With gorgeous views of Stanley Park, the Lion’s Gate bridge, and downtown Vancouver across the water, West Vancouver’s Ambleside Pier is a sight for sore eyes. So it’s no wonder that Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar, is looking to the site to craft her latest concoction: Evening Whispers, a bright mix of vodka, lemon juice, white port, Aperol, and jasmine green tea that’s one of eight cocktails being shaken up as part of the Harmony Arts Festival’s Mixology Night on the Pier.
“I was more or less inspired by what I remember from last year,” Dhaliwal, who will be participating in the cocktail showdown for the second time, tells the Straight by phone. “Because it was such a beautiful night—it was warm, the sun was setting.”
Taking place on Ambleside Pier this Thursday (August 10), the event will see a handful of Vancouver’s best bartenders preparing a lineup of original drinks throughout the evening. Guests are free to roam the waterfront site, where they can enjoy unlimited samples of the cocktails, and ultimately, cast a vote for their favourite. The mixologist who receives the most ballots for his or her creation, as well as one lucky attendee, will score a Helijet trip for two to Victoria.
The participating bartenders, who, in addition to Dhaliwal, include Juniper Kitchen and Bar’s Max Borrowman, L’Abattoir’s Katie Ingram, and Cacao Vancouver’s Sergio Grandolfo, are given free rein with their entries, so creativity and technique run high. Kissed with a few dashes of Bittered Sling’s Western Haskap—a berry-infused bitter—Dhaliwal’s Evening Whispers is shaded in the same pretty pink hue that was seen during dusk at Ambleside when she competed last year.
“I just loved the colours of the sky, the atmosphere of what was going on,” she explains. “And I really wanted to put that into people’s experiences through cocktail.”
Robyn Gray, head bartender at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Prohibition, meanwhile, is turning to his spirit of choice for a healthy dose of inspo: Suntory Whisky’s Toki. A blend of three different whiskies from Suntory’s trio of distilleries in Japan, the liquor offers a balanced, slightly woody, slightly sweet flavour profile that Gray sought to highlight with complementary ingredients. “I’ve been working a lot with rice lately—doing rice infusions and things like that,” he explains. “And obviously, [with Toki] being a Japanese spirit, I thought it’d be great to incorporate a rice flavour with it.”
The result is the Ochi Toki—its name a play on the phrase “okie dokie”—which combines the whisky with honey and Genmaicha, a traditional Japanese tea blend that uses roasted brown rice. The drink is served on the rocks and garnished with a shiso leaf, which is the green, mintlike plant that sashimi is typically presented atop of. “Less is more with mixology,” Gray says of his simple, three-ingredient mix.
To really showcase the Toki, the veteran mixologist will also be crafting a classic Japanese highball of whisky, soda, and lemon. “I wanted to make something else to help stretch and give the essence of Toki,” says Gray, “while also have a fun, interesting cocktail as well.”
Similarly innovative, other libations will feature everything from fresh yuzu juice and green-strawberry bitters to maple-pecan syrup and charred pineapple shrub. Given the Harmony Arts Festival’s focus on music, fashion, and visual- and performing-arts offerings—which, this year, includes appearances by Juno-nominated artist Warren Dean Flandez and Canadian author Cea Sunrise Person—the event fits right in by offering attendees a taste of a different, edible version of art. And did we mention that view?
“The environment on the pier is just stunning,” notes Christie Rosta, the District of West Vancouver’s manager of special events. “It just pulls it all together.”
Mixology Night on the Pier takes place this Thursday (August 10), from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., on Ambleside Pier (Argyle Avenue, West Vancouver). Tickets are $75 online or by phone at 1-866-514-5050.