Shaken or stirred? With an olive or a lemon twist? Dirty or dry? Whatever your preference, the martini’s always been the most customizable of the classic cocktails.
That’s part of what makes the iconic drink the perfect challenge for the 2016 edition of Grey Goose Pour Masters, an annual invite-only program that inspires and educates Canada’s best bartenders and puts their skills to the test. This year, it’s all about seeing who can come up with the best variation on a classic vodka martini, with mixologists from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver going head-to-head. The local winners will then travel to Le Logis in Cognac, France, the home of Grey Goose, to determine who will be crowned this year’s Pour Masters Champion.
We got the three Montreal finalists to give us their winning recipes, along with the inspiration behind them, so you can try their innovations for yourself, and maybe even discover your new favourite drink.
Barman, Hotel William Gray, 421 Rue St-Vincent
For Jason Griffin, creating the perfect cocktail is a lot like preparing a great meal: you know you’ve succeeded when people happily come back for seconds. Formerly the head bartender at Maison Boulud in Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton, he’s now heading up the bar scene at Old Montreal’s newest boutique hotel, the William Gray. (“What can I say? I love hotel bars,” says Griffin.)
The key to his martini is its customization, done by rinsing the glass according to taste. “A lemon zest will create a crisp, refreshing cocktail, whereas a flamed orange zest will offer a mellow hint of smoke,” he explains. “Absinthe leaves a beautiful herbaceous aroma, and Scotch whisky is for the most daring, leaving the impression that you’re drinking a really stiff cocktail.”
As for Pour Masters, Griffin would definitely come back for another round, saying it’s so much more than just a cocktail competition. “It’s a learning experience,” he says. “Only exceptional bartenders compete and I’m amazed by the level of innovation and the quality of the presentations. I’m truly honored to compete alongside Rémi, Pierre-Hugues and all my fellow bartenders.”
Manager, Taverne Midway, 1219 Boul. St-Laurent
Pierre-Hugues Marois was working as a graphic designer before leaving the 9-to-5 for stops at Montreal’s La Distillerie and Pandore; now, he’s the bar manager at Taverne Midway, “an old tavern transformed into a huge cocktail bar.” But Marois is still a designer at heart: he says his initial inspiration for his martini came from the Grey Goose logo itself. “For Pour Masters you need to respect a classic,” he explains, and that iconic flying goose got him dreaming about travel.
“One thing that I love to do while traveling is to try new stuff. What’s the local food?” he says. So he turned to Montreal’s famous Jean-Talon Market. “I really like working with the products of the season, fresh from the market,” Marois explains, saying the result is a cocktail that’s floral and fruity, and “perfect for the summer.” The summer Montreal vibe in martini form.
And if Marois is lucky enough to make it to the home of Grey Goose, in Cognac, France for the Pour Masters final, he’s already looking forward to sampling the local flavours. “Because I’m sure that’s had an impact on how the vodka has been made,” he says.
Bar Chef, Bistro B, 1144 Avenue Cartier, Quebec City
It would be only fitting for Rémi Bernard to travel to France for the Pour Masters finals, considering that’s where he first got his start making cocktails. “It’s a bit ironic,” he says. “The Grey Goose Pour Masters program always interested me.”
When Bernard returned to Quebec, he began studying under some of the province’s biggest names, including Thomas Habert, “the greatest barman in Quebec City.” Now, he’s the manager at renowned Quebec chef François Blais’ Bistro B. For his martini, Bernard fittingly kept the focus on France, using “only French ingredients.”
It was an approach meant to compliment Grey Goose’s signature flavour profile, not mask it, which meant no homemade syrups or complicated infusions for Bernard. Grey Goose creator François Thibault uses only superior French winter wheat in his vodka, he reasons. “So what I decided to do is amplify the vodka’s flavor.” To do so, he enlisted another premium, quintessentially French ingredient: champagne, saying he wanted to “mix two classic cocktails together, the champagne cocktail and the martini.” As it turns out, the two go pretty well together. Just like Bernard and France.