While it seems as though winter has bypassed most regions in Canada this year, that doesn't mean we aren't all pining for a taste of spring. Simon Ho, bartender at the Drake Hotel in Toronto and resident mixologist on the Steven and Chris Show, has created three libations to bring the spirit of springtime to the cocktail hour.
After a long winter, Mr. Ho likes to use mint, basil, citrus and rhubarb, and tends to eschew warmer flavours such as chocolate, cinnamon, apples and vanilla. And as the first of the spring fruit and berries are weeks away yet (and that's being somewhat optimistic), he relies on fresh herbs, zingy citrus and floral syrups to provide a bright, sunny note to each concoction.
Ill Street Blues Berry Lemonade
This boozy lemonade is built over ice, starting with syrup, then spirits, topped with fresh lemonade and a garnish. It will refresh your palate while you dust off the croquet set. Measure out 1.5 ounces of gin over ice and add one ounce of blueberry-lemon grass syrup. Then add three dashes of blueberry bitters, top withfresh lemonade and garnish with a tumble of fresh blueberries. If you have trouble finding flavoured bitters, Mr. Ho suggests ordering them online. (He uses thecraftybartender.com.)
"I love lemonade. Any drink made with lemonade makes me feel like sunshine is just around the corner," Mr. Ho says.
(To make the syrup: In a saucepan, combine one pint of blueberries and one chopped stalk of lemon grass, add water to cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove and add sugar to taste. Add one ounce of vodka to every three cups of syrup, strain and store; it will keep in the fridge for four to six weeks.)
Girl From Around the Way
This straight, stirred cocktail is the most potent of the three. It is meant to be sipped slowly, perhaps poring over the seed catalogue and planning the spring cleaning.
Mr. Ho combines 1.5 ounces of premium tequila with ½ ounce of Aperol, ¼ ounce of gin and ⅓ ounce of Crème Yvette, a liqueur made from violets. Stir, strain and serve in a double old fashioned glass, either straight up or on the rocks with a grapefruit-zest garnish.
"Crème Yvette is a violet liqueur with a deep, rich colour. It is very sweet so I don't have to use a lot of sugar in the drink," Mr. Ho says. "If you can't find it, cassis can be substituted, but you may need to add a little sugar."
Welcome to the Tarragon
You'll need tarragon syrup for this incredibly refreshing cocktail. Muddled with fresh herbs and strained over crushed ice, it conjures up images of garden parties and Muskoka chairs. To make the syrup, simply put equal parts of sugar and water in a saucepan with one large bunch of tarragon. Simmer for 10 minutes, let cool, then strain and bottle. Use Mr. Ho's trick and add vodka to the syrup to preserve it.
For the cocktail, muddle half of a blood orange and four sprigs of tarragon in a cocktail shaker. "Chop up half an orange and really muddle it well," Mr. Ho says. "You want the juice, but you also want some of the rind because there are a lot of essential oils in the peel that add a touch of bitterness and a really nice aroma."
Add 1.5 ounces of vodka, one dash of orange bitters (Victoria Gin makes a nice one), two dashes ofBitter Truth Creole bitters and one ounce oftarragon syrup. Shake with ice cubes and strain over crushed ice in a double old fashioned glass.
"This is my quintessential summery drink. You're going to go through these pretty quickly," Mr. Ho warns.
"My job is to make people happy so I tried to create three different drinks that would appeal to all tastes. I tried to make them all colourful with reds and purples so they would look appealing in the sunshine."
Mr. Ho suggests stocking your bar with his favourite spirits: B.C.'s Victoria Gin, Tromba Tequila and PEI's Prince Edward Distillery Potato Vodka. "Tromba Tequila, for instance, is the best deal in premium tequila right now. It's up there with Don Julio and Patron, but costs at least $20 less a bottle."
The sky may be grey as the few last snowflakes flutter past, but armed with a bottle of artisan bitters, a muddler and some top-shelf hooch, you'll do just fine until the crocuses pop up.
Special to The Globe and Mail