Dip into this snapshot of cocktail culture in BC's capital city, where small scale distillers and mighty mixologists ply their tasty trades.
By CINDA CHAVICH
Victoria is a spirited city, especially when it comes to cocktails.
There are more mixologists on the ground than you can shake a martini at these days, and plenty of cool spots to sit and sip something incredibly creative.
The island is home to a booming craft distillery scene, too, with our quality spirits finding fans around the world. Sheringham Seaside Gin was recently named Canada’s best contemporary gin at the World Gin Awards in London, and Victoria Distillers’ indigo Empress Gin is behind some of the best bars, from New York to Paris.
So it’s no surprise that we’re getting discovered as a city with strong cocktail culture. We asked three of our top bartenders to create a cocktail that represents our coastal capital, and here’s what they all shook up.
For Sherwood bar manager Jane Allen, living and working in Victoria is all about being part of a passionate and supportive community.
“What stuck out for me about Victoria, especially in my industry, is the amount of collaboration and very friendly competition, the incredible support network and camaraderie,” she says. “It’s something we really value and cherish as young people living here.”
Allen has been part of the new Sherwood project since it opened downtown last year – Shane Devereaux’s all-day café that’s designed as a community gathering place, whether you’re coming in for a breakfast meeting, a quick coffee, or a casual evening with friends.
“The idea is to be approachable, lighter and brighter,” says Allen of her abbreviated but carefully curated cocktail menu, focused lower ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks. “Most are originals – classics or variations.”
Her Odd Dog combines Odd Society Mia Amata with Aperol and grapefruit juice (“a riff on an Italian classic Greyhound”), while the Dark Arts blends dark Flor de Cana rum with sweet vermouth, apricot brandy and the café’s signature, locally-roasted Bows and Arrows coffee. The House Radler combines Slow Hand Pilsner with house-made rhubarb shrub, while Dazed and Amused is based on Imperative Dry Vermouth, a local collaboration between the island’s Ampersand Distillers and Rathjen Cellars.
The Game Theory cocktail Allen created to represent both the café and the city pulls in both of those concepts – leaning on the local community for ingredients and ideas. Her refreshing beer-based cocktail celebrates two of the city’s craft brewers, with beautifully balanced bitterness and citrus coming from the hoppy Fat Tug syrup, sweet orange aromas, and a spicy, savoury note from the amaro and cardamom. Seasoned with a hint of saline and topped with Hoyne pale ale, it’s a frothy, fresh combination that really plays well.
And the game theory reference?
“It’s the economic model that looks at all of the different ways we can collaborate and compete,” she says. “That’s what’s special to me about Victoria.”
Bartender: Jane Allen
1/2 oz. /15 ml Fat Tug grapefruit syrup (see below)
1/2 oz./15.ml freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz./15 ml orange blossom water
1/2 oz./15 ml Cointreau
3/4 oz./23 ml Mia Amata (Odd Society)
1 oz./30 ml Hoyne Brewing Down Easy pale ale (or try other ales for variation)
dash cardamom bitters (Scrappy’s)
6 drops saline solution (see below)
6 mint leaves, tip to garnish
Fat Tug Grapefruit Syrup:
250 ml Fat Tug IPA (Driftwood Brewery)
125 ml fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
250 ml granulated sugar
To make the Fat Tug Grapefruit Syrup, in a saucepan, combine beer, grapefruit juice and sugar, and set over low heat, stirring, just until sugar dissolves. Cool and bottle.
For the cocktail, combine all ingredients (except mint) in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake well for 15 seconds. Make sure you have a strong seal as there will be slight carbonation in the tin. Double strain over ice in a large rocks glass. Clap the mint tip and twist the grapefruit to express aromatics, then use to garnish the cocktails. Enjoy often!
10 g sea salt
100 g distilled water
Stir until dissolved. Store in a dropper bottle.
CLIVE’S CLASSIC LOUNGE
You could say Clive’s is ground zero for Victoria’s booming cocktail culture. Though not the first creative cocktail bar in town, Clive’s Classic Lounge has had longevity, a bar that’s spawned many top mixologists and celebrates a decade in the cocktail community this year.
The man behind the wood for the last six years has been Jayce Kadyschuk, who manages this cosy, clubby space tucked into the lobby of the Chateau Victoria Hotel. It’s been recognized by the international Tales of the Cocktail as one of the top 10 cocktail lounges in the world on three separate occasions, and is the kind of place where you can sit at the bar to watch the professional bartenders in action, or relax in a corner in a comfy wingback chair.
“This is not a high energy, noisy bar,” says Kadyschuk who keeps the lights low and the play list to soul and funk. But there’s plenty to keep things interesting, whether you’re up for a classic negroni (Clive’s was named Canada’s first Campari Red Bar) or a fun night sharing small plates and massive tiki drinks in fish bowls.
Its pure, scratch mixology at Clive’s with freshly squeezed juices and housemade bitters, syrups and shrubs. There’s a deep selection of spirits on the back bar, and a libation list to match – from the ever-changing seasonal cocktails to classics, zero-proof and spirit flights. And to make your selection simple, he’s grouped their cocktails into style categories on the menu.
“This is one of the Herbal & Complex cocktails on the list,” says Kadyschuk, shaking up his delicate Macca Sour, a pale, frothy drink tinted with green tea.
It’s his choice to represent the city of Victoria, using premium local ingredients including Sheringham Distillery’s new Kazuki Gin, infused with cherry blossoms and yuzu peel, and an electric green maccha syrup made with the Okuyutka Blend of tea from Jagasilk. The cocktail is shaken with egg white to emulsify the mixture and integrate the various flavours, he says.
“The Maccha Sour represents what Victoria is to me,” Kadyschuk says. “Spring cherry blossoms are a big part of the city’s identity and tea has a wonderful history here. With the oldest Chinatown in Canada, amazing tea shops, Japanese sake and local gin – it’s all now part of our fabric.”
Bartender: Jayce Kadyschuk
1.5 oz./45 ml Sheringham Kazuki Gin
0.5 oz./15 ml Strega
0.5 oz./15 ml Zuiyo Junmai Saki
0.5 oz./15 ml Jagasilk Maccha Syrup (100 g each: Okuyutaka Blend maccha and simple syrup)
0.5 oz./15 ml lemon juice
1 egg white
pinch of dried mint to garnish
In a shaker, combine the gin, Strega, saki, maccha syrup and lemon juice. Dry shake the ingredients to combine well. Add the egg white and fill the shaker with ice, then wet shake the mixture for 15 seconds. Strain into a glass and sprinkle the frothy top with mint to serve.
Little Jumbo has the feel of an old-fashioned speakeasy, hidden just off the popular downtown tourist strip and known for its inspired food and drink.
The absinthe fountain on the bar honours the 19th century roots of bartending, but the cheeky cocktail list puts a contemporary twist on the classics.
With diners vying for a table to experience chef Gabe Fayerman-Hansen’s seasonal menu, bartender Avi Kunen says it’s always busy behind the bar.
“We try not to take cocktails too seriously – you have to make things fun,” says Kunen.
In that vein, the drinks menu riffs on traditional cocktails with references to ‘90s pop culture, from the Kokiri Forest (a homage to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda) to Feeling 23 (“the perfect balance of youth and maturity”), and The Dude Abides, an off-the-wall White Russian. Kunen says he created the Shelter Point Break cocktail to celebrate the island-made malt whisky and one of his favourite cult classic films.
“I’m a fan of the cheesy movie Point Break,” he says. “The drink is my take on the classic Blood and Sand, made with Shelter Point single malt, their maple orange Sunshine Liqueur, and a super tart orange aloe cordial.”
When asked to create a cocktail that channels the Victoria vibe, Kunen chose his award-winning beer cocktail, I’m on a Boat, which references The Lonely Island satirical rap song of the same name. It took top honors at a recent Victoria Beer Week cocktail competition, he says.
“I was paired with deVine Wine & Spirits, and Vancouver Island Brewery, to I thought it would be really fun to combine wine, spirits and beer in the cocktail,” he says of the tall, deck side sipper. “We live on an island and this is the most refreshing summer cocktail to drink while you’re out on the water.”
The deVine Honey Shine Silver is the base spirit – a clear spirit made with BC honey that’s slightly sweet and reminiscent of white rum – and there’s a shot of crispy, floral Fleur, a white wine blend of island grapes including Madeleine Sylvaner, Pinot Auxerrois and Schönburger. The peach bitters add another layer of summer fruit flavour, all balanced with tart lime and grapefruit, and finished with a splash of light Mexican-style beer.
“It’s light, summery and crisp,” says Kunen. “It’s not a bitter cocktail – it’s a real crowd pleaser.”
I’m on a Boat
Bartender: Avi Kunen
1.5 oz./45 ml deVine Honey Shine silver
1 oz./30 ml deVine Fleur
1 oz./30 ml lime juice
1.oz/30 ml grapefruit syrup
3 dashes Fee Bros peach bitters
2 oz./60 ml Juan De Fuca Cerveza (Vancouver Island Brewing)
In a cocktail shaker, combine the Honey Shine, Fleur, lime juice, grapefruit syrup and peach bitters. Fill with ice and shake 15 seconds, then strain over ice in a wine glass. Top with Juan De Fuca Cerveza and serve.
This story represents a snapshot in the city's cocktail bar culture and it continues to evolve, with bartenders switching spaces and other post pandemic changes (for example, as of 2023, you'll now find Jayce Kadyschuk behind the bar at newly opened Marilena while Shawn Soole is back in his bar manager role at Clive's and Avi Kunen off to shake things up in Vancouver).
Victoria's cocktail scene started with Clive's Classic Lounge and Little Jumbo back in the day — two poplar spots that are still killing the cocktail — and now we have many new great places to find a skilled bartender shaking up a unique beverage with local spirits. Check out End Dive for hyper-local drinks in a funky restaurant space, Cenote Lounge (where the mixologists mix), the chic cocktail bar (and wall of expensive spirits) at Marilena restaurant, the stylish tropical vibe at Citrus & Cane cocktail bar, and the masculine, clubby Humboldt Bar, the latest on the scene, named for the downtown street's namesake, Alexander von Humboldt – a German botanist, explorer and philosopher.
This story originally appeared in YAM magazine