I am skeptical of anything built by committees. The includes the rosy-colored drink in my hand—particularly when I find out it contains both gin and whiskey. But bartenders Kevin Demers (owner of Coldroom bar in Montreal’s Old Port) and Chris Natale (a trainer at Montreal Institute of Bartending and, as Demers points out, the person responsible for educating the majority of the city’s top drink makers) assure me, their attempt to put Montreal on the cocktail map with a signature drink comes from a sincere desire to honor their city and community of well-versed bartenders.
It isn’t the first time a place has acquired a signature drink. We all have sipped on Manhattans, Alabama Slammers, Long Island Iced Teas, and Moscow Mules. But it might be the first time a city set out to intentionally mint an iconic beverage. The bar was set high for those interested in helping with creation. To join the team, one had to have a CV that included 10 years of experience, international recognition, and management or bar ownership experience. (The founders, for the record: Charles Landry, Drahos Chytry, Fabien Maillard, Philippe Haman, Sabrina Mailhot, Sam Dalcourt, Tony Galdes, Jean-Maxime Giguere, Graham Warner, Hugo Dallaire, Jason Griffin, and Kate Boushel.)
I am slightly less skeptical after trying my first sip. It’s a drink with an odd mix of ingredients. In addition to gin and whiskey, the Montreal features Suze, a floral Gentian liqueur. (Hence the pleasing ruby tones I can’t stop dreaming about smearing all over my Instagram.) As someone who’s both a lightweight and incapable of so much as looking at a sugary drink without getting a headache, I appreciated both Wunderbar’s petite pours and the drink’s surprisingly low-key, delicately floral-leaning blend. Interestingly, each of the drink’s ingredients is doing a lot of symbolic heavy lifting. As Natale explains, the Montreal is a history lesson in a glass.
“Seagram’s was a huge part of Montreal,” Natale explains, adding:
We’re paying tribute to the immigrants who helped build Montreal, the Irish and the Italians. That’s where rye whiskey and Aperol come in. The present and the future, as we see it, is dry gin. We’ve had a lot of gin companies over here who have really made their mark. And then we have the French. Quebec has a unique French culture, so we wanted something French and original, and Suze fits the bill. That’s how those four ingredients came together.
It’s hard to believe it, particularly after ordering a second round, that Montreal hasn’t been known for cocktails, particularly with the two well-educated bartenders in front of me. (A survey of my local friends confirms this—Quebec’s largest city is a beer destination.) As Demers explains, it’s a learning process. They want to educate their patrons, to teach them that ordering a craft cocktail doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. And they want to keep challenging their own perceptions of what drinks in the city (and beyond) can be.
“We always want to keep learning,” he adds, taking one final sip of his drink. “The moment you stop learning is the moment you fall behind. You only keep learning if you love what you’re doing. People in any type of job, once they get a certain type of comfort, that’s it. Everyone here is really passionate. Everyone cares.”
1 part London Dry gin
1 part Canadian rye whiskey
1 part Aperol (or any other Aperitivo; different brands can be used to make the drink sweeter)
1 part Suze (or any other Gentian liqueur)
Stir all the ingredients in a coupe and garnish with grapefruit zest.