After five years teaching mixology at the Toronto Institute of Bartending, SpiritHouse’s Brad Gubbins is back behind the bar, dropping wisdom on customers and colleagues alike.
Cocktail: Seville Orange Sour
$13 at SpiritHouse (487 Adelaide St. W.)
Brad Gubbins is proof that sometimes, those who teach can also do.
After six years of schooling protégés on how to shake and when to stir at the Toronto Institute of Bartending, Gubbins signed off on teaching this spring and stepped up as head bartender for the school’s new venture, SpiritHouse. (Located in the same building, the bar and school are jointly owned, but independently operated.)
The 34-year-old’s experience shows in one of the city’s most ambitious cocktail menus, featuring original creations like Gubbins’ Seville Orange Sour. “I wanted it to be just like biting into an orange,” explains Gubbins. “After you tear the skin off with your teeth, you taste the bitter rind, then the sweetness of the juice and, finally, a little hint of sour.”
The drink manages to replicate that experience, and in the intended order, with a slightly dry, tannic finish that compensates for the sweetness. It’s a little bit like a sophisticated Orange Julius.
Sophistication is something that Gubbins found lacking on Toronto’s cocktail scene in 2007, when he came home after working in London, England. There, the drinks were ahead of the curve, and Gubbins was underwhelmed by Canadian offerings—which is how he got into the teaching game to begin with.
“A friend of mine said I was always busting people’s balls about not making drinks properly,” he recalls. “So when he saw an ad for a bartending instructor, he dared me to put my money where my mouth was.”
Although Gubbins doesn’t officially teach anymore, he mentors younger bar staff, giving them on-the-job training and homework every week—mostly researching liquors and new products.
“Sometimes I feel a little envious of the people starting out bartending these days,” he says. “Given the range of products available and the higher base level of cocktail knowledge in the city, you know the crop of people you’re training is will surpass you.”
Still, some things can’t be learned in a classroom, like the difference between mixing drinks and rocking them out to a packed room all night. “It’s not enough to be a great mixologist,” Gubbins says. “You have to be a great bartender, too.”
Brad Gubbins’ Seville Orange Sour:
Cachaça + Campari + Seville orange sorbet + lemon juice + simple syrup + egg white + Angostura orange bitters