The Vintage Cocktail Project
The cocktail is the thing…
I’m not sure how the hunt for the perfect cocktail became central to our lives, I can think of a dozen events that led us to this road, but somewhere along the way it evolved from a passing fancy to a full-blown passion. I’ve always been fascinated with mixology; it’s the closest thing I can think of to true magic, blending unique components into something transformative. I’ve been making Sangria since I was twelve (for the adults, of course!), and mojitos since I was old enough to procure rum, but it wasn’t until I met D that I became aware of the art of crafting cocktails. In the course of a very short period of time I graduated from blending mango margaritas in my Magic Bullet to tracking down obscure ingredients and making homemade gomme syrup in the quest to recreate all-but-forgotten classic cocktails.
For his part D hadn’t dabbled in mixology. He’d consumed his fair share of libations, we both had, but what D brought to the table was a love of trying new places. D’s as comfortable drinking fifteen-dollar Boulevardiers in high-end hotel bars, as one-dollar PBRs at the local watering hole. Very early in our relationship he took me to the bar at West, a high-end Vancouver restaurant, and if I had to pinpoint the moment of the paradigm shift, that would be it. It wasn’t a classic cocktail that I consumed that night, it was an original libation with a bourbon base, (which in itself was an unusual order for me as I’d sworn off whiskey after an incident years earlier), and an orange blossom foam that looked like whipped cream and tasted like heaven. It was the first bar I’d ever sat at that intimidated me, and I loved it. D drank scotch, as he would for a time yet to come, neither of us aware that we were about to become consumed with cocktail culture.
Over the next few years our interest developed as we continued to try new establishments. We travelled outside of our home city, notably to San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, seeking out the best bars in each metropolis. D is an easygoing guy but he’s insistent about one thing: we must always sit at the bar. At first I found this odd, especially when we were dining, not merely imbibing, but now I can’t imagine sitting at a table. Apart from the camaraderie afforded by your fellow bar mates, it’s the wealth of knowledge offered by the bartender that affirms the bar stool as the only place to sit when cocktailing. The best bartenders are also cocktail historians and the lessons we have received from the likes of Jayson Wilde at Bourbon & Branch, Murray Stenson at Canon, and David Wolowidnyk at West have directly contributed to our interest in cocktail history and the development of this project.
So what are we doing, you ask? Well for almost three years now we have been sipping drinks at the hands of the experts, watching, listening, and learning. We have been taking seminars, collecting books, and hunting down tools. But we have always put ourselves in the hands of the masters. About a month ago I came home from work to find that D had paid a visit to the local bar supply shop, Modern Bartender. On the bookshelf we currently use as a liquor cabinet sat a shining new yarai with it’s accompanying long spoon, and a book: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, by Ted Haigh. I had just finished taking an ISG wine certification course for work and was thrilled to read about anything other than wine. It’s exactly my kind of book; full of recipes but with enough history to satisfy my eager curiosity, and gorgeous period illustrations. Every page seemed to contain a cocktail we wanted to try, or a favorite that we have never made ourselves. After flipping through the book for the thousandth time I was visited with a crazy idea: there are one hundred cocktails in the book, why not make them all? D’s arm didn’t even need twisting, despite my pointing out that this was going to be a pricey little project, and that many of the cocktails contain obscure ingredients that will be difficult to procure in a province with antiquated liquor laws. But D was not to be deterred. So this is our mission: to recreate, in alphabetical order, all one hundred recipes in the book. We will document our journey, from the search for ingredients through the process of mixing the drink and imbibing the results, noting any variations that we feel are worthy.
We are aware this is not an original idea, yes I have seen Julie & Julia, but our goal is of a personal nature. We are excited by the mission we have laid before us, our only objectives being the pursuit of knowledge and fun. We are happy if anyone else benefits from our experience or wants to share their thoughts with us. Our primary focus will be recipes from the book, but as our interests are broad forgive us if we occasionally digress.
As we said, the cocktail’s the thing…