Coincidences make for great stories.
One day last week, I went to visit Christina Mah. Mah is the general manager of The Hotel Arts’ “Viet Mod” bistro called Raw Bar by Duncan Lee. She is also the president of the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Professional Bartender’s Association (CPBA).
I interviewed Mah about cocktail making and asked if she would create a summer cocktail that I could share with you. Her creation is fresh and seasonal. Fresh and seasonal might not be words you think of when it comes to cocktails but they are an emerging cocktail trend that – happily – seems to be here to stay.
In this post I’ll talk about how to make cocktails, give you some recommendations for great places to drink them in Alberta and I’ll also share the story of how we named this drink Gnome Come Home after the Raw Bar’s gnome mascot was coincidentally “kidnapped” the day I arrived to interview Mah.
We’ll get to that drink recipe but first…
Did you know there are over 25 million garden gnomes in Germany? Gnomes are extremely popular mythological creatures. Despite some bad press in the Weasley’s garden (of Harry Potter fame), they are said to stay vigilant, help a little with garden chores and guard against “evil spirits” at night. No wonder what started as a Norse myth has spread to every garden. I even have an “Ohm Gnome”. My gnome was a gift from a friend who thought I’d like one – sitting in full lotus yoga posture – chilling out in my garden. If you too have a gnome – there’s one thing you should be aware of. People will occasionally like to pull pranks with your gnome. It’s called…
A few years ago, Christina Mah, as a leader with lots of staff, took her group on a team-building exercise – a.k.a. – bowling. She bought a Norse-meets-Viking looking gnome to use as their team mascot and since that fun day, the gnome resided in a prominent place where the staff could see him at the bar. That is, until last week.
The gnome in question is now the victim of “gnoming”. The Raw Bar’s gnome is missing. The prank is on.
Usually, what happens in gnoming is that kidnappers steal the gnome and send photos of it travelling the world. In a very modern twist, The Raw Bar’s gnome opened a Facebook account and gave himself the name Jaffrod Thornspangle – sounds incredibly Scandanavian. He’s been shown with travel books for Barcelona and “enjoyed” a birthday party with his captors. For all the hype about “guarding a garden” when it comes to owners, gnomes – it seems – are fairly fickle.
Isn’t he cute? Perhaps that’s why, the Hotel Arts staff want him back.
Mah decided her cocktail should be something that might lure Thornspangle home so she’s used lots of fresh local garden ingredients. And that’s how the story of how our Alberta at Noon cocktail got it’s name – Gnome Come Home.
The drink is not on the menu at Raw Bar in Calgary but Christina promised me that if one of my readers or CBC listeners asks for it, the staff at Raw Bar will make it. Perhaps if enough people order it, Jaffrod Thornspangle will find his way home by desire of wanting to try it himself.
If you make the Gnome Come Home cocktail in your own garden and Thornspangle shows up please take a picture and post it on his Facebook page so Christina Mah knows he’s still out there having a good time. Here’s the simple recipe as follows:
Gnome Come Home
3 muddled raspberries
1½ ounces Eau Claire Parlour Gin
½ ounce Porter’s Orange Cardamom tonic syrup
½ ounce cream soda syrup*
1 ounce lemon juice
Shake vigorously and then fine strain over your favourite type of ice
Top with Soda
garnish with lemon peel and a raspberry
* To make cream soda syrup, mix 1:1 sugar to water and boil till the sugar dissolves, cool and add a vanilla bean that’s been slit down the sides, store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Add to drinks as the sweet part or add to soda water to make your own Cream Soda.
This cocktail is a great example of fresh and local. Fresh raspberries are coming into season. The Eau Claire Parlour Gin is made in Turner Valley, Alberta at Eau Claire Distillery using the best local Alberta grains and mountain fresh clear water. Porter’s Tonic is made in Calgary and the other things are easy to have on hand.
Christina Mah told me that the bare bones of cocktail recipes include a balance between strong (spirit) and weak (water, club soda, tonic), sweet (sugar and simple syrups) and sour (citrus, tamarind, drinking vinegars) and a back bone of bitters which are made of botanical herbs and roots. Usually the strong to weak ratio is 1:3.
Mah recently created a whole slough of new cocktails as food pairings – another cocktail trend – with her colleague Clarice Gordon. They had so many to make that even executive chef Duncan Ly helped out at the recent – a seat at our table – long table dinner event sponsored by Alberta Treasury Branch.
My favourites of that evening were one made with (my) local honey as the sweetener, an Long Table “Sour” and a “Gin and Timber” made with gin, garden sage, fresh citrus, Old Fasioned Bitters and Porter’s Tonic.
Another recent event where I got try a cocktail was at a cookbook launch for The Duchess Bakeshop. A new bar in Calgary called Proof made a “Duchess Iced Tea” to celebrate. Lots of bitter Italian (and very boozy) Aperol went into that and its definitely wet my appetite for visit Proof.
I get to try new cocktail every Saturday at Bar C and at Ox and Angela on one of the food tours that I lead. That’s some very tasty business. Because I’m working, I limit myself to one sip. Cocktails eliminate two things: working and driving. Driving and drinking – as any good bartender will tell you – are mutually exclusive. Christina Mah told me that she never understood the fuss when the alcohol limit was lowered because professional bartenders will always uphold that if you’re going to have even ONE DRINK that automatically removes you from driving in their books.
These are just a few cool places to enjoy a cocktail in Calgary. Others include the following:
Off Cut Bar at The Nash
Milk Tiger Lounge
Chef and food writer friends, Cindy Lazarenko and Jennifer Cockrall-King respectively, in Edmonton recommend the following places:
Culina Mill Creek (tiny but great)
Three Boars and
Corso 32 / Bar Bricco.
Of all of these, Proof, which is actually spelled Pr%f, is devoted to the cocktail and only open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. They have sayings like “to drink like an adult, you must first be one”. They promise “space” to enjoy your cocktail, no line-ups (they take your number and call you) and locally inspired cocktail and food menus. With their success, we are likely to see more bastions of booze on the horizon.
The cocktail has become culinary, it requires skill, and a great palate and imagination. Gone are bad ingredients. We can now source fine distillations in our own backyard thanks to the likes of Eau Claire Distillery and when combined with the skills of a bartending professional I think we’ll see boundless cocktail creativity.
Leave your car at home and have a great time sipping your way through today’s cocktail culture. Savour it all.