Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia
Words by: Ian Cameron
Solomon Siegel has helped pioneer craft cocktails in his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and is among the first across the sector who will be serving bottled, carbonated cocktails when he launches a new drinks list at Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar, where he is head bartender.
Bubbles are fun and refreshing. They always have been. Sparkling drinks are seen as different, novel and super-refreshing: Champagne, after all, is the ultimate celebration drink. Carbonated, bottled cocktails are in their infancy so we are learning as we go, but in terms of efficiency, for events where you need to pump out drinks and want something unique and special, and for the kitsch factor of bottles with the opportunities for labelling, bubbles equal fun! They're the reason why, at the end of the day, we need a cold beer rather than a Martini.
Bottling cocktails used to be standard practice, back in the day. [Turn-of-the-century writer] Jack London used to get [uncarbonated] cocktails shipped to him in bottles, wherever he was. The biggest carbonated bottlings I've done so far were at Tales of the Cocktail in July 2013, where we made 220 individual serve and 48 750ml bottles, and at Art of the Cocktail in Victoria in October, where we made 120 bottles. I haven't done a full-on bottled, carbonated programme in a bar yet - I always used to see it as a pain and not necessarily better or faster than making drinks on-the-fly. But it's the equipment that changes things, and with the bottling system that we've helped develop with Evan Wallace of Perlini, it becomes incredibly practical.
I didn't used to like bottling citrus drinks as they only have a three-day window - it's limiting to drop out fresh ingredients that oxidise. But getting rid of the oxygen, as we can now do effortlessly, removes that problem so cocktails can last a couple of months in bottle. It makes a lot of sense. I think our machine is arriving in October. Sure, beer guys can already bottle stuff, but with this equipment you are not playing with two knobs and regulators and making sure you are hitting the right pressure. Either way, if I didn't have the machine on the way I would find another way! At Catalano once I get everything in place I'll probably do two or three sparkling, bottled cocktails, perhaps an Americano, a Collins-style drink, who knows what else?
Batching cocktails is right up my alley, for a number of reasons - Catalano only opened in April, I'm training bartenders from scratch, we have 94 covers but only one ice well, so I need a list I can execute quickly. We'll have 12 drinks, three each of 'strong', 'light', 'delicate' and 'tart'. There'll be a classic sherry cobbler, a gin and tonic using spiralina - it's a green drink which oxidises quite a bit but mellows the flavour - and my personal signature, the Marco Polo, with four different teas. It's based on Beefeater 24 infused with Japanese sencha tea (obviously it's already distilled with sencha tea, but actually we found a lot of green notes that don't come through in distillation), amontillado sherry, a lapsong souchong cordial, orange bitters, absinthe infused with jasmine green tea and garnished with a chocolate-stick infused with high grade Earl Grey.
Victoria is a great scene considering how small it is, and it's really exploded recently. For a while, we had six micro-breweries, four brew pubs, coffee was going really well, we had meateries and cideries, but nobody was making well-made craft cocktails. I had been making cocktails since I was a teenager at my father and uncle's restaurant, and initially I couldn't figure out why I hated cocktails so much. I knew I should love something like the Dry Martini, but I just couldn't make it taste good. Thinking back, we used to keep vermouth on the bar with a speed spout, we'd shake the hell out of the Martini and then add as many olives as you could cram in. Then I discovered Dave Wondrich, and realised how to make things better. That's why I opened my bar, Solomon's, in 2008.
Today, there's definitely a style of drinking in Victoria - it's quite austere with a drier palate to Vancouver. Initially, when I opened my first bar, Solomon's, in 2008, I struggled as we had cocktails on the menu for $10 when most bars were charging $7/8, but now bars are routinely putting $15/16 cocktails on the menu and it might be their best-seller. The other day I heard someone complaining their bartender didn't know how to make a Sazerac, which made me laugh as a few years ago no-one would have known what that was.
Thinking long term, I will probably want to run my own place again, but right now I'm very happy at Catalano. The head bartender position is really the sweet spot for me, because you're not just managing a programme but are still behind the bar and educating and teaching people about the things you are serving, whether it's beer, a spirit or a cocktail, I always jump on those opportunities to show the wonderful flavours we work with.