There are few things that make me happier than discovering new ways to get pleasantly tipsy, which means that two days at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival (http://artofthecocktail.ca/) had me walking around with a silly grin on my face the whole time.
Bartenders, as a breed, tend to be playful types. Get a bunch of them from as far afield as the USA, Holland and the UK in the same city together, then stir in distillers, premium spirit companies, small-batch artisan spirits makers and a gang of devoted cocktail fans and you have a guaranteed recipe for mayhem. Add to that seminars and parties spread over three days in a gorgeous city and you can see why the Art of the Cocktail is my new favourite festival and I’m already wondering when I can get my ticket for next year’s event.
Here are the five things I got most excited about…
1. Cocktails and food pairings. Over at the Fairmont Empress Bengal Lounge booth, I tried a superb combo of an Apricot Summer Haze (Apricot puree, Finlandia vodka, Grand Marnier and Stellar’s Jay) served with a selection of Vancouver Island cheeses and the Fairmont Empress’s own honey. I’m going to look out for somewhere I can have a cocktail-matched menu in the same way that you have wine-paired meals. If you know of somewhere – tell me!
2. Tea in cocktails. I attended an excellent seminar hosted by Daniela Cubelic from Silk Road Tea (http://www.silkroadtea.com/), and Solomon Seigel, an award-winning bartender from Fire & Water in the Victoria Marriott. For me this was one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend. Solomon is a self-confessed tea-geek and it’s glorious to be in a room with someone who so clearly loves his subject and really goes that extra mile to discover amazing flavours. Tea frozen into ice cubes with vodka, tea made into a simple syrup and blended, tea-infused cocktails that have been forced carbonated… I am so inspired by this and can’t wait to start experimenting at home.
3. Artisan small-batch fruit liqueurs. Usually I’m no fan of liqueurs, they either taste syrupy or have too strong a punch of alcohol. Then I tried the Okanagan Spirits (http://www.okanaganspirits.com/) Raspberry liqueur. It was the purest burst of fruity flavour imaginable. Sunshine in a shot glass. I want to visit them and see what else they do. And then drink it.
4. Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin. I’m already a raving fan of the brilliant Victoria Spirits (http://www.victoriaspirits.com/) and their gin, so I was excited to visit them to see how they distilled and what new projects they were working on. Their barrel-aged gin is superb. It has a more complex, deeper flavour and it’s another spirit that I really want to experiment with to see how it works in cocktails.
5. I was taken out to the Sea Cider (http://www.seacider.ca/) farm in Saanichton for lunch and adored it. It really reminded me of a Basque cider house and the long flight of their eight different ciders that I tried really impressed me with the huge variety of products; from light apple-y blends and cloudy scrumpy-ish brews through to a perfect honey-ish Pomona that will pair perfectly with cheese, like an ice wine.
I travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.