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drinks

Neat Spots for Gin, Vodka & Rum

By Katie Shapiro

Gin, vodka, and rum may not commonly be enjoyed on their own, but with the consumption of premium spirits on the rise in Canada, that seems to be changing. But what makes a spirit achieve “top-shelf” status anyway? There are no strict standards or benchmarks, but premium spirits should be sippable, made from quality ingredients, and full of flavour. These spirits aren’t meant to be thrown down your throat; they’re silky and bold and they stand alone. (Oh, and premium doesn’t have to mean unaffordable.)

Gin

Stephen Flood Riviera

Stephen Flood had a vision — and 20 years of bartending experience — when he set up the bar at Riviera. “I wanted us to be a gin bar, because this,” he waves to the high ceilings, long gold bar, and sleek light fixtures, “is such a period thing, and gin is the most elegant of all the spirits.”

Flood also posits that gin is the most interesting of all spirits. With few requirements, other than that juniper must be the predominant flavour, the ingredients list can vary widely.

While the long drinks list at Riviera includes many options, it really is a gin bar: there are 25 European gins and 11 North American varieties on offer.

A favourite of Flood’s is Sacred Gin by Sacred Microdistillery, which features 11 botanicals including juniper, cardamom, and citrus. This unique mixture results in a very balanced, creamy gin.

In contrast, Flood suggests the Californian St. George Terroir, made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, and coastal sage, invoking a real sense of place. Flood likes to engage folks at the bar to pick the perfect gin for one of the “holy trinity” of gin cocktails — a martini, a negroni, or a gin and tonic.

Vodka

Alex Yugin Avant Garde Bar

It should come as no surprise that this Soviet-themed bar — complete with propaganda art posters on the walls and borscht on the menu — boasts a fine vodka list with many Russian vodkas.

Since vodka can be made from just about any organic base material (potatoes, fruits, or grains), Yugin says that the best ones will use a quality base ingredient and the purest water available. Most sophisticated vodkas will be distilled more than once and filtered, often through charcoal, to remove any impurities.

When it comes to choosing a sipping vodka, Yugin, who is from St. Petersburg, singles out Zubrowka Bison Vodka from Poland.

Distilled from rye, Zubrowka is flavoured with a tincture of bison grass, which gives it a distinct herbaceous character along with a faint yellow hue. Each bottle contains one long blade of the grass, which is traditionally harvested in northeastern Poland. With notes of coconut, dill, and vanilla, this spirit totally dismantles the myth that vodka is flavourless and boring. Yugin serves Zubrowka in an icy glass and recommends enjoying sips of premium vodka in between, and — why not? — nibbles of crunchy pickles.

Rum

Julia Hussien and Zach Smith Salt

Though admittedly more of a bourbon bar, Salt’s rum selection is nothing to sneeze at. The Preston Street restaurant offers an assortment of white and brown rums (the latter are darkened by extra aging).

Salt’s bartenders advise that a good rum should be semi-sweet (it is a sugarcane spirit, after all) and will usually feature warming spices — think cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. To enjoy simply, Hussien likes to serve it over ice with a little brown sugar; Smith suggests ice and a hint of lime juice to brighten the spirit.

Though rum cocktails might transport you to the Caribbean, Smith calls autumn and winter “rum-sipping season.”

For newcomers to rum-sipping, the bartenders suggest Flor de Caña Centenario 12, from Nicaragua, or Brugal 1888, from the Dominican Republic; the former is aged 12 years in American oak barrels (which previously held whisky and bourbon), while the latter is aged in American oak before being finished in Spanish oak sherry casks. Both are smooth, buttery, and slightly toasty with notes of caramel and baked apple; the Flor de Caña offers notes of vanilla and spice, while the Brugal has a hint of smokiness.

Calgary’s Most Creative Cocktails

By HANNA DEEVES

Timo Salimaki, The Living Room, Winner of Canad’s Most Imaginative Bartender 2017, hosted by Bombay Sapphire. Photo By Trevor Lalonde Photography

Whether you’re in Calgary for business or pleasure, there is always time for a good cocktail. For bars that can cater to your preferences with alluring drink lists, it’s important to know where the creative bartenders are.
(more…)

June Hot Dining

By Janice Hudson

PATIO PERFECTION

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• Catch some rays on the rooftop patio at Your Father’s Moustache on Spring Garden Road. The fun and lively space has beer aplenty on tap, including three signature brews from the RockBottom Brewpub downstairs.
• Downtown, head to The Maxwell’s Plum on Grafton Street for a cold pint on the sunny patio. The landmark bar has the city’s largest selection of draft beer, including top selections from Maritime craft breweries like Halifax’s Garrison Brewing and Cape Breton’s Big Spruce.
• For fabulous views of Halifax harbour, check out Gahan House in the Historic Properties. This popular Prince Edward Island brewpub recently opened its first Nova Scotia location, serving its own line of handcrafted beers. Try the Beach Chair lager for a refreshing summer sip.

Editor’s Choice

Steak9246Two downtown restaurants have once again earned the prestigious CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award.
Recognized for the eighth year in a row, Onyx on Argyle Street is a sleek resto bar showcasing local ingredients in delicious globally inspired recipes. Cut Steakhouse on Lower Water Street has received the award every
year since opening in 2008. The menu boasts premium beef (dry-aged and butchered on-site) with
an artful wine list and inventive sides.

 

 

VEGGIES FIRST

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• A leader in Halifax’s emerging vegan scene, Envie touts a menu of hearty meals like vegan ribs, grilled cheese and indulgent raw desserts. Catering to dietary restrictions, the menu is 90 per cent gluten free. Find the stylish restaurant on the corner of Agricola and Charles streets in the North End.
• In the West End on Windsor Street, Wild Leek has made-from-scratch vegan comfort food. Chef Kirsten Haggart whips up recipes like mac’n cheese, seitan sandwich, and the popular coconutbacon “CBLT.” Wash it down with a fresh-squeezed juice and save room for gourmet cupcake.

 

CREATIVE CORNERSTONEGio-Tea--024---Version-2

Downtown at Gio on
Market Street, Chef Bee Choo
Char gives traditional recipes
an inventive new twist. Her
delicious version of poutine
includes fried polenta fingers
topped with duck confit, red
wine jus and blue “Cheez
Whiz.” Open for lunch and
dinner, Gio has a sommelierchosen
wine list plus creative cocktails and martinis.

 

SLICE OF SUCCESS

_MG_4104Specializing in wood-fired pizza, Morris East won bronze in the non-traditional category at the recent International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Its Nova Scotia-inspired winning pie featured pears poached in Blomidon Estate Baco Noir and prosciutto from Halifax’s Ratinaud Charcuterie. Visit in downtown Halifax on Morris Street and in Bedford on Larry Uteck Boulevard.

Fall Sipping: 2 Must-Try Drinks at National Beer Hall

The Pimm’s Cup and St. Ambroise Pumpkin Beer at National. Photo: Adele Brunnhofer.

While the weather in Calgary sticks to the 20 Celsius mark, it certainly feels like fall has arrived. Though the season just started last Saturday, the trees are turning gold and amber, and an autumnal spirit fills the air. What better way to celebrate continued warm weather and the changing season than grabbing a drink on the patio at National Beer Hall on 17th Avenue SW. (more…)

Hot Dining: After Dark Downtown

Stylish Onyx on Spring Garden Road is the spot to see and be seen. On Mondays, the signature mojitos are $7. Wednesdays offer one of the best deals you’ll find downtown: live music, no cover, no corkage fees and half-price apps.

The Economy Shoe Shop on Argyle Street has long been a favourite refuge for Halifax’s popular and fashionable. The beloved downtown bar has a cool vibe, diverse mix of cocktails and—rather unexpectedly—one of the city’s better hamburgers.

Onyx, Photo: julé malet-veale

Get Cultured at Avant-Garde Bar

 

Soviet-era propaganda posters add a historical flair

Avant-Garde Bar & Gift Shop is easy to miss if you’re not searching for it. Squished in between the booming beats of Ritual Nightclub and the orange glow of iTan Advanced Tanning Studios, the restaurant defines hole-in-the-wall.

Dim lighting and flickering candles contribute to the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon an Ottawa secret, while the walls decorated with Soviet-era propaganda posters evoke a bygone era. All the posters, art, and other merchandise — European sports teams’ baseball hats, polo shirts, hoodies — are for sale.

This Avant-Garde promo poster describes the bar as a cultural hub "where local poets, musicians, artists, designers, and political activitists gather."

When asked about the décor, owner Alex Yugin says, “The Soviet era is very striking artistically and culturally. Every element of décor and every Soviet propaganda poster is surely unlike any traditional pub-related environment. Also, with our family hailing directly from St. Petersburg, Russia, we felt we had a very refreshing and authentic cultural Soviet perspective to offer in comparison to more of a “vintage” North American view.”

The Soviet theme carries over to the menu. For example, classic Russian dishes such as Siberian pelemeni (ground beef dumplings) and borscht are found under the witty heading, “Five-Year Plan Entrees,” referring to Stalin’s five –year plan for stimulating the Soviet Union’s economy. The traditional fare appears alongside more Western-style dishes such as nachos, fittingly named “food stamps nachos,” and a mixed greens salad.

The real gem, however, is the drink menu, which consists of three jam-packed pages of cocktails, martinis, shooters, wine, beer, port, sherry, spirits, and liquors. Cocktails such as “Proletarian Omelet,” “Orange Revolution,” and “From Russia with Love” mix the political with the whimsical. A couple of the most popular cocktails include the “Soviet Sunrise,” a mix of lemon-flavoured vodka and special syrup, and “Red October,” which contains vodka, soda, and a mix of syrups. (more…)

Hot Dining: Authentic Mexican Cuisine

Enjoy the fun ambience at Pancho Villa.

On those dark days of winter, head over to Pancho Villa, a Mexican restaurant in the heart of bustling Elgin Street. The traditional fare is on offer, as are their signature dishes: mole enchiladas, arroz con pollo, and chile relleno. With mains ranging from $9 to $16, there should be change left over for a round of “Tropic daiquiris” (mixing together lime, strawberry, and banana) or one of their 40 kinds of tequila. Now that will have you shaking off the winter blahs in no time! 361 Elgin St., 613-234-8872.

Top Sipping Spots

Toronto’s hottest season is in full swing; after so much sightseeing, you’re no doubt in need of refreshment. Pull up a patio chair or stop by a swanky lounge for a sophisticated cocktail, local microbrew and a tempting taste of city life. Click the images below to discover our favourite patios, drinks and more. By Marisa Baratta