Tales of the Cocktail 2012 in Vancouver – The Recap

Tales of the Cocktail 2012 in Vancouver!

A recap of events and the Bitter Bash!

s;dlfjk;slkdfn!!! I want to barf right now… but with information, not from cocktails! I’m really excited for this post and I’m kind of surprising myself. I didn’t expect to be this excited… and I’m totally sober right now. To be honest, I’m not a huge cocktail drinker. To put things in perspective, I prefer wine over cocktails. I like cocktails and I’ll drink them, but my extent of knowledge is limited. I’d want to say limited until now, but nope, it’s still limited although I know more now than I did before thanks to Tales of the Cocktail.

Tales of the Cocktail is the world’s premier cocktail festival which started in New Orleans, and its only stop in Canada last year and this year was in Vancouver. That really says a lot about Vancouver’s sophisticated cocktail scene and we should be really proud. While many looked forward to binging on cocktails, I looked forward to binging on information. Yes, I’m a huge food and drink nerd and I absorb alcohol way too quickly and have more of a thirst for knowledge. Wow. How stereotypical Asian does that sound… ? To top it off, I do turn red! Anyways, I was invited to Tales of the Cocktail, but the events I had my appetite on were “Born to Mix” and “Bitter Bash”. I also attended A Spirited Dinner at Hawksworth featuring Sazerac cocktails and creole inspired food.

I started off my morning at the “Born to Mix” seminar, a cocktail workshop about spirits and liqueurs led by Dushan Zaric. Zaric is one of New York’s cocktail masters from Employees Only which is known as one of the best cocktail bars in the world, so it was an honour to hear him speak. The workshop was more or less a gloss over since the topic of “cocktails” is so general, but he could easily talk about one spirit for hours based on his extensive experience and expertise.

Things like the quality of a spirit, making cocktails on the sweeter side to suit the palates of the general public, and having the bartender play a major role in having a cocktail experience were just a few things that popped up. Of course if the drink is bad it’s bad, but if the bartender isn’t into it, most likely it will taste even worse… that applies to many things outside of cocktails though. The seminar was interesting, but I almost wanted a step by step tasting of spirits with Zaric guiding us, so I intended to do more cocktail research at Bitter Bash later that evening.

Bitter Bash was the official closing night party of Tales of the Cocktail sponsored by SKYY, Campari, Aperol and Wild Turkey and hosted by Kale and Nori at The Masik Studio. Being that it was Valentine’s Day the theme was the colour red and eye candy… no I mean Valentine’s Day candy! Yes, Valentine’s Day candies were half the decoration and the other half were the bartenders… no I mean the cocktails!

During the event I had the pleasure of talking to Justin Taylor, the bartender of Four Seasons YEW Restaurant + Bar in Vancouver. I basically took the opportunity to extract his brain of information and asked him a million and one questions, which he kindly answered to every single one. We talked about his passion, not puppies, so I didn’t feel as guilty for occupying his party time.

When I relate the cocktail scene back to food, I really see the bigger picture. Much like the food scene, everything has almost been done before, so when I asked him about the upcoming cocktail trends we started discussing “shrubs” or drinking vinegars. Rumours are that the next cocktail “trend”, which is just a forgotten technique, is shrubs and many bartenders would agree with this. It’s the act of preserving ingredients in alcohol and then adding vinegar to it. What it does for a cocktail is basically act as an acid, bringing a sour flavour rather than a tart one. There is sour and then there is tart, both are different and tart will usually come from citrus. I’m really curious to see how this plays out and what original cocktails will arise from using an old technique.

My first cocktail at Bitter Bash was a sip of “Love” by Nishan Nepulangoda at Blowfish in Toronto, ON. It was made with SKYY Vodka, Aperol, Campari, Grapefruit & Lime Juices, Giffard Grapefruit Syrup, and shaken served up.

What really caught me off guard was that before Tales of the Cocktail this would have likely been my favourite cocktail of the night since it tasted almost like pink grapefruit juice. If it doesn’t taste a bit like juice, then I prefer gin. That’s how much of a cocktail “drinker” I was. It had a sweet aroma and was probably the “girliest”, and not because it was pink. After learning more about cocktails and my palate, the tables have turned and I actually found it a bit too sweet. There was a tartness, but it was on the sweeter side, which is what Zaric mentioned in the seminar – that cocktails made for the general public will often be made sweeter rather than properly balancing the sweet and sour. I think this was the first time I really paid attention to it and I did taste the syrup more than I preferred.

My second cocktail was a sip of “Lust” by Dushan Zaric from Employees Only in New York, NY. It was made with Wild Turkey Bourbon, Campari, Ruby Port, Orange Flower Water, Fee Brother’s Orange bitters and a sprinkle of cinnamon served on the rocks.

I managed to speak with Zaric and he foresees the “shrub trend” in the next six months as well, although it seems like he’s already moved on. Talk about “up on the latest” when the trend has barely launched in Vancouver. It was nice to hear that he was impressed with Vancouver’s cocktail scene, but the challenge he sees compared to New York is the fact that it doesn’t have as much selection for spirits and liqueurs. No surprise there as Canada has tougher liquor laws.

The Lust cocktail was probably the boldest drink of the night and it was the strongest for me. Before Tales of a Cocktail this drink would have little appeal to me and I’d probably find it hard to palate, but it was actually quite smooth and I think I gained a new appreciation for Bourbon after my Spirited dinner at Hawksworth.

My third cocktail was a sip of “Envy” by Katie MacDonald from Veneto Lounge in Hotel Rialto in Victoria, BC. It was made with Cado Wabo Resposado Tequila, Cynar, Aperol, Poblano Shrub, Fentiman’s Gingerbeer, Thyme and served on the rocks.

I am not a fan of Tequila and the smell of it makes me cringe, but this was actually my favourite cocktail of the night. It sounded the least appealing to me and I ended up liking it the most. I know! It was nice and spicy with a tartness and it went fantastic with the fish tacos TacoFino Cantina was serving up at the event. I could definitely see it being a bit too spicy and having too much kick for some, but there was a nice sour aspect and sweet syrup to round it all out. The thyme garnish just enhanced all the aromatics in the drink, but I had the desire to swap it for a lemongrass stir stick.

This was my last cocktail of the night before I said “good night”. My taste of “Passion” by Danielle Tatarin at The Keefer Bar in Vancouver, BC was made with Wild Turkey Bourbon, YunZhi Red Currant Syrup, Lemon Juice, Egg White, Bittered Sling Peach and Pepper Extract that was shaken, served up.

I have a thing for cocktails made with egg whites because I’m a texture person. I like that it adds a creaminess and frothiness without being carbonated or overly rich. This was definitely easy on the palate and quite refreshing and bright with the dominant lemon juice. It made me curious enough to want to visit The Keefer Bar for cocktails which is a good sign.

I don’t know how else to explain how Tales of the Cocktail has changed my “cocktail life” or “cocktail palate”. If I didn’t make my point clear by describing my change of heart for the cocktails I’ve grown to appreciate above, let me try again.

This is the Snowcone Station which featured snowcones topped with Campari & Bittered Sling Grapefruit, Cynar & Bittered Sling Crabapple and Wild Turkey & Bittered Sling Peach Pepper syrups, and I didn’t touch it. For those of you familiar with me and “Follow Me Foodie” I would have probably hit up this station at some point, but it actually wasn’t really of interest to me and I flocked to the cocktails before this.

This is why I’m so excited about Tales of the Cocktail. It’s incredibly difficult to change someone’s palate and they did it. A lot had to do with the bartenders and who made the drinks, but it’s really changed my appreciation for a cocktail. Just having the opportunity to talk with the bartenders and really explore, learn and engage myself with the cocktail scene in such a short time taught me more than just continuing to sip cocktails here and there in a year. It’s not like I’m going to order them all the time now and jump on the “cocktail band wagon” because of a few events, but it’s opened up my palate to something new.

On another note, of course Follow Me Foodie will always be “Follow Me Foodie”, and my passion will always be with food first. Therefore I hit up every single food station featured at Bitter Bash. I did this before the cocktails, and then did it again with the cocktails.

From the people who brought Campagnolo and ReFuel comes Fat Dragon Bar-B-Q. It was a Slow Smoked Szechuan Pepper Cured Pork Belly Bao Bun with ginger scallion sauce, radish and crushed peanuts. I’ve seen many pork belly baos already, and I’ve tried the most famous Momofuku one too – see here, but if what I tried this evening was any indication of what they’re actually serving on site, then mama please! Give me another one!

I’ve always been a fan of TacoFino Cantina food truck, so I was happy to see them at Bitter Bash. They were serving their Baja Fish Tacos with tempura battered ling cod, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa fresca on a warm flour tortilla – to read more about it see here.

The other item TacoFino Cantina served was their Tuna Poke Salad Toastadas with marinated tuna sashimi, macadamia nuts and seaweed salad on a fresh and crispy corn tostada. This was a new menu item that is featured as a special at their food truck. I absolutely loved this one, and the big pieces of crunchy buttery macadamia nuts played particularly well with the buttery textures of everything else and there was a nice heat to it too. The fresh and dry seaweed was an Asian Fusion/West Coast twist and had it been served in a soft tortilla it texturally may have been too soft and slimy, but the crunchy tostada was perfect. I could have used a bit of toasted coconut for sweetness and it was actually quite Hawaiian in style as well.

This was the heartiest food station and it was another one of my favourites – the La Brasserie food cart. They were serving their signature Beer Brined Rotisserie Chicken in gravy, topped with crispy onions on a buttermilk bun. This was the “poutine” of the night. To read about La Brasserie the restaurant see my post here, and about the food cart see my post here. While I do love this sandwich, the bun was dry again, so there’s a slight challenge in consistency because I’ve had the bun moist before.

Of course there is always room for dessert. Along with deep fried macaroni balls, mini croque madame sandwiches, and cucumber cups with beets and goat’s cheese, were Passionfruit “Turkish Delight” with Aperol Sugar Dust, and Double Chocolate Chunk Cynar Mousse Bites with Sour Cherry and Bittered Sling “Moondog” Cream. All of the above were from Kale and Nori catering company based in Vancouver. I think I ate about 4 of these Chocolate Mousse Bites and they had crunchy bits of chocolate covered espresso beans throughout which I loved. For many, I think cocktails were the dessert, but in this case cocktails were even in the desserts which made Bitter Bash a bit sweeter!

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