It was 2007 and there was no Diamond, no Keefer. Just a few years prior, Vancouver had been a wasteland for cocktails where Old Fashioneds were made with soda and bottles of vermouth sat on back bars for months getting darker and darker.
But a young Englishman had recently taken up residence at a hopping Yaletown spot called George (it was actually called George Ultra Lounge but that last part really detracts from the mood I'm going for), and suddenly there was a cocktail-focussed spot where a serious bartender was making serious drinks.
He was Nick Devine, and for his pioneering work in fostering our city's cocktail scene, VanMag named him our Bartender of the Year in 2007. Not that long after he left George (some young whippersnapper named Shaun Layton took his place) and opened the Cascade Room, which ultimately became the Cascade Group (El Camino's, The Union) and also helped found Main Street Brewing. In terms of alcoholic bona fides, he's just a few steps behind Johnnie Walker.
But he's also long been interested in the concept of well-made non-alcoholic beverages. And after a few false starts (mostly thanks to the arcane legislation in this province), he's landed with Edna's, which has the potential to be on the leading edge of what is a seriously growing movement towards no and lower alcohol products.
We asked Nick about the impetus: "I’ve been thinking about the non-alcoholic market becoming a force for many years now. As a bartender, I've seen this coming and wanted to do something about the lack of quality options available to non-drinkers."
The secret is that the drinks (there' a Mule, a Paloma, a Mojito and a Collins) are prepared with the same care and ingredients that a proper cocktail made in a proper bar would enjoy. Everything is all natural—from the juices, to the shrubs, to the oils—and there's a freshness that's lacking in most of the competition. The Paloma has that fresh pucker you'd expect in a bar where the grapefruit juice had just been squeezed. The not-so-dirty secret is that while they're great as non-alcoholic drinks, they're also pretty awesome as base mixes that you can add your own spirits to for a professional tasting drink at home (or you could use beer to make a wicked radler).