We’re taking it back – all the way back, with Drake Mixtape, beverages inspired by the retro cocktail classics of yesteryear.
To kick off the season of patio-ready libations, we sat down with Gord Hannah, our head bartender and cocktail ambassador, to talk more about the inspiration behind the cocktails and The Drake beverage program.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind the cocktails.
The 80s were an important time for politics, culture, sexuality and innovation. It was a generation that changed the way we look at art, music and movies. A generation that gave youth a voice and platform to stand against the status quo. Innovative subcultures took hold of the microphone and were given voices on a global stage. It was the era of punk, gay rights and rap. It was the first time youth had an effect on the mass media. It was a decade that saw no geological war but instead, saw a generation that waged war on “normal.“
But the cocktails stunk! They were really bad. They were overly sugary and usually neon. The bartenders of the 80s concocted elixirs with reckless abandon and no regard for rules or techniques. The names were littered with double entendres and the garnishes were as garish as the hairdos. That being said, these drinks have earned their place at the bar based on their popularity and most peoples’ overall love for the 80s. We decided to tackle this problem by taking that devil-may-care attitude and combining it with 200 years of cocktail culture, peppered with some modern ingredients and techniques.
Hence, the Drake Mixtape, our little love letter to tell you that we still have a crush on you! The Grasshopper has earned its place in pop culture but the original is almost undrinkable. The introduction of fernet branca gives our “Baller Grasshopper” depth of flavour, structure and most importantly, balance. The San Dimas Margarita is our toast to the skinny margarita and the diet craze of the 80s. We use an excellent 100% tequila mixed with freshly pressed spinach, romaine, lime and cucumber juice with a hint of agave. A spicy rim adds some heat to an otherwise refreshing and bright drink.
Why has The Drake historically focused on cocktails? What are some of our smash hits?
The Drake has always tried to both honour the past and stay current with world trends. As a hotel bar, we have always had a strong affinity to the classic cocktails that form the basis of bar programs for 200 years. We are also a music venue, art gallery and restaurant, so our team always tries to stay current with global offerings and new cocktail trends. Stevie Wonder will always be on a playlist for a DJ, but to stay current, you also have to offer the newest undergound artist. Our bar team does the same – a well made old fashioned will always be a crowd pleaser, but our new version of the Tequila Sunrise will open up your eyes to new things.
The most important reason we focus on cocktails is customer demand. The general public has embraced cocktails in a way unseen since prohibition. Cocktail nerds and bartenders are thrilled to see such a global embracement of what we love, but don’t kid your self, hospitality and safe environments always come first. As long as you’re having a great time, we’re happy to serve you whatever you like. The cocktail trend was started by bartenders but it was championed and carried by the public.
Tell us more about our resident bartender program and why we work with them.
We believe that education and innovation are the cornerstones of any beverage program. We give our bartenders the access to knowledge, new tools/ingredients and anything else they need to succeed. We have such a diverse crowd that come to our establishments and for that reason, diversity is reflected in our menus.
We have our key creators, like the legendary Sandy De Almeida and Jeremy Cheng, who lead by example. We try to provide our vets with the resources (new spirits, fresh ingredients) and inspiration (distillery trips, cocktail conferences) they need lead by example. We then have our younger staff, who we offer mentorship and training to in proper technique. It’s a glorious blend of old school and new school. We hire stars and raise champions on our bars. We are always actively trying to generate and influence the next best generation of bartender.
What old-world methods are we retaining in the making of these cocktails?
We approach all of our cocktails with the same ideology: precise measurements, fresh ingredients and quality spirits. We produce as much in house as we can, unless someone else can do it better. Bartending is a profession and we approach it as such. Learn your basics and then innovate. All of our bartenders must have a firm understanding of the classics before they begin to create.
What are some of the innovative techniques and ingredients that The Drake is using in their cocktails?
Thanks to the internet, the world is a smaller place and the global bartending community is tighter than it has ever been in history. Innovations and trends happen on a monthly, not yearly, basis. I am always hesitant to talk about new innovations as they always seem dated when I look back at press. What I will always impress is our constant desire to provide inclusiveness to every customer at my bar. We now carry a vegan substitute for egg white, should a guest want a classic whisky sour. We carry a citric acid substitute for lemon/ lime juice should a guest be concerned about a carbon footprint. Should a guest not want to imbibe alcohol for any reason (pregnancy, temperance, religion or choice), we offer a real cocktail experience beyond the usual pop or juice.
Speaking of, tell me a bit more about those non-alcoholic Temperance cocktails and the idea behind them.
People are making healthy and responsible choices these days. A lot of guests are choosing to reduce or abstain from alcohol consumption. It is very important to us that these people, should they choose, are still able to enjoy the expertise of our bar team. While enjoying our food, art, music, culture and atmosphere, we want to ensure that they have the opportunity to try something new. We are proud to be working with Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit. This is an impressive gluten-free, sugar-free and allergen-free product that uses fresh ingredients to produce a distillate from which the alcohol is removed, a very secret process. It is an expensive product shipped from the UK but it fills a gap in our offerings that has been missing. We use Seedlip to craft cocktails using the exact same methods that we use for traditional drinks. The Garden State, a blend of Seedlip, cucumber, lime, pineapple, cilantro and fennel, is a balanced flavourful cocktail that stands on its own as a great drink despite the fact that it contains no alcohol.
What era, person or origin of cocktails inspires your cocktail practice today?
We will always honour the classic cocktails but we look for inspiration everywhere. Toronto is the most multicultural city on earth. We have access to every country and their flavours. The world is a smaller place and our choice of ingredients is growing every day. We will always embrace the past and enjoy the future.