It’s not easy to create the next iconic take on a classic. After all, it’s a classic for a reason. But that’s exactly what Grey Goose is asking Canada’s top bartenders to do for this year’s edition of Pour Masters, an annual invite-only program inspiring the advancement of cocktail culture in Canada with the country’s best mixologists and a fierce competition to be crowned the Grey Goose Pour Masters champion.
This summer, contestants in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver are being tasked with crafting their own take on one of the most iconic cocktails ever invented: the martini. They’ll be judged by the legendary King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff, a James Beard award winner who made his name reinventing cocktail classics at New York’s Rainbow Room. The prize? A trip to the home of Grey Goose, Le Logis in Cognac, France, where they’ll compete in the national finals to determine this year’s Pour Masters Champion.
At the Toronto event that just concluded, we got the lowdown on the three local finalists’ recipes and the cocktail masters behind them — so you can try these new-and-improved classics for yourself.
Bar Manager, FIGO, 295 Adelaide St. West
Formerly the head mixologist at The Addisons Residence, Jonathan Crosson now tends bar at FIGO in Toronto’s Entertainment District while chasing that elusive “perfect” drink. “Bartending found me,” says the Calgary native. “It was a perfect mix of creativity, performance and hard work.” And while true perfection is an impossible pursuit, the martini comes pretty close, says Crosson. So he didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with this recipe. “I just made a drink that I thought would be lovely to drink,” he explains. “A drink I would actually consume myself.” In the end, the perfect cocktail is the one that compliments a great evening and good company, he says. “A well-crafted drink speaks for itself.”
“I’ve been working on my recipe for the perfect 11 icy cool sips since I discovered the drink,” says Crosson. So taking on the Grey Goose Pour Masters’ martini challenge was a no-brainer, he explains. “Being asked to make a modern martini-style drink for a company I trust was nothing short of a dream. I couldn’t say no.”
Mana Bandeh Moghadam
Bartender, Bar Reyna, 158 Cumberland St.
Mixology is a passion for Mana Moghadam, although when she first started out, it was just a good way to make tuition money. Then stints at Buonanotte, Blowfish and Little Sister led her to realize it could be so much more, and now she’s putting that passion to work as the House Mixologist for the newly-opened Bar Reyna. Her Mediterranean-inspired martini is a nod to both the Yorkville restaurant’s fusion cuisine and her own roots, hence the pickled grape in place of the classic cocktail onion. “It’s a little sour, a little savory, a little sweet,” she says. And that balance is key. “People that are not normally cocktail drinkers are turning to cocktails now,” Mogahadam explains. “And whether they love cocktails or not, I find if something has a balanced flavour, anyone can enjoy it.”
“I was interested in competing for Grey Goose Pour Masters as soon as I found out about it,” says Mogahadam. “There were a lot of big names competing, so I was super-flattered to be offered the opportunity.” And becoming one of the three Toronto finalists was definitely a welcome surprise, she says. “I went into it to have a lot of fun and I did, and being named a finalist was such a bonus.”
Bar Manager, Prohibition, 696 Queen St. East
A few years into a career as an investment banker, Troy Gilchrist found himself getting bored of the 9-to-5. So he started bartending once a week and now, he’s got no regrets about swapping his cubicle for a bar. After stops at Harbour Sixty and URSA, Gilchrist’s currently spearheading the new cocktail menu at Leslieville’s Prohibition Gastrohouse (he prefers the title “spiritual advisor”). Updating the martini wasn’t easy, he says. “Where do you go from practical perfection?” He landed on a variation on a burnt martini, and his grapefruit, lemon and pepper-infused vermouth is a nod to the classic lemon twist, although he encourages people to personalize the citrus blend to their taste. “The bottom line is, this is just a technique that allows you to play,” says Gilchrist. To find your own path. Just like he did.
Gilchrist had previously competed in Pour Masters in 2012, and was thrilled to get the invite again this year. “Grey Goose always go over-the-top with just giving you the best day,” he says. “Never mind the competition aspect. You get to sit here and listen to someone who is one of the elite in what we do. To have Dale DeGroff sit there and chat was just amazing,” he says. “They make it worth your while to be a part of this competition.”