The vodka martini is clean. Elegant. A time-honoured tradition. It’s considered one of the world’s most famous cocktails for a reason.
But in order to come up with new classics, today’s bartenders can’t just be satisfied with mixing up what’s been done before. They have to keep innovating, dreaming up new concoctions. And that spirit of innovation is at the centre of Grey Goose Pour Masters, an annual invite-only mixology program meant to push Canada’s top bartenders to new heights. This year’s challenge? To come up with a brand-new interpretation on that classic vodka martini.
This summer, bartenders in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver are competing in regional finals. Then the four local winners will travel to the home of Grey Goose in Cognac, France in order to determine the 2016 Pour Masters Champion.
We spoke to the three Vancouver semi-finalists to get their winning martini recipes, and find out how programs like Pour Masters help advance and encourage Canada’s burgeoning cocktail culture.
The Diamond, 6 Powell St
Competing in Pour Masters has been an exciting challenge for Zack Lavoie, formerly of The Keefer Bar and now mixing cocktails at Gastown’s The Diamond. “You have a very limited amount of ingredients to use,” he explains, saying you can’t stray too far from that iconic original recipe. “Otherwise it’s no longer a martini.” So he aimed for a drink that would be simple, yet refreshing, with just a hint of cognac as an ode to Grey Goose creator François Thibault. “It’s designed for people after a long day of biking and hiking,” he says. “Pour it into a glass and just enjoy.” Calling the Pour Masters program a “mini-education,” Lavoie says the chance to get feedback from cocktail heavyweights like Dale DeGroff and Julien Lafond is invaluable in helping a young bartender like himself refine his craft. “You’re being taught how to simplify things and when to take them further,” he explains. But in the end, what makes a good cocktail remains the same, no matter what you’re making: “If it looks good and it tastes good, it’s a good drink. That’s it.”
Nightingale, 1017 W Hastings St
As the bartender for the recently opened Nightingale, in addition to the Granville Room, Shane Ely likes to mix up what he calls “classics with a twist” for his guests. “They’ve stood the test of time for a reason,” he says. As for his recipe, it’s essentially just your standard martini, he explains. “The only difference was I made my own vermouth in front of the judges,” which he flash-infuses using nitrous oxide. Other bartenders may make fun of Ely for “playing with the toys,” he jokes, but it’s a great way to get people excited and “trying things they wouldn’t normally try,” he says. And trying new things is what Grey Goose Pour Masters is all about for Ely, who relished the chance to learn from his fellow competitors and legends like DeGroff – lessons he then shares with his guests and co-workers. Now, he’s hoping to bring back even more knowledge with a trip to the finals. “Cognac, France has always been a dream of mine,” says Ely. “To get to go with Grey Goose and visit the distillery would just be amazing.”
The Diamond, 6 Powell St
Chris Enns says he first started experimenting with mixology as a kid, concocting virgin Bloody Marys out of tomato juice and assorted spices and seasonings. These days, he’s making drinks with a little more kick in them at The Diamond (alongside fellow Vancouver semi-finalist Zack Lavoie), but dreaming up new flavour combinations is what Enns loves about Pour Masters. “It forces bartenders to use ingredients or techniques that maybe aren’t familiar or common,” he explains. “Reinventing such an iconic drink as the martini made me look at the very core of what the drink is,” Enns says. And his special ingredients – an infused vermouth “inspired by the bread basket of Canada,” a homemade blueberry Curaçao, and salted amaretto – are all meant to accentuate Grey Goose’s flavour profile. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to really learn about the pride and commitment that goes into Grey Goose,” he says of Pour Masters. “From the family farms to the bartenders making new martinis, everyone is putting their all into the product.” And if they ever do a Bloody Mary version of the program, he’ll be ready.