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This summer is all about getting experimental with your sips.
What better way to slide into the relaxed vibe of summer than to take inspiration from a mountainside get-away?The recent relaunch of Cure Lounge and Patio at Nita Lake Lodge gave us the perfect excuse to skip the city for a weekend, but it turned out the Carolyn Scholz-designed space in Creekside wasn’t the only thing that had been given a makeover. While the open-concept lounge, and its sweeping views of Nita Lake were meant to wow, it was the new 24-cocktail menu by head bartender Rhiannon Csordas that really got my attention. Her program features flavourful, although often slightly puzzling takes on classic cocktails—think the margarita-like Banana Nana Nana Tequila! which, surprisingly, was built around a cherry puree (not a banana in sight!) and came served in a lightbulb-shaped glass, or the Smoked Sazerac with a massive lapsang souchong tea-infused ice cube taking up most of the real estate in this cognac-based beverage. The craft behind these cocktails was enough to make me lament my lack of bartending skills, but a chat with Csordas quickly alleviated any inferiority complex.Turns out Csordas is a champion for experimentation, whether you’re a pro behind the bar or just want to master one or two crowd-pleasing cocktails to impress your friends at a backyard barbecue. The key? Don’t take cocktailing too seriously. “If you’re passionate about this industry, you’ve got to have fun with it,” she told me, adding a more laidback approach to mixing drinks is starting to be a prevailing trend among the pros. It’s all in the presentation, and Csordas likes to have fun with hers.You see, the last decade has seen bartending go from a basic trade to a veritable scientific discipline. And while Csordas says the rise of mixology—molecular or otherwise—has bestowed a welcome respect and gravitas upon her profession, it’s also resulted in an overly serious approach to the field that—taken too far—can suck all the fun out of it.Thankfully, Csordas says there’s a sea change afoot with this summer’s trends to bring some lighthearted joie de vivre back to mixing drinks. And the great news is you don’t have to be a professional to partake. Here are her top tips for coming up with your own concoctions (plus a couple recipes for those who prefer a more structured approach). Don’t worry, you can work up to this.
There’s no need to bust out the blender or the blowtorch on the first round. Cosordas says if you know you love a vodka and orange juice, start there, but add a bit of experimentation with some bitters—she’s a fan of Fee Brothers—to give your beverage some bite.
Once you have a grasp of what flavours you like, and what goes well together, start branching out into more interesting spirits like cognac or rye. For that smoky flavour profile that’s all the rage right now you can work in a bit of mezcal, peat-heavy Scotch, or try one of Csordas’s signature tricks—a bit of lapsang souchong tea. Fruit purées or simple syrups (instructions below) are other add-ins to keep in mind at this stage.
Notice how electric blue liqueurs and Tiki mugs are making a comeback? Csordas says that’s part of the reaction against this ultra-earnest all-organic mixological movement of the last few years (although she still loves sourcing from Nita’s rooftop herb garden). But nothing says “patio party” like a bit of blue curacao mixed into your favourite drink, served up in a whimsical vessel complete with a cocktail umbrella. “What was once deemed tacky is now being thought of as classic,” says Csordas, who brought back the Blue Hawaii for her reinvented menu.Still not ready to go off-book on the mixed drinks? Try these at-home versions of Csordas’s signature sips. Behold, the Smoked Sazerac.
2 oz Rye or Cognac(“I prefer to use the Deluze VS for this drink.”)¼ oz mezcal or a peat heavy Scotch(“This is in place of the smoke infused ice that we use in our version of this cocktail.”)Sugar cube2 dashes each of Peychauds and Angostura bittersAbsintheMethod
2 oz. of Rye or Bourbon of your choice(“I am in LOVE with Pike Creek Whisky,” she says)1 oz. Lavender syrup*Mint LeavesMethod
*To make the Lavender syrup all you need to do is boil equal parts sugar and water then add about a cup of lavender petals. Once brought to a boil you can allow the syrup to simmer for five minutes then let it cool and strain.