The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: The Bullshot
In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks - first published in 1948 - David A. Embury first describes the golden rule for creating cocktails: 1 part sweet, 2 parts sour, 8 parts base. It's a simple ratio that, once understood, opens up a whole world of experimentation. Now, obviously this is only meant as a guide, but it's a good place to start.
It's a good start that is, if you're making sweet/sour/dry style drinks, but what if it's savoury? They're rare - Bloody Marys and Caesars being the most common - but they're around and sour doesn't work so well when the goal is to tingle the umami receptors of the tongue. There is however, a similar trinity for savoury drinks, one that may be familiar to the Caesar fans out there. Rather that sweet and sour, think salty and spicy, the flavours found in the Bullshot at Barberians Steakhouse on Elm Street.
Since 1959, Barberians has been the Steakhouse in Toronto. Their wine list is closer to a catalogue, and over the years they've entertained some of the most famous and influential people on the planet. It's a place frozen in time when a fancy dinner could only mean steak and if you've got the pocketbook to cover it, there's really no comparison anywhere in town. But that says nothing for cocktails — what is a Bullshot anyway?
Bullshot - 2oz, $12.50
Top Notes - 5/10
The most striking this about a Bullshot is how much it tastes like a Bloody Caesar. I know, big deal right? Vodka, Worcestershire, Tabasco--of course it tastes similar, but I mean like exactly. Like if I was blindfolded I don't know if I could make a distinction between the two. I never quite realized what a small role Clamato actually plays in the flavour profile.
The other thing, unfortunately, was how dull it looked. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, perhaps the outdated glassware, the opaque muddy brown colour, that sad celery stalk--it just looked so unspectacular, especially when placed next to perhaps the most spectacular steak in the city.
The Back End - 7/10
For those with an aversion to tomato juice or clams or both, the Bullshot could be a promising savory alternative. It has those familiar flavours and is remarkably similar in flavour. As I was drinking - and enjoying - my Bullshot though, I could help thinking "this could be better." It's not that there was anything wrong with it, it's just that there wasn't anything particularly right either.
But then again, Barberians is a classic steakhouse; they don't really do sauces. Steaks come with a dusting of steak spice and a baked potato--that's it, at that hasn't changed since 1959.
I like the idea of the Bullshot, and this one tasted good, but there's unrealized potential here. I'd like a little more richness in the flavour, this could be a really decadent drink with a whole lot of depth. I'm thinking maybe a little rosesmary, some red wine, and a deep beefy flavour, something completely unique and separate from the Bloody Marys of the world.
Finish - 6/10
Barberians impresses with its wine list, it impresses with its steaks, it won't impress so much with its cocktails. Part of the reason I think is that Barberians isn't a place that innovates. They do one thing and they do it pretty much better than anyone and as such, it's a place with a great butcher, but no real need for a "chef." Likewise, they employ the best waiters in the city, but have no real use for a skilled bartender. They have a lock on old timey fine dining, but when it comes to drinks just get a scotch and start pestering some of the younger guys out there for a Bullshot.
Total Score: 18/30 (60%)
Previously in the series