By Rebecca Davis and Dan Clapson

Being a bartender demands a special personality. The best mixologists in this business are equal parts professional, entertainer and artist. Just like your back-of-the-house counterparts, it’s up to you to deliver well-made libations when the stools lined around your bar are packed with patrons and the ticket printer just won’t stop.

Calgary doesn’t really have a “growing” cocktail culture. These days, it’s pretty damn grown-up and it is a city that’s home to some amazing bartenders, as well as some of the best cocktail spots in this entire country.

On a Friday night, you’ll see Model Citizen packed to the brim while Madeleine MacDonald and her team shake, stir, pour, repeat. Swing by The Derrick on a Thursday and catch Savanna Beach putting the finishing touches on the signature The Last Word, sliding it across her bar with a little smile.

Native Tongues is buzzing on a Saturday night while Samantha Casuga measures out ounces of smoky mezcal to make their mezcalgaritas, the perfect complement to their handmade tortillas and braised octopus.

Downtown, Christina Mah is behind the bar at the space that was formerly known as Home Tasting Room, finalizing her cocktail list for her soon-to-be-open restaurant, Klein & Harris. Have her fresh, citrus and floral-style drinks that she’s known for at Raw Bar followed her here? I guess we’ll find out soon.

These four women are not only award-winning mixologists, but also leaders in their field. Get to know them a little bit here, their insights on being the best bartender you can be, and cheers to them with some cocktail recipes prepared just for us.

Samantha Casuga
Bar Manager, Native Tongues Taqueria

Favourite spirit:
Mezcal por vida, all the way!

Best way to learn to order like an expert:
Ask questions and get to know your bartender.

Best beginner bartender tip:
Reading! Books, magazines and social media streams are great too. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, and it just keeps growing!

Amores Perros
(Translation: Love Is A Bitch)

1½ oz Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
½ oz Liquore Strega
½ oz tamarind chili syrup
¾ oz lime juice
1 oz pineapple juice
1 egg white

Dry shake, wet shake, serve up in a coupe. Garnish with Chile de Arból sprinkle.

 

Madeleine MacDonald
Bar Manager, Model Milk

Favourite spirit:
I have few I tend to gravitate towards! Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Plymouth Gin, Pisco ABA, Cointreau, Bonal Gentiane Quina

Best way to learn to order like an expert:
Going to your favourite cocktail bar and nerding out with the bartender there, because we all love talking spirits.

Best beginner bartender tip:
Most people don’t nail the balance of their drink. It’s a hard thing to teach but once it clicks, it’s there forever. Sweet, salty, bitter, boozy, umami. You have to try and hit every note and even experienced bartenders miss this sometimes too.

Allez-Y
1½ oz Pisco
½ oz Cocchi Rosa
½ oz Cocchi Barolo Chinato
¾ oz lemon
½ oz honey water (combine
honey and water at a 1:1 ratio)
2 dashes rose water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake and strain into a cocktail coupe. Garnish with edible flower.

 

Savanna Beach
Mixologist, The Derrick Gin Mill

Favourite spirit:
Gin. There are so many different flavour profiles; citrus, floral or earthy. You have the options to portray your cocktail for various types of palettes. I think it is the most versatile of all the spirits.

Best way to learn to order like an expert:
We all love talking about our craft. Sit at the wood have a drink and ask your bartender anything you think you want to know. If they don’t know the answer, I can almost guarantee they
will find it out before you are finished. You’ll be an expert in no time!

Best beginner bartender tip:
This makes me think of my friend Adrian Malong. When he first moved to Calgary from Vancouver he would frequent all the cocktail bars and went to the best spirit stores. Eventually (the cocktail community) fell in love with his passion and someone offered him a job!

“Lady With The Lamp”

2 oz Wallflower Gin
1 egg white
¾ oz roasted lemon pepper syrup
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz lime juice
¾ oz cream
4-5 basil leaves
4 drops orange blossom water
4 drops Bittersling Lem-Marrakech Soda

Combine all ingredients into a shaker tin. Wet shake. Strain and the dry shake. Strain into Collins glass. Top with soda and garnish with a toasted rosemary sprig and freshly ground black pepper.

 

Christina Mah
Owner, Klein & Harris
President, Alberta Bartenders Association

Favourite spirit:
Gin has a soft spot in my heart. Every time, I make a cocktail list it is overrun by gin cocktails and I have to redo a few!

Best way to learn to order like an expert:
Pull up a regular seat at a few libation bars in town and get to know your bartenders. Then read and study, googling at least one classic cocktail a night – that’s a good start.

Best beginner bartender tip:
At home, go with trial and error. You can’t believe everything you read, although blogs are a great way to find suggestions of what may work and what to avoid.

Spring Breeze
3 oz Indigo Wind Sparkling Sake
¾ oz Lillet
¼ oz lemon balsamic crema
¼ oz cream soda syrup
2 eye drops of citric acid
5 mint leaves
Lemon peel (for garnish)

Shake all ingredients, excluding sake, vigorously with ice and fine strain into a coupe. Top with sparkling sake and garnish with a fresh mint leaf and lemon peel.

Photography by Ingrid Kuenzel

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