Liquor-spiked slushies! Literally smokin’ cocktails! Drinkable herbs! And something called the Jewmosa! It’s all here in our annual guide to summer boozin’ in Toronto.
1-6. Because grapefruit’s back, bitches
Grapefruit, nature’s gift to booze, has been strangely under the radar in recent years. We used to see it next to vodka—in the shape of a Salty Dog or a Greyhound—but as folks fell under the spell of the spirit-forward, brown-liquor cult, they threw fragrant grapefruit out with the distilled potato water.
Enter the Paloma, a classic tequila-grapefruit cocktail that has been enthusiastically revived this summer, restoring the citrus’s flavour-of-the-month status. Playa Cabana serves up a more-or-less classic Playa Paloma ($9), made from grapefruit-infused tequila and citrus syrup in a salt-rimmed glass. At Reposado Tequila Bar, the mezcal–dry vermouth Paloma Rustica ($12) is an earthy upmarket version of the classic refresher. On the sweeter side, Weslodge Saloon gives us La Floridita ($14), a sparkling grapefruit daiquiri that distinguishes itself with aromatic spices and citrus oil. Gin fans will do well at Farmhouse Tavern, where there’s a herbaceous, lemongrass-y Grapefruit Gimlet ($9), or at Chantecler, where the Gin & Grapefruit Tonic ($8) offers a fresh, tangy take on the classic.
Or else just head over to Ursa, where the bar staff love the bold, beautiful flavours of the ruby red so much that they decided to let it rot. Well, ferment, at any rate. After three months (and a sprinkling of beer yeast), the juice transformed into a grapefruit wine that is, unfortunately, a touch too sweet to be served straight up. That’s okay. It will soon be put to good use in—you guessed it—a Paloma.
› Playa Cabana, 111 Dupont St., 416-929-3911. › Reposado Tequila Bar, 136 Ossington Ave., 416-532-6474. › Weslodge Saloon, 480 King St. W., 416-367-0505. › Farmhouse Tavern, 1627 Dupont St., 416-561-9114. › Chantecler, 1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586. › Ursa, 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963.
7. Because history goes down easy
At 25 Liberty, Kyle Burch has a history of making history—but his kind takes place in a glass. It all started in October 1066, when French troops trounced the Brits at the Battle of Hastings, which inspired Burch’s Calvados-based cocktail, the 1066 (October). That’s no longer on his menu but, in its stead, he’s launched the Earl of Moray (Treaty of Corbeil) ($11), which celebrates a good moment in 14th-century Scottish-French relations with Scotch whisky, apricot brandy, Bénédictine, French vermouth, and a house-made peach shrub. In case that’s not an obscure enough reference for the PhD candidates, Burch also offers the Over”pope”ulation ($14), made from cognac, grappa, Bénédictine, Côtes du Rhône wine, and lemon juice; it refers to the Papal Schism from 1378 to 1417. Of course. That Papal Schism. We were thinking of the other one, which would have made no sense with cognac.
25 Liberty, 25 Liberty St., 647-748-8200.
8. Because there’s a drink in this town called the Jewmosa
It began, as these things often do, out of a need to keep drinking. A few years ago, Caplansky’s Delicatessen owner Zane Caplansky and partner Elaine Gold (pictured) had come back from a boozy dinner and wanted another cocktail; on hand at Gold’s house were the French aperitif Lillet, a couple oranges, and some soda water. Oh, and a bottle of Manischewitz, the cloyingly sweet, Concord grape kosher wine that’s synonymous with Passover boozing (and which her cousin had given her as a joke housewarming gift).
“I took a tall glass and ice, put the Manischewitz in, then put in the Lillet—it’s my favourite drink; I always have at least six bottles—then topped it with soda water and added an orange slice, which is the classic garnish for Lillet,” Gold says. “We drank it and thought it was great, but we weren’t sure if it would be as good an idea the next day. Turns out it was, and we called it The Caplanksy Cocktail.”
The following summer, she was describing the drink to a patron on the patio. “It’s fun, grapey goodness, with a bit of bubbly from the soda water and some herbiness from the Lillet—it’s got that brunch thing going on,” she says. “I called it a Jewmosa, and it stuck.” The name has not been improved upon, because it is impossible to improve upon that name.
$6. Caplansky’s Delicatessen, 356 College St., 416-500-3852.
9-20. Because this is your summer playlist
21-25. Because everyone loves a slushie (especially when it’s spiked with liquor)!
From left to right:
› The slushie goes high concept at Paese Ristorante. For his Inspirato Dal Maestro ($15), Moses McIntee takes gin, Campari, and orange juice, then tops it with Prosecco granita, which he makes by stirring the sparkling wine with liquid nitrogen till it converts to ice. The result is a refreshing cocktail turned swanky ice-cream float. 333 King St. W., 416-599-6585.
› For the total bargain price of $6.50, Disgraceland will add a rail shot to one of the 10 flavours of slushie that come out of its old-fashioned double-chambered machine (just like the kind that sat on the counter at Mac’s Milk back in the 1980s). Wildly popular in the summer, the machine is constantly pumping out strawberry-vanilla-bourbon, bubblegum–spiced rum, and blue raspberry–vodka for those who no longer care about sporting a cobalt tongue. 965 Bloor St. W., 647-347-5263.
› “This is the summer of the Slurpee!” says The Miller Tavern’s Rob Montgomery, who, in case it isn’t obvious, is super stoked about his brand-new ice-machine toy. For years, he’s been looking for a convenient way to meld his childhood excitement over the ice-cream truck’s arrival with his adult love of Campari. Now, he’s able to get ice that comes out like snow, to which he adds gin, vermouth, and the bitter Italian digestif for a Slushy Negroni ($9). “Dead easy!” he crows. 3885 Yonge St., 416-322-5544.
› Every Saturday and Sunday at the Evergreen Brick Works, a kind of choose-your-own-boozy-adventure happens on Cafe Belong’s patio. A rotating selection of flavours are available for spiked sno-cones, which bar manager Renata Clingen puts together with the help of drinks caterer Tipicular Fixin’s. Popular combos include the gin–pink lemonade, rum-mojito, and spiced rum–banana bread. The price fluctuates depending on the liquor of choice, but it usually works out to about $10. 550 Bayview Ave., 416-901-8234.
› Matt Dean Pettit, Rock Lobster Food Co. owner and one of the first to adopt wine-on-tap, refused to open the doors of his new Queen Street location without first getting a slushie machine for his Tromba-Granita ($10). Imagine a margarita, but then imagine that margarita completely transformed by uniform crushed ice, rich, barrel-aged tequila, orange bitters, and agave syrup. Pay a buck more to add a shot of cassis for extra fruit flavour (and the pretty colour). 538 Queen St. W., 416-203-6623.
26-32. Because bartenders want to bust out their favourite toys
Bartender photos: Shlomi Amiga/The Grid
John McDonald, Oddseoul
“I just got a big, bad-ass new juicer. We squeeze all our juice fresh every day and we used to have a hand-juicer, but it was so tedious that it added too much time to prep.”
Josh Lindley, Bar Isabel
“I might be the only person in the city who uses steel straws on a regular basis. I keep one with me all the time to taste cocktails. I get annoyed when I see people go through a box of plastic straws that you can’t use again.”
Sandy De Almeida, Churchill
“The Awesome Note app is my most valuable tool. You input a recipe and can search by bartender or ingredient—like everything made with orgeat. Some people have little notebooks behind the bar, but that’s so archaic.”
Megan Jones, Reposado Tequila Bar
“I used to use a heavy Boston Shaker—all glass and tin—which was great for shaping my arms. But we do so many margaritas that the metal tins of my weighted shaker, which are lighter, let me pump out drinks.”
Aja Sax, The Emerson
“I do love my specific jigger. It’s not one of the fancy triangular ones—just a cylinder with one ounce on one side and two on the other—but I don’t get the splash back like I do with some others.”
Frankie Solarik, BarChef
“I couldn’t get through a shift without agar agar [a gelatin-like substance that is vegetarian friendly]. It’s just got so many uses, but the thing I like best is using it for a violet gelée, which I use for a plated Aviation.”
Benjamin Deacon, Momofuku Nikai
“I use chopsticks to stir every single drink. We didn’t like the clink, clink, clink of the metal bar spoon against the mixing glass, so we use the quieter wooden chopsticks instead. And it fits with the Momofuku theme.”
33. …And because you need a sweet new bar tool, too
After years of drooling over hard-to-get Japanese bar items, BYOB brought the hardware to Hogtown. Watch your guests turn green with envy (while simultaneously getting red-faced with drink) by making use of Yarai mixing glasses ($49), tear-drop bar spoons ($35), tall, elegant jiggers ($17), and silver-plated fine strainers ($29). You may also want to pick up a copy of Cocktail Techniques by Kazuo Uyeda ($30), so you can speak to your tools in their native tongue, and maybe even learn how to do the Japanese hard shake at home. (Just kidding, we’ll show you how to do that in item #68 below.)
BYOB Cocktail Emporium, 972 Queen St. W., 416-858-2932.
34. Because hard liquor now grows close to home
For ages, the 100-mile drinking diet (or binge) has been impossible in Toronto. Sure, we had whiskey—thanks, Forty Creek and Still Waters—but what about the other food groups? That changed this past December, when Geoff Dillon opened the doors to his Beamsville, Ont., distillery and started selling white rye, gin, and vodka to thirsty locals. Now the rye is in the LCBO and the whole roster of liquor has converted bartenders from The County General to La Carnita to Momofuku.“The products are exceptional—so friendly to cocktails,” says Jonathan Gonsenhauser, beverage director at Momofuku, who praises Dillon’s light, sweet, and versatile flavour profiles. “And I would rather use it over a big brand, because it’s in our backyard.”
Originally trained as a chemist, Dillon makes both his vodka and gin from Niagara grapes, giving them a rich taste and mouth-feel. “I was into beer-making and wine-making, but spirits always seemed like the Holy Grail to me,” he says. And with its pretty apothecary-meets-soda-shoppe bottles, that Holy Grail is a beaut.
› Dillon’s Distillers, 4833 Tufford Rd., Beamsville, Ont. A website for ordering will be up soon; forthcoming products include a rose gin and an absinthe.
35-42. Because shrubs were the new bitters, and now in-house sodas are the new shrubs
You won’t find any 0from-the-gun cola at cocktail bars in Toronto—bartenders here have embraced making their sodas in-house. It’s not exactly a revival of some pre-Prohibition technique; if anything, it has roots in the early-20th-century soda shoppe, designed as an alternative to the American saloon. But if you’re looking for a far less sickly sweet version of fountain cola (with the added bonus of booze), head to Farmhouse Tavern, where Will Larkin mixes his syrup with carbonated water and Newfoundland screech for a crisp and lightly citrusy rum and coke ($8).
For The Whippoorwill’s Moscow Mule ($14), Charlie Lamont makes his own kick-ass ginger beer by combining sugar, ginger, and lime and carbonating it in a stainless-steel siphon. He may have picked up the trick while at BarChef, which uses the same technique to make the sparkling rum-and-ginger Jimmy Cliff punch ($50 for four to six; $90 for seven to 10).
House-made tonic is everywhere, including The Oxley’s G+T ($12), The County General’s Gin & Tonic ($12), and Bar Isabel’s Gin Proper ($10). Depending on the amount of cinchona bark (the Peruvian tree that gave us quinine), the tonic can range in colour from straw-tinged to muddy brown.
At Hawthorne Food and Drink, there’s a daily in-house soda ($3)—lemon-lime ginger one day, tangerine–pink grapefruit another—which patrons often spike with a shot of booze. Finally, over at The Harbord Room, Dave Mitton has perfected a spicy root beer. And once you’ve whipped up your own root beer, what’s the next thing you do? Add bourbon and house-made vanilla ice cream for a boozy Root Beer Float ($14), of course.
› Farmhouse Tavern, 1627 Dupont St., 416-561-9114.› The Whippoorwill Restaurant and Tavern, 1285 Bloor St. W., 416-530-2999.› BarChef, 472 Queen St. W., 416-868-4800.› The Oxley Public House, 121 Yorkville Ave., 647-348-1300.› The County General, 936 Queen St. W., 416-531-444. › Bar Isabel, 797 College St., 416-532-2222.› Hawthorne Food and Drink, 60 Richmond St. E., 647-930-9517.› The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord Street, 416-962-8989.
43-51. Because herbs are for drinking
The County General’s Rooster Cogburn ($14) is a dressed-up bourbon mule with lemon, apple-cinnamon bitters, and ginger beer, plus a little mint to cool down that hot, spicy goodness a degree or two. 936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447.
A spicy rye cocktail rescued from the brink of unseasonality with blackberry and fresh mint, The Drake Hotel’s Black + Tan ($13) is dangerously easy to put back fast. 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.
Momofuku Nikai’s French Open ($11) uses yuzu to liven up gin, then throws in green chartreuse to put the yuzu back in its place. So how to keep the pungent chartreuse from taking over? The thyme will take care of that. Sheesh, you practically need a scorekeeper for all this back and forth. 190 University Ave., 2nd floor, 647-253-8000.
Northwood’s No. 8 Dark as Night, Sweet as Sin ($10) sounds more dramatic than your average Pimm’s Cup. Added to gin, the sage-agave syrup offers more woodsy bitterness than your average Pimm’s Cup, too. 815 Bloor St. W., 416-846-8324.
A little citrus, a sprinkle of herbes de Provence, and the seductive, smoky scent of a single floating sage leaf help soften Reposado’s Chanel #7 ($10), which is otherwise pretty much straight-up one-and-a-half ounces of tequila. 136 Ossington Ave., 416-532-6474.
Ursa’s perfect summer cooler is the Cilantro Flower Smash ($12), where gin, simple syrup, citrus, and foraged cilantro flowers create an altogether zesty drink. 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963.
The Emerson’s Caribbean Queen ($10) isn’t your typical rum cooler. Rosemary lends a slight savoury tinge to sweet rum but, since it’s in a syrup, doesn’t overwhelm the zesty drink. 1279 Bloor St. W., 416-532-1717.
The Mexico City Hangover ($15) at The Beaconsfield offers three takes on agave: syrup, mescal, and tequila. But the addition of the slightly peppery basil gives a little lift to the heavy, earthy booze. 1154 Queen St. W., 416-516-2550.
SpiritHouse’s Cucumber Basil Smash ($13) is based on a classic formula for refreshment: Smash up an herb with gin and juice. In this case, they’ve chosen basil and added English cucumber to make the drink extra crisp and cool. 487 Adelaide St. W., 647-277-1187.
52. Because you’re not drinking alone
When a really good regular or visiting bartender sidles up to the bar, they want more than a drink for themselves. Most of the time, they’re looking to bend elbows with the bartender, too. It’s not out of the question; in fact, drinking on the job is part of the culture and just about everyone does it. Even Dave Mitton, co-owner of The Harbord Room and THR & Co.
“We have a lot of regulars who bring their own wine, so you get glasses sent to you by people who want you to try it,” he says. “Which is not a bad thing.” But between the wine tastings and the shots and the occasional cocktail, the booze can start to add up. “A perfect example is when Lauren Mote [a guest bartender from Vancouver] was here and all these bartenders were coming in to see her—on my birthday,” Mitton recalls. “Everyone wanted to buy us a shot. At some point you just have to say no, or you’d have drunk two bottles of Jameson.”
But if you want to stay polite while combating this occupational hazard, the key is some good ol’ sleight of hand. Mitton has mastered the art of taking really small pours of the wine he’s offered. And when it comes to shots, he’ll usually give himself a short one—a half or even a quarter shot—which he says patrons almost never notice. Probably because they’re too drunk.
› The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord St., 416-962-8989.
53-58. Because nothing cures a hangover like more booze
A hangover in the winter is one thing. But suffering through a hangover in the sweltering heat is an entirely separate kind of hell. Fortunately, there are hair-of-the-dog cures across Toronto that go beyond the Bloody Caesar.
For the most manageable of hangovers—the weekend morning kind—head over to the Hoof Café, where Jen Agg’s Brunch Punch ($16 for two: you and your boozy co-conspirator) is billed as a “refreshing way to say ‘bye-bye, hangover.’” Says Agg, “Don’t stay in bed. I think it’s important not to give in.”
Let’s say you got a little crazy on a school night, and now there’s work to be done. Drop by The Saint Tavern, where bar manager Adam Graham will prescribe his Chanel’s Cure ($10). Invented for Cold Tea bartender Chanel Wood, who needed to recover from the previous night—and fast—before a family function, it’s got plenty of restorative gin, pineapple juice and grapefruit for vitamin C, and a hit of rhubarb bitters to boost energy.
You shouldn’t skip the most important meal of the day, but you might, under these circumstances, want to drink it. Happily, Rock Lobster Food Co. offers the Breakfast of Champions ($10), which involves (wait for it) Froot Loop–infused vodka, cereal-infused milk, and chocolate bitters. “It tastes just like the milk left over at the bottom of the bowl,” says creator Robin James Wynne.
Some hangovers seem fatal when you first open your eyes, but mercifully dissipate as the day goes on. Encourage things to move along at Brassaii, with Jonny Gray’s cherry-almond-cucumber-mint–coconut water cocktail, Take That Beaches ($16). “This has coconut water, which they say is great for a hangover because it’ll hydrate you more than water,” he explains. “I don’t know how something can rehydrate you more than water, but whatever.”
Then there are the hangovers that only manage to get more brutal. Inspired by that—and by a bit of Glaswegian slang—Oddseoul’s John MacDonald invented a scotch, grapefruit juice, and breakfast-tea concoction called the False Dawn ($11). “It refers to when one wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and feels great,” he says. “Yet as the day goes on and the hangover sets in, you realize it was a ‘false dawn.’”
But for the total write-off hangover, you’re going to want an alcoholic juice cleanse courtesy of Keriwa Café’s Alyssa Luckhurst. She recommends her Sea Buckthorn Margarita ($13) for the antioxidant properties of sea buckthorn and the bite of the tequila. “I like something so strong that it makes me feel like I can see through time. This is strong enough to knock out the hangover.” Now get yourself a glass of water and go back to bed.
› Hoof Café, 926 Dundas St. W., 647-346-9356. › The Saint Tavern, 227 Ossington Ave., 647-350-2100.› Rock Lobster Food Co., 538 Queen St. W., 416-203-6623.› Brassaii, 461 King St. W., 416-598-4730.› Oddseoul, 90 Ossington Ave., @TO_ODDSEOULS. ›Keriwa Café, 1690 Queen St. W., 416-533-2552.
59-63. Because you can soak up all that booze with these awesome bar snacks
Clockwise from top left:
Ceviche cones at Marben
Mexican flavours meet Japanese execution in these crunchy handrolls. Rob Bragagnolo bakes and flash-fries small corn tortilla funnels (done using an ice-cream cone mould). He then loads them up with house-made guacamole and chunks of fresh rainbow trout from Kolapore Springs, which have been lightly marinated in lime juice with jalapeños, radishes, and cilantro. The whole thing is topped with dots of colourful flying-fish roe, small pearls of tart finger lime, and a dash of tequila, because you haven’t been drinking nearly enough.
$14 for three. 488 Wellington St. W., 416-979-1990.
Croquetas at Valdez
The menu at King West’s new Latin American restaurant is stacked with bar snacks that help mitigate the boozy damage—perhaps none better than the croquetas. These small deep-fried treats are stuffed with pulled chicken, saffron-infused rice, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and onions, then breaded in panko. Served with a spicy homemade chipotle aioli, this is chef Steve Gonzalez’s handheld take on the classic Latin American dish arroz con pollo.
$6. 606 King St. W., 416-363-8388.
Devilled eggs at Churchill
About a month ago, The Grove’s Ben Heaton was asked to redesign the food at cocktail bar Churchill. (It clearly pays to have one of the city’s best chefs as a neighbour.) A recurring fave on the constantly changing menu, these devilled eggs are like breakfast in two-bite form: Soft-boiled egg-white bases are crowned with a creamy yolk-and-mayo mix, some sweet-and-salty bacon jelly, and a fresh green garnish.
$4 for three. 1212 Dundas St. W., 416-588-4900.
Grilled octopus at Yours Truly
For the restaurant’s new late-night food menu, Lachlan Culjak created dishes to complement the ambitious cocktail list. The grilled octopus, sourced weekly from the west coast (it’s actually a by-product of the halibut catch), is cooked sous vide overnight at exactly 77 degrees Celsius with a mix of garlic, bay leaves, Maldon salt, and red-wine vinegar. When an order is placed, the tentacles are slightly charred on the grill and topped with a chorizo powder to give the plate some kick.
$4. 229 Ossington Ave., 416-533-2243.
Chicken chicarons at Lamesa filipino kitchen
A riff on a popular Filipino snack typically made from pork rinds, these chicarons are done using chicken skin, but still retain the requisite great-with-beer quality. Rudy Boquila bakes the raw skin on low for three hours before popping the pieces in the deep fryer to make them puffy and brittle. The dish is drizzled with a syrupy adobo gastrique and served with a side of spicy vinegar to balance out the richness.
$3. 669 Queen St. W., 647-346-2377.
64-67. Because smoking isn’t that bad for you
Five years ago, BarChef’s Frankie Solarik introduced his famous $45 vanilla hickory-smoked Manhattan; now the city is starting to catch up. Who doesn’t like to play with fire?
From left to right:
The Log Cabin ($12) at The Comrade is made with double-smoked bacon–infused rye, maple syrup, dry vermouth, bitters, and orange peel. Sure, pundits say the bacon bubble will inevitably burst, but for now, just enjoy this Manhattan-esque cocktail that looks dry and sophisticated but tastes like a hearty breakfast. 758 Queen St. E., 416-778-9449.
For Bar Isabel’s savoury-sweet Baraganna ($15), barman Michael Webster blackens pineapple on the grill, then steeps it in a batch of tequila. The drink is rounded out with a dry, smoky sage simple syrup for a sweet and punchy cocktail. 797 College St., 416-532-2222.
The Everleigh proves its Canadian mettle by throwing maple chips under a cloche to smoke the Snowbird’s Old Fashioned ($20). The drink was already a bit of a smouldering bomb, thanks to the inclusion of Ardbeg Irish Single Malt, that notoriously smoky Scotch whisky. But if barbecues have taught us anything, it’s that an overload of smoke works just fine in the summer season. 580 King St. W., 416-368-0014.
Tequila and mezcal together might sound like agave overkill, but mezcal is much smokier than the better-known Mexican export and provides the inspiration for Weslodge Saloon’s Smoking Poncho ($19). The restaurant describes this charred maple wood, chocolate bitters, tequila, and mezcal concoction as a “lingering campfire,” and that about sums it up for us. 480 King St. W., 416-274-8766.
68. Because you’ve mastered the hard shake
A technique called the Japanese hard shake—invented by legendary Tokyo bartender Kazuo Uyeda, and practiced by Atsushi Suzuki at Parkdale’s Kanji—involves a whole lot of thrusting. Apparently, all that agitation gets a bunch of air into the cocktail, making its flavours rounder. Here’s how to do it.
Step one: Hold a cocktail-filled shaker out from the left side of the middle of your chest.
Step two: Clasp top of shaker with right hand and shake out from body—hard.
Step three: Mid-shake, snap right wrist, so that the cocktail shaker moves out from your body and to the right at a 45-degree angle.
Step four: Bring shaker back, raise it higher up on your chest, then repeat steps two and three.
Step five: Bring shaker back again, raise to your breast bone, then shake some more.
Step six: Lower to initial position and repeat all three elevations—vigorously.
Step seven: If the shaker is now uncomfortably cold to the touch, the drink should be ready.
Step eight: Consider buying a blender instead.
› Kanji, 1346 Queen St. W., 416-536-8448.
69. Because Miami Beach has come to the Portlands
If you demand a preposterous amount of skin with your icy beverage, you’re in luck: Cabana Pool Bar—a 50,000-square-foot shrine to summertime debauchery—just opened at Polson Pier. We break down some numbers, because math is tricky when you’re drunk or distracted by crazy-hard bodies.
11 Polson Pier, cabanapoolbar.com. $10 cover ($20 on Sundays), plus an extra $20 for pool access.
70. Because size doesn’t (entirely) matter
With just two small shelves of space at 416 Snack Bar, there’s no room for bad bottles, which means co-owner Adrian Ravinsky needs to choose wisely.
1. “The 15-year-old Nikka Whiskey Single Malt Miyagikyo is something of a novelty. Scotch drinkers like the idea of trying a Japanese single malt, since it’s exquisitely made,” Ravinksy says.
2. “When I worked at a bar on St. Clair, the bottle of Amaro Nonino sat in the back corner of the fridge for the whole 10 years I was there. But we use it in the Paper Plane”—a dry-as-dust bourbon cocktail created at New York’s Milk and Honey—“which we sell by the boatload. Straight up, [Amaro is also] a classic after-dinner drink.”
3. “I wanted to have some good ports and sherries to serve with cheese plates,” he says. “El Maestro Sierra sherry goes perfectly with
a creamy, stinky cheese.”
4. “Locke’s eight-year-old Single Malt Irish Whisky is a little oddity that we got as an alternative to the insanely popular Jameson’s. It’s more refined and good for sipping.”
5. “Aside from the fact that we love to support local and Tequila Tromba is partly Canadian-owned, it’s an exceptionally good quality, great-value tequila.” 416 offers a house-made “verdita chaser” of chili, lime, pineapple, mint, and cilantro, and according to Ravinsky, “the green stuff sells the tequila.”
6. “We picked the Baron Otard Cognac because it’s really big value. People come in asking for another, more expensive cognac, but we give them this instead and they always really like it.”
7. Ravinsky calls the twin bottles of Brancamenta and Fernet-Branca a “bartender’s delight.” At 416, they play on the Black Bird (a shot of Wild Turkey and Amaro) by swapping in Brancamenta for the liqueur. “It’s kind of a ballsier version,” he says. Fernet is more of an acquired taste, but once you learn to like it, you’ll never have Jäger again.
8. “It hurts me a little bit when people want Carpano Antica Formula vermouth in a cocktail, because it’s so great on its own—like Christmas in a bottle.”
9. “Booker’s Kentucky Straight is a real bourbon drinker’s bourbon: dark and mysterious, with a nice throat burn.”
416 Snack Bar, 181 Bathurst St., 416-364-9320.
71-86. Because you can spin the wheel for a gin drink to suit your taste buds
87-90. …And because the LCBO is upping its gin game, too
It’s hot out. And sometimes, that means guzzling gin in your ice-cold bathtub, not hopping on a sweaty streetcar to go out for a drink. Happily, there are four fancy new gins available at the LCBO to add to your collection of standards like Victory and Hendrick’s.
› Hayman’s 1850 Reserve Gin, $43.75
This has been rested in American oak casks, which gives the spirit slightly softer, woodier tones than most gins.
› Bruichladdich The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, $44.65
The Botanist is an oily, botanical-heavy Scottish gin. It’s popped up at LCBOs before, but is back by popular demand for a limited summer run.
› Loyalist Gin, $43.65
66 Gilead Distillery is a local hero, and not only is its gin the first from Prince Edward County, it’s also made from potatoes—resulting in a smoother, fuller sip than the grain-based stuff.
› Sipsmith Independent Spirits London Dry Gin, $45.15
Here in limited quantities and for a limited time, this is our pick for best gin—maybe ever. Smooth, light, and citrusy, it’s everything a gin should be.
91-92. Because a pair of cocktail ingredients have risen from the dead
It’s a common fate in our cocktail world: A travelling Toronto bartender will hear of a peculiar drink in another town and want to recreate it at home—only to find he can’t get a crucial ingredient here. For Ursa’s Robin Goodfellow, the missing link was Amer Picon, a bitter orange French digestif needed for an early-20th-century cocktail called the Brooklyn. And getting his hands on the right stuff was a pain twice over: It’s hard to find in North America, and even if he could track down a bottle, Amer Picon is now sold in a watered-down format. Of course, that was no match for the hyper-determined Goodfellow.
“I waited for months until January for the Seville oranges to come in,” he says. “When they did, I spent five hours zesting and dehydrating them, then added Amaro, orange bitters, and water.” Goodfellow followed the Amer Picon recipe invented a half-dozen years ago in Seattle (to deal with their own shortage), but threw in a little caramelized simple syrup to shore up the caramel flavour he detected in a sample of the weak, modern digestif smuggled in from England.
Once ready, the Seville-orange Amer Picon was combined with rye, dry vermouth, and maraschino liqueur for The Shaw ($15), Goodfellow’s rich, spicy, and slightly sweet Toronto take on the Brooklyn. We can never know if it’s a perfect reproduction, but if he’s wrong, at least he’s deliciously wrong.
A stone’s throw northeast, over at the Cocktail Bar, Jen Agg found herself intrigued by Kina Lillet, a defunct French aperitif wine best known for its presence in the Vesper, that cocktail invented by Bond, James Bond. Inspired by 2006’s revamped Casino Royale, Toronto bar menus began to sport the Vesper, despite the fact that, if carried out to Bond’s instructions—three parts gin, one part vodka, a half-part Lillet—the drink is putrid.
But was the problem the cocktail blueprint? Or the fact that everyone used the dry, orangey modern Lillet Blanc, not the original Kina, which is spicier and packs a wallop of bitter quinine? Discontinued in the 1980s, Kina was replaced by the milquetoast Lillet Blanc, which was thought to pair better with puffy hair, pastel colours, and the musical stylings of Duran Duran. Thanks to Agg’s experiments, we now know for sure: Everything’s wrong. Both the recipe and the missing ingredient.
“I didn’t make the Kina Lillet just for the Vesper,” she says. “I wanted to see what it would taste like, and it tastes awesome—nicely bitter, almost like Brio, with floral notes. I also reversed the proportions for the cocktail—three parts vodka, one part gin, and a half-part Kina—and it’s a great drink. The Lillet Blanc just doesn’t have the necessary punch.”
The revelatory, reclaimed Vesper ($16) is on Agg’s “secret vodka menu” at her Cocktail Bar, and can only be accessed by the clued-in, which now includes you. At present, said secret menu consists entirely of the Vesper. Agg doesn’t much like vodka.
› Ursa, 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963.
› Cocktail Bar, 923 Dundas St. W., 416-792-7511.