Cocktail variations are nothing new: even tried-and-true favourites such as Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Cosmopolitans have their variants. Replace a Manhattan’s whisky with Scotch and you have a Rob Roy. In Wisconsin, brandy is the preferred liquor for an Old Fashioned. Reno bartender Trevor Perry added a new flair to the Cosmopolitan when he used grapefruit-infused vodka, scratch raspberry syrup and Carpano Bianco, ultimately making the Sarah Jessica Parker. (An apt name, since Carrie Bradshaw’s favourite drink was a Cosmopolitan).
The trend in re-examining traditional cocktails has been picking up momentum recently, with local watering holes such as North 53, El Cortez and Mercer Tavern all including new twists on old favourites.
“We are trying to add to the culture of drinking with discretion, with enjoyment, with creativity, innovation and curiosity,” writes Shaun Hicks, bar manager at Woodwork, in an email. “We are attempting to throw our two cents into the dining experience of Edmonton and hopefully create a better scene for [people to] inhabit and travel here.”
Hicks points to new distilling technologies and a better understanding of drink physics as to why there’s been a spike in the trend of reimagining classic cocktails.
“With the developments in the technologies and sciences of distilling, it is possible now to make great volumes of great products all over the world and our disposable incomes and thirsty inhabitants create these demands,” he writes.
These new innovations in drink science have created a better variety of quality options to use as ingredients, as well as a demand in the cocktail culture to see these new technologies better utilized in what’s being served.
“There is no sanctity in experimenting. It’s a lawless land if the result[s] speak for themselves,” Hicks notes. “First though, you really should understand the components of drinks in general before you experiment—unless you don’t mind drinking bad drinks or pouring them down the sink.”
When it comes to finding a new take on an old favourite, Hicks says that knowing the drink’s flavour characteristics helps to dissect it and figure out where new variations can be added. He provides Woodwork’s Cosmopolitan as an example, explaining how the typical composition of Triple Sec and cranberry juice is replaced by grenadine and citric acid. The substitution creates that balanced sweet-and-sour taste indicative of a Cosmopolitan, while still making for a new experience.
“We really take an esoteric look at the drinks,” Hicks says over the phone, a few days after his email. “We look at the drink’s character and from there we can recreate the drink’s architecture and ratio, mixing the same balance in the drink while still creating something new.”
One of Woodwork’s most popular drinks is the Old World Fashioned, which uses cognac and Amaro (a bitter Italian herbal liqueur) in place of the drink’s typical bourbon and bitters. Similarly, Woodwork’s Manhattan is typically served with the traditional rye, but its version also plays on other variants including the Emerald, which uses Irish whisky, and the Perfect Manhattan, which splits the vermouth component into half sweet and half dry.
As much as Hicks and the rest of the Woodwork staff love to create new drinks, they recognize that the original recipes for classic cocktails do have their place as well. And they’re always willing to accommodate whatever you’re feeling, be it something familiar or something completely new.
“We love the classics and if someone orders them here, we try to recreate them exactly the same each time: totally delicious and predictable and showcased as perfect as we can,” he writes. “If the customers want something beyond the ordinary, we are happy to venture out there with them and find out what it is they like in a drink and enhance their experience.” V
1.75 oz Ketel One Vodka
0.25 oz dry Curaçao
0.5 oz pomegranate grenadine
pinch of powdered citric acid
Mix the vodka, curaçao and grenadine in a mixing glass with ice. Stir with a bar spoon and then strain into a martini glass. Sprinkle the citric acid on top and garnish with an orange twist.