Made With Love, a Canada-wide mixology competition, hit Halifax this month, bringing a lot of inspired drinks and thoughts on cocktail culture. by Melissa Buote
As house music thumped its way around the maze of rooms at The Halifax Club last week, bartenders from around Halifax shook and stirred, muddled and mixed their way through the Halifax edition of Made With Love, the Canadian mixology competition that crowns the best behind the bar in six cities before December's national competition in Montreal.
Over a dozen bartenders from around Halifax competed, with Jeff Van Horne from The Bicycle Thief and Jenner Cormier from The Middle Spoon once again declaring their dominance over the drinks scene.
Van Horne took the top prizes from both judges and the crowd, won over by his plummy, citrusy gin-based First Word and the Another Word, a tiny bottle filled with a tart, floral carbonated gin cocktail. Cormier's complex tea party of a cocktail, The Raven & the Writing Desk, came a close second.
Jordan Dickie has been at Gio in The Prince George Hotel for a little over a year, not coincidentally the same amount of time he's found himself behind a bar.
Dickie's cocktail, The Peking Duck, was a real production number: vodka was set aflame and mixed with honey-infused bourbon and a black plum and port cordial. The drink was then garnished with a tender slice of the namesake duck.
"It was a Zen-inspired experience that I wanted to not only capture the virtues of far Asian cultures," says Dickie," but also to have the preparation, the 'act,' to be as much a part of the experience as the drink itself: the use of fire and ice, yin and yang. The fact that I was rolling flaming Skyy between two Japanese tea cups over a giant block of ice---well, that was just incidental."
Jared Hochman, who has been working behind the bar at The Waterfront Warehouse since 2007, offered up a cocktail called the Tropic of Bitter. "I was given Campari as a base spirit," says Hochman. "It's very aromatic and smells amazing, but holy smokes is it ever bitter, with a long aftertaste." He whipped up a honey-banana simple syrup to counteract the aperitif's bitterness. Vanilla extract and mango nectar continued pushing the sweetness forward, so he rounded it down with muddled lime and blueberries with a dash of brown sugar and some Aztec chocolate bitters.
"The result was a cocktail that didn't hide the taste of Campari, but moreso tamed it," says Hochman. "It also had some flavour change, as the first thing you taste is the chocolate bitters and simple syrup, then the Campari, then the citrus cleanses the palate."
"Seeing the insane levels of creativity coming from bartenders in this city is amazing---and tasty," says Hochman. "It helps having competitions such as Made With Love bringing more awareness to the cocktail culture, and having unreal mixologists like Jeff Van Horne, Jenner Cormier, Eugene McCabe and so many others in the city constantly setting the bar higher for what one should expect in a 'good cocktail.'"
"Halifax is in the throes of a cocktail renaissance," agrees Dickie. "Where Canada has for the most part been previously ignored by the international cocktail community and otherwise excluded from the majority of internationally recognized competitions, thanks to Pierre O. Trempe and Made with Love, Halifax bartenders have suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight and challenged to perform their trade like never before: to engage their patronage; interact with each other; and to reach out into the world and realize that this maritime, neo-Celtic port city actually has a great deal to offer the timeless phenomenon that is cocktail culture."