One of the brilliant things about a great cocktail is the way it can have a magically transporting quality. Been lucky enough to have spent an hour or three lounging on the lawn of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana? If so, the first sip of a back-yard mojito can instantly take you back to a frozen-in-time world of ’57 Chevys, son cubano songs, and $10 Montecristo No. 2 cigars.
Remember that happy hour at Huggo’s open-air bar on Hawaii’s Big Island, where humpback whales breached in the distance as you watched transfixed with your toes in the sand? Mix up a Mai Tai, crank Gabby Pahinui’s “Ka Makani Ka’ili Aloha”, and suddenly you’re back at Huggo’s on the Rocks rather than stuck in your 410-square-foot Yaletown condo wishing desperately you’d sprung for a place with a balcony.
That a cocktail can take you away to a happier place somehow seems monumentally important today. More than ever, getting through the latest stretch of what’s become an endless COVID-19 nightmare requires going to a happy-memory place. Like that springtime in Paris where you spent the afternoon crying at Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery. And then washed the tears away with a six-hour haul at the Candelaria cocktail bar, where one Pensa en Mi was followed by a Pais Tropical, La Guepe Verdem, Naked & Famous, and the sudden overwhelming urge to buy a pack of Gitanes and smoke your brains out. (Hey, if Serge Gainsbourg lived to 62 burning through five packs a day, a couple dozen on vacation aren’t going to hurt you).
Actually, screw living in the past, because all that’s doing is reminding you how fucked everything has been for the past 14 months and counting. Maybe it’s time to focus on creating some new happy memories.
You’re never going to forget this epically weird pandemic period of your life, so you might as well embrace our new reality.
Assuming you’ve ignored the news, the past few weeks on the West Coast have been pretty goddamn magical. Who needs springtime in Paris when you’ve got a sun-soaked Stanley Park Seawall. Or Queen Elizabeth Park in full bloom? Tulips are everywhere right now, the cherry blossoms and magnolia trees have popped, and the usual spring monsoons have yet to roll in.
The best way to celebrate our freakishly fantastic weather? That would be by keeping things light, bright, and fresh, which is to say this isn’t time for rediscovering the Dark ’N Stormy, Frozen Mudslide, or Damn the Weather as your 5 p.m cocktail-time go-to.
So think floral, which is entirely appropriate seeing as, if spring is about anything, it’s flowers.
There are all sorts of infused spirits on the market, including Hana Gin (distilled with lavender), Peony Vodka, and Gran Centenario’s Rosangel Tequila (which is finished with hibiscus flowers). This being British Columbia, where the government decides what you’ll be buying rather than the free market, you’ll have more luck flying to Uranus under your own power than tracking down such offerings locally.
The good news, however, is that making your own floral spirits is pretty simple. To create a lavender or hibiscus-infused tequila, gin, vodka, or rum, grab a 26er and a quarter cup of dried flowers of your choosing. Flowers of various varietals—dried rose petals, gardenia, geranium, elderflower, chamomile, or orange blossoms—are usually available at Modern Bartender, or at grocery stores like Persia Foods. Mix booze and flowers, let sit for half a day or so, and then strain back into the bottle.
You can also go the fresh-flower route, although it’s probably wisest to source from your own garden if you’ve got one—the last thing you need to be working with is factory-farm roses dusted with military-grade Ant B Gone.
Worried about ruining your delicious, delicious, and (assuming Alberta White Lightning isn’t your go-to brand) quite frankly expensive alcohol? Using two cups of boiling water and a quarter-cup of flowers, make a tea and steep for an hour. Adjust to taste with more flowers or time, strain liquid, and then mix tea with an equal amount of sugar. Voila—you have a rainbow’s worth of floral simple syrups that will work as a sweetener in everything from Gimlets to Margaritas to Old Fashioneds.
If that seems like too much work, France-based Giffard makes killer elderflower, lavender, rose and hibiscus syrups, although tracking them down locally can be tricky. Check Gourmet Warehouse and Modern Bartender. And while you are there, look for floral waters and bitters (hibiscus, orange blossom, jasmine) that, used sparingly, will add subtle new layers to your favourite cocktails. (Pro tip—you can also find things like rose and orange-blossom water in Persian markets for a fraction of what you’ll pay for a cocktail-emporium version.)
Keep in mind that you only need a dash or two in a recipe when working with bitters and flavoured waters. For the syrups, if your Whiskey Sour, Lemon Drop, or Sour Cherry Martini calls for an ounce of simple syrup, try subbing in the same amount of your house-made floral syrup, or 3/4 of an ounce of Giffard’s.
That’s it. It’s time to celebrate our crazily sunny spring on the West Coast. And do it now, because, if Environment Canada is to be believed, the spring fucking monsoons are headed our way with a vengeance next week.
Here’s a bright, sunny, and floral drink that riffs on a Yellow Bird I had one in Saigon before the world went to hell in a flaming handcart.
Vietnam Yellow Bird
2 oz. Bacardi white rum
1/2 oz. Galiano
3/4 oz. Giffard Elderflower syrup
1 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
Two dashes Fee Brothers Hibiscus Water
Dried rose petals
Pour all ingredients except dried rose petals into a shaker over ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a glass, and top with four dried rose petals.