Bartenders Go Local


In today’s growing eco-conscious restaurant scene, the farm-to-table food philosophy is extending its reach beyond the kitchen, as bar managers capitalize on the summer’s bounty to feature farmed and foraged ingredients in regionally inspired bevvies.

“We are very spoiled, because we have a lot of awesome farmers that work with us,” says Gilbert Lemieux, bartender at Montreal’s Toqué Restaurant, which serves a monthly cocktail menu featuring seasonal ingredients. According to the affable mixologist, berries are a popular choice to add a pop of colour and flavour to summer drinks, from purées to garnishes. His favourite summer recipe transforms a traditional blueberry tea by adding fresh blueberry purée to the mix, combined with earl grey tea, house-made tarragon syrup and verjus — an aged vinegar supplied from a local farm — with a blueberry garnish ($13).

At Vancouver’s Keefer Bar, where apothecary-style drinks reign supreme, cocktail creatives take inspiration from the neighbouring Chinatown by infusing Chinese herbs into its drinks. Using foraged licorice root from B.C.’s north shore mountains, bartender Danielle Tatarin makes a spagyric tincture that’s added to her Old China Cocktail. It combines rum, spearmint tea syrup, lime juice and sparkling wine ($11). “It tastes different than a regular, one-dimensional tincture,” explains Tatarin. “It has different levels to it and that adds more body to the cocktail.”

The versatility of farm-fresh ingredients also means restaurant waste can be reduced by transforming leftover herbs and veggies that don’t make it onto the plate into a thoughtful, artistic drink. At Toronto’s Ursa, where upscale dining meets with better-for-you ingredients, Robin Goodfellow, the GM who heads up the cocktail program, mixes fresh, leftover herbs with ice. “My favourite one by far was the cilantro flower smash,” he says, of the drink, which featured gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and Strega liqueur, garnished with a cilantro flower ($11). “People love cilantro or they hate it,” adds Tatarin, who infuses the fresh herb with gin to make a drink that isn’t as cilantro-flavoured.

Meanwhile, a Mexican fruit-water trend is boiling over north of the border. “All we do is slice up fruit, add a little bit of sugar, lightly press it and then add water. That goes into a drink called Agua Loca; it’s basically [a combination of] mezcal and fruit water, and it’s a popular drink in Mexico,” says Tatarin. Keefer Bar’s version (pictured, left) combines mandarin fruit water, Fidencio Clasico Joven mezcal and Sal de Chapulin ($11).

“Summer is a time to add a little bit more juice and pizzazz to the drink,” adds Ursa’s Goodfellow. “My new project for the last two to three months is fermenting grapefruit juice to create a homemade grapefruit wine, and we’re going to charge it in a CO² canister so that it sparkles.” When it’s ready, he plans to add it to a Mexican-style Paloma tequila cocktail.

But, whatever the drink, imbibers should know what they’re sipping. “I prefer to name the ingredients and say where they are from, rather than [naming the cocktail],” says Toqué’s Lemieux. “They are the beginning of everything at the restaurant.”

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