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Eat & Drink

Toronto bartenders strut their stuff at Made with Love

Posted by Luke Champion / March 28, 2012

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionEarlier this week, Toronto's annual Made With Love cocktail competition took place in the Distillery District. The event attracts some of the city's top notch bartenders to compete for two prizes, one decided by the public and the other by a panel of judges led by Thirsty Traveler host, Kevin Brauch.

This year's edition highlighted the duality of the city's cocktail culture. It's not exactly honest to claim this is an entirely new scene. In the right places, those willing to fork over the dough have always been able to find premium spirits laced with whatever exotic, pressed fruit of sugar syrup was in fashion. The scene existed; it's just that it was a different scene. It's that scene that gobbled up bottles of Alize and Hypnotiq a few years back and still insists on Grey Goose in their Sex on the Beach cocktails.

What's happened more recently, I think, is that Toronto's cocktail culture has gotten more serious, more sophisticated. It's less about image and PR and branding and more about the drinks themselves. Fewer and fewer of the city's better bars are using fruit juice as a crutch — instead letting the spirits speak for themselves. The rise of molecular mixology has also ushered in more creative techniques and presentations, challenging the very nature of cocktails.

All of this was on display Monday night in some capacity or another. But what about the drinks themselves? Here are five worth talking about:

Moisturized Scotsman in a Chinese Hat — Scott McMaster, SPiN Toronto Judges' Winner
Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionIngredients: Hendricks gin, cucumber water, aloe vera juice, lemon and a honey/jalapeno syrup.

Verdict: The evening's big winner did it with a refreshing blend suited for sweltering summer days and sunshiny visits to the island (shhhh). I love the use of jalapeño here, giving the drink just a little bit of a kick on the back of your tongue (if fact I would have taken a little more). The balance of heat and the soothing cucumber is certainly what caught the judges eyes.

Cool Runnings — Robin Wynn, Fynn's Temple Bar People's Choice Winner
Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionIngredients: Part 1: Appleton's Reserve caramel popcorn with Appleton's v/x brown butter "malto" & Appleton's v/x "spiced rub" / Part 2: Appleton's v/x brown butter and vanilla bean ice cream, Appleton's reserve molasses syrup, smoked sea salt, fresh zested lime / Part 3: Brown butter and vanilla spice infused Appleton's v/x. Appleton's reserve molasses chai syrup, spice rum, lemon and black pepper bitters, lemon juice & egg whites, caramel "air"

Verdict: It seems unfair to even call this simply a cocktail. Robin Wynn's award winning trio of Appleton's treats was clearly a crowd favourite. As the ingredients suggest, the flavours are rooted in sweet, comforting brown sugar and caramel territory. Not a "drink" for the club, but one to be focused on and savoured.

Mahogany Brose — Simon Hooper, Brasaii
20120328_madewithlove_4.jpgIngredients: Makers Mark stirred with a mahogany infused honey syrup, layered with pink pepper and chocolate Rooibos infused aerated cream.

Verdict: This well-balanced, whiskey-forward cocktail actually tasted like whiskey! The mahogany complemented the already oaky Makers perfectly and a touch of honey nicely smoothed out the burn. I even liked the pink pepper and chocolate, but I think I would have forgone the cream, which though tasty, made it feel too much like a dessert.

Backwards Rootbeer Float — Brynley Leach & Chef Danny Smiles, Bremner Montreal
Root beer float cocktailIngredients: Homemade melted vanilla ice cream, Appleton Reserve, Homemade Rootbeer Sizzurp, carbonated rocks.

Verdict: Ok, check this out, here's where we get really molecular. This is a backwards root beer float, which means you drink the ice cream and eat the root beer. So the drink starts with a pool ice vanilla ice cream in the bottom of the glass, then the guys add some root beer syrup and rum to a bowl along with some liquid nitrogen and start mixing furiously. In a few moments you've got instant ice cream that you scoop into you pool of vanilla.

Casse Tête — Joshua Oliver Prout, Boehmer
Boehmer CocktailIngredients: Hendrick's gin, house made lime cordial infused with organic wormwood absinthe, garnished with a gummy worm of Hendrick's gin and cucumber puree.

Verdict: If I were giving out an award for the most bizarre cocktail of the evening, the Casse Tête would be it. This gelatinous slurp was well balanced on the palate, but the texture was strange enough to sit and thing about for a moment before making the swallow. Like a David Lynch movie, I walked away a little confused and not sure I liked it, but glad I indulged.

Discussion

29 Comments

Paul / March 28, 2012 at 04:19 pm
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If Dave Mitton from Harbord Room ain't mixin, it ain't worth a damn.
Slurper / March 28, 2012 at 04:22 pm
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Sounds neat-oh.
How does one get added to these events?
JV / March 28, 2012 at 05:20 pm
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www.enjoymadewithlove.com ;)
Luke replying to a comment from Paul / March 28, 2012 at 07:54 pm
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He was on the judges panel actually =)
Billy replying to a comment from Paul / March 28, 2012 at 08:37 pm
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If you like Dave Mitton so much...you should have known he was a judge ya idiot
neilson / March 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm
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What a navel-gazing shit-fest. Conceptually this is not far off from sipping a shot of jameson out of kevin brauch's asshole.

Someone please tell me when the fair-trade, artisan cigarette rolling contest is on so i can mark it on my calendar.
Josh / March 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm
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You can get these drinks for alot cheaper if you make them at home - or something similar at home
Tuli / March 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm
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Rye and Ginger please!@!!!!
Peyo / March 29, 2012 at 12:32 am
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Big respect for those creators! The event was amazing!
retardreply replying to a comment from neilson / March 29, 2012 at 02:41 am
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Sounds like someone is jealous he can't do more than open a corona and get blown by a tranny :(
ur a hater replying to a comment from neilson / March 29, 2012 at 08:35 am
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Dude, Kevin told me that he has a wife. Don't be spreading HATE about the interwabz.
Adam replying to a comment from neilson / March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am
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A Jameson shot out of Brauch's asshole. Mwah ha ha. I don't fully agree, but that was a skilful takedown.
Moi / March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am
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Crap just pour me a drink. I don't want bells, whistles, foam, twirls and your bare fingers touching my fruit. JUST DO IT!
JLV / March 29, 2012 at 06:59 pm
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I get that some people just want a "rye and ginger" but for those that are looking for something different, you have to respect what these guys (and gals) are doing. There is so much thought and planning that goes into each component of each recipe for each drink and I admire them for it immensely. No, you're not going to find these drinks at Nightclub XYZ at 1am on a Saturday night because they aren't drinks you can make in less than 10 seconds. If you want a vodka soda or a rye and ginger, you know where to get it. If you want something different, now you know where to find it too.
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