The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: Bloody Hound

In recent years, the cocktail scene in Toronto has exploded. Once upon a time it was just fine to serve an ounce of booze topped up with a shot of sugary-sweet soda pop and call it a day, and in a bind that will still do. But to be taken seriously as a bartender these days, you need a few more tricks up your sleeve.

It began perhaps with the whole martini craze a few years back brought on by Sex and the City (so I'm told), but has matured nicely into a more refined culture. While a classic gin martini will always be in fashion, today's cocktails can get much more complex--both in assembly and in flavour.

So, to celebrate Toronto's coming of age - drinks wise - I'll spend the following two weeks in search of some of the best boozy concoctions this city has to offer. And to gauge their success, they'll be judged in three categories: Top Notes (presentation, first impressions), The Back End (flavour) and Finish (overall impact, price, miscellaneous).

The search begins at one of Lower Ossington's newest haunts: Boehmer.

The cocktail list at Boehmer is culled into two categories, Signature Cocktails and Classics. On the classics you'll find little known gems like the French 75 (gin, sparkling wine, lemon juice) and the Buck & Breck (Brandy, Angostura, Absinthe and sparkling wine), but for the premier entry into the Toronto Cocktail Challenge I wanted something new, something vibrant and to celebrate the onslaught of spring that is bound to come any day now--something bright and refreshing.

My bartender, Ashley, recommended a number of drinks - actually, one by one, she recommended all of them - but we decided on the Bloody Hound--a bright red blood orange based drink. Here's how it went down.

Bloody Hound - 2oz, $12.00

Wyborowa Vodka
Rudy Red Blood Orange Juice
Lavender Sugar & Salt

Top Notes - 7/10
Contrary to the gaudy presentation that accompanies many cocktail, Bohmer leans on the side of simplicity and elegance. Served in a rounded rocks glass with a blood orange wedge and a dusting of lavender sugar and salt along the rim, this cocktail walks the line between flash and modesty. It's a stiff drink in a red dress with enough confidence that it doesn't need to boast.

The Back End - 8/10
Think of the Bloody Hound as basically the best Campari & Orange you've ever tasted. Blood Oranges are a mellower, less acidic version of their more common counterpart and the Aperol (similar to Campari) blends really nicely with it giving depth to the flavour. Even the vodka plays a role beyond just adding alcohol content.

Generally vodka's purpose is simply to disappear, but the Wyborowa is pronounced - albeit subtly - in the background, giving just enough bite to let you know this drink is for adults. But, it's the rim that really makes this drink something to rave about. Vodka, Aperol, and blood orange juice is - while delicious - kind of a no brainer, but a little salt and sugar on the lips as it's being sipped opens up the flavours exponentially and gives a really strong contrast to the mellowness of the orange. To be honest, the lavender is very subtle and could be a little more prominent, but that's nitpicking.

Finish - 6/10
The Bloody Hound is a success on virtually all accounts. It's not a glossy "fruity" drink, but anyone looking for one would be satisfied here. It has the fruity notes, but adds depth and contrast with bitterness and salt. It's one that pays attention to the details of the palate and tries to stimulate them all and most importantly, the flavours are all balanced. No single ingredient dominates; each plays its part accordingly.

As for price, $12 is a tad steep in my books for a cocktail made entirely of off the shelf spirits with such a simple presentation. I'm not knocking any of those things. Off the shelf is totally fine and I adore the elegance of simplicity, it just doesn't need to cost $12.

TOTAL SCORE: 21/30 (70 %)

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