THERE was nothing old-fashioned about these Old Fashioned cocktails.
What is usually a simple drink of whisky poured over a muddled solution of bitters, water, a sugar cube and ice was transformed into something entirely different when Winnipeg's top bartenders began shaking and stirring Monday night.
One of those newfangled Old Fashioneds was mixed by Toad in the Hole bartender Pat Morrow at the MadeWithLove regional mixology event at the Union Sound Hall.
Sure, Morrow's Apple Pie Old Fashioned had Don Draper's favourite, Canadian Club, but it also had homemade apple and orange bitters, brown sugar and apple-flavoured simple syrup. A whisky-soaked cherry and twist of orange peel was added, but not before the peel was lit on fire as Morrow placed it on the rim of the glass.
More flames erupted just down the bar when Blake Lelyk, a barkeep at Joey Kenaston, created his three-drink Rye-fecta. He lit up a pile of applewood chips with a propane torch and placed four snifters of Canadian Club beside them and covered them up with a transparent pitcher. Smoke billowed underneath the covering obscuring everything under the pitcher until he lifted it up, creating a smoky showcase that dazzled the crowd.
The drink? Judging by the lineups all night, it received the crowd's seal of approval.
The event, one of seven regionals held across Canada this year, allowed the bartenders, who usually spend their evenings pouring beer and mixing one standard cocktail after another for Winnipeg's thirsty patrons, to show off their creativity.
"There's a lot of talented people here and Winnipeg is blessed to have great restaurants and also some great bars," said Josey Krahn of Deer + Almond. His Zissou cocktail mixed Campari with pur©ed watermelon, orange and peach bitters, which was then compressed in a vacuum chamber to enhance the flavours before being poured over ice.
Krahn even wore a red tuque to match the theme of his drink, which was named after the cult film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
He hoped 18 watermelons would get him through the evening of tastings by judges and those who paid to attend the evening and test out the cocktails with friends.
"I don't think I could ever get sick of watermelon," Krahn said.
A three-member jury judged each cocktail but those who paid the cover charge to attend the evening also voted for their favourites. The jury's choice and the public's choice won spots in the MadeWithLove national competition next April in Montreal.
"Some people are really here to win -- others are here just to have some fun," said Tim Roth of Toad in the Hole, who offered almond brittle to go along with his Prohibition and Coney Island-inspired cocktail called The Cyclone, which included cotton candy as a garnish. "At the end of the day we all try to make people happy."