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Cocktail Making for the Holidays

cocktail making

By VIA Rail

Read time: 5 minutes

Whether you’re entertaining a crowd, a handful of people, or just taking some time for yourself, a well-made cocktail is an easy luxury that will add a touch of class to your evening. It might seem intimidating, but really, you don’t need much to start (a mason jar can double as a shaker), except perhaps a wee bit of instruction. Here are a few spots where you can learn how to become an at-home bar-star in no time:

Ateliers et Saveurs
Montreal, QC

By: Jennifer Bauer

 You’d be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming spot than Ateliers et Saveurs for a first sip into the world of cocktail-making. When co-founder and drink wizard (ok ok, mixologist) Fanny Gauthier moved to Montreal with her husband, a chef, and seven years of experience behind a bar in Paris, she couldn’t find a decent Tom Collins to whet her whistle. Once, the request even led to a confused bartender asking, “Is there a Tom here?” Clearly the Montreal bar scene needed to be shaken, and Fanny was just the woman to stir things up!

Fanny mixologist, Ateliers et Savuers, Montreal
Fanny of ‘Ateliers et Saveurs’ with our new drink: First Snow

Flash-forward 11 years and Ateliers et Saveurs remains the best (and only) place on Montreal to get acquainted with Mr. Collins. Most nights of the week, and now in three locations, you can learn how to make cocktails, “using ingredients that are easy to find”, specifies Fanny. There’s no point in learning if you can’t go home and impress your friends.

One of the most sincere people I’ve met in a long time, Fanny loves what she has built, along with her husband and their sommelier-best-friend. And her joy is contagious. “How about a cocktail?” I jest. But drinks are no joke, and within a few minutes I was sipping on a light, citrus-inspired beverage with just a hint of basil. It was simple, beautiful, delicious. “What is this called?”, I asked. She smiled, “I just made it up — let’s name it together”. And we did.

 First Snow

½ oz lemon juice
2 tsp apricot jam
2 basil leaves, ripped in two
1.5 oz gin (Seven Heaven works well)
4 oz white cranberry juice
Put all ingredients into a shaker (or mason jar), shake well for 7-10 seconds and enjoy!

Pray, Tell
Toronto, ON

By: Valerie Howes

“It’s not a gong show, just a flick of the wrist,” explains Amanda Chen, a.k.a. Salty Paloma, as she demonstrates the perfect cocktail shaking technique. Perched on bar stools in the living room-style snack bar, with its hanging plants and wood-panelled walls, each of us reaches for our bronze shaker. We purposefully emulate Chen’s rhythmic precision, resisting the urge to go full Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

Bar Pray, Tell, Toronto
Amanda Chen, a.k.a. Salty Paloma of bar Pray, Tell, teaches us how to craft the perfect cocktail

As the bar manager at Pray, Tell, Amanda Chen has created a cocktail menu with classics and playful avant-garde cocktails: Multiple takes on the Old Fashioned and Negroni are served up alongside innovations like the Justice Beaver (a peppy mix of vodka, lemon, cucumber, celery and ginger beer) and the Cloud 9 (a lime-mango-Blue Caracoa-and-tequila party starter). She uses her own flavourful rimming salts and house syrups, created with surplus lemon and lime garnishes, herbs and berries that would otherwise have ended up as kitchen waste.

Cocktail classes at Pray, Tell are casual and intimate. Chen answers our mixology questions, joins in our gossip and patiently reminds me to use the strainer, each time I rush to tip my latest creation into a glass. It’s an excellent way to start your evening, before moving onto Japanese-Nordic snacks from the Pray, Tell menu, then a bar hop on the vibrant Ossington strip.

Strawberry and Coconut Margarita

1 oz tequila
½ oz triple sec
¾ oz strawberry coconut syrup
1 oz lime juice (freshly squeezed)
Salty Paloma Fiesta Cocktail Rimmer
Combine tequila, triple sec, syrup and lime in a shaker with ice. Shake hard for ten seconds. Strain into a rimmed margarita glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Fine Art Bartending
Vancouver, BC

By: Lucas Aykroyd

Originally founded in 1981 in Winnipeg, Fine Art Bartending offers multiple locations across Canada. In Vancouver, its low-key yet welcoming West Pender Street venue is the place to unleash your inner bartender.

Chris Stoner, who teaches the school’s three-hour Introduction to Bartending course, recalled how his interest was first piqued: “It went back to university parties, being on the other side of the bar. It’s great to have people come up looking for something you have.”

The former University of British Columbia engineering student, who graduated from Fine Art Bartending back in 1998, helps people from different backgrounds learn how to create great drinks.

Fine Art Bartending, Vancovuer
Expect to make some very impressive cocktails (like these beautiful Margaritas) at Fine Art Bartending

“We start off with the basics,” said Chris. “Pouring techniques, four or five different methods of mixing.” Margaritas, slushy drinks, Cosmos, Manhattans, and Gimlets are all potentially on the menu during this whirlwind intro.

And if you catch the bug, who knows where this first taste of cocktail-making education might lead? Certified graduates of the school’s 32-hour commercial bartending course have gone on to big things, from Mason Hiltz at Bacchus (Wedgewood Hotel, Vancouver) to Luca Corradini at the American Bar (Savoy Hotel, London).

Looking for an easy cocktail recipe? “This is one of my favourites,” says Chris. “Always a hit at any party.”

French 75

1oz Gin (try Long Table Gin, from a local Vancouver distillery)
½ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Shake ingredients 8-10 times over fresh ice. Strain into a champagne flute. Top the flute off with 2-3 oz of a nice sparkling wine.

Top Image: wu yi on Unsplash

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