Edmonton Style

It was fantastic for both of us to be interview by Marta Gold of the Edmonton Journal a couple of weeks ago. Her May 26th article, in the Style Section, was exciting for us to see and read. A big thank you to Marta and the Edmonton Journal for featuring The Volstead Act and our desire to bring quality cocktails to Alberta.

If you would like, you can read the article here.

Here is to hoping this finds you in good spirits.



A DOSE of Coffee, Love, and Good Spirit


Knowing the path that many take to discover the best coffee they can, it is no surprise that our journey through cocktails and good spirits would follow a similar vein. The desire for a meaningful flavour experience compelled The Volstead Act to dig deep into cocktail culture and find ways to share it with you. As we have been doing events in Edmonton, we have had the distinct pleasure of working with people who love quality food, local and craft beer, wine, and the perfect cup of coffee.

The Volstead Act is proud to partner with DOSE Coffee & Love – Red Deer’s newest, and finest, purveyor of choice coffee. Located in the downtown, upstairs at Sunworks, DOSE is your chance to appreciate how coffee is truly meant to taste. With an extensive coffee bean selection (from the likes of Phil & Sebastian, Social Coffee, and Transcend) and several methods to brew coffee (Technivorm, Chemex, and the impressive Della Corte), you can not go wrong at DOSE. Rolland, the owner and main barista, is committed to providing his customers with the best cup of coffee or espresso, as well as a meaningful experience and the chance to learn more about this revolutionary beverage.

On April 14th we are very excited about bringing The Volstead Act to Red Deer to celebrate the opening of DOSE Coffee & Love. Tickets are $15, and include Tapas (I forgot to mention that the folks at DOSE also create amazing lunches every day, using local and organic food) and live music, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Red Deer College Music Society. You can get tickets from DOSE, or contact The Volstead Act if you are interested.

Cocktails will be $7.50 and sure to please.

We look forward to serving you.


The Architect, the Painter, and a fine cocktail.

Charles and Ray

Our next public event will be Wednesday March 7 at the Metro Cinema at the Garneau Theatre.  We’ll be serving a selection of craft cocktails before and after the showing of The Architect and The Painter, a feature documentary on the life and works of Charles and Ray Eames, presented by Made in Edmonton. In honour of this cinematic event, we’ll even be serving a butter popcorn-infused rum.  Tickets are $5 at the door, which opens at 6:15 along with the bar.  Movie starts at 7:00, see you there.

Cassis, old and new.

While Crème de Cassis is best known for its inclusion in the classic Kir cocktail, I’d like to write about two lesser-known cocktails that use the blood-red blackcurrant liqueur, as well as a new recipe from The Volstead Act.

For each of these drink’s I’ll be using Gabriel Boudier’s Creme de Cassis de Dijon.

The Dijon bit simply refers to its origin in the French city of Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, and is a guarantee of the quality of the berries.  It is also interesting to note the history of the Kir cocktail: past mayor of Dijon and World War II freedom fighter was none other than one Félix Kir. Kir served what was originally known as a ‘blanc-cassis’ so often that the drink was eventually named after him.

Felix Kir, 1965 wondering when it's time for his namesake cocktail

The first cassis-based drink is the Parisian, which I found in my battered copy of Patrick Gavin Duffy’s ‘The Official Mixer’s Manual.’  While I don’t know the exact origins of the Parisian, I do know that ‘The Official Mixer’s Manual’ was published in 1933 to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition in the United States.  However, I would assume that the Parisian was first mixed well before 1919, as prohibition-era bartender’s were hard-pressed to obtain decent spirits, let alone obscure foreign liqueurs such as Cassis. Duffy’s recipe calls for equal parts Gin, French (Dry) Vermouth, and Crème de Cassis.  I’m not sure if Cassis production has increased it’s sweetness in the last 100 years, but this recipe yields a cocktail that is a little too syrupy for my liking.  My preferred mixture is:

The Parisian

1 oz Plymouth gin

3/4 oz Dry Vermouth

1/2 oz Crème de Cassis

This yields a drink that allows the juniper notes of the gin to balance nicely with the Cassis liqueur.

Next, I moved on to Whisky with the Cassisman, which I found on the encyclopedic CocktailDB.com.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down anything of the drink’s history.  I am always curious to see whiskey mixed with dry vermouth, as sweeter Italian vermouth is more prominently used with the aged spirit. Perhaps the best example of this is the Old Pal, which mixes Rye, Dry Vermouth, and Campari. But I digress…back to Cassis.




1/2 OZ CReme de Cassis

After trying this cocktail, my wife described it as ‘Rum and Raisin,’ and I can see what she means. The spicy notes of the bourbon combines with the fruitiness of the cassis to give a delicious, full bodied mix of dried plums and raisens. A very nice drink.

Finally, after experiencing these two fine cocktails, I wanted to try mixing with one of my favourite spirits, tequila.  I knew that the berry flavours in Cassis would pair really well with tequila but I was hesitant to use vermouth, as I thought the herbal qualities of vermouth would disrupt the clean fruitiness that I was going for.  Instead, I turned to another fortified wine in Sherry. It’s my opinion that there is a certain synergy between Spanish Sherry and Mexican Tequila, and I think this cocktail proves me right.  I used an Amontillado, or medium-dry sherry.

Named in honour of Felix Kir, and the fact that such a small amount of the French Cassis can hold its own against two other very distinctive ingredients, I give you:








I’m really enjoying this cocktail, and am curious to try it with some different combinations of tequila and sherry.  If you have a bottle of Cassis in the cabinet, mix one up and let me know what you think.

Aging with Grace

Today is my dad’s 57th birthday, and in my books, that is still pretty young. Ask him, though, and I am certain he would feel slightly different. Celebrating my dad is easy – he is smart, supportive, compassionate, and deep. His 57th birthday demonstrates his ability to continue to grow and refine and, as many have said, get better age. 

The same can be said with cocktails. While I was in Portland, and in an earlier post, I talked about meeting Jeffrey Morgenthaler and spending time in his bar, Clyde Common. The lure for me was the accolades he had built up after leading the way in barrel-aged cocktails, using barrels he procured from the Truthilltown Distillery in New York. He will tell you about how he was influenced by Tony Coligniaro, who runs 69 Colebrooke Row in London, England. The idea of aging cocktails has always intrigued me, and tasting Morgenthaler’s Remember the Maine was simply incredible. I had it next to an unaged version and, while still delicious, you could tell the difference the 6 weeks in an oak barrel had on the aged version.

Bottling cocktails is nothing new. Jerry Thomas talked about it in his Bartenders Guide as a way of ensuring you had some ready-made cocktails to go. The art of aging the cocktails likely happened through happenstance (much like the birth of many spirits themselves) and Tony Coligniaro ushered in an era of patience and subtlety after stumbling upon a bottle of vintage vermouth that had acquired a mellowed and more thorough flavouring.

The thing about aging cocktails is basically oxidation. While the spirits and liqueurs are not explicitly exposed to oxygen, they are still exposed to it. Oxidation is a complex process, usually understood through wine as it ages. Basically, what happens to the cocktail is that it gets combined with air and thus can begin to convert to acetyl-aledhyde, which at times can have an aroma of green apples. nuttiness, or grass.

This is my bottle of  Boulevardier ready to grow for another year (or 2?)

The other thing I noticed with the aged cocktail is that it is simply smoother and has a much more robust flavour. The colouring, too, was deeper. For my bottle-aged cocktail, I choose the delicious Boulevardier – Bulleit Bourbon, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth. A favourite of both Andrew and I.

Now, I know that a Boulevardier will always be good, aged or not; and I know that my dad is a great man, aged or not. But there is no mistake in the adage of aging well – I have seen it in my father, and I look forward to toasting him on September 1st, 2013, with a one year old Boulevardier (if I can wait that long!)

Life is Better with Bitters


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These words were spoken to me by a kind stranger while standing in line at a New Seasons Market in Portland; unlike here at home, a broad selection of Fee’s and Angostura Bitters are available in grocery stores. I was picking up a bottle of Fee’s Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters when the gentleman looked at me and shared the kind phrase. I then went on to share with him that I was in the process of collecting the ingredients to make my own bitters.

The basic to building a batch of bitters is putting together three basic components – a bittering agent, a spice tincture, and a flavouring tincture. Generally, the components to these agents can be quite difficult to find, but I was stoked to come across a bevy of amazing dried herbs while working in Portland. On Hawthorne street, there is a quaint little joint called The Herbe Shoppe. With very helpful staff, I was able to procure wormwood, licorice root, quassia chips, gentian root, calamus, and cinnamon chip. I purchased about an ounce and a half of each, which appears to take me a long way. It all added up to about $15 for the lot, which made this surprising find even better.

To keep it simple, I wanted to follow the Boker’s Bitter Recipe, but the ingredients are impossible to find (Catechu…no where). But it did call for the gentian root, calamus, quassia, and cardamom, so I figured I could go from there. I wanted to go with some orange flavouring, but figured, as it was my first go at it, to keep it to just the bitter blend.

I broke it down into 3 small batches that I would blend together after two weeks of maceration.

First, the bittering blend:


Wormwood is a herbaceous plant, and is famous for being a key ingredient in Absinthe, but has also been used as a bittering agent in vermouths and meads. For this recipe, I used 1 teaspoon.

gentian root

Gentian is the 4th ingredient you’ll find in Angostura bitters, and is a commonly used digestive aid. For this recipe, I used 1/4 teaspoon


Calamus has been an item of trade in many cultures for thousands of years. Calamus has been used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments, and its smell makes calamus essential oil valued in the perfume industry. In Britain the plant was also cut for use as a sweet smelling floor covering for the packed earth floors of medieval dwellings and churches. In Egypt, it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. For this recipe, I used 1 teaspoon

quassia chips

Born in Brazil, quassia amarais the most bitter substance in nature, so, naturally, it belongs in a batch of bitters! For this recipe, I went with 1 teaspoon.

Secondly, the Spice Tincture
licorice root

Licorice root, originating in Europe and Asia, is not related to anise, star anise, or fennel, but is a strong licorice component in its own right, and used broadly as a solid flavouring. For this recipe, I used 1/2 a teaspoon

coriander seed

Coriander is commonly used in cooking, and are is a key component in middle eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. You can find the seeds in Garam Masala and Indian curry. Here, I used 1 teaspoon.

fennel seedsFennel is a highly aromatic and flavourful herb. Containing anethole, it is a positive medicinal aid for eyes and the intestinal tract (something in common there?). I used 1/2 a teaspoon.
And finally, The Cinnamon Clove Tincture 

Ah, cloves. This Indonesian spice is a very common flavour agent in many cuisines around the world. They are also used in Djarums (the clove cigarette of Indonesia) as well as an incense in India and China. For the bitters, I used 1 teaspoon.

Cinnamon Chips 

Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BCE. Its history is long, and probably warranting its own story. It was regarded fit for a monarch and even a god. For me, 2 teaspoons of these chips were the perfect flavouring addition for my first batch of bitters.

Each of these combinations was put into a mason jar with overproof vodka. I opted for the vodka as I wanted the flavours to speak for themselves and not be impacted by, say, an overproof rum.

Of course, everyone needs a Bitter Making Helper Hobbit!

Finally, after two weeks, and shaking each jar once each day, the bitters were ready to be combined and strained. Thankfully, my Krups Moka Brew coffee maker fit the job.
straining through my Krups Moka Brew coffee pot
Then, they get bottled! I thought the bitters would be darker, but I am quite happy with how they turned out. They certainly are bitter and so far are a fine additive to an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan!

Bottled! A bit lighter in colour than I had imagined

So, that is my first batch. I am hoping to get another batch up and running. I hope to do an Orange bitter and a rhubarb bitter. Cheers!

The Richmond Gimlet


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photo: T.J McLachlan

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

“Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?” Macomber asked.

“I’ll have a gimlet,” Robert Wilson told him.
“I’ll have a gimlet, too. I need something,” Macomber’s wife said.

“I suppose it’s the thing to do,” Macomber agreed. “Tell him to make three gimlets.”

The Short Happy Life of Francis MacomberErnest Hemingway (1936)

This conversation occured shortly after the group in the story returned from an eventful lion-hunting safari. A great short story, and worth the read (and please, forgive this continued indulgence of mine when describing cocktails and linking them to Ernest Hemingway. You just cannot believe how linked these two fantastic entities are).

“I’ll have a gimlet, too. I need something.” For some reason, that sentiment is a wonderful way to approach this fine cocktail. The Gimlet – traditionally a Gin and Lime Juice cocktail, does not seem like a drink that packs a punch, or would be a fitting reprieve from a life-changing lion hunting experience, but do not kid yourself – it is. And its name may be an indicator to its strength. There are two main historical references for the name, Gimlet.

First, and seemingly the most obvious reference, is to the hand tool used to drill small holes, named the gimlet. This tool is used for drilling small holes in wood without splitting the wood. Any tool that works like this but is larger is usually referred to as an auger. The name gimlet, here, could be referring to the sharp, penetrating and piercing effect the Gimlet has on the person enjoying it.

The second reference is to Surgeon General Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, who served in the British Royal Navy from 1879 to 1913. It is said that he introducted this drink as a means for those around him to prevent scurvy by drinking lime juice (The history and relationship between Gin and remedial activity is long and entwined, and probably deserving of its own post).

Whatever the history, The Gimlet is a classic, and one that is open to interpretation. At The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service, we were happy to tackle Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s variation of the Gimlet, which he developed in Eugene, Oregon – The Richmond Gimlet. You can read Jeffrey’s posting on it at his website: Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

The recipe for the Richmond Gimlet goes as follows: 2 oz Tanqueray No. 10 gin, 1 oz fresh lime juice, 1 oz simple syrup, large sprig mint. We decided to mix things up just a touch more and did a cucumber-infused simple syrup, which elevated the refreshing nature of this cocktail.

At our first gig, this was the drink of the night. We were clapping mint like crazy. No doubt the folks at the party appreciated the balance of flavours (mint, cucumber, lime and Gin are a great combination) and no doubt a few felt the piercing effects of the Richmond Gimlet!

Remember the Maine

As you know, I was recently in Portland for 12 full-bloom days. And, as you also know, I was able to sample some exceptional cocktails, some made by exceptional bartenders. One in particular stood out above the rest, and quite easily so. In my notebook, I was keeping a quasi ranking of the drinks I was having. At first, it was the Old Granddad Fashioned at Gold Dust Meridien. Then, the Custer at Teardrop moved into ‘first’. But that all changed when I entered Clyde Common, and ordered the barrel-aged classic, Remember the Maine.

Full disclosure: I accept that perhaps I was swooned by the atmosphere of being in this famous bar, and sitting across from this famous bartender, who on most weeknights is perhaps in the building, but not usually mixing drinks. I may have been under the influence of The Custer and Bonded Old Fashioned from the Teardrop. But, truth be told, this drink was incredible, and one of the best cocktail experiences I have ever had. Not only did it taste great, it did what all great and classic cocktails do: teach you a little something about history and leave you clamoring for a time long before your own.

Having not heard of the drink before (and certainly not letting the bartender know that!), I have come home to do a little research about this classic libation – where it came from, when it came from, who it came from…and the story is excellent, and one that I am happy to share with you.

“We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims”
These are the words of Charles Henry Baker, Jr, penned in his 1939 classic, The Gentlemen’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask.  Now, I had not heard of Charles H Baker, nor of this book (a rare find for cocktail aficionados), which is part of why I love cocktails – it is always more than just the drink you are about to have, it is usually a history lesson, too.
Born on Christmas Day in 1895, Charles H Baker, Jr grew up to become a world traveller and culinary and cocktail chronicler. His work was featured in Esquire, Town & Country, and Gourmet in the 1940s. His column, “Here’s How” quickly grew in popularity, and also into two volumes of a book he called The Gentlemen’s Companion. This two volume tome is filled with recipes and prose about his travels. While his recipes often left much to be desired, they were generally told with such eloquence that folks could look past the recipe and appreciate the story (and with a few tweaks here and there, make the drink they would appreciate).
And just when I got to thinking that Charles Baker was pretty awesome in his own right, I find this photograph of him and Ernest Hemingway after a session of deep sea fishing. Now that is cocktail credibility!
Charles Baker (left) and Ernest Hemingway
One of the better recipes to have emerged from Baker is the venerable (and new-to-me) classic – Remember the Maine, which apparently comes with a pretty good back story. From 1939:
“REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers”.
Barrel Aged version on the left, made on the spot version on the right. (note the difference in depth of colour)
Photo: Jeremy Bouw
Now that definitely leaves me clamoring for more!  The drink itself is fantastic – 2 ounces of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one Morgenthaler used), 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, 2 teaspoons of Cherry Heering, and a 1/2 teaspoon of Absinthe turns this Rye Manhattan into a subtly sweet (cherry heering) and savage (absinthe) drink with a flavour that is truly from another time.  Sip on it, and it and you will feel like you are tasting history, which is what a great cocktail will do.
Age it for 2 months in an oak barrel – well, good night. That was just too perfect.

A Trip to Portland

Every once in a while you get to go on a trip that lasts longer than 3 nights and you get to have a feel for a city. That was something I recently got the pleasure of experiencing in Portland, Oregon. While on a work-related trip (taking a Village Building Design Course that encompasses the philosophy of ‘Placemaking’, I found myself with the opportunity to indulge myself in a few of my favourite things; and Portland seems to be the place to do that.

Whether it was cycling its most incredible bicycling infrastructure, roaming through Powell’s Used Book Store (a must-do), sipping back craft IPAs (Portland being the undoubted leader in that vein), or seeing Owl culture everywhere (like I said, everything I like!), you are always able to do something you enjoy. And, of course, no trip to Portland would not be complete without a few stops in some of the best cocktail lounges in North America.

My cocktail experiences began in the Hawthorne District, which was near to where I was studying. The three lounges I sampled were McMenamin’s, in the old Bagdad Hotel, Cha!Cha!Cha! Taqueira, and Gold Dust Meridian. McMenamin’s and Gold Dust Meridien had an decently stocked bar and a good menu. At McMenamin’s, I was able to enjoy a Poor Farm Negroni – a strong pairing of Edgefield’s Penney’s Gin, Campari, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth.

Cha!Cha!Cha! was certainly more about its food than its cocktails, but I was happy to sample both their Caipirinha (on the left) and their Tamarindo (on the right). Both drinks were quite refreshing. I had never had a Caipirinha before, and am certain I am going to need to try another one. The Cachaca was nice, but I think the ingredients were less than fresh. The Tamarindo was refreshing, but made with Jarritos Tamarind juice; while it is a good juice, it lacks the flavour strength of a Tamarind infused simple syrup. Just sayin’

the author with a tamarindo; photo: wendy meeres

At Gold Dust Meridien, I was treated to the craft cocktails of some very fine bartending. Below, are four of the five cocktails I was able to sample (the fifth was their Old Granddad Fashioned, with Old Granddad Bourbon. Delicious!)

Marionberry Margarita
Portland Prestroika

On the top left is the Marionberry Margarita -El Jimador Reposado Tequila, Harlequin, Marionberry Nectar, Orange

  • (Mexico City 1934)

On the top right is the Portland Perestroika – a fine use of Lovejoy Vodka, Cucumber, Pear and Lime (Portland, 1999). Both of these cocktails were ordered by my colleague, Wendy.

Rosie Lee
The Secretariat

The drink to the left is the Rosie Lee – an amazing use of Hendrick’s Gin, Rose Petal Syrup, Lychee Nectar, Lemon and Bitters (London, 2007). It was garnished with a locally made candied Hibiscus flower,

To the right is the Secretariat – Buffalo Trace Bourbon, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and lemon. A most wonderful cocktail and a creative use of St. Germain. (Seattle, 2007)

Teardrop Entrance

While the Hawthorne District definitely had its highlights, it only really whet my appetite for one of the most exciting reasons for being in Portland and having cocktails: The Pearl District. In the Pearl District are two incredible lounges that I recommend you all make your way to if you find yourself in Portland. The bartenders are exceptionally knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. They truly know their stuff. My first stop was the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge. Here I was treated to two excellent cocktails – the first being a Bonded Old Fashioned, made with Laird’s Applejack, Twisted Truth Bitters, and orange. Also, it came with an amazing piece of ice – a large brick of drink-cooling perfection.

My colleague enjoyed the Shaddock Rose, mixed with El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, Small Hands Grapefruit Cordial, Peychaud’s and Orange Bitters,

Shaddock Rose
Bonded Old Fashioned

The other cocktail I enjoyed at the Teardrop was the Custer – Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar, Galiano Originale, and Rhubarb and Celery Bitters. That drink was truly remarkable.
I was able chat up the bartender, Sean, about The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service, and what we were trying to do. He was supported, and excited that we were making our own ingredients. I told him about our intention to make tonic water, and he let me sample some of theirs. He was also kind enough to let me sample the three types of Dolin Vermouth (from France)

Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Dolin Blanco Vermouth, Dolin Dry Vermouth


The last place I got to was what I had been thinking about for so long – Clyde Common. Home to the renowned Jeffrey Morgenthaler, it lived up to all expectations. Morgenthaler has been working on barrel-aged cocktails, and I just had to have one. Sadly, I did not get a picture of it, but the cocktail I had he calls: Remember the Maine. This drink makes use of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one), Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Cherry Heering, and Absinthe. This cocktail was aged in a Truthilltown Charred whiskey barrel for two months and packs a lot of flavour. Served in a perfectly chilled Coupe glass, it brought a huge smile to my face. For my second drink, I decided to go with an unaged version of the same. He seemed to appreciate that I was going for the side-by-side tasting. He had to double check the recipe from his little notebook (which, no doubt, was filled with creative gems yet to be born), and this drink did not disappoint. While it tasted the same, it is quite certain that the barrel-aged cocktail carries a much fuller flavour.

When all was said and done, Portland’s cocktail experience was on par with excellence. And, to top it off, Jeffrey Morgenthaler and his bartending partner were kind enough to pose with Sophia’s stuffed dog!

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, his mixing partner for the evening, and Buddy, the stuffed dog