The Spirited Traveller: Cross-border cocktails in Montreal

Mon Mar 5, 2012 6:19am EST

1 of 2. Undated photo collage of cocktail haunt 'Velvet-Speakeasy' at Auberge St-Gabriel in Montreal, Canada.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

(Reuters.com) - Talk about cross-border trade: Just as Americans are developing a taste for Canadian whiskey, tipplers in Canada's Montreal are embracing bourbon, a quintessential American spirit.

Although the Francophone city's first love is red wine, "bourbon is the next big thing," predicts Nicolas Urli, manager of Velvet-Speakeasy (<velvetspeakeasy.ca/>), a cocktail bar located in the cellar of Auberge St-Gabriel. "And Manhattans have really been getting popular."

The Velvet has its own, dangerously easy-drinking Manhattan variation, the Subourbon.

Montreal has held its reputation for rowdy nightlife since Prohibition days, when thirsty Americans streamed over the border to procure hooch. Nearly a century later, "Montréal is all about the party," Urli says.

"Things are always changing in Montréal - we can seem a bit fickle with some new hotspot stealing the buzz every month. For this reason, I think it's best to stick with tried and true options."

In addition to his own subterranean speakeasy, Urli recommends rye- and gin-soaked Dominion Square Tavern (<www.dominiontavern.com/>), and popular after-work spot Buvette Chez Simone (<buvettechezsimone.com/>) to "experience a very local vibe and clientele."

Meanwhile, for business-related situations, Urli points travellers to Pullman (<pullman-mtl.com/>) for "understated" design and excellent, reasonably-priced wine offerings. Best of all, "almost everything is available by the glass," Urli notes, adding: "It can get a bit risky having a full bottle at a business meeting!"

"Places like this will never go out of style," he assures. The same thing might be said for whiskey - Canadian, American, or otherwise.

RECIPE: The Subourbon

Courtesy of Velvet-Speakeasy, Montreal

This drink was one of Velvet's first successful cocktails. Though inspired by the classic Old Fashioned, this punch-like libation will appeal to those who don't favour drinking nearly-straight bourbon.

"We wanted to make something that might appeal to just about anyone, even people who don't necessarily like bourbon," Urli explains. Mission accomplished.

2 large pieces of lemon peel

1 1/2 ounces bourbon (Basil Hayden is recommended)

3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice

1/2 ounce tea syrup *

1/4 ounce simple syrup (optional, if more sweetness is desired)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 Dash Fee Brothers cherry bitters

Splash of ginger ale

Twist lemon peels over a cocktail shaker to extract oils. Add all other ingredients, except ginger ale, to cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake (but not too hard), and strain into an Old-Fashioned glass, over fresh ice. Add splash of ginger ale.

*To make tea syrup (enough for several drinks):

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

3 orange pekoe tea bags

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and stir in sugar until it dissolves. Lower the heat to a simmer, and add the tea bags. Allow to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags and allow to cool.

(Kara Newman is the author of "The Secret Financial Life of Food", Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. The opinions expressed are her own.) (Editing by Peter Myers)

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