Many visitors and residents may not realise that Calgary has a growing cocktail culture. New cocktail bars are opening every year, and many award-winning bartenders already call Calgary home. They are the passionate force that drives not only cocktails, but bars here in the city.
Many of these bartenders have competed on an international level with unprecedented talent. With events such as Tales of the Cocktail and Art of the Cocktail, these bartenders have had the opportunity to experience educational seminars about the spirits industry – as well as the incomparable experience of working alongside their peers, who are just as passionate, creative and enthusiastic as they are.
What does this mean for Calgary? Madeleine MacDonald from Model Milk, and Calgary’s Mademoiselle Cointreau champion, describes Calgary’s scene as “Expanding! I’m so thankful to be a part of such a developing industry. More and more people are becoming interested in cocktails. It’s great to be able to educate people and see them enjoy themselves.”
So, what’s around the corner for emerging spirits? Vodka. It seems this neutral, odourless spirit has had a bad rap over the last few years. Once reserved for younger, more “inexperienced” drinkers, more and more producers of premium or ultra-premium vodkas are at the forefront of the cocktail scene. Small batch production, made from specialized, raw ingredients, and exotically sourced water, is the future of vodka.
Herbal and bitter liqueurs are making a comeback. Once deemed a ‘cure-all’, herbal liqueurs can contain as many as 130 different barks, roots, herbs, and botanicals, which historically were used to confer medicinal benefit. Amaro, one of the more popular herbal liqueurs today, is full bodied, medicinal, and delicious, especially after a big meal. MacDonald states her passion for these savoury liqueurs, “they give cocktails such a depth of flavour and add a herbal quality that people may not expect”. Next time you are perched at your favourite bar, ask your bartender to whip you up a creation using any of these savoury liqueurs.
Homemade ingredients are riding a wave of popularity here in Calgary. Since it is still illegal for spirit infusions to be served at licensed establishments in Alberta, bartenders come up with creative solutions. The best way to do this is through the use of shrubs and syrups. Shrubs, in terms of mixed drinks, are acidulated beverages, a way of preserving fruit mixed with sugar, vinegar, and fruit juice/rinds. Shrub cocktails are becoming more popular at home and abroad, as the acidity of the shrub can be an easy replacement for citrus or even bitters.
The concept of making your own syrups is not a new idea, but herbal syrups are gaining popularity. By infusing herbs into syrup, we can extract all that beautiful flavour and infuse our cocktails with it. MacDonald shares that, “As spring draws closer, I always look to seasonal ingredients such as fresh herbs. When the sun is shining I tend to lean towards brighter flavours”. With spring right around the corner perhaps we all could use a little flavour kick?
Calgary’s cocktail scene, compared with the rest of Canada and the world, is in a word: growing. Over the last five years we have seen many developments in Calgary. With the creation of the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, diverse cocktail competitions, and a general enthusiasm for educating at-home bartenders, the only place to go from here is up. It is up to you, the cocktail aficionado, to determine where Calgary’s cocktail scene will go to in the coming years. That people are getting excited about cocktails, going to try new spots, and asking questions, is driving this industry. Over the next five years, Calgary may very well become a cocktail destination.
A born and raised Calgarian, Rebecca’s passion for wine and spirits started early. Originally a sommelier, she instinctively progressed into cocktails. On her days off Rebecca enjoys a classic Old Fashioned.