After making merry throughout the holiday season, you might have found yourself left with odds and ends that made their way onto your holiday to-drink list. What to do with all that left over booze? — Yes, you could stow away those bottles of booze until next year, allowing them to collect dust in some dark corner of your home. And though you’ve made the decision to enjoy them only once a year, assuredly the teenagers of the house will prey upon that beguiling collection of booze in a quest to create some swampy get-drunk-quick cocktail for their friends. Come next year, those bottles will undoubtedly be at half strength given that they’ve been systematically watered down to ensure their theft has gone unnoticed. Or you could experiment now with bitters, syrups, and tonics and give that holiday booze a second life. Who knows, you might wind up creating the next Arnold Palmer!
Here, advice — and recipes — from local cocktail entrepreneurs when it comes to flavour rules for mixing drinks.
Rule # 1: Strong With Subtle
In general, a drink is more than the sum of its parts, which means that the name of the game in making cocktails is balance. The harmony between the bite of the booze and the flavour profiles of the other elements — strong, weak, sour, sweet — is what makes a palate-pleasing cocktail.
Ottawa’s own Dragon’s Den success story, Split Tree Cocktail Company, is evidence that the best method of experimenting with cocktails is taste-testing.
From the outset, Steve Morrier, the so-called chief alchemist (and owner) at Split Tree, was guided by this spirit of experimentation, inviting friends over to try different syrups — a process by which his first product, Tonic No. 3, was developed.
And while Morrier’s guiding philosophy continues to be, “the number one rule is that there are no rules,” he does like to match a strong flavour with something a little subtler. For example, his Ginger Vanilla Syrup pairs the sharpness and heat from the ginger with the softer, sweeter vanilla notes. Ensuring that his products are as versatile as they are tasty, Morrier says this syrup pairs well with everything from gin to rye, bourbon, or vodka.
Rule # 2: Start Simple
It’s a similar story over at Jack’s Soda. Joël Beaupré and Mathieu Guillemette, co-founders of Jack’s Soda, began by making tonic water. Wanting to match the quality of their mixer to the craft gins they were finding on the market, the duo set out on a quest to make their own tonic, using Quebec honey, fresh lemongrass, ginger, lemon juice, lavender, and quinine extracted directly from cinchona bark. That last ingredient is the original antimalarial ingredient in tonic. Because the bark was so bitter, it was sweetened with sugar and diluted with water. From this recipe came the first commercial tonic, which was manufactured in 1858 for consumption, largely in hot tropical areas — in particular by Brits stationed in India, who added gin to the drink.
Beaupré and Guillemette advise experimenting imbibers to start simple with their products — a classic gin and tonic with their signature Jack’s Tonique or a spiced dark and stormy cocktail with their ginger beer, Jack’s Gingembre.
And though the standard cocktail recipes are still their favourite ways to use Jack’s Sodas, Beaupré and Guillemette have enjoyed seeing the inventive ways customers have used their sodas. From hot ciders with their ginger beer to tonic granitas (semi-frozen dessert), the uses go beyond boozy drinks.
Rule # 3: Fine-tune With A Few Drops of Flavour
In fact, Pat Rowan at Really Horrible Enterprises, an Ottawa purveyor of cooking and cocktail bitters, likes to use these bartender products as an extension of her spice rack. Bitters, which are made up of plants, herbs, fruits, and spices steeped in alcohol, should simply be considered “very flavourful extracts” and should not be limited to cocktails, she says. If you’re looking to get more out of bitters than just a dash or two in the occasional drink, Rowan and her partner, Todd Chambers, have lots of ideas. Try a dash of the Aromatic Lemon bitters in your next chicken dish or a couple of drops of the Cherry Vanilla bitters in brownie batter. The nice thing about this science, they point out, is that home cooks and bartenders can uniquely tailor and elevate their creations with a few drops of flavour.
Really Horrible Cherry Vanilla Manhattan
2 oz. rye
¾ oz. Italian red vermouth
2 dashes Cherry Vanilla Bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing tin. Serve neat in a coupe or on ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel.
Split Tree Bourbon Ginger Snap
1½ oz. bourbon
¾ oz. Split Tree Ginger Vanilla Syrup
¼ oz. Split Tree Sour Mix
1 oz. orange juice
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with lemon wedge.
1 oz. white Port
½ oz. gin
¾ oz. Jack’s Tonique
2–3 oz. club soda
Mix all ingredients in a rock glass. Stir well.
Garnish with lemon wedge.