Hand-crafted cocktail kits make the business of mixology easy as locked-down Vancouverites embrace happy hour

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      If the spring of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there are different ways of coping with a world that’s suddenly and radically been turned upside down.

      Some of us have embraced our inner Nancy Silvertons and mastered the art of baking bread. Others have seen weeks of COVID-19 lockdown as a gold-plated opportunity to finally take up guitar, painting, chess, and/or candlemaking. When all this is over you’ll be like a creatives version of Frankenstein, made up of the best parts of Jack White, Banksy, Magnus Carlsen, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

      One thing many of us have in common is that we’ve been using an age-old gift from the gods to cope: namely, alcohol. Government statistics indicate that we’re drinking 40 percent more than normal.

      that perhaps having something to do with the fact happy hour starts whenever you want when working at home.

      Why wait until 5 p.m. when you can fire up the martini shaker at 1 p.m. like they do in France? Or at 7 a.m. when you roll out of bed?

      And given that we’re all thirstier then usual, these have been challenging, and quite frankly frustrating, times for establishments that rely on liquor sales to help pay the bills. People right now are drinking like W.C. Fields, Charles Bukowski, and Ernest Hemingway put together, but serving them in person at brick-and-mortar establishments isn’t an option while the world is socially isolating.

      Proving that innovation is everything, this has led Greater Vancouver bars and distilleries to think outside the box with takeaway cocktail kits.

      Not surprisingly, given it’s been named one of the top destinations for imbibing in North America, Gastown’s Keefer Bar has gone all-in, offering five different options for pickup, including the Buffalo Soldier (Maker’s Mark, lemon juice, ginger and tamarind syrup) and the Tokyo Drift (Suntory Toki Japanese whisky and accompanying Tokyo Drift mix made of Ambre vermouth, kumquat gomme, and “tobacco” tincture).

      Other kits include the Bold Fashioned, Rosemary Gimlet, and Pineapple Daiquiri. Included are Kold Draft ice and almost-too-beautiful-to-use Kodama ice blocks. Syrups (lavender, ginger, old-fashioned) and mixes ( are also available for purchase at thekeeferbar.com

      The Keefer is famous for its innovative mixologists, who work with everything from seahorse tincture to salted-plum syrup to dragon-fruit-infused gin. The beauty of the kits, suggests bar general manager Keenan Hood, is that all the leg work has been done for you.

      “Everything is a two-step process,” Hood says. “All the mixes are batched, and the shaken cocktails are one part to one part, which means the sweet and the sour will be balanced for you. As far as the spirit-forward cocktail, there’s an instruction panel on each of the bottles. Usually, things are a four-step process. We’d made it into a two-step one.”

      The Keefer shut down operations early—even before health officials mandated the closure of bars and restaurants. After a couple of weeks in isolation, Hood began thinking of ways to connect with the business’s clientèle.

      “I wasn’t thinking about doing anything like this, but as time went on, I figured, ‘Well, we can execute this because we only need two people in there to do it, and we can keep our distance from each other.’ We had so many people asking us for drinks we figured we’d try it out.”

      Elsewhere, the team behind Juju’s Drink Shack had a challenge with their tiki-indebted cocktail kits. Never mind keeping an established clientèle engaged—the goal was to help build awareness of a restaurant that doesn’t really exist yet.

      Along with his partners, Cody Allmin was scouting for a permanent location for the city’s newest tiki bar when COVID-19 roared into Vancouver, shutting down the city. With plans for a physical restaurant on hold for now, the company is offering kits that put new spins on tiki-nation favourites. The Mai Tai, Piña Colada, Hurricane, Painkiller, and Navy Grog all come with garnishes, crushed ice, and Flor de Caña rum. Best in show is the Tropic Thunder, which riffs on a Blue Hawaiian, right down to a housemade mix the colour of the Caribbean Sea. (Go here for more info.)

      Allmin isn’t a newcomer to the game. He own Twins Sails Brewing, has a stake in the Whip, and is one of the folks behind Published, which will start hosting Juju’s pop-ups on Sundays once restrictions start to lift. The drinks in the takeout kits were designed with help from Chris Mosey—a Keefer alumnus who also spend four year running an award-winning tiki bar in Europe.

      The program started with the revisiting of classics from the 1950s tiki movement spearheaded by the likes of Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber.

      “We’ve made them as true to the recipes as we can,” Allmin says. “But we’re trying to put a bit of a twist on them too. It’s pretty fun—we’re making a clear Piña Colada, the idea being try a classic recipe, but try something modern too.”

      One of the goals with the takeout program, then, is to prime cocktail enthusiasts for what Juju’s Drink Shack will be offering Vancouver down the road.

      “When we take this concept to the next step, we’re not going to be a classic, kitschy tiki bar,” Allmin notes. “We want to be a like if [iconic New York bar] Death & Co was doing tiki—inspiring people by being modern, but still having that classic tiki vibe.”

      Restaurants that are already in the game have been quick to pivot to cocktails for home. In many ways, that makes complete sense, to the point where one has to wonder why it took something like COVID-19 for the government to greenlight a delivery program. When you don’t have time to cook, you do takeout, so why should drinks be any different? Especially since advanced mixology—ie. anything more ambitious than Sailor Jerry and Coke—takes work.

      Tacofino is offering a takeaway kits for Margaritas and Palomas, where—depending on what you opt for—fresh-squeezed lime juice comes with El Jimador Reposado or Cazadores Blanco, Jarrito Grapefruit, an agave syrup mix, and, of course, salt.

      Saving you the trouble of sourcing and juicing fresh peaches, the Cactus Club has come up with a one-stop Bellini-with-a-twist package containing Bacardi rum and housemade mix.

      Recognizing that the Margarita is a drink limited only by one’s imagination and creativity, East Van’s Dachi has created a Mint-Melon kit with El Jimador and Kodama clear ice cubes that, thanks to the one-to-one ratio, is foolproof. Other options include a Coconut and Banana Daiquiri with Appleton Estate rum, and Bella Sparkling Sangria with Bella “B2” Sparkling wine-rum and Sangria cocktail mix. (Go here for more info).

      For the proprietors of Roots and Wings Distillery, home kits are a way to stay connected to a community that’s all about locally sourced ingredients and artisanal craftsmanship. The Langley distillery produces small-batch spirits—potato-corn-based Vital vodka and Jackknife gin, and unaged-corn Rebel whisky—using B.C.-grown ingredients. Think farm-to-table with a liquid twist.

      When the COVID-19 lockdown closed its tasting room, Roots and Wings quickly moved to kits. Packages feature the option of one, two, or three craft spirits and recipes and ingredients for cocktails like the Sidekick Sour, Gin-Ya-Rita, and Sanity Sangria. Made-in-B.C. ingredients include Rose Cardamom syrup from Organic Fair in Cobble Hill, salted lime Margarita spice from Simply Delish, and ginger-beer mix from Rootside. (Go here for more infor). 

      “We strive to buy local and be local, so in partnering with these great artisans we’re able to create fun craft cocktails with a B.C. flare,” says Roots and Wings still master Rebekah Crowley.

      Part of the thinking was that the public would get a sense of what it’s like to kick back in the Langley-based operation’s lounge. In some ways, the kits put a spin on the pre-COVID experience of sitting down at your favourite establishment and putting yourself in the bartender’s hands.

      “Let me know your budget and preferences and I’ll create a kit,” Crowley says. “Unless you want a specific cocktail—then you just let me know. Stock is always rotating, so this way I get some leeway on what I have available.”

      Looking to the future, Roots and Wings Distillery is hoping to continue servicing those who want to kick back with a craft cocktail without doing the prep.

      “Ideally, we would love to continue promoting these boxes after we’ve opened our lounge back up and are serving cocktails again,” Crowley says. “Because, let’s be honest, it’s fun and easy to make tasty craft cocktails at home for your friends and family.”

      It certainly is when someone else has done the hard work. And that, ultimately is the beauty of home cocktail kits. They’ve made it easier to cope.

      Rebekan Crowley is the still master at Roots and Wings, which is putting a liquid spin on farm-to-table.

       

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