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How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?
The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker’s, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would “our variation of the mojito” include maple syrup.
In Montreal, Halloween’s a very big deal. Like NO-SCHOOL-THE-DAY-AFTER! big (candy hangover NOMMMMM…).
We’ll be spending tonight seated in front of our duplex with one of our upstairs neighbors, treats at the ready. (Smarties, the world’s greatest candy, am I right?) He informed us that this is tradition around here, because it prevents us all from going crazy hearing our doorbells go off 300 times in one night. I swear to you, in my 15 1/2 years of postcollegiate adulthood, spent in 13 previous apartments, I have never had a single Halloween customer come to my door! I’m so excited!
Do not attempt this at home. This is the work of a mad genius. Do you have absolutely nothing to do for the next month and want to devote every minute of your days to concocting ONE DRINK TO RULE THEM ALL??!?
The previous sentences are ones I’ve brainstormed over the past few weeks, trying to figure out how the hell I’m gonna blog about Tony Galdes’ entry in last month’s Montreal Bar vs Chef. I’m still not sure how to explain to you what I’m about to explain to you.
Tony was bartending at LAB over the summer. Stopped to go back to school. He is 21 years old. I REPEAT: He is 21 years old. He was born in 1990. I will give you all a moment to collectively sigh, go inspect your gray hairs in the bathroom mirror, and wonder if you’ve ever accomplished anything as massive and brilliant as Tony’s Green Rhum Thumb.
If this blog betters your drinking in but one, minute way, I hope it provides you with a plethora of ideas for mixing easy, whiskey-based cocktails. Sometimes I picture you — yes, you — lumbering through the door of your recession-era, DIY-chic digs, on the edge of weary after a long day slogging through your paper-pushing profession of choice (or, in keeping with the recession theme, necessity), and of course nine times out of ten you’re going to reach for the bourbon. Neat or straight-on-the-rocks will always do, but don’t you deserve a bit more of a to-do? Just something uncomplicated that can add a little brightness, a little aroma, a soupcon of civility to your drink and your day? That’s what I’m here for.
I’ve been trying to recall a good example of how much of a goody-two-shoes I was during my grade-school days. Kids called me “the A girl,” in second grade I wrote a short story about a botanist, and once during a 7th-grade-wide trivia competition, I avoided elimination by successfully (and accurately, ahem) convincing the MC (my math teacher, I believe) that a peanut is, in fact, a legume. Take that, coolness!
Try as I might, though, I can’t think of anything nerdy enough to compare to the eight-page dossier presented by my friend and Le LAB bartender Gabrielle to the panel of judges at Montreal Bar vs. Chef, her completely unrequired, written dissertation for the cocktail that, as it turned out, took first place. (Eight pages = first place. Must remember that for next time.)
I usually don’t like people when I first meet them, but not Sam. On the afternoon of Montreal Bar Vs. Chef, us competitors, which included said Sam, took a written test about contest sponsor Appleton rums, then we had a break for dinner. Sam strode up to me and asked in a friendly sort of bellow if I’d like to come have dinner with them. I didn’t know who them was but I said sure. Turns out that Sam is one of those folks who can make conversation with a relative stranger quite a pleasant experience, which is probably just one reason why he’s so well-suited for what he does.
When Tao — short for Taoufike Zrafi, bartender extraordinaire at Piano Rouge in Old Montreal — came out from behind the bar after his turn up at bat competing in Montreal Bar vs Chef, I beelined over to him, pat him on the back and bellowed, “Looks like someone really wants to go to Jamaica!” (Because the top prize at our little Appleton-sponsored cocktail competition was a trip to, um, Jamaica.)
What Tao invented (“concocted” is too culinarily namby-pamby a word) sent my lower jaw slamming into the floorboards. When you’re at home futzing around with your shaker and your bottles, do you ever play-act mad-scientist-going-MWAH-HA-HA fantasies in your head? Tao’s Smoking Kingston is actually that.
As if that is not enough, Tao’s presentation included a laminated copy of this flow chart (Tao calls it a “polygramme”; adorbs!):
And now, since you are absolutely as confused/titillated/stunned/feeling stupid as I originally was, I’ll let Tao explain (in cutely imperfect English) what’s up.
You know that month and change earlier this summer (it’s still summer, right? Cuz in Montreal it kinda no longer is) when I wasn’t blogging? Becuz I was moving? Out of the country? Well, during the first couple weeks post-move — when Montreal’s August air hovered around a blissful 74-degrees-Fahrenheit-(eff-this-Celsius-shiz-up-here)-and-breezy — Sean and I often retreated to our blacktopped backyard for five o’clock cocktail hour. (It’s not just a blog; it’s a thing you can do!)
And during those first couple weeks, when boxes were still in the unpacking and Francophone grocery stores still scurred me a bit, I got into the habit of doing something that I chafe to admit to you good people… I made a lot of Ghetto Juleps.
I am writing to you from on a cocktail high. It’s almost noon yet I’m still riding my 3 a.m. buzz. Last night, I competed alongside 11 of the city’s best bartenders in the first-ever Montreal Bar vs. Chef competition. It was like PROM FOR COCKTAIL NERDS!!!
The contest was held at Le LAB, my maison away from maison here in Montreal. (The first night Sean and I went there, I got just pickled enough that I started blabbing about my cocktail blog, and next thing I know the LAB staff and the PhoBlograpHusband had conspired against me to sign me up for the contest, despite my being neither a French-fluent nor an actually-employed bartender.) It was sponsored by Appleton Estate and consisted of three parts:
Since mid-August, I’ve had “Jean-Talon-tini” jotted down in my cocktail scratch pad (of course I have one of those), to be concocted as homage to Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market. Jean-Talon’s a great place. I’ve had a dark chocolate slushie there, which is even more enjoyable than you’d expect, even if you’d expect it to be quite enjoyable. They’ve got a great culinary bookstore with a spirits section that has sent my heart a-palpitating. I’ve bought ice wine there and plan to soon buy a dozen organic “pee wee” eggs because they look like the perfect size for including in cocktails. Also, there’s a Turkish dessert cafe that looks absolutely scrumptious and I plan on having one of everything they offer before I have to move back to the States.
But probably the best thing about the Jean-Talon is that the produce vendors put out slices of tomatoes, cukes, tangerines, plums and citrus (OK, so some of the stuff’s imported) for unlimited sampling. Most importantly, they put out peaches. I say this because I really can’t think of anything on Earth I like eating more than a peach. I remember when I was a kid, my mother used to buy them maybe a half-dozen at a time and kept them out on the counter, arranged on a cookie sheet that she’d line with paper towels. When the peaches’ texture was just so — when a big bite yielded an even bigger, audible slurping-up of juice, when the meat of the peach could almost be called creamy — I would often eat three at a time, standing in the middle of the kitchen.