New takes on tipples Ready to reopen, The Roost's head barkeep has spent the lockdown devising a new menu

Elsa Taylor has been making cocktails for as long as she can remember.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/05/2020 (1108 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Elsa Taylor has been making cocktails for as long as she can remember.

“Mixing my parents a drink was one of my favourite pastimes, even if it was a deranged combination of milk and sprinkles and green food colouring, that was something that brought me tremendous joy,” says the 26-year-old co-owner and head bartender of The Roost on Corydon.

Amped-up Gin and Soda

2 (minimum) oz of gin
2 strawberries
2 pineapple wedges
2 dashes rhubarb bitters
Juice of half a lime
Lime sparkling water

2 (minimum) oz of gin
2 strawberries
2 pineapple wedges
2 dashes rhubarb bitters
Juice of half a lime
Lime sparkling water

Muddle fruit in a cocktail shaker. Add liquid ingredients except soda. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a short glass and top with fresh ice, soda and some pulp from the shaker.

At 21, Taylor and two friends dropped out of university, took out a $100,000 loan and opened a cosy bar in the attic of a 110-year-old house on the Corydon strip.

The Roost recently celebrated five years in business and its owners raised a glass to the milestone by paying off their loan in full. Debt-free existence was short-lived, however, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of making the profit we had anticipated, we’re just going to do the same thing again, which I’m fine with and we’re lucky to be able to do so and qualify for those… loans again,” Taylor says.

The small cocktail bar and its signature rooftop patio are set to reopen June 1 with a fresh new look. Taylor and her co-workers have spent many hours over the last months painting and renovating in preparation for a return to service.

She has also spent a lot of time playing with cocktail recipes and “staring at the walls” of her new apartment, where she lives with a roommate and her cat, Squirrel Petunia Taylor.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press
Amped-up Gin and Soda is topped with soda and pulp from the muddled fruit.
Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Amped-up Gin and Soda is topped with soda and pulp from the muddled fruit.

While the forced downtime has been restorative, it’s also something of a foreign concept for Taylor.

“It’s really nice because I feel like I don’t truly know how to relax in any way,va shape or form,” she says, laughing. “This would be the first time since I was 13 that I haven’t either worked or been in school full-time.

“This is my first deranged vacation.”

Eva Wasney: How have cocktails been fitting into your time at home?

Elsa Taylor: I have been having a drink or two, I’ll put it that way. We’ve been making a lot of drinks at home and I’ve been working on new menus for the Roost. First, I wrote a spring menu and then, alas, we were not to have a spring, so now I’ve written a summer menu, which I do hope to execute. I’ve been brainstorming a lot and it’s kind of an exercise in the old KISS method (keep it simple, stupid), which is something I was told in theatre school a lot but also something I applied at the restaurant.

Before ye olde government loans came through, I was like, ‘OK we don’t have any f—ing money, so you’re going to make a cocktail with, I don’t know, belly lint and a snap pea gin infusion from, like five years ago.’ But also, mentally, things don’t have to be so complicated. What I realized after this period of isolation is that folks truly want to sit together, shoot the s—, have a lovely piece of cheese and a cocktail that doesn’t hurt too much and commiserate about existing. I’ve really tried to bring it back to basics.

Eva Wasney: Where do you get inspiration for new cocktails?

Elsa Taylor: I’m always thinking in terms of flavours. Which flavours are buddies and which flavours could potentially be buddies that I haven’t thought of before? I think a lot of my inspiration comes from particular esthetics of film and theatre that I really enjoy — and poetry.

I grew up watching a ton of old movies, my dad’s super into old Hollywood and vaudeville and MGM and that golden era of film, so I saw a ton of classic cocktail culture in that.

Eva Wasney: Of the experimenting you’ve done at home, what is a cocktail that you’ve really enjoyed?

Elsa Taylor: My partner the other night made a tasty Teresa cocktail, which is a contemporary classic that’s equal parts Campari, cassis and lime juice. It’s a low ABV (alcohol by volume), I guess you would say session cocktail, but it still packs a punch. The thing about session cocktails is that they are typically more volume in the glass, they typically have a bubbly component, they take longer to drink.

My pal Syd and I are… working on a play together and it’s called Candyland, so we’re making a cocktail inspired by the play. She’s a girl that loves a sweet drink that’s still strong. Most people are pretty disparaging about sweet cocktails, myself among them. She has made these lovely overproof rum-soaked gummy bears. We’re working on basically a root-beer-float riff.

Eva Wasney: What are some other ways you’ve been coping with the pandemic or passing the time at home?

Elsa Taylor: My boyfriend and I have made some lovely, lovely (food). We made oysters Rockefeller, which is such a silly, WASP-y, old-school food trend that I had never made before. It’s so nice to shuck it yourself and then bake this little shell. Eating anything out of a shell fulfils this sort of carnal, atavistic desire.

We are making a beautiful eggplant lasagna tonight, which I’m super stoked about. We’ve made so many avocado toasts. One of the skills I’ve perfected in quarantine is perfectly peeling, without a blemish, an avocado and julienning the s— out of it so that I can hardly look at it, it’s like too fine. And also poaching eggs — I’m getting so good at that.


Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press
Elsa Taylor, head bartender and co-owner of The Roost, shakes up her Amped-up Gin and Soda.
Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Elsa Taylor, head bartender and co-owner of The Roost, shakes up her Amped-up Gin and Soda.


Eva Wasney: What are some tips for folks who want to get into backyard bartending this summer?

Elsa Taylor: Follow the KISS method, keep it simple stupid, and also balance is everything. If you want to make a drink, you need a stiff booze component, you need a sweet component, you need a sour component and you need a mellowing component. That’s literally it and it’s gonna taste good.

Eva Wasney: What’s an example of a mellowing component?

Elsa Taylor: Something like soda water or a cold brewed white tea or perhaps even cava or a modifying liqueur of some sort. A good example of a backyard cocktail is an Aperol spritz.

I have a big glass, I’m filling it with ice, I’m throwing an ounce of gin — even though it doesn’t call for it — I’m throwing in an ounce of Aperol, which we would call a modifier… and then I’m throwing in a hefty dose of fresh lemon juice and a couple of slices of fresh orange and then I’m topping it off with sparkling wine.

Eva Wasney: What ingredients do you think people should have at home to stock their bar?

Elsa Taylor: I like to have a clear spirit, a dark spirit and then I like to have Fernet and Campari, two amaros, because I like to drink Ferrari shots like they’re going out of style, which is equal parts Fernet and Campari.

And then you’ve got to have a couple of liqueurs in there for when you’re feeling fancy. In terms of bottles to pick up at the liquor store, Lejay Lagoute Crème de Cassis is a black currant liqueur that makes a real tasty highball if you’ve got gin or vodka. If you throw some cassis in there with some citrus and some soda water, you’re laughing.

If you want to go a little bit fancier, St-Germain (elderflower liqueur) is what we call bartender’s ketchup — it makes everything taste good.

Eva Wasney: What tools would you recommend?

Elsa Taylor: I think there’s a lot of fuss that’s made about that, but I think really all you should have is a cocktail shaker and a fine strainer. And a measuring glass if you’re a Protestant, but who cares? You can free pour.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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