When I was in my early twenties, cocktails were just mixed drinks to me, a way to indulge in alcohol that felt grown-up, even though I was usually just ordering mid-nineties college-girl staples like Ameretto Sours and Cosmopolitans.
Call it the wisdom that comes with age, but I view cocktails very differently now. My cocktail palate has grown more sophisticated (though I’m still working at improving it) and I can now appreciate the art of the cocktail, the way a truly accomplished bartender and mixologist can create layers of flavour to make a beverage that is a unique taste sensation, a drink that stands on its own as its own gastronomical experience.
Skeptical that a cocktail can be all that? Then I know a man you need to meet: West Restaurant + Bar’s bartender extraordinaire David Wolowidnyk, a master in the art of the cocktail.
Winner of multiple accolades—including 2010 Winner of Ketel One National Bar Chef Competition, “Best Bartender Pacific Northwest” at the 2009 Art of the Cocktail Festival, and Bartender of the Year, David Wolowidnyk is the kind of bartender / mixologist you can imagine hosting his own Food Network show (not that he would; he loves working behind the bar). Not only does he create his own original cocktails, guided in equal parts by instinct and molecular gastronomy know-how, he is also steeped in the knowledge and traditions of cocktail history, a trait that informs both his incredible mixing skills and his ability to explain his craft—and tell great stories—to anyone saddled up to his bar.
David is the creator of all the original cocktails available at West, including the delicate and refreshing Ya Mon (organic banana, Goslings Black Seal Rum, Navan, Gifford caramel, and pineapple) and the Passage to India (orchid mango, Havana Anejo Blanco rum, lemon, chili, cilantro, and curry). David may have teasingly created Passage to India as the perfect way to pass the time while waiting for your table at Vij’s, but the drink was such a hit it was served at the Slumdog Millionaire Oscar party!
(Check out video of David mixing the Passage to India here.)
On my last visit to West, my partner and I fell in love with two of David’s original concoctions: the Four o’Clock and a yet-to-be-named cocktail inspired by David’s last trip to Japan.
The Four o’Clock has a base of Makers Mark bourbon, Grand Marnier and old fashion bitters, all beautifully hand mixed by David with an extra-long twisted mixing spoon (because, he explains, the North American norm in mixing spoons is stunted). Once mixed, David adds a layer lemon and Navan-orange blossom foam, creating a cocktail that is simultaneously sweet and bitter, with the foam gently adding fruit and froth to the hard strength of the bourbon.
The Japan-inspired cocktail (pictured at top with David) was another taste revelation. After a trip to Japan with his wife, David returned to Vancouver inspired by both a meeting with Kazuo Uyeda, one of Japan’s master mixologists, and by the Japanese use of plum wine. In just a day, David created his homage to Japan: plum wine, gin, cinnamon and lemon served over Japan’s traditional spherical ice. It was light, refreshing, and completely unique!
West Restaurant is one of the top restaurants in Vancouver (the food there is amazing), but it deserves just as many accolades for its bar as it does for its cuisine. Vancouverites have a wealth of options to choose from when it comes to drinking, but original cocktails are not as easy to find. If you haven’t tried the cocktails at West—if you don’t have your own story about David Wolowidnyk to tell—then get down there! David brings mixology to a new level in excellence, one that will transform your palate and give you a whole new perspective on the real art of the cocktail.
Know other places to find unique, original cocktails in Vancouver? Please leave your picks in the comments!