The trend towards locally grown ingredients has extended into the realm of cocktails, with Canadians now talking about “ground-to-glass” when it comes to ingredients. Earlier this year, Joel Carleton of the Manitoba Bartenders Guild spoke with Toronto Sun’s Ling Hui about bartenders growing their own fruits and herbs for tinctures, bitters, extractions and syrups. However, Bar Raval’s award-winning bartender, Robbin Goodfellow — who’s equally enthusiastic about local cocktail ingredients — has some misgivings about the “ground-to-glass” movement.
“Very few bartenders are growing their own herbs, but I strongly commend those who do. We have a big garden offsite for Raval — it’s a big investment and tons of work to keep up with our day-to-day needs because of the large volume we do,” says Goodfellow. “The challenge is fun. Being as sustainable as possible is something I’m extremely passionate about.” Currently, Goodfellow’s favourite ingredient in his garden is cilantro flowers. “They’re beautiful little flowers that look like mini daisies and have a very powerful aroma and flavour,” he explains. “They’re so surprising. I know a lot of people out there don’t like cilantro but our cilantro products are a hit.”
Non-alcoholic ingredients aside, Goodfellow’s current go-to spirits are Amaro liqueurs, Fino sherries and Mezcal — a spirit Goodfellow reports is steadily growing in popularity. All three boast a lower alcohol content than most spirits, which Goodfellow and Carleton cite as a big trend.
Carleton says people want less potent mixes and are therefore looking to wines, aperitifs, sherry, Aperol and Campari, which have a lower alcohol by volume content (ABV) than traditional spirits. “You’re still making a delicious cocktail with fresh ingredients and components, but the overall end-result doesn’t have as much of an impact on the drinker,” says Carlton.
Goodfellow has been a proponent of low-octane cocktails for many years. “Cocktails without base spirits are my personal favourite,” he says. “Fino sours, or Amaro cobblers are so full of flavour and you can have a few without comprising your integrity.” Some of Goodfellow’s latest cocktails include, Ten Lost Years — Amaro Sibilla liqueur, Lot 40 whisky, Lustau Oloroso sherry and Benedictine liqueur ($16); Jacques Fresco — Tio Pepe Fino, Guerra Blanco wine, frankincense, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), lime and mint ($14); and Supernova — Dillon’s Dry Gin 7, Blue Chartreuse liqueur, Tio Pepe Fino, Regan’s Orange bitter and lemon oil ($16).
The next big trend, coined “Instagram-ready” cocktails, is making a significant impact on consumers’ choices. Critics bemoan the assumed superficiality of such trends, arguing that looking good should not trump tasting good, while others see an opportunity to be creative in yet another category. Linwood Essentials, one of Toronto’s most avant-garde post-speakeasies, is embracing “Instagram-ready” mixology. Owner Jake Valianes says the taste of a cocktail is easy to get down, but the eye-appeal is what will separate the best bartenders from the mediocre. Most of Linwood’s offerings are creative works of art that tell a story or a joke. The Single Plum Floating in Perfume Served in a Man’s Hat ($15), for example, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to an episode of The Simpsons. Linwood’s rendition features Fords Gin, Umeshu, plum butter, lemon, dragonfruit hibiscus soda and Dillon’s Absinthe.
Trends aside, Canadian tapsters can expect a bright future for Canadian mixology as the country’s cocktails scene flourishes from its fledgling days to a more mature and vibrant culture.
“The bartending scene was in its infancy when I started,” Goodfellow says. “Now, the community is huge and you see more people learning from one another even if they don’t directly work together. People are loving cocktails more than ever.”
Volume 49, Number 7
Written By Eric Alister