Meet Calgary’s Pour Masters: Seriously Legit Cocktails From the Top Barkeeps in Cowtown

Anyone can open a beer or bottle of wine and pour it into a glass. But making a good cocktail is an art, and it’s one that any self-respecting host should learn to master.

And if you’re looking to raise the bar on your cocktail game, you’ll want to pay special attention to what’s coming out of this year’s Grey Goose Pour Masters program. The annual invite-only mixology event has been putting Canada’s top bartenders to the test for the past seven years, and for the 2016 edition, the field is being challenged to come up with a new twist on the classic vodka martini.

This summer, bartenders from across the country are competing in regional finals in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. The four local winners will then travel to the home of Grey Goose in Cognac, France, where the 2016 Pour Masters Champion will be crowned.

We spoke to the three Calgary semi-finalists to find out about their winning recipes, along with how Pour Masters inspires them to up their own cocktail game.

Jeff Savage

Bar Manager, Proof Cocktail Bar, 1302 1st St SW


The 2015 Calgary winner, Jeff Savage came into this year’s Pour Masters looking to defend his title. “Winning last year was a huge step forward in my career,” he says. “The ensuing trip changed my life.” His recipe “The Road Home” is inspired by that experience, which included detours through Spain (hence the fino sherry in place of vermouth) and Paris (the herbal Bénédictine), all while remaining faithful to “the idea of the clean, sharp, spirit-forward and elegant martini.” And while Savage says getting to soak up Grey Goose creator François Thibault’s cocktail knowledge at Le Logis (the home of Grey Goose in Cognac, France) was the trip of a lifetime, the value of competing in Pour Masters extends far beyond just a killer vacation. “If you listen to the love and passion being poured out of the competitors during these competitions, it’s impossible not to be inspired,” he explains. And the opportunity to meet legends like Thibault and this year’s judge Dale DeGroff doesn’t hurt either. “It was a life goal of mine to make a drink for him,” Savage says of DeGroff. “It’s certainly something I will never forget.”


Samantha Casuga

Bar Manager, Native Tongues Taqueria, 235 12 Ave SW


Native Tongues bar manager Samantha Casuga is a big fan of the classics, saying drinks like the martini are iconic for a reason, and crediting much of her success as a bartender to studying those timeless recipes. “They provide a platform for us to play upon,” she explains, making them an important part of any bartender’s repertoire. Casuga calls her recipe “a culinary driven spin on the classic martini,” thanks to a vermouth infused with flavours that pair perfectly with the traditional martini garnishes: the lemon twist, olive and cocktail onion. Rather than choose between the three, her recipe shows they can all work together. And that creative approach is serving her well in Pour Masters, which marries cocktail tradition with modern innovation. “I want to take as much as I can from this competition and be a stronger bartender,” Casuga says, calling the competition “the big leagues” and saying it provides a chance not just to learn from bartending royalty, but also to showcase Calgary’s vibrant cocktail scene on the international stage.


Timo Salimaki

General Manager, The Living Room Restaurant, 514 17 Ave SW


These days, Timo Salimaki is the general manager at Calgary’s The Living Room, overseeing the big picture, but he still likes to get back behind the bar when he can. “I’ll even pull a shift once in a while,” he says. “I love just making up new drinks.” And Grey Goose Pour Masters was a great opportunity to put his mixology skills to the test again. “Out of all the competitions, I feel like this one is the benchmark,” he explains, saying the challenge pushes him and his fellow bartenders to another level. “You really have to hit for the fences, because it could be a game-changer.” So Salimaki returned to his Finnish roots for inspiration. “I didn’t stir or shake my vodka into the drink. I had my vodka in the freezer all the way up to the competition and then I just poured two full ounces right into the drink,” he says. That approach lets the star ingredient truly stand out. “I was worried it was too simple,” he laughs. Sometimes, simple works.