Toronto’s Finest Bartenders Take the Chivas Challenge

We caught up with seven seasoned bartenders (who have all been ranked as some of Canada’s finest) from our favourite establishments across Toronto. They all 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. As we took in the creative process of cocktail crafting, we gained new-found insight into the art of mixology as we asked the bartenders everything from the best part of the job, to their inspiration for their Chivas cocktail creation, and whom they’d like to share a Chivas with. Turns out, bartending isn’t what it used to be, and neither is the cocktail. Here’s an overview of the highlights.

Adam Teolis of Queen Street’s Nota Bene restaurant told us that his job is “to ensure that every person that walks in the door is welcomed, their expectations are exceeded, and they leave with the memory of something exceptional.” His Chivas cocktail creation, The Consigliere, is based on the classic scotch cocktail The Godfather. “My Chivas Cocktail, The Consigliere, creates a similar flavour profile but shows much more complexity and balance,” he tells us. “It’s as though the Godfather’s blend of Scotch and Amaretto is a bold statement the Consigliere interprets to create with a flavour profile that is much more refined and palatable to those around them.” He tells us that if his cocktail were a person, to stay true to the name, it would have to be Robert Duvall or his character Tom Hagen.

nota bene 
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Craig Moffat from Toronto’s iconic Royal York Hotel tells us that his job involves “turning moments into memories.” In terms of career success, he says that 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,” he tells us. His cocktail, the Chivas85, is a spin on the Rusty Nail, which is Chivas blended 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,” he says. “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.” If his cocktail were a person, he says, “it’s kind of hard to do without making it sound like a perfume, but I would say strong and seductive, masculine but refined.”

royal york 
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Robin Goodfellow from Queen West gem Ursa tells us that his bartending style stands out from the competition because he specializes in his own homemade spirits and liquors, which have made him known throughout the city and country. “I make everything from scratch, like ginger brandy, vermouth, crème de violet, and a lot more,” he tells us. His Chivas cocktail, Dirty Gentleman, is a modern interpretation of the classic Penicillin. His inspiration? “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,” he says. If his cocktail were a person, he’d be “refined, have a great job, and is a gentleman.” He goes on, “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 – no, I’m just kidding!”

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Mike Birdsey, from Ossington hot spot Boehmer created a Chivas cocktail, Crown Jewels, that is a modern interpretation of a classic Blood and Sand. “I am a big film guy and the original cocktail was named after a film that was made in 1922. It has a James Bond-ish feel,” he tells us. “The Crown Jewels cocktail is also inspired by my British heritage. The rosemary, for example, is something that was used in all of my mom’s cooking. For something different, I used grapefruit instead of orange.” If his cocktail were a person, he would describe them as “British; archetypal English. He is strong, but has juice to his personality. He’s a rough English guy with a heart of gold.” If Birdsey could share a Chivas with anyone it would be Sean Connery; “He was the best Bond and he’s Scottish and I am not likely to ever meet him,” he says.

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Aaron Male of King Street’s beloved Brassaii tells us that the best part of his job “is being able to create something for a customer, and then watching their reaction and the look of pleasure that comes over their face when they take a sip of what I created for them.” His Chivas cocktail, Food Fight, is a modern interpretation of a classic Blood and Sand. “Blood and Sand is a Chivas and orange juice cocktail. I substituted the orange juice for cherry nectar and added a tea-infused mead using oolong tea and an egg white for the garnish for a simple mouth feel and texture,” he explains. How does he enjoy his own Chivas? “In a glass, neat and on the rocks,” he says. “To each his own. Everyone likes his or her Chivas differently; one way is not better than the other because everyone’s palate is different.”

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Egon Bonato from dbar at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel explains his job in a nutshell as being a creator with a great work ethic, and that he works in a team environment. “Teamwork is hugely important in this industry,” he says. “We are always on the lookout for new trends and ways to stay on top of the Four Seasons’ brand. The service needs to be consistent across the board.” His Chivas cocktail, Rusty Cage, is a modern interpretation of the classic Rusty Nail. “A Rusty Nail is a classic with blended scotch whisky and Drambuie,” he says. “What I did was infuse Chivas 18 with dried cranberry and filtered it for two days. Instead of Drambuie I used a strong, polished honey liquor. I mixed it in a crystal mixing glass with a big ice cube and infused it with dry apricot for a smoky flavour.” How does he best enjoy his Chivas? “With one ice cube and a touch of water; a touch of water opens up the flavour of the Chivas.”

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Stewart from financial district staple Jump created the Chivas cocktail Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned, a modern interpretation of the classic Old Fashioned. His inspiration? “I like to do things seasonally, and am a huge fan of pumpkin flavours and all the spices that go into pumpkin,” he says. “Everyone loves it at this time of year. I made homemade pumpkin syrup using cinnamon clove and allspice and all those fall flavours, which pair well with the vanilla and oaky character of Chivas.” The cocktail is made with Chivas, pumpkin syrup, crème de cacao, Campari and bitters. If his cocktail were a person, it would be “Kind with an edgy side. It’s the unassuming person; it drinks easy enough and won’t knock you on your ass.” If he could share a Chivas with anyone, it would be Neil Young. “Neil Young is my idol. I would love to sit down and jam on the guitar with him. Otherwise, my significant other… whenever I meet her,” he tells us.

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Over the course of the past seven weeks we learned that there is no shortage of ways to enjoy a glass of Chivas, whether it’s in a cocktail like The Consigliere or the Food Fight, or simply on ice with a splash of water. To stay in the know and to keep on top of scotch trends, be sure to visit the official Chivas Regal Canada Facebook page.