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Canada's Next Great Cocktail: Introducing The Dominion

We invited five of the country's top bartenders to a remote Newfoundland island on a dark and stormy winter night (really). Their mission: To create Canada's Next Great Cocktail, a drink made for Canadians in honour of Canada 150.

Air Canada & Lot No. 40 presents

Samantha Casuga; Shane Beehan

Left to right: Good things come in threes when Calgary bartender Samantha Casuga presides; Halifax bartender Shane Beehan reading up on local lore.

You may think you know winter in Canada, but you haven’t fully grasped its immensity until you hear the sound of the ferry crunching through the frigid North Atlantic. The ice creaks and heaves, crackles and booms as the MV Veteran makes its way from Farewell, Newfoundland, to the Change Islands and finally to dock at Fogo Island. Early in the year, when pack ice is propelled through this region by the Labrador Current, is literally the most breathtaking time to visit: High-gust winds leave you gasping for air and grasping your luggage lest you be blown away for good.

There’s something about extreme environments that brings people together – and that’s exactly what we set out to do when we invited five of the country’s leading bartenders for a three-day getaway at the Fogo Island Inn to collaborate on a new national cocktail. Representing from Vancouver to Halifax, each member of our hand-picked panel came with recipes to share, ready to cozy up, get creative and think about Canadian identity away from the fast-paced environment of nightly service and cocktail competitions. And where better to get a fresh perspective on the country than from a chunk of 420-million-year-old rock? And when better than winter, the season that has most chiselled our character? Newfoundland’s outport communities sprang up several centuries ago around cod fishing and have maintained a spirit of resilience, DIY sensibility, openness to adaptability and community mindedness ever since. Some things change, some things stay the same.

Tilting

Forging new paths in Tilting.

As much as Canadians love a good Caesar – and we do, to the tune of 350 million orders each year – it has been almost five decades since the invention of the nation’s go-to cocktail. Time to put something new on the table. Canadian whisky is having a moment, as labels earn more recognition within our own borders and worldwide, giving better-known producers like Scotland and Ireland some stiff competition. And in Lot No. 40, made entirely with Canadian rye and distilled in Windsor, Ontario, we found a fitting base spirit with the body and spice to hold its own in a mixed drink.

Fogo Island Inn library; Gord Hannah

Left to right: The Fogo Island Inn library unites all things Newfoundland; Toronto’s Gord Hannah enjoys his work.

Beyond that, the mandate was to keep it simple – but to take it beyond maple syrup. Using a customized scorecard, the panel would peer-review each recipe against some basic criteria: that it be delicious, inspire Canadian pride, be easy to replicate across the country and not so complicated that it requires a mixology degree. We wanted to hear from bartenders: What does Canada taste like to you? From coast to coast, their profession is in many ways where chef culture was 10 or 15 years ago: It’s getting increasingly recognized, as the knowledge and skill behind it is understood. Maritimer Shane Beehan sees this as a Golden Age of cocktails. “People are dedicating their lives to learning about the history, the culture and the procedures that go into tending bar as a professional,” he mused. “Canada is the world’s second-largest land mass, but within that, there’s a small, connected community that cares passionately about the same thing.”

Amber Bruce; cocktail

Left to right: Bartender Amber Bruce brought her warmth all the way from Vancouver; drink up.

Led by Lot No. 40 global brand ambassador Dave Mitton, who was on hand to oversee the proceedings (and do a little snowmobiling), the panel assembled to have a think and a drink. There was some caribou tracking by day, which took us in blustery conditions along some of the 200 kilometres of foot trails wending past artist studios that, like this inn, were designed by architect Todd Saunders. (This is part of the residency-based Fogo Island Arts initiative, envisioned by Zita Cobb’s Shorefast Foundation). There was an ice-fishing outing where we didn’t catch a thing but warmed up with some moose stew (“most Canadian experience I’ve had in a while,” Mitton commented). There were deep sleeps in rooms cantilevered out towards the ocean – and it wasn’t just the nightcap or three that led to such sound rest. There was a farewell shed party in the community of Tilting – a multigenerational, live-music hoedown that left everyone a little tilted themselves. And in between, many moments enjoying the Fogo Island Inn’s smart-rustic and inherently international cooking: salt cod, a streamlined jiggs dinner and a brilliant Scotch egg that was like the sun on a dark day.

Scotch eggs; Katherine Boushel

Left to right: Fogo Island Inn’s stellar Scotch egg; Montreal’s Katherine Boushel ate, drank and was merry.

In front of the fireplace, over a pyjama breakfast and even in the rooftop hot tub, we heard stories of the bartenders’ experiences of Canadianness. For Gord Hannah, growing up on the Toronto outskirts in a first-generation neighbourhood where “everyone’s parents had an accent and every house smelled of different cooking,” diversity was a key element to convey. Beehan was contemplating the resourcefulness of our First Nations and our early settlers, who established North America’s first gastronomic society in 1607, called the Order of Good Cheer (“a way to make their lives less harsh during wintertime”). Katherine Boushel took her Irish-French heritage, her movement through the Prairies to Montreal and her exposure to the great outdoors as inspiration. For Calgary’s Samantha Casuga, rural Newfoundland was evidence of just how vast the country really is. And West Coaster Amber Bruce, who had never been east of Toronto, found on this windswept island an amazing coastal camaraderie. “It’s cool to be thousands of kilometres apart yet have a similar openness to talking about weather, as you do when you’re Canadian.”

Fogo Island Inn

Fogo Island Inn sets modern vernacular architecture against an age-old landscape.

The final day of the trip culminated with a collaborative tasting event in the Fogo Island Inn’s welcoming lounge – the fireplace roaring, shakers flashing, ice cubes clinking in glasses. They made use of mulled wine, condensed milk, apple cider, cinnamon, coffee, partridgeberry jam and lots of rye whisky, as each bartender presented a recipe for Canada’s Next Great Cocktail. Cocktail recipes are made to be shared, and this was going to be shared across the country. That the ice was thickening in the waters outside as we drank, potentially shutting down the ferry, made it extra challenging. Or maybe extra Canadian. Cheers to that.


Meet Our Bartenders

Shane Beehan

Shane Beehan, Halifax

This three-time Best of Halifax gold winner is head bartender of Lot Six and has a passion for literature and history.

Katherine Boushel

Katherine Boushel, Montréal

Boushel has a background in public relations and shares her love of craft cocktails at Atwater Cocktail Club.

Amber Bruce

Amber Bruce, Vancouver

Bar manager at the Keefer Bar, she is also communications director for the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association.

Samantha Casuga

Samantha Casuga, Calgary

Formerly at Native Tongues, where she explored a penchant for mescal, Casuga recently relocated to New York.

Gord Hannah

Gord Hannah, Toronto

Head bartender and cocktail ambassador for the Drake Hotel Properties, this industry vet has a degree in neuroscience.


Canada's Next Great Cocktail: The Dominion

The Dominion

The range of berries found across Canada – and the jams found in every pantry – were Montreal bartender Katherine Boushel’s inspiration for this tall, refreshing cocktail that earned the panel’s nod as the nation’s new drink order. The recipe is easily adaptable with your choice of cider, fresh herbs and local berry preserves – blackcurrant imparts a vibrant crimson colour.

  • ¾ oz ginger, sliced into rounds
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • ½ oz McGuinness or Meaghers cherry brandy
  • 1½ oz Lot No. 40 Canadian rye whisky
  • 1 tbsp blackcurrant jam
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Sparkling apple cider

 
Muddle ginger in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, lemon juice, salt, cherry brandy, whisky, jam and a sprig of rosemary. Shake. Strain into a Collins glass over ice. Top with cider. Garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary.


Canadian Whisky 101

Dave Mitton, Lot No. 40 global brand ambassador

With Lot No. 40 global brand ambassador, Dave Mitton

Looking back

It can be said that Canadian whisky built the nation as we know it. The contributions made by early distillers such as Gooderham & Worts, JP Wiser, Hiram Walker and Henry Corby played a huge role in developing this country’s early roadways, railways, libraries and schools.

Defining “Canadian” whisky

One thing that separates Canadian whisky from other styles is the fact that we ferment, distil and mature our grains (predominantly corn and rye) separately. It’s only after they reach peak maturity that a Master Blender brings them together to create the exact flavour profile they’re looking for.

Tasting Lot No. 40

Being 100-percent rye, a grain that’s making a comeback, Lot No. 40 is a very spicy, bold whisky that holds its own in cocktails, but can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. It’s distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in virgin white-oak casks, both of which allow our Master Blender, Dr. Don Livermore, PhD, to be selective in bringing out the whisky’s beautiful rye notes: cinnamon and clove, black pepper and touches of vanilla, toffee and oak to properly balance it out. It’s warm and a little wild, not unlike Canadians themselves.


Canada’s First Great Cocktail

Who could’ve predicted that a spiced mixture of vodka, tomato and clam broth would become the national mixed drink of choice? When bartender Walter Chell introduced the Caesar to Canadians in 1969, for the opening of an Italian restaurant at a Calgary hotel, we embraced it. That same historic location is now home to The Keg Steakhouse + Bar, which serves 1 million Caesars annually across its locations. The restaurants are the first to serve Canada’s Next Great Cocktail this summer, in celebration of the nation’s sesquicentennial.

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CANADA     CANADA'S NEXT GREAT COCKTAIL     COCKTAILS    

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