Posts Tagged ‘spirits

Sandstone Lounge putting the twist on classic cocktails

- May 22nd, 2013

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.

Hey Bartender takes a look inside the world of the mixologist

- May 22nd, 2013

OK, I hate the word mixologist, but one thing I’ve learned working at the Sun is never repeat words in headlines if you can.

It looks terrible.

Newspaper nerdery aside, Hey Bartender is a new documentary that looks at the world of bartending in the age of the craft cocktail.

Calgary’s cocktail scene is exploding, with restaurants and bars alike paying more attention than ever to creativity in a Collins glass. Stay tuned for further posts on that in the coming weeks, but for now, take a look at the trailer for Hey Bartender, which looks at life behind the bar.

And be sure to have a peek at the trailer for the doc Somm, about the upper echelon of wine experts.

All the best boozy events

- February 25th, 2013

Giving something new a try — looking to keep a running calendar of events embedded in all of our posts here on the blog.

If you have an event you think we should know about, email me dave.breakenridge@sunmedia.ca

Mmmmm….Bacon vodka. Wait, what?!

- October 17th, 2012

bakon_bottle_mary_small
Who doesn’t love bacon?

In principle, that’s a hard bit of logic with which to find fault.

But even as a self-professed bacon aficionado, I struggled with the idea of the new bacon-infused offering that made its appearance at the Calgary Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, which ran Oct. 12 – 13.

Bakon Vodka, courtesy of Seattle-based Black Rock Spirits, quite genuinely tastes like bacon.

At the suggestion of Black Rock’s vendors, I opted for their signature recipe with the meaty libation — a Bacon Caesar.

It was certainly … baconey.

While concoction has earned rave reviews, including a gold medal and a 92-point score by the Beverage Testing Institute’s International Review of Spirits in 2010, I found it difficult to enjoy the drink with the overwhelming, smokey taste on my palate.

Of course we live in an age in which bacon has invaded pastry, condiments, ice cream, and now booze.

But, it is worth a try.

The flavour is most definitely spot on. And if you’re a caesar fan, it gives the famed cocktail an extra meaty kick.

It’s available at several liquor stores in Calgary

Belvedere raising the premium on premium vodka

- September 22nd, 2012

You are not going to catch this guy spending a lot of time sipping on Cosmos or vodka-tonics, or knocking back shots Stolli.

I may have enjoyed a paralyzer or two when I was a young man, but as I’m no longer looking for a sprint to inebriation, generally speaking, I wouldn’t mind finding beer, wine and spirits I can enjoy.

Like Scotch. Or new beer being produced in Alberta and Western Canada.

But give me a vodka that doesn’t taste solely like ethanol and I tend to take notice.

So I was pleasantly surprised with the creamy vanilla notes hitting my palate at a recent tasting of the Belevedere Pure, at new Mission eatery Candela Lounge.

Belvedere, a quadruple-distilled, rye-based spirit, is positioning itself as the premium vodka on the market, and while I’m not what you’d call a vodka expert, taste says a lot.

Offering a base spirit that is more than just neutral, that would add character to a cocktail instead of just alcohol, is something I’m sure would appeal to bartenders in some of Calgary’s trendier nightspots.

And a lot of that comes from what it’s made of, Belvedere’s brand ambassador Allison Dedianko told our assembled group.

While most vodkas on the market are primarily wheat-based (not potato, for those who were wondering), Belvedere is 100% rye. The kind bakers use to make bread.

And it adds supple flavour characteristics you don’t get elsewhere.

“In terms of Western styles, I think that’s what differentiates us from others,” she said.

Rye is the predominant grain in vodkas sold in poland, but any grain can be used to make a vodka.

All that matters is that it’s distilled to 96.5% alcohol before being diluted.

Dedianko says it’s the process and production that sets a premium vodka apart in a crowded market for a spirit that sells four times as much as any other.

“You could make vodka with corn in texas and distill it once, and make vodka with rye in Poland and distill it 4 times and call them both vodka, and there’s no possible way they could be the same thing,” she said.

For people who prefer a little more ease when mixing cocktails, Belvedere offers a handful of flavours, but just don’t let Dedianko hear you say ‘flavoured vodka.’

“One thing we really do that’s different than anything else is maceration. We don’t call it flavouring — we cdon’t want to be lumped in with the key lime pies, the fluffed marshmallow and the fruit loop.”

Instead of extracts and essences, Belvedere infuses its flavours with real fruit, such as lemon and lime, pink grapefruit, orange, black raspberry. They also do a Lemon Tea vodka, and a Bloody Mary infusion, all great for making cocktails such as the Belvedere Citrus-rosemary Gimlet or the Pink Grapefruit V & T we were served at Candela.

Obviously, for some people, premium vodka is not what they’re buying all the time when they go out, or for at home, just like I’m not buying the priciest whisky when my stash runs low.

But there is something to be said for spending that extra few bucks for a special occasion, or to make your party cocktails memorable.

The Belvedere Citrus-rosemary Gimlet
1.5 oz. Belvedere Citrus
3/4 oz. rosemary-infused simple syrup (It’s really not that hard. Just add a few sprigs of rosemary while you’re simmering a mixture of equal parts sugar and water.)
3/4 oz. fresh lime jucie
Toss all that into a shaker with ice, give a little shake and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with some more rosemary. Or some lemon.

The Belvedere Pink Grapefruit V&T
Pour 1.5 oz. Pink Grapefruit over ice in a tall glass
Fill with tonic (If you’re looking for something different than the usual offering at the grocery store, look for Fever Tree Tonic Water at specialty stores around town.)
Garnish with a thin wedge of pink grapefruit.
Enjoy!