What’s Hot! Small Batch Distillers & Craft Cocktails with Cred

Written by Bryan Lavery

Getting a dynamite cocktail at a friendly bar is a wonderful experience. But getting a great crafted cocktail, at the bar where it originated or from the mixology whiz who demonstrates their craft, adds an experiential element to cocktailing. The cocktail renaissance has given rise to the burgeoning micro-distillery scene, barrel-aged cocktail trend, molecular mixology, and the craft cocktail movement. Cocktails like the Moscow Mule, Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned and Negroni have had a resurgence in popularity. As well, there is the return of spirits like absinthe and moonshine, and long forgotten eaux de vie, digestifs and modern fruit liqueurs that you can sip neat, chill on the rocks, or use to create cocktails.

Gifford Lichi-Li, lychee fruit liqueur

New to the LCBO is Giffard Lichi Li, which can be enjoyed on the rocks, as an aperitif, in white wine sangria or in cocktails like a Lichitini or Lychee Mojito. Giffard Crème de Violette has made a comeback and is now available at the LCBO. It is a great addition in Prosecco or cocktails like a Violet Gimlet.

Violet Gimlet

2 oz dry gin
½ oz of Giffard Crème de Violette
1 oz lime cordial

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a violet flower or slice of lime.

Something really on trend is Black Cow Pure Milk Spirit. An English dairy farmer created this smooth spirit, produced from the milk of grass-grazed cows. The milk is separated into curds and whey. The whey is fermented into a beer using a special yeast that converts the milk sugar into alcohol. This milk beer is then distilled and treated to a blending process that gives it a creamy character. The spirit is triple filtered and finished, before being hand bottled. Incidentally, the curds are used to make a specialty cheddar cheese.

Black Cow Pure Milk Spirit

The rise of small batch spirits in Ontario is driven by indie distillers who craft local takes on whisky, gin, vodka and niche spirits like moonshine. Amherstburg’s Wolfhead Distillery just released Kavi Reserve, another hot new product. It’s the harmonization of cold-brewed coffee and Canadian whisky. An easy way to reinvent the classic Old Fashioned is by simply adding a dash of your favourite bitters and twisting in the oil of the orange zest.

Kavi Old Fashioned

2 oz Kavi reserve
2 dashes of bitters
Orange zest 

Pour into rocks glass. Top with ice and orange zest.

Toronto’s Yongehurst Distillery has been experimenting with niche spirits like Triple Sec, Shochu (the classic Japanese distilled spirit) and the herbal liqueur Amaro.

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers focusses on small batch spirits (rye, vodka, gin) made from natural base ingredients. For Canada 150, Dillon’s has introduced a 100% pure Ontario rye whisky. It also crafts absinthe, eaux de vie and vermouth. Enjoying an aperitif has long been a European summer pastime — and we have also caught on to the sipping pleasures of digestifs, like Dillon’s Limoncello with its unique homegrown taste.

Bartenders are offering cocktails featuring more craft distilled spirits. A good example is Junction 56 Distillery Moonshine. A 100 per cent Canadian corn base ensures the flavour profile matches that of traditional moonshine. Distilled like a whisky product but not aged, this is a complex but light, smooth and well-balanced spirit.

The Prune and Bar One Fifty One

Summer is all about spending time with friends and family outdoors, and of course, crafting thirst-quenching cocktails. Read all about The Prune and their new Bar One Fifty One in the current issue ().  Manager Shelley Buss has crafted an excellent cocktail list and has generously shared the recipes for two of their signature cocktails, making this a hot spot in Stratford this summer.

Smokin’ Prune (The Prune)

In a rocks glass, place one or two large ice cubes (whisky-style cubes are best). Build this cocktail in the glass by adding the following:

1 ½ oz cold steeped Smokin’ Prune Tea*
½ oz Luxardo
1 ½ oz Bourbon (Bulleit is suggested)
1 dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir slightly in glass until cold. Garnish with a twist of orange peel and a bourbon cherry (Amarena cherries are an alternative to homemade bourbon-soaked cherries).

*Smokin’ Prune Tea is specifically crafted by The Prune tea sommelier in conjunction with Stratford Tea Leaves. However, Lapsang Souchong Tea is a viable alternative in this cocktail. When cold steeping tea, for 1 litre of cold water add 1 tsp (at most) of Lapsang Souchong Tea and let steep for 2 hours. Then simply strain the tea leaves out and it’s ready to be used in cocktails!

Parasol (Bar One Fifty One)

In a champagne flute, fill with half a glass of the prosecco or sparkling wine of your choice.
Add a wedge of peach in the bottom of the glass.

½ oz Lillet Blanc
½ oz St. Germain Elderberry Liqueur
½ honey syrup*
¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

*Honey syrup: As you would with simple syrup, to make a honey syrup boil 1 cup of water and add in 1 cup of honey (the darker the better!). Let boil until the honey is completely dissolved and remove from heat. Cool and store in an airtight container. For ease of use, you may use a pourer or squeeze bottle when making the precise cocktail measurements. For even more flavour, you can always use the same recipe and add in wedges of lemon, basil or mint.

Stratford’s Red Rabbit, Okazu and Junction 56 Distillery Create Cocktail Magic

Summer at Stratford’s worker-owned Red Rabbit means the return of the pre-theatre menu (fixed price) and to being open 7 days a week. Reade Haslam is the new restaurant manager, while Jessie Votary is across the square starting up Okazu, Stratford’s new cocktail bar and late night hot-spot.

O-kazu is a swanky new venue for grown-ups who want a little of everything, followed by a Kim Chi Caesar, a glass of Sake or a Lemongrass Martini. This is not just a Japanese snack bar; this is a snack bar featuring food from around the globe, clarified through a Japanese palate. Chef Justin Dafoe’s menu features dumplings, noodle bowls, and not-so-noodle bowls.

Head bartender Brittany Holmes and Red Rabbit’s Adam Robinson make cocktail magic, while Shane Oosterhoff works the camera.

Junction En Français 75 (The Red Rabbit)

1 oz Junction 56 gin
25 oz simple syrup
1 oz lemon juice
5 oz sparkling wine
Lemon twist

Shake first 3 ingredients with ice. Strain into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine.

Mango Junction Fizz (Okazu)

1 oz Junction 56 gin
1 oz Aperol
2 oz mango nectar
1 oz lime juice
5 oz egg white
5 oz simple syrup
Lime twist

Dry-shake egg white, add ice and other ingredients. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime twist.

Yuzu Honey Moonshine Sour (Okazu)

2oz Junction 56 Moonshine
2oz Honey syrup (equal parts honey & hot water, prepared in advance)
2oz Yuzu juice (substitute lemon if unavailable)

Garnish: lemon wheel
Method: shake all ingredients together with ice, strain over fresh ice

Moonshine Sangria (The Red Rabbit)

1oz Junction 56 Moonshine
.5oz cassis
1.5oz Cranberry juice
1oz lime juice
.5oz simple syrup
1oz orange juice
3oz riesling
Top with soda

Garnish: orange wheels and seasonal berries
Method: build over ice

56 Miles to Thailand (Okazu)

1.5oz Junction 56 Vodka
1oz lime juice
1oz pineapple juice
.25 oz simple syrup
Sliced Thai chilis to taste (approximately ½ chili)
6 fresh cilantro leaves

Garnish: cucumber fan and Thai chili
Method: shake all together with ice and pour into cocktail glass

Pimm’s Cup (The Red Rabbit)

1oz Junction 56 Vodka
1oz Pimm’s NO. 1
.25oz lime juice
Top with ginger ale

Garnish: cucumber slices, citrus and berries
Method: place fruit and ice into a large glass and build ingredients over ice

About the author

Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink Food Editor and Writer at Large Bryan Lavery brings years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurant owner and consultant. Always on the lookout for the stories that Eatdrink should be telling, he helps shape the magazine both under his byline and behind the scenes.