When I walked into the distillery I was overcome by the smell of gin. But let me be clear here. This wasn’t “end of the night” gin-smell. Nor was it that icky odour you get when returning your gin bottles to the depot.
This was GOOD MORNING I’M A BOUQUET OF BOTANICALS AND WOULD YOU LIKE ME WITH YOUR MORNING COFFEE gin fragrance.
The Irish Goodbye is a drink for when you’re long past chugging green-dyed beer (for hydration purposes) on St. Patrick’s Day.
The slightly herbal and bracing gin cocktail, concocted by the bartenders at Edmonton’s North 53 is “designed to be the last word on Saint Patrick’s Day,” according to Eau Claire Distillery, the giniuses (if I may) who asked North 53 to come up with a March 17 cocktail.
You could take “the last word” to be a suggestion that you end the night with this one before quietly slipping out the door of whatever party you’re at without telling anyone you’re packing it in.
But when I saw the ingredient list, I couldn’t help but think of the classic cocktail, the Last Word. The Last Word came on my radar this fall when we were drinking excellent martinis at the bar of an old Hollywood lounge. We asked our bartender what he thought the quintessential Los Angeles cocktail was. He was quick to offer up the Last Word, saying it had made a comeback on the cocktail scene of late.
I was intrigued. I slowly gathered the ingredients for a Last Word. I had gin, obviously. But maraschino liqueur and green chartreuse were not regulars on my bar cart. Solution: Pick up something new at the liquor store every time I visit and don’t feel too frugal.
Months later, spirits finally assembled, I was excited to finally shake up the equal parts gin, maraschino, green chartreuse and lime juice required of a Last Word. But the resultant cocktail was so… bad, to be honest, that I wondered what I did wrong. The flavours fought instead of complementing each other and the lime was too tart and I just might not like maraschino. Maybe my martini glass had soap in it? Blech,
So when I saw The Irish Goodbye swapped ginger liqueur for the maraschino and adjusted the ratios of the spirits in the Last Word, I knew it was my calling my name.
And I was right! Delicious. I made some substitutions based on what I had on the bar cart and in the freezer. A well-stocked bar cart means no running to the liquor store when a recipe calls for ginger liqueur!
The Irish Goodbye Courtesy of North 53 and Eau Claire Distillery
1 oz Eau Claire Distillery Parlour Gin
3/4 oz King’s Ginger Liquor (I used New Deal’s spicy Ginger Liqueur)
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz Lime
Add all ingredients into a shaker
Add ice and shake.
Double strain into a stem cocktail glass.
Garnish with lime twist.
The Irish Goodbye is vast improvement on my experience with the Last Word. Just enough ginger to add some heat and counter the bite of the lime. The Green Chartreuse adds a hit of something herbal, which I think makes this a drink feel a bit special. And on a holiday (even especially a drinking holiday) you deserve to drink something special. But maybe don’t leave this one until your last drink of the night. No good can come of carving a lime twist after a pint or three.
Turner Valley, Alberta, 99 years ago was an intoxicating place to be, I’m learning from the founder of Alberta’s first craft distillery. I’m not using that adjective—intoxicating—to be playful. There is booze to be discussed here, but even more beyond that, David Farran explains to me as we begin a tour of his Eau Claire Distillery.
The town was electrified with the discovery of oil in 1914—one of the most important finds to the early of Alberta’s oil history. The onset of the war in 1916 ushered in foreign oil workers to town when local boys went to fight for Mother England, David tells me.
And on July 1, 1916, Prohibition began in Alberta. You might not have known it in Turner Valley though. David gestures out the front door of the distillery toward what was known as Whisky Row, where the local Speakeasies operated. Then he thumbs out the back way and tells me Whisky Ridge is where folks hid their stills to brew illegal spirits.
It’s in this rich bit of Alberta history (in a former brothel and movie theatre, specifically) that David and his co-founders planted Eau Claire Distillery. It’s Alberta’s first independent craft distiller, where they pride themselves on turning a local bounty into small batches of handcrafted spirits. David took me on a tour of the Turner Valley operation recently, giving me a peek into the world of distilling and a thirst for the single-malt whisky that won’t be ready for another five years still.
First, David gave me a primer on what goes into their Parlour Gin, Three-Point Vodka, future rye and whisky and seasonal spirits (like Gin Rummy, an amber gin that tastes pretty much like Christmas).
It all starts with local grains planted by local farmers and then harvested by local heavy horses. Yeah. Horses making us gin. I interrupt him to ask, “why horses?” It’s a lost art of farming today, he said. But it’s worth it to not just keep the tradition alive—horse-power—in Alberta, andit helps Eau Claire to get to know their products and their land intimately. That makes things better in the glass in the end.
Not everything for a batch of spirits can grow right in the Turner Valley area, so they’ve also got potatoes planted a little further out at David’s farm and bring in barley from Langley, B.C. Going forward, Eau Claire is going to be working directly with farmers to grow the varieties of grains they want in upcoming batches of spirits.
From the tasting room, we move into the distillery proper. David shows me the huge garage door where they bring in their grains, and the relatively small contraption they use to grind the grains. They’re very picky about getting the flour out of each grain without damaging the husk.
They’re big nerds, is what I’m saying.
The start of the spirit-making process is a lot like beer. In fact, they could use their equipment to brew beer, David (formerly of Big Rock Brewery) says, but they’re not into that.
From there: mashing, a sieve, and wort, the smells of yeast. My notes got groggy here because sometimes when a nerd gets talking about something they love, you don’t want to interrupt them.
I did get to smell a few tanks as they worked, and if I hadn’t known it wasn’t beer, I wouldn’t have guessed. A beer-like liquid at about 6-8% alcohol is transferred into the still where it is distilled, in the case of whisky to 62% before being put in barrels to become even more delicious. I say “even more delicious” because I was able to sample the baby whisky from the still. (“You can just stick your finger in there,” David told me.) At 85% alcohol, it was a ways away from being ready, but I was tempted to ask for a half an ounce in a shot glass to get a little more intimate with. It was clear and a little herbal and flowery. I assumed it was a gin until David told me otherwise. I was blown away and not just because of the hit of alcohol (probably).
The copper still at Eau Claire is a big deal. It’s a very nice piece of machinery that vaporizes and condenses the spirit into what is pleasant and drinkable. The mixture that goes into the still is turned into three sort of sub-sections of a final spirit. I’ll do my best to explain the process, using gin as an example.
The first gin that comes out of the still is the kind that will make you go blind, David explains. The middle is the best-flavoured spirit, or the “heart.” The third and last bit of gin is quite earthy and not so good.
In David’s opinion, the mass producers of gin stretch the middle as far as they can, meaning they have to take some of that less-good gin and the end product is less refined and maybe a little burn-y as it goes down. At Eau Claire, they can afford to be picky—their whole business is about being picky—so they are.
Both gin and vodka must be sent up the rectification tower before bottling. A nice, tall tower makes for a real good spirit. David says that the industry is obsessed with calling its spirits “triple distilled” or otherwise bragging about how often it’s distilled. He says his tower doesn’t need to do triple anything, because it does it right the first time. “If you’re doing it six times, you probably need a new still,” he quips.
Gin steeps like tea and it’ll take two to three weeks for it to be ready for bottling from the time the process begins.
Bottling at Eau Claire is a mostly hand-powered process (I’ll talk more about that in Part 2 of my visit to the Eau Claire). A lot of hands will have grazed each bottle, but there’s special care taken to make sure you don’t see any fingerprints.
But while gin and vodka can be bottled right away, Eau Claire’s forthcoming rye and single-malt whisky need time to mature.
For that, they’ve built a custom barrel room so that roughly five years from now, we can savour the fruits of their labour.
Southern Alberta’s climate is similar in some ways to Kentucky’s David says, except that they have humidity and we have borderline aridity unless there’s snow. But the temperature fluctuations are good for the spirits. A change from warm to cold lets the spirit suck flavour right out of the barrel.
And then there’s the high-tech gravel floor.
It looks like a dirt floor to me, but David explains it’s actually a series of layers: sand, clay, gravel, sand, clay, gravel, etc. topped off by a plastic grate. This is part of the humidity controls for the barrel room necessary to getting the best flavours from the barrels (an assortment of old bourbon barrels, new and old wood, and even a 100-year-old sherry cask. When the whisky is ready, they’ll combine the spirits from different barrels to come up with their perfect blend.
David says Eau Claire’s rye and whisky will be a bit like wine compared to larger distilleries. The flavours will differ based on what the season was like for their farmers, what the weather was, how the soil was. And this variability wasn’t even possible until 2012 when Canada abolished its long-standing wheat board. Before that, farmers had to pool their wheat and barley. Now, Eau Claire can buy grains direct from farmers and sooner they’ll be working with farmers to decide on which precise grains to grow for their spirits.
Eau Claire is opening up their brand new tasting room and distillery tours to the public very soon (they’re aiming for mid-March), if you’re interested in learning more about their history and handcrafted, farm to glass, process. They’re exceedingly nice people, and they might even let you be free labour for them on bottling day like I did (never has gin in the morning smelled so good! Stay tuned for adventures from bottling day.
I was at a local pub recently, flipping through their drinks menu in search of something fun to try when I came across a low-calorie drinks menu. It rankled me, and I immediately ordered a glass of wine out of spite (also it was half-price wine night).
I can appreciate the desire to choose wisely while drinking your calories. I think a lot of people don’t understand that any given cocktail adds around 150 calories and that a night of binge drinking might have been better spent sucking Hollandaise sauce through a straw. What I can’t appreciate is charging $9 for two ounces of Smirnoff, juice from a gun and a sprig of mint then calling it a “Size Zero.” (The name is annoying to me in so many ways, but I’ll just note one. That is, the irony of giving that title to the highest calorie cocktail on the list.)
I think we should mix drinks with our minds aware of nutrition, but without sacrificing the experience. Why drink a couple bad low-calorie cocktails made with artificial sweetener when you could drink one smart cocktail made with handcrafted syrups, fresh muddled herbs and a long pour of soda water?
Consider your dietary needs to keep these in focus. An adult woman needs around 1900 calories a day, according to Health Canada (at least on her sedentary days). An adult male needs around 2500 calories per day (before considering physical activity). Here are your basic calories in booze counts (as per calorieking.com), per one ounce.
Bourbon (Bulleit; 45%): 73 calories
Vodka (40%): 64 calories
Gin (40%): 64 calories
Rum (Captain Morgan, White; 40%): 64 calories
Tequila (40%): 64 calories
Vermouth (sweet, 15%): 47 calories
Notice a trend? No? The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories.
Low-Calorie Drinking Solution 2: Consider the ingredients
But that doesn’t hold true for all liqueurs. Sugar and cream will add more calories in that one little ounce. You won’t see calories or nutritional value on most bottles, so you’ll want to be smart about what you’re picking. (Calorie counts from various places.)
Kahlua (20%): 14.7 grams of sugar, 91 calories
Bailey’s (17%): 5.9 grams of sugar, 97 calories
Aperol (11%): 10.9 grams of sugar, 103 calories
Conclusion: Use these as flavour enhancers rather than the main event, or mix them on their own with a low-calorie mixer like soda water in a tall glass.
Low-Calorie Drinking Solution 3: Don’t pick a crappy cocktail if you don’t have to
Sometimes, especially if you are out drinking at a pub, a “cocktail” might not be the best option. For your reference, here’s the approximate caloric punch of a “single serving” of each of the following sample drinks. Serving sizes vary at restaurants and bars. Wine numbers from getdrunknotfat.com.
12 oz beer (5%): 154 calories
18 oz “pint” of beer (5%): 230 calories
6 oz red wine (Merlot; 12.5%): 126 calories
9 oz red wine (Merlot; 12.5%): 189 calories
6 oz white wine (Sauv. Blanc; 13.3%): 172 calories
9 oz white wine (Sauv. Blanc 13.3%): 257 calories 1 oz spirit (40%): 64 calories
Low-Calorie Drinking Solution 4: Just drink responsibly
Like eating cheese curds, drinking only becomes a caloric problem when you let it happen irresponsibly. An ice-cold, well-made martini before dinner is a beautiful thing. Four two-ounce martinis between work and dinner? That’s practically the same number of calories as a large fry from McDonalds (albeit with less salt and fat and you won’t go through as many napkins, so that’s a win? Sort of?) and when was the last time you did that?
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably got a drink in hand already. But you’re also now armed with the knowledge to make a sound decision on whether to drink your calories. Cheers to that!
For me, 2014 was the year my home bar evolved by leaps and drams. But as I collected glasses and liqueurs and bitters, I was constantly inspired by things I drank elsewhere.
Perhaps most inspirational was the first sour I had that was made properly with a frothy, creamy egg white (a strawberry pisco sour). It wasn’t amongst the very best things I drank but it gave me the guts to try my first whiskey sour at home and by the time I made a sour mix fresh from lemons and limes and zest-infused simple syrup in December, I was way hooked. Signature drink? It could happen.
But a really good cocktail is sometimes enjoyable for a much simpler reason than sappy inspiration. Sometimes it’s just deliciously balanced, fortifying and served in the best surroundings amongst friends. That sounded simpler in my head, but that combination is why a lot of the following drinks made my list of the best things I drank in 2014.
LBV Port, White Balsamic Syrup, Bitters, Lemon, Egg White
The night at the Bourbon Room was already a winner. Ten of us had annihilated a tower of seafood (one guest had taken home the lobster’s shell in her purse for stock) and we were into a round of deep-fried pickles.
This sour was an unexpected delight. It’s a hell of a way to experience port for the first time. It was gentler than a typical whiskey sour and luscious with the egg white. I swooned, and I know it wasn’t just the flight of bourbon talking.
It was my first Manhattan and I drank it on my first trip to Manhattan, it was perfect. Poured for me in a dark hotel bar into a giant martini glass, I’d describe it as American-luxe, especially once our pre-dinner cheese fries showed up. This first one led to a string of Manhattans and Manhattan-derived cocktails at home in the months that followed.
The oldest bar in Hollywood makes one of the best martinis in America (according to Esquire) though I didn’t know that when I pulled up a stool at the bar on my boyfriend’s recommendation. We watched the red-jacketed servers and bartenders move around each other and diners and we peered down the bar, hoping to spot the bartender who was legendary for having served at the legendary place for decades. He wasn’t there, but we ordered our martinis from someone who knew how to sling them.
Our cocktails came in what we might consider vintage glasses. They held maybe two ounces with headroom. The rest of my drink was stored in a petite decanter nestled into a mini ice bucket. Perfect for an ice-cold martini until the last drop.
Definitely not a cocktail bar. This pub was established in the 1850s and hasn’t bothered changing much since.
After we’d been trudging through a polar vortex for hours experiencing New York in January, settling into this old treasure was perfect. The drink menu includes dark beer or light beer while the food menu is limited to the sort of thing Abraham Lincoln would have eaten had he stopped in (which he may have actually done). We both ordered dark beers, and they were delivered with a thunk in two pairs of beer mugs. Our selected snack was a sleeve of saltines, squares of white cheese and thin slices of white onions plus mustard for the table. We couldn’t stop smiling.
At least, I think that’s what I was drinking. Our server may have brought me something off the menu. At any rate, both drinks were marvellous. I believe everyone who has had bad times with tequila during their inexperience drinking days owes it to themselves to have a proper tequila or mezcal cocktail from a place like Messhall. They did it right, especially in balancing the spicy mezcal with the citrus juice. Some jalapeno margaritas are too burning hot to enjoy. They cut their own ice there, too!
Hollywood Boulevard can make any sane person exhausted. The Library Bar is an elegant and intimate escape from the gaudy tourist shops and crush of crowds. Drinks are ordered from the bartenders “Omakase-style.” That is, you let the bartender work his or her magic based on what sort of liquor and flavour you’re into. They pluck fresh herbs, salad greens, peppers, fruits, bitters and more as their intuition dictates and shake/stir something divine. I asked for something with tequila that was not too sweet and got a spicy, fragrant, slightly citrus drink that I managed to savour instead of chug.
The whole experience could have been even better if our bartender had been more talkative and had explained some of what he was doing or what sort of thought went into it, or at least slowed down when he told us what was in each of our $17 drinks. We were mesmerized all the same.
Here’s to a delicious 2015 with plenty more cocktails worth sharing!
Sometime during the ’90s (while I was playing Gameboy and watching Animaniacs) bars started adding the suffix “-tini” onto anything vodka and sugar-laden.
This horrified martini purists for whom a martini was a couple ounces of good gin, a splash (3/4-1/4 oz) or a whiff (a rinse or spritz) of dry vermouth and an olive (maybe 2) or lemon peel to garnish.
The proliferation of Crantinis, Appletinis, Chocotinis and all their palatable(ish) friends got people drinking vodka, though. And that worked for the marketers behind the stuff. (Read a proper history of -tinis in Shaken & Stirred by William L. Hamilton.)
Some of the ubiquitous -tinis are decent. More often, I find them cloying. Too much sugar and an overload of vodka all mismatched and stained an unnatural colour or loaded with quantities of caffeine unfit for evening sipping. Blech.
But the martini glass plays host to a brightly hued, sweet-tart cocktail that really is worth breaking out once in a while.
The Cosmopolitan! If you’ve heard of it but never sipped it, that’s probably thanks to Sex & the City, but it actually hit palates of Americans decades before Carrie & Co. started day drinking.
In Mark Spivak’s Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, he credits the Cosmopolitan to (probably) either Toby Cecchini , who whipped it up for his bar staff in San Francisco in the late 1980s, or to bartender Cheryl Cook in Miami around the same time, or maybe in the ’70s to John Caine, a bar owner in San Fran.
In the wrong proportions, a Cosmopolitan isn’t going to be much more exciting than a vodka-cran at a crowded night club, so follow a recipe for your first few, until you get a feel for the proportions.
When a couple girlfriends and I recently got a hankering for watching old episodes of Sex & the City, I noticed I already had most of the ingredients for Cosmos sitting on my bar cart. Handy! (What wasn’t so handy was I neglected to bring a jigger to the 3-woman party and the host had no measuring spoons. I resorted to eyeballing proportions using a handmade sake cup.)
Lucky for you, I’ve got a proper recipe here, courtesy of Spivak and his amalgamation of the dozens of recipes out there for a Cosmopolitan. Break out your measuring devices and get shaking!
From Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History
3 parts vodka
1-2 parts cranberry juice
1 part Cointreau (or other Triple Sec, if you must)
Splash of fresh lime
Lemon slice or twist for garnish
Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into a large martini glass and garnish.
Variations: You can rim your glass with sugar; sub regular vodka with Absolut Citron (which may have been the original recipe); sub out fresh lime juice for Rose’s Lime (which will be a lot sweeter); use white cranberry juice in place of the pink.
Bubbles can go to our head. Somehow, we Canadians got under the impression that sparkling wine should be spared only for special occasions. We’ll pop a cork for New Years, weddings and the occasional brunch mimosa, but otherwise leave Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and their effervescent friends in the cupboard.
This has got to stop.
Sparkling wines were once dubbed “Devil’s Wine” because of their unpredictable and vicious habit of exploding (which often shattered nearby bottles) due to the high pressure that built up during the unplanned second fermentation. That was an unthinkable time when the accidentally fizzy beverage was considered bad wine. Things improved around the mid-17th Century when the British got a taste for this “sparkling Champagne” (wines from that region had been meant to be flat) and a scientist cracked the chemistry behind sparkling wine.
Prosecco (my usual bubbles of choice,) goes with everything. It can do mimosa duty, it’s exciting enough to ring in a new year and it goes with your Tuesday night plate of spaghetti. You can drink it on a sunshiney patio and in front of a fire when winter (or a flood) just won’t quit. You can pour it into punch in place of Canada Dry (the “champagne of Ginger Ale”).
And you can serve it in a cocktail.
And you should serve it in a cocktail. It’s very impressive and very affordable. And delicious.
My favourite way to make my friends feel spoiled (and stick to a budget) is to whip up a Champagne Cocktail. And this patio season, I will be pouring more than a few Aperol Spritzes. (Both recipes follow.)
In Calgary, there’s a wide variety of refreshingly drinkable, dry sparkling wines available for $15 and under, all of which, in my experience, do great work in a cocktail. (Co-op & Superstore liquor stores are both well-stocked). In my opinion, a $12 bottle of bubbly is nearly always better than a $12 bottle of still. (Disclaimer: I’m no wine expert, but I am frugal.)
Here are two refreshing (and classic for a reason) ways to get more sparkling wine into your diet.
Place sugar cube in champagne flute and saturate with bitters (10-12 drops; experiment!). Top with chilled sparkling wine and garnish with lemon peel. Enjoy as the bubbles infuse the whole drink with aromatic bitters and sugar.
Variation: My copy of the 1953 publication “Cocktails & Snacks” published by the Homemakers Research Institute suggests a garnish of half a slice of orange and a stick of pineapple. Have at ‘er!
Above: Champagne Cocktail, just because. Drink more Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines. Even the kinda cheap, questionable looking ones.
Aperol Spritz “The feel-good hit of the summer!” —The Guardian
3 oz Prosecco
2 oz Aperol 1 oz soda
Orange slice (garnish)
Fill a large white wine glass with ice cubes. Pour Aperol, then Prosecco and stir. Top with soda and garnish with orange. Instagram it and brag to your friends.
Bonus! Here’s a video from Aperol reminding you of the easy recipe for this spritzer.
Sometimes the sun is beating down, you’ve just got home from a long day of toil and you want to sit on your balcony with a cold one but all you have in the house is half a mickey of OK tequila and a couple of lagers. And some triple sec. And fresh limes and some limeade mix.
OK, maybe plan ahead for this one.
The beergarita appears in many forms: haphazardly mixed on a picnic table, poured into a red cup and gulped around the campfire; with a craft brew in a canning jar with sparkling sugar rim; and most convenient of all, in mismatched glasses at home when you realize you have everything you need for a sorta trashy but delicious summer drink.
That’s how I look at the beergarita anyway. You can dress it up or dress it down. Make it with a decent beer to save yourself from the bad leftover tequila from that house party 6 months ago; make it with decent tequila to convince your friends that not all of that Mexican nectar is vomit fuel.
Anyday Beergarita For 1 (but you’ll probably make more)
1.5 oz tequila
.5 oz triple sec (optional)
1-2 tbsp frozen or thawed limeade mix
Lager or wheat beer to top (4-6 oz; I like Village Wit)
Lime wedge (garnish)
Combine tequila, triple sec and limeade mix in a tall glass. Stir to dissolve limeade. Tilt glass and top with beer to taste. Add ice if your beer wasn’t cold enough.
Substitute a spicy ginger beer like Royal Jamaican for lager in recipe above and build drink in a short glass.
Briggs’ recipe added strawberry puree to mix and it was a sweet, frothy delight. Best of all, I’m no longer afraid of egg whites in my cocktails. Think of it like adding a fresh meringue to your beverage, not like you’re about to gulp down a slippery, raw hangover cure. Watch out chickens, I’m hooked!