, including the iceberg-water-based Iceberg Vodka and Dan Akroyd’s premium Crystal Head Vodka.

With so many Atlantic Canadian options on the market, you can fashion just about any cocktail with local products. Use your favourite spirit as the base for your own new-fangled creation with molecular mixology. Whether you go classic or modern, it’s all about getting into the spirit of it.

Recipes featured in this article:

Mother’s Rebel
Agave Blueberry Sparkling Iced Tea

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