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. We kicked it off with Adam Teolis from Queen Street’s award-winning Nota Bene restaurant, then Craig Moffat from Toronto’s historic Royal York Hotel; now, we feature Robin Goodfellow from unique hipster hot spot Ursa.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I am the General Manager of Ursa. I am also a bartender, cocktail creator, janitor, laundry doer. Ya, I do everything. As a manager, I have creative control. I love managing, but my passion is bartending; I love to do this and wouldn’t be doing this if I weren’t allowed to bartend. If I was offered a job to manage somewhere else and they didn’t let me bartend, I wouldn’t take it. Bartending is what I am known for, people are just finding out now I am also the GM at same time.
How did you start in this business? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I was in university, just finished first year and needed some money, and was hired to go work in Muskoka at a bar. A few weeks before I was supposed to start I met a friend of the guy who hired me. He wanted to steal me to work for him instead, so I started working in King West as a bar back. The same people also owned a place in the Distillery District where I ended up next and gained my experience in fine dining. I have a lot of serving and bartending experience bouncing up and down throughout undergrad and my Masters. Eventually, I realized I had this crazy education in the restaurant business as well as my academic education. I started applying all my academic training to bartending, as well as being a restaurateur.
Chivas 18 stands out from the crowd. What differentiates your bartending style from the competition?
I specialize in my homemade spirits and liquors and that’s what has sort of made me known throughout the city and country. I make everything from scratch, like ginger brandy, vermouth, crème de violet, and a lot more. Pretty much, if I think I can do it without ruining what the original product tastes like, I will. It’s really fun.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
There are so many great things mixed in with the bad. I think that people in our industry are stress-seekers; there is a certain personality type that can survive in this industry. What we have in common is a love for that look in someone’s eyes and their full body reaction when you offer them an element of hospitality that they didn’t know existed, like a new flavour or a dining experience that is unique from start to finish..With Ursa’s unusual, sustainable, and progressive food menu, we take pride in shocking people and pleasing them at the same time. The challenge as a bartender is to stay ahead of the game and to ensure that what I do is progressive, that I’m not repeating someone. Also, it’s important not to get too far ahead of the bell curve – you don’t want to freak people out.
Your Chivas cocktail, Dirty Gentleman, is a modern interpretation of classic Penicillin. What was your inspiration behind creating this cocktail?
Well, Penicillins are the best, first of all. I keep saying that but it’s true. A lot of people are starting to know what a Penicillin is; it’s more of a modern classic. This drink includes Chivas, ginger, honey, and ginger syrup. I made it stronger by adding the brandy, and I added cinnamon and bay leaf syrup to offer the illusion of sweet and spicy; I think it will appeal to young professionals because it’s really approachable. I sell this to people who come in for vodka and they love it. It sounds strong – brandy and Chivas – but it’s a well-balanced drink, and very refreshing.
If your cocktail were a person, how would you describe them?
He is refined, has a great job, and is a gentleman. The Dirty Gentleman could look really great in a suit but deep down has a lot going on. It may or may not have been named after me, deep down in my subconscious. No, I’m just kidding!
What does success look like to you?
The same thing as what makes this industry challenging. If your restaurant or bar isn’t financially sustainable, that isn’t success. I don’t agree with any restaurant or bar being on a “top 10” or “city’s best” list that come out every two weeks unless the bar or restaurant has been around for three years. After you can maintain that length of success, then you can start talking about it. A lot of places pop up, put up a cool sign, and then they’re gone. It’s tough trying to break through that barrier. For us, the whole concept of Ursa is sustainability, but not all people get that crickets and quinoa are the way of the future of cooking and dining. Success would be people flocking to our restaurant because they agree with that philosophy. At Ursa, we don’t do normal and some people don’t like out-of-the-box approaches.
What is your most memorable moment on the job?
There was one time when Rachel McAdams came in here to eat and her table was wobbly, so I got to fix it for her! No, realistically, the transition I have experienced over the past 11 years, from venue to venue, all the growth and getting to where I am now and being able to apply my Masters in social theory of health to the job. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.
Who would you most like to share a Chivas with?
Giovanni, the global Chivas Brand Ambassador. He actually bartended here a year ago. Or my grandfather. He died before I was really into bartending, so that would be awesome. He smelled like scotch all the time. My grandma too, she loved scotch. She also died before I got really good at this whole bartending thing. So I’d share a Chivas with grandpa and a Dirty Gentleman with grandma.
What to you is notable?
It depends on who you are and what you do; anything innovative and attention-grabbing. It can be something good or bad. Notable in our industry means offering something new instead of just opening new cookie-cutter bars and restaurants just because people feel it’s their time. You have to have something to offer other than opening the “best bar.” We get people coming into Ursa from New York, Chicago and California because we get more press down there based on our sustainability concept. We’re pretty Notable.
In your opinion, how is Chivas best enjoyed?
Chivas is best enjoyed in my cocktails. In the Dirty Gentleman, specifically.