ER What’s your signature cocktail?
IJ I have a few that change with the seasonal availability of ingredients. Right now, I’m doing rum, pineapple, Aperol and allspice. My thing lately has been mixing cocktails that honour rum and the places where sugar cane is grown. Rum is a beautiful spirit that I really started enjoying after travelling to Belize a few times to visit some friends and trying fresh sugar cane straight from the stalk – so sweet! That something so clean, warm and sweet in flavour could change so much with fermentation and distillation was just amazing to me. Caribbean flavours are so vibrant, I’ve been playing with spices and tropical ingredients, like banana, which a lot of people are afraid of putting in a cocktail, but it often binds other flavours together in a similar way to vanilla. Also: guava, jackfruit, coconut milk, star anise, cinnamon and hot pepper. Find out where your spirit is from and go to a local grocery store that has ingredients from that country.
ER You mentioned becoming a good bartender takes lots of experimenting and playing with ingredients. What about researching the history of the produce and flavours you work with?
IJ It’s important to acknowledge the history of the beverages you choose to drink. Take rum for example: It is not widely known that many brands are named after the colonizers that brought sugar cane to the Caribbean, along with African slaves. It’s just about knowing where things come from, how they’re made and how they fit in a larger socio-political context. I find it helps to understand flavour. I’m still learning every day and I encourage other bartenders and imbibers to become familiar with the history and traditions as well.
ER What’s specific to Canada’s cocktail culture, and why do you think Northwood is a leading force behind it?
IJ Canada is a fairly young country, and its cocktail culture is also young. Northwood takes a lot from Paris cocktail bars, where several classic drinks were invented, but we’re taking what Europe started and elevating it using the great wines and spirits we make locally, and treating cocktails like fine dining. I think it’s great that Canada’s cocktail culture is highlighting local craft and being appreciative of other cultures when creating cocktails as well.