By Nikki Bayley / Images By Joern Rohde

As winter rolls around, doesn’t the idea of gathering around the fire with a warming whisky cocktail sound perfect? Deliciously grown-up and made for slow sipping and long chats, whisky-based cocktails don’t have to be scary smoke shows. We asked some of Whistler’s top bartenders to create some whisky-based cocktails, just made for newbie whisky drinkers. So, get ready to expand your cocktail horizons and discover a world of easy drinking and make this the winter that you fall in love with the enduring charms of whisky.

Whistler bars, cocktails, The Raven Room
604-905-4844 | quattrorestaurants.com
Manager / Bartender Mike Sedlacek
Plum Old Fashioned

Let’s talk about whisky, I say to Quattro Bartender Mike Sedlacek. Do you love it? “I do,” he says with a laugh. “You sit down by the fire, sip, enjoy, take a look at the day and have a good time. That’s what whisky is to me. Oban 14 made me a whisky drinker. It was so unique; that’s what I love. You can taste the touch of the distillery in each whisky. Each one is different.”

We’re discussing how to persuade whisky-hesitant drinkers to be more open to experimenting as Sedlacek stirs up a Plum Old Fashioned for me. A modern twist on the classic, after one sip of this dangerously drinkable orangey-pink creation, I think he might have found the perfect gateway cocktail for non-whisky drinkers. Made with smooth, vanilla-y Makers Mark Bourbon and a house-made honey-plum syrup garnished with smoked rosemary, this easy-sipper smells divine and tastes even better.

“I just love plums. They are so sweet and fresh, but tart at the same time,” says Sedlacek on his inspiration for this drink. “I asked Quattro’s kitchen team to help me with this, and we harvested 300 pounds of Italian plums from North Arm Farm in Pemberton. I made a plum simple syrup with honey, slowly simmering it down and then straining it through cheesecloth a couple of times.” The spirit-forward flavour of the whisky is toned down by the fruity plums, making it an excellent choice for the novice whisky drinker. “You get the influence of Italy with aromatic smoky rosemary on the nose and Italian plums, but you still get whisky, albeit a sweeter bourbon, which has less ‘bite.’”

Best of all, you can custom create a Plum Old Fashioned to your specific whisky tastes. Like it peaty? Have it with Lagavulin. Only drink Japanese whisky? No problem, take your pick. There are so many kinds of whisky to discover and infinite variations of the drink to try in the company of Sedlacek and his pleasingly packed whisky section at Quattro.

Whistler bars, cocktails, champagne, Bearfoot Bistro
604-966-5700 | nitalakelodge.com
Bar Manager Hazel Love
Whisky Love

James Bond would approve of this drink; shaken not stirred, the Whisky Love was conjured up by Cure Lounge Bar Manager Hazel Love, as a twist on a whisky sour but with a sweeter, more fruity flavour profile — perfect for tempting newbie whisky drinkers. “People fear the burn!” she says with a laugh. “Sure, whisky has some warmth, but if you mix it with the right things, it softens out.”

A native of Scotland, Love confides that she doesn’t actually drink much scotch, preferring Jameson’s Irish whiskey to the peaty or smoky whiskies. “Being in Canada now, I love bourbon; those caramel and vanilla notes come out after the whisky is softened in barrels, and for new whisky drinkers, I think bourbon and rye are certainly more accessible than scotch.” A custom Cure Lounge collaboration with Vancouver’s Odd Society Distillery forms the base for this beautiful burgundy-hued cocktail, using 100 per cent Canadian rye Prospector whisky, specially aged in Black Storm stout barrels. The collaboration came about after Odd Society owners Miriam Karp and Gord Glanz were dining at Nita Lake Lodge and got talking about their cassis. The team hadn’t tried it, but fortunately, the distillers had some in their car — and after one taste, it was on the menu the next day with talks underway for new ways to work together.

Along with the custom rye, the Whisky Love also features Odd Society’s cassis, bringing a complex, fruity note. “This is such a winter drink,” Love says. “If I think about the colder months, I want darker spirits, and to me, blackberries always feel like a wintry fruit, so it’s the perfect pairing.” An easy sipper, Love can expect to be busy shaking these up all winter long for Cure’s and Nita’s winter pop-up restaurant the Winter Den’s enthusiastic aprés ski crowd, “Whenever you have something eye-catching like this go out from the bar, everyone gets excited. If we make one, we have to make 20! Everyone loves a pretty, coloured drink like this!’”

Whistler bars, Mallard Lounge and Terrace, Fairmont Chateau
604-938-8000 | fairmont.com/whistler
Bartender Fred Lemieux
Duck Fat-Washed Sazerac

“I love the stories behind whisky,” Mallard Lounge Bartender Fred Lemieux tells me as he stirs up a duck fat-washed Sazerac. “From tales of Prohibition and Canadian rye to how the spirit is cherished worldwide, whisky really represents the taste of so many countries. You have great Japanese whisky, scotch; the Taiwanese are making amazing whisky now too. It’s so versatile as a spirit and has so much complexity.”

According to Lemieux, when it comes to changing the mind of a whisky-averse customer, it’s all about trust: “Guests can be reluctant sometimes to try a whisky drink, but you have to explain that when you create a cocktail, it’s all about the balance. You want the spirit to speak for itself, but it’s going to be diluted.” Straight-up whisky clocks in around 40 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) but diluted in a cocktail, it’s far more palatable. Add in the process of fat-washing — a technique which infuses a fat with a spirit (in this case, Lot 40 Canadian Rye and melted duck fat). This is then frozen, so the fat separates, but its flavour remains, resulting in a mellow taste and texture with none of the oiliness. “A properly executed cocktail is always going to be well balanced,” says Lemieux.

As I take a sip, Lemieux launches into the fascinating origin story of the Sazerac. Antoine Peychaud migrated to the French Quarter of New Orleans with his bitters and served Sazerac cognac and bitters to approving crowds. When wine and brandy became unavailable in the United States in the late 1800s thanks to the phylloxera epidemic, Peychaud started to use rye instead, and the legend was born. “This is such an approachable drink,” he says, “thanks to a Mallard Lounge twist of the duck fat wash, plus an absinthe rinse on the glass and a spritz of lemon essential oils.” And he’s right: smooth sipping with a whoosh of citrus on the nose. Who knew history could taste so good?!

Whistler bars, Sidecut Bar, Four Seasons, cocktails.
604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com
Bartender Kim Jones
Blueberry Lipstick State of Mind

When is an Old Fashioned bang up to date? When Sidecut Bartender Rory Baker puts his molecular mixology spin on it to create Turning the Tide, a modern variation on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail. Infusing Cognac and bourbon with black pepper, cinnamon syrup and orange bitters, and using a little molecular magic to create edible cocktail “pods,” this is a fun trend guaranteed to give you a real wow moment at the bar. Just pop the pod in your mouth, bite down and prepare to be amazed!

“This was my first attempt at molecular mixology,” Baker says. “It was much more of a fine science than I thought, but I got some help from our amazing chefs here at Sidecut who’d used spherification techniques with salad dressings and so on before. They gave me lots of advice and helped me keep out of trouble. But with lots of trial and error, now I’ve got it down to a fine art.”

A fan of drinking Old Fashioneds year-round (“It’s such a simple cocktail with a great history.”), Baker is excited to have guests try his modern take. “I think it’ll be a new experience for a lot of people,” he enthuses. “It might take people by surprise, but they’ll enjoy it!”

Whistler bars, Mallard Lounge and Terrace, Fairmont Chateau
Il Caminetto
604-932-4442 | ilcaminetto.ca
Bartender Scott Barber
Bear Necessities

“What I like about whisky is that I like it in so many different kinds of ways,” says Il Caminetto Bartender Scott Barber. “There’s a whisky for every time of day — and night — for every occasion, whether it’s Christmas or a funeral. And of course, there’s a whisky cocktail for every occasion too.” Barber’s stirring up a Bear Necessities, a cocktail that’s somewhere in between a Manhattan and Old Fashioned with a bit of Il Caminetto Italian spin along the way.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” Barber says with a grin. “This is just a beautiful drink to sip by the fireside for people who maybe aren’t whisky drinkers yet. Bearface Whisky is the show here; I’m not using sugar as I’m using Chocolate Bitters, which will play well with my milk-chocolate-and-pepper garnish. I’ve made a coriander-and-black-peppercorn tincture to lend some spice notes, and there’s softness from Montenegro amaro and fruity, savoury notes from the Gancia, a spicy Italian vermouth.” On the nose, it reminds me of Christmas cake, but with a touch of rich chocolate; sip, and it’s silky smooth with a slight peppery note and a whisper of plums.

Deliciously approachable for newbie whisky lovers, the Bear Necessities could start you on a whole new spirited path, and Barber has simple advice for those on the first steps of their whisky journey: You just have to drink more! “For me, I like softer, fruit-forward whisky cocktails, but my brother likes straight peaty scotch. I appreciate whisky, so I’ll drink that with him because he enjoys it. I think once you start to learn how different whisky is around the world, you’ll find what you like. Don’t like peat and smoke? Stay away from Islay whiskies! But no matter what you like, when you blend Italian spirits with whisky, it’s such a beautiful thing!”

Whistler bars, Cure Lounge & Patio, Nita Lake Lodge, cocktails
604-962-9011 | basaltwhistler.com
Restaurant Manager Amy Huddle
Queen Bee

“If you don’t like whisky, I’d say you haven’t had the right one!” Basalt Manager Amy Huddle says with a grin. “Maybe you had a sip of your dad’s super peaty scotch, and it put you off. But I always tell guests, whisky can taste of pecans and be sweet too. It’s such a gigantic category, so diverse with so many different flavours.” Confused about whether it’s “whisky” or “whiskey”? Be confused no more, as Huddle has a simple way to help get it right each time: “If the country has an ‘E’ in its name then it’s whiskey, so Ireland and the United States both spell it ‘whiskey,’ but Scotland, Canada and Japan all use ’whisky.’ Bartender fun facts,” she laughs.

Huddle’s shaking up a whisky-based drink today using 40 Creek rye from Ontario to make a Queen Bee, a blend of two classic cocktails: the Bees Knees and Whisky Sour. “I tend to base my cocktails in culinary,” says Huddle. “I started thinking about honey, and what goes with honey? Lemons. And what goes great with that? Thyme!” Huddle’s honey-thyme syrup forms the base of the drink, with amaro, rye, lemon, egg white, and cherry bitters to round it out. “I think amaro is the best thing in cocktails right now; when I travelled through Italy, I was amazed by how many different ones there were. I’m pairing the lightest version of an amaro that we have in Canada right now, Montenegro, with the rye; I like the light notes of that playing off the lighter notes of the whisky.”

Although amaro and rye may sound spirit-forward, this Queen Bee has no sting in the tail. Gloriously smooth with a silky mouthfeel and bright, herbaceous notes — this is like a hot toddy in cocktail form. “Most people drink it and think it’s really delicate,” Huddle says. “If you get all the elements working together, it’s really balanced.”