As I mentioned in a previous post, Calgary’s cocktail scene feels like it’s really taking off this year.
As our restaurants and lounges up the creativity and quality in their food, the bar menu has to keep pace.
And it’s not just the independent originals in Calgary who are upping their game behind the bar. Chain restaurants like Earls have undertaken a revamp of the cocktails menu, and others are jumping into the mix.
The Sandstone Lounge is one of them. The first time I walked past the Sandstone lounge, I didn’t give it much of a second glance, thinking it was just your run-of-the-mill hotel bar.
I should have known that a hotel that houses both Thompsons and Catch on its corner of Stephen Avenue would not settle for run-of-the-mill.
But that’s not to say the people behind the bar don’t know how to churn out the classics.
With dark wood and stone, the Sandstone Lounge feels like the perfect environment in which to knock back a couple of Manhattans, or a Tom Collins, or a Margarita. A Mad Men kind of haunt.
If you’re looking for it, they do offer a good spin on the classics though.
They recently launched their Clash off the Classics, giving customers a chance to try some iconic cocktails, but also offering a twist on the original.
They rounded up a handful of seasoned drinkers (aka Journalists), and let us compare and contrast.
Battle 1: Tom Collins vs. Pink Collins
Bombay Sapphire, lemon, simple syrup and soda makes for a cocktail to set your watch by. I would almost take this over my preferred Bombay and tonic. The right mix of sweet, sour and spirit. Meanwhile, the kid in me had his interest piqued with the grenadine in the Pink Collins — #3 Gin, Sour Mix, that delicious deep red syrup and soda.
Winner: The classic Tom Collins. I have a sweet tooth, but when it comes to drinking, I don’t want too much candy in my glass. The Pink Collins looked pretty, and had good play between the sweet grenadine and the sour mix, I found it too sweet for my tastes.
Battle 2: Classic Manhattan vs. Summer Manhattan
I like Bourbon, and I like cocktails made with Bourbon. Or Rye. Or Scotch. I like the deep rich flavours, and seeing what a bartender will use to pair with them. For the Classic Manhattan, the staff at the Sandstone are using Woodford Reserve in the mix, so they’re already off to a good start. Shake with sweet vermouth and Agnoustra bitters, and serve in a martini glass with a cherry. Can’t go wrong.
The twist, the Summer Manhattan serves up a surprising citrus burst that matches better with the woody whiskey than I expected. Using Knob Creek this time (again, a great start), this is shaken with sweet vermouth and orange bitters, then garnished with an orange twist.
Winner: A tie. It is a tough call. The Classic Manhattan has that nice whiskey kick, but the Summer version brings enough new to the table to make it interesting. The consensus among our group was that the Summer version could stand for one or two fewer dashes of the orange bitters, to bring the cocktail into balance. But we loved the addition of the orange to help elevate a classic.
Battle 3: Classic Margarita vs. Cucumber Margarita
Nothing says summer like a great margarita. Good tequila, tart lime, plus a little sweetness and a kiss of salt surely reminds many Calgarians of trips to Mexico. Forget about the slush version, this is the classic tequila cocktail: Patron Reposado, Grand Marnier, lime juice and simple syrup shaken, and strained into a salt-rimmed glass over ice. Salty and earthy, sweet and tangy. What could improve on this classic?
Cucumber, apparently. Had I been told going in I would be enjoying a margarita made with cucumber, I would have laughed. Cucumber is not the first thing I think of when I think of drinking, let alone a margarita. But the combination of the alcohol punch of the tequila with the tang of the sour mix is cooled with the refreshing cucumber.
Winner: Cucumber Margarita. Though I still stand by Classic Tom Collins, this was the surprising winner out of the six. Close enough to the classic to be familiar, but enough of a twist to be interesting, while still being tasty. Not too out there.
Sandstone Lounge Cucumber Margarita
1 1/2 oz. Patron silver
1/2 oz. Triple sec
2 oz. sour mix
6 cucumber slices
1. Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Muddle.
2. Shake. Pour into glass and garnish with a cucumber wheel.
3. Enjoy, preferably in the sun, on a patio.