The BIT (Beverage Industry Trends): Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Written by Danny Ronen
Photos by Jenn Farrington

The BIT (Beverage Industry Trends) - The Tasting Panel Magazine - June 2008 Vancouver British Columbia Canada - Jenn Farrington Photo Danny Ronen writer
Many of Vancouver’s master bartenders create cocktails that are meals in and of themselves, like these creations by David Wolowidnyk at West.
The 4 O’Clock is topped with vanilla cognac and an orange blossom citrus foam that he makes from scratch.

Vancouver is a thriving food and drink community, and we at The BIT are big fans. Although it has a typically casual Pacific Northwest feel, Vancouver takes hospitality very seriously; this shows particularly in its vast array of spectacular hotel bars, restaurant bar programs and stand-alone bars.

Due to the abundance and variety of fresh local ingredients (it’s hard not to grow things with this much rain), Vancouver establishments can not only come up with some very creative cocktail menus, but also some uniquely inventive pairing ideas. Some even say that the symmetry between the kitchen and the bar in Vancouver is eight to ten years ahead of most other cities. We don’t tend to disagree!

The BIT’s first stop is at West restaurant, one of Vancouver’s best-known fine dining establishments. What locals also know is that the bar is really where it’s at. Head bartender David Wolowidnyk is pretty much the man-about-town: Everyone knows him and for good reason. David is not showy or immodest; he’s just good at what he does. Although he has been bartending since 1986, Wolowidnyk says he "wasn’t doing it well until about 2000."

"If a musician or a dancer studies the classics, they’ll have the education they need in order to blossom creatively and invent new things—it’s the same for cocktailing," David says. He feels it must come from a real interest and involve reading books and reference publications. It’s when bartenders see the value of their craft that they realize that the "convenience" of pre-packaged goods is really an inconvenience to the customer, taking away from their experience, not to mention detracting from beverage quality. Luckily, the West management also believes that there should always be an overlap between the bar and the kitchen. "They’ve never said No when I take something fresh from the kitchen that I think would work well in a cocktail," David says.

David Wolowidnyk, bartender at West restaurant in Vancouver, photographed by Jenn Farrington Photo Studios, written by Danny Ronen
• He looks mild-mannered, but David Wolowidnyk is a cocktail-creating machine, working hard to use the best that his kitchen at West restaurant has to offer.

Josh Pape, who helped create the bar program at Chambar Belgian Restaurant, enjoys getting creative with his cocktails. "It's all about customizing cocktails," Josh says, "as it's the best way to challenge your palate."

Josh worked in Australia, which is where he says he really honed his craft. There, bartenders used pastries, kitchen concepts and fl avors not conventionally used in the bar to come up with new and exciting ways to entice customers. Many of the people Josh worked with in Australia used ingredients like vegetables to spark their patrons' curiosity, as they felt that people had become lazy and unwilling to try new things. The influence shows in Josh’s creation called the Blue Fig: vodka infused with ovenroasted figs and served with a side of Danish blue cheese. No need to have dinner, really.

Although the BCLDB (British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch) was a topic of discussion with almost all of the industry folk in Vancouver, it was especially relevant to The BIT's conversation with Blue Water Café's Simon Kaulbach and his quest for excellence. Blue Water carries approximately 140 single malt scotches, the biggest selection in British Columbia; since the restaurant is within a ten-minute walk or a two-minute cab ride from most of the city's major hotels, the well-stocked bar is one of the reasons so many of the neighborhood’s concierges send their guests to Blue Water.

Josh Pape at Chambar Belgian Restaurant, Simon Kaulbach at Blue Water Cafe and Masa Shiroki of Granville Island Sake in Vancouver, photographed by Jenn Farrington Photo Studios, written by Danny Ronen
Chambar has a reputation for "crazy cocktail garnishes," and Josh Pape is definitely one of the people to thank for that.
Simon Kaulbach of Blue Water Café and Raw Bar is very proud of the work they’ve done bringing hard-to-get spirits to Vancouver.
• Master saké-maker Masa Shiroki explains the process he uses to create his Granville Island saké, Nigori-style.

Ron Oliver, the head bartender at Blue Water has also made it a mission to bring small-batch bourbons into Vancouver, a task made diffi cult by the BCLDB’s stringent policies and taxation. But it’s not all sad stories. Two years ago, when Maker’s Mark had an allocation program to bring product to Canada, British Columbia was left out; so Bill Samuels from Maker’s Mark came out to Vancouver, apologized for it personally and said it would never happen again. Old-fashioned gentlemanliness? Sure. Or perhaps Samuels tried Blue Water’s Maker’s Mint Julep.

One of our first stops in Vancouver was Granville Island, an attached land-mass that has become the place for the freshest produce, soughtafter spices and eclectic meats and cheeses, not to mention studio spaces for artists and artisans alike. One of those artisans, Masa Shiroki, is a different kind of artist—a master sakemaker, creator of Granville Island Saké. Now that's our kind of art!

Ordering his koji (enzyme mold)- injected rice directly from his home country of Japan, Masa delicately creates his art in the small space he has on Granville Island, creating a wonderful stew of rice and water, adding the shubo (seed mash) at just the right time to keep the sugar levels balanced. One of his challenges is storage; keeping the fermentation process at -3º C in order to suppress the chemical reactions to the residual yeast requires refrigeration. "I have the space for it," Masa says, "but in order to make the next batch, we have to keep moving and always be bottling."

Good thing that Vancouver’s plethora of Asian and Pacific Rim fusion restaurants creates a fantastic environment for saké consumption. Masa also makes a very different sparkling saké, which comes in a fun Grolsch-style bottle. We think he can pop more of those once he starts garnering international acclaim.





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