“I think we’re all tired of the grey skies and want to see something bright,” said David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at West Restaurant (2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938, http://www.westrestaurant.com).
In other words, it’s time to lighten up, both in our outlook and in our drink.
“We really wanted to get away from the wintry drinks, those really hard, heavy, alcoholic drinks, and are going with lighter, fresher, more springtime ingredients,” said Justin Taylor, bartender at Yew Restaurant + Bar at the Four Seasons (791 W. Georgia St., 604-692-4939, http://www.fourseasons.com).
Taylor is not alone. Across Vancouver, professional bartenders are finding inspiration in the first fresh fruits and herbs of the season, and looking to warmer climates for even more ideas. Home bartenders, too, can switch things up with a few simple changes behind the bar.
“Like fine wine, cocktails should bring out the flavours of food, and vice versa,” said Lauren Mote, bar manager at Chow Restaurant (3121 Granville St., 604-608-2469, http://chow-restaurant.com). “The two biggest things for me are balancing the acidity and balancing the weight.”
Her spring cocktail list features clever twists on little-known classic cocktails, made with fresh fruit, citrus, herbs and Asian flavours, and based on Depression-era spirits such as gin and whisky.
“It goes with JC’s spring menu, which is very light and fresh,” she says, referring to chef JC Poirier. “I think JC’s food is very flavourful, very clean, very well-executed.”
The challenge with spring is that that while we might be ready for something new and fresh, the markets aren’t.
“Spring is kind of tough, because there’s not really anything available yet,” said Ryan Cheverie, bar manager at the Hamilton Street Grill (1009 Hamilton St., 604-331-1511).
So, while waiting for spring’s bounty to arrive, he’s looking to transitional flavours such as citrus, cucumber, ginger, mint, cilantro and basil.
“Fresh. Light. Ease off the savoury stuff and use more of the citrus,” he advised. “If it’s possible, distinguish spring from summer. Avoid maybe the ripe fruit because you’ll want to use that in summer. Berries, I don’t think spring. Orchard fruit isn’t spring.”
Then again, spring flavour doesn’t have to come from the produce section. It can come from a liqueur or bitters or even a preserved flower.
“We incorporate the hibiscus syrup and the hibiscus flower and the cherry bitters, which gives it more of a spring, summertime feel,” said David Swan, bar manager at the Opus Hotel (322 Davie St., 604-642-6787, http://www.opushotel.com), of his bar’s floral take on a classic whisky sour.
Of course, it’s not just what you add to the spirits that give them their seasonal essence, but the spirits themselves. In fact, simply changing the base spirit in a drink can alter its character entirely.
“A Dark and Stormy (ginger beer and dark rum) is winter; a Moscow Mule (ginger beer and vodka) is summer. It’s basically the same drink, but one is made with dark rum,” says Cheverie. “It’s just changing the weight.”
Some spirits – such as tequila, cachaca and other white spirits – simply taste of warmer seasons. They’re lighter, crisper, less sweet, less rich, and more easily mixed with other flavours.
They also tend to form the base of the classic South and Latin American drinks, which are always popular in warmer weather.
“Whenever we get into spring, it’s the mojitos, the caipirinhas, the pisco sours,” Taylor said.
And of course, there’s always the margarita.
“It’s really such a good drink,” Wolowidnyk said. “It reminds me of the summertime.”
Bucking the trend toward seasonal spirits is whisky, traditionally seen as a cold-weather spirit, but growing in popularity year-round.
“Whisky is well on the rise. Last year was probably more of a tequila summer,” Swan said.
“There’s a lot of different types of whisky. You can have a different type of whisky every day. It’s like wine, where it can be paired with food.”
Warm weather style
Finally, what makes a cocktail suitable to a certain season is not just what goes in it, but how it is made.
A small glass filled with strong spirits, say, a Manhattan or Sazerac, is perfect for a cold day when we crave something that warms us from the inside out. Those same spirits, built with citrus and soda over ice, can be transformed into something cooling and refreshing – something that won’t knock you out on a hot day.
“I’ve been playing around with long drinks more than I have in the past, and using crushed ice,” Wolowidnyk said. “With a long drink you feel like you’re quenching your thirst.”
In fact, he’s just created a whole new category of drinks he calls a “fizzle.” It combines the characteristics of three classic styles of mixed drinks: the fix (a long drink served over crushed ice, with fancy fruit garnish), the fizz (an acidic long drink topped with soda) and the bramble (a drink based on muddled fruit and citrus).
“What I was looking for was something that combined those three things,” he said. “It’s fun, fresh, lively and versatile, with a little effervescence from the soda.”
The best thing about a fizzle is that it can change with the seasons – Wolowidnyk started with a blood orange fizzle, is replacing that with a mango fizzle as blood orange season ends, and will offer a cherry fizzle when orchard fruits come into season.
Meanwhile, other bartenders are playing with variations on bucks and sours, on caipirinhas and mojitos, thirst-quenching drinks with ice and fruit juice and refreshing sodas.
The key is to keep it light, keep it crisp, and keep all the ingredients as good quality as possible.
And remember: As Wolowidnyk says, “At the end of the day a good drink is something that you can put your lips in and it’s tasty. It should be fun.”
Especially in springtime.
Strawberry and Black Pepper Caipirinha
Justin Taylor, bartender at Yew Restaurant + Bar at the Four Seasons, created this fresh, spicy take on a classic caipirinha. Cachaca is a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane juice.
1 oz. cachaca
1/2 oz. black peppercorns
4 large, fresh strawberries
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
Garnish: 1 lime wedge, 1 strawberry, quartered
In a mixing glass, muddle pepper and berries. Add all other ingredients (except the garnish) with ice, cover and shake well. Place ice, lime wedge and quartered strawberry into a rocks or old-fashioned glass; double strain the drink over the ice and garnish. Serves 1.
The “fizzle” is a new category of drinks created by David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at West Restaurant. It can be changed up with different fruit flavours – for instance, to make a blood orange fizzle, place ? oz Grand Marnier, ? oz. fresh blood orange juice and a couple of drops of orange flower water in the bottom of the glass, make the drink as below, and garnish with marmalade.
1 oz. Orchid mango liqueur
1 oz. Tanqueray gin
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 oz. club soda
Garnish: Mango compote (diced mango in syrup)
Pour mango liqueur into the bottom of a highball glass. Fill glass slightly more than half full with crushed ice. Pour gin and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker with cubed ice and shake well. Strain over crushed ice, carefully layering on top of the liqueur. Top with soda. To garnish, float a small spoon of mango compote over the surface of the drink. Serves 1.
Chow Restaurant’s bar manager, Lauren Mote, makes a point of creating drinks that are surprising and unexpected, yet use easily available ingredients, all while complementing the chef’s cuisine. A perfect example is this modern take on a little-known classic called the Saint Germain.
1 oz. green chartreuse
1/2 oz. Plymouth gin
1/2 oz. white crème de cacao
1/2 freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 egg white
Garnish: lime peel
Place all ingredients (except garnish) into a cocktail shake with ice and shake vigorously. Strain in a highball ice filled with crushed ice. Garnish with lime peel. Serves 1.
A buck is a long drink made with ginger ale or, as Hamilton Street Grill’s Ryan Cheverie has created it here, the spicier ginger beer. There are a number of different ginger beers available, though hard to find – for a sweeter version, try Stewart’s (available at Urban Fare and Meinhardt’s), and for a ginger beer with bite, try Grace’s (available at Real Canadian Superstore).
slice of cucumber
1 oz Chopin vodka
juice of 1/2 lime
Garnish: cucumber slice
Muddle the cucumber in a mixing glass, then add the vodka and lime juice with ice. Shake well, then double strain over ice into a Collins glass. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a cucumber slice. Serves 1.
This collaboration between David Swan at Vancouver’s Opus Hotel and his counterpart at the Montreal Opus is a twist on a classic whisky sour, and named, Swan says, “for the mythical character that overlooks the bar.” Hibiscus flowers in syrup are available at gourmet grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Urban fare, while the Fee Brothers bitters can be found at Gourmet Warehouse.
1 3/4 oz. Makers Mark bourbon
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. hibiscus syrup
1 dash Fee Brothers cherry bitters
1 dash egg white
Garnish: Hibiscus flower
Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain over crushed ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a hibiscus flower turned inside out. Serves 1.