Now that we’re finally approaching summer (and here’s hoping Calgary avoids the usual June monsoon), we can start thinking patio.
I know for many of you, patio means pitchers of beer. But a man cannot live on beer alone.
As I learned in my youth, spending many a hot afternoon on the rooftop patio at Edmonton’s Black Dog Freehouse sipping Bombay gin and tonic, there’s nothing more refreshing than fine spirits and crisp flavours, over ice.
I know a good cocktail can be a pain. Getting quality ingredients, and preparing them in the proper fashion is work. Muddling, mixing, sugaring, stirring, shaking. It’s a chore. But there is quite the art to making a great mojito or margarita from scratch, and it’s way better than the lime-ish slush you get at a lot of restaurants.
But that fresh, from-scratch approach is cropping up on patios this summer.
Cameron Bogue, beverage director for Earl’s Restaurants, told me he wanted to bring a “simple and fresh” approach to the company’s cocktail program.
“The prime reason for me to work for Earl’s was a fresh-made drinks program,” he said.
The company already promotes the same philosophy in their kitchens, so he “knew he’d be able to execute and in-house bar program as well.”
While the bartenders may not have enjoyed the new workload, with syrups made in-house and lemons and limes juiced daily, Bogue said they were on board with his philosophy of what makes a great cocktail: “good base spirit, something sweet, something sour and something unique.”
And it’s hard to argue when you taste what’s on offer, like the pineapple and ginger margarita. It’s a combination you wouldn’t expect, El Jimador tequila, lime, ginger simple syrup and muddled fresh pineapple, and it comes with a kick in the form of a sugar/salt/cayenne-rimmed glass. I had a chance to make a home version of the drink, pictured above, and while it was more work than I’d like to take on regularly, I’d happily order it while enjoying a sun-baked Calgary afternoon. It is all the things Bogue wants in a good cocktail. And it tastes great.
Bogue said he’s pleased with the creative concoctions, including the Honey Badger, the Earls take on a whiskey sour made with Jack Daniels, house made honey syrup, apple juice and fresh squeezed lemon juice; and the Plan B, a gin-based cocktail based on an entry in a chain-wide staff contest, which features Bombay Sapphire gin, blueberry puree, fresh basil, house made simple syrup and fresh squeezed lemon juice.
A full list of delicious bevvies can be found on Earls’ website, or at a location near you.
Meanwhile, over at Cactus Club Cafe, they launched their 98 Days of Summer with a trio of seasonal specialty drinks. From May 27 to Sept. 3, the chain is running a list of 17 different weekly drink specials, but it’s the trio of summer-only libations that catches the attention.
There’s the Watermelon Margarita, made with Cuervo Gold tequila, fresh squeezed watermelon juice and lemon. The Sunset Soda, a vodka and soda topped with a splash of peach bellini. But tops on my “want to try” list is their spin on a Gin N’ Juice (for all you Snoop Dogg fans out there) — a gin and tonic with a splash of grapefruit juice.
If that doesn’t whet your whistle, I’m not sure what would.
Cheers, and try not to get a sunburn.