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Posted by on Oct 26, 2014 in happy hour |


POUR ME A COCKTAIL is proud to introduce another contributor to its family: Brendan Wooldridge.  Brendan is the head bartender at the Refinery, and has gained a well-earned repuation as one of Vancouver's finest and most creative young bartenders. With wit and flair, Brendan will be writing about all things booze. Welcome, Brendan.

Written by Brendan Wooldridge

Oh hello there, rain. Nice to see you again. Lovely time for a boulevardier, don’t you think?

            And hello fall! Welcome back to my favourite season. The rain is fresh, the air is crisp, and it's time to eat stew again. Comfort food reigns supreme, and it's the season of dinner parties, board games, wine, and……cocktails.

            I, and I think most bartenders, love this time of year for cocktails. We put away the citrus and mint, and out comes the Amari. We are inspired to craft spirit-forward libations that shine in their elegance while generally being very simple to make. Drinks with history and character are featured, while providing great landscapes in which to customize, experiment, and cater to individual tastes.

            Amaro is the Italian word for bitters, and they are wine or spirit-based herbal infusions, commonly enjoyed as a digestif. There is a wide range of them, from the bright cherry/grapefruit flavours of Campari to the deep herbaceous richness of Fernet Branca. Once you play around with the differences in these Amaro’s, the possibilities truly are endless. Create a Boulevardier, for example, using a combination of Campari, Aperol, and Fernet Branca as its bitter/amaro component, and you bring several more aromatic elements into play while honouring the preparation and feeling of the original.

           Two classics, the Negroni and Boulevardier, are favourites of bartenders. Both are as simple as using three ingredients – Campari, sweet vermouth, and Gin or bourbon respectively. But both also offer a world of experimentation. Both cocktails are comprised of 3 elements; Fortified wine, amaro, and spirit. Playing with the proportions and specific components opens up so many possibilities. 

           My favourite recent variation on the Negroni, for example, has been the “Negronino Bianco." This arose because I wanted a spirit-forward cocktail that could be paired with seafood. Using a London dry gin, Amaro Nonino – a very light amaro with beautiful citrus and spice notes -, and Lillet – a French aperitif wine that also has a beautiful citrus flavour and sweetness – created a bittersweet cocktail that is both light and full of character.
            Playing around with the bitter components of other classics is always fun. The Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Vieux Carre, Toronto, Manhattan, all spirit forward cocktails with big character that can be great frameworks in which to customize and move towards something unique.

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            The Sazerac was my initial inspiration for the Longhouse. I wanted to create a cocktail that had that spicy profile mellowed out by the absinthe and bright cherry and pie spice flavours of the Peychaud’s. Instead of Rye whiskey I chose a rye-forward bourbon, such as Bulleit or Four Roses Single Barrel. This offers the rich oak and caramel flavours of Bourbon while presenting that ‘spice’ intrinsic to the Sazerac. Peychauds bitters brings the aforementioned bright “red” flavours, while Fernet Branca brings deep herbal flavours to the mix. A touch of cane sugar syrup helps to add some sweetness.
           The fun part is what's next. I intended to “soften” the anise flavours of a Sazerac, so after rinsing the glass with Absinthe (or other anisette), I smoked the coupe glass with Cedar. This not only fills the room with the amazing comforting aroma of wood burning, but coats the glass, bringing a strong aromatic presence to the cocktail while mellowing out the anise flavours of the absinthe.

            Let’s be totally honest… I just wanted to burn stuff behind the bar

           Squeeze a nice thick lemon peel over the top and you have a wonderful balance of caramel richness, spice, herbal depth and smokey aromatics, the latter of which reveals more of its character as you sip.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Longhouse
                                                2oz High-rye bourbon (ie: Four Roses Single Barrel, Bulleit)

                                                2 Dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

                                                1 good dash of Fernet Branca

                                                Cane sugar syrup to taste

                                                Absinthe rinse

                                                Cedar smoked Coupe glass

                                                Lemon peel to garnish                       


  With the cold weather returning, everyone should be getting out and trying some Amaro. Not only is there so much variety, they are also intended to have medicinal properties, so you can feel good about drinking some! And while it may take time for people to become accustomed to the bitter nature of these liqueurs, there are some fantastic bars in Vancouver that I highly recommend for introducing you to them. One of my favourites is Pourhouse in Gastown. Rett and his team have an amazing backbar and – more importantly – the knowledge and passion to knock it out of the park. If you want to have an amazing experience (and burger!) and learn about anything spirit related…go there!

Happy Amaro-filled Autumn to everyone!