Bartending isn’t what it used to be. Hence, neither is the cocktail. We caught up with eight seasoned bartenders (who have all been ranked as some of Canada’s finest) from our favourite establishments across Toronto. All of the bartenders faced the same challenge: to create a modern spin on a classic scotch cocktail using the beloved Chivas 12-Year-Old or Chivas 18-Year-Old. We took in the art and creative process of cocktail crafting and sat down with the mixologists for a little insight into their cocktail creation and career choice. Last week, we kicked it off with Adam Teolis from Queen Street’s award-winning Nota Bene restaurant, and this week we feature Craig Moffat from The Library Bar at Toronto’s historic Royal York Hotel.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
In a nutshell, my job is turning moments into memories. The key sign of success is when people come for the second time. You have people come through the door for the first time all the time, but when they come back for a repeat visit, that’s how I know we are doing the job correctly.
How did you start in this business? What was the inspiration for this career route?
The bar for me was always synonymous with family. I grew up in Germany in a military family and we moved every two years. The one thing that remained consistent was that my father would build a bar in one of the rooms of the house wherever we went. Each Wednesday, the army wives would go to bingo, and he would have all the husbands and his army buddies over. From a very young age, I would serve them from behind the bar. Back then, Harvey Wallbanger was the drink of choice, and my reward would be the maraschino cherries. The bar always meant family, so it was a natural thing.
Chivas 18 stands out from the crowd. What differentiates your bartending style from the competition?
The fun thing about being a hotel bar is we get to do a bit of everything. Our clientele isn’t too specific, so neither is our bartending style, and we can switch it up to suit the needs of our customers. The challenge, then, comes in reading the customer off the bat.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I love having the freedom to be creative. As a hotel bar, we have different cultures and demographics of people coming through the bar; so our cocktails can be as creative or as traditional as we would like. We are free to experiment with every aspect of bartending.
Your Chivas cocktail, Chivas85, is a modern interpretation of a classic Rusty Nail. What was your inspiration behind creating this cocktail?
The Chivas85 is a spin on the Rusty Nail, which is Scotch whisky and Drambuie. I wanted to create something that would be a good after dinner drink, and I used a technique called flash infusion. I combined Chivas, Kahlua, vanilla syrup, cinnamon and orange zest, well charged with nitrous oxide, to end up with a few ounces of whisky with enhanced flavours like coffee and orange. In terms of my inspiration, Colin Scott, the master distiller behind Chivas, noted that there are 85 flavours you can detect in Chivas. I can’t detect all, but when I would do whisky tastings with my dad, we could always pick out about five key flavours. I picked out five flavours and tried to translate that to the cocktail.
If your cocktail were a person, how would you describe them?
It’s kind of hard to do without making it sound like a perfume. I would say strong and seductive, masculine but refined.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me looks like welcoming a guest back for the second time. The Library Bar is very much a regulars kind of bar, we have guests that have been joining us for cocktails and good times for years. But we always want to welcome new friends to the Library Bar family.
It is always great to meet someone for the first time, who has read about us on TripAdvisor, or been recommended by a friend. They come for the first time and we do our best to turn every moment into a great memory. You really know that you have succeeded, however, when that guest returns for the second time – they must have enjoyed the first! And then you just know that we are going to turn them into another of our regular guests and another member of our extended family.
What is your most memorable moment on the job?
As to the most memorable moment, this does not even involve booze but it did really stick with me. I worked at a beautiful hotel called Gleneagles in Scotland back in 2005. I had the pleasure of working in the bar during the G8 summit in July of that year. All of the world leaders of the time were there. On the first night I was giving a whisky tasting to Vladimir Putin and mixing a martini for the Queen!
On the second day of the summit, there was a terrible tragedy, with some bombs going off in London. The hotel turned into a madhouse with people racing every which way. In the midst of all this, Tony Blair was sitting in the lounge, on his own, just staring out the window. I guess he was putting things together in his mind; his helicopter was coming to take him away. He had to fly down to London and make a speech to the nation. It was still early in the day so I didn’t think an offer of a stiff drink was in order. I decided just to make a simple pot of Chamomile Tea and I took it over and popped it down on his table. I remember I just mumbled something like, “a wee cup of tea just while you are waiting sir.” He had the tea and a few minutes later his security detail whisked him away to deal with the crisis.
I didn’t really think about it anymore than that. A couple of weeks later, however, I received a package at the hotel. Inside was a box of chamomile tea from Fortnum & Mason and a simple card that just said “Thank you, Tony” inside. It is one of the most meaningful bits of feedback I have ever received. I believe that true service culture is about reading your guest, reading the situation, and doing the best you can to make someone’s day just a little bit better. Turning moments into memories is what we are really all about.
Who would you most like to share a Chivas with?
I would love to have the option to share a Chivas with my dad. I was just starting in this industry in managing luxury hotel bars before he passed away, but I would have loved for him to see me now.
What to you is notable?
A few things: Church’s shoes—it’s a shoemaker out of the UK. I don’t know if it’s the result of working in luxury hotels, but you always notice a few things about a customer when they walk into the bar, shoes being one of them, wrist watch another. They are also comfy for behind bar and come with a lifetime guarantee – they are definitely worth the cost.
In your opinion, how is Chivas best enjoyed?
For me, if I am enjoying a whisky, I would pour a healthy portion (3 or 4 ounces) and mix it with a few drops of water. Water opens up the flavour in the whisky.