By Reid Duncan Carmichael
VANCOUVER — I’ve never been one to sample a cocktail menu. There, I said it. You all read it. When I go out for drinks my order typically goes a little something like, “Give me cheap, cold, beer.” If I’m feeling fancy, maybe I’ll grab something hoppy or wheaty from the craft beer menu, but that’s as far as I’ll go. When I’m at home I like to sip on rum or bourbon, but I don’t usually sample those things when I go out. It’s just never been my thing. Frankly, I don’t think I ever gave much thought into the care and attention that goes into mixing cocktails either. Not until my recent interview with Notturno’s renowned cocktail chemist—known around the world simply as “H”— did I consider mixed drinks to be anything more than fruity replacements for their “real deal” counterparts: spirits, wine, and beer. I was, apparently, so, so wrong.
Notturno, located in Gastown, is a neat little restaurant. Enter and you’ll find two tiny tables adjacent to a long, narrow bar. Once you’ve sat down, you’ll be given a small sheet of paper with five cocktails on one side and a selection of food on the other. Four of the cocktails rotate monthly and the fifth is Notturno’s signature “Gli Felise.” Using creativity, intuition, and suggestions from Notturno’s clientele and other bartenders, H designs the drink menu month after month. “I don’t really like calling what I do a job or career, it’s just something that I really like doing,” he says. “I live and I breath making things, thinking of things, coming up with ideas, trying to figure out how I can put ideas into a drink.”
It shows. For November, the menu included a cocktail known as the “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” (remember, remember the fifth of November), which came complete with edible sparkles meant to simulate gunpowder. H lamented that sparklers that doubled as stir sticks had not arrived in time to finish the drink. This month, for Christmas, comes the fifth version of the “Wise Men.” You can probably guess the inspiration. To make it, H has ordered gold colourant to make the drink look like liquid gold, myrrh tincture, and he will present the drink with edible frankincense perfume. As well, there will be a cocktail with all the flavours of Christmas including gingerbread, chocolate, and nutmeg. For the New Year, H has an idea for a drink inspired by the circus. You get the idea. An incredible amount of dedication and creativity goes into all of these drinks, and watching them being made is almost as satisfying as drinking them.
And why wouldn’t it be? There’s something incredibly rewarding about having a drink that’s been made by hand as opposed to being poured from a spout. While a twelve-dollar cocktail may seem extreme, there’s certainly more alcoholic bang for your buck and you get to watch someone take very obvious time and care to make it. “I think people [are] just looking for more value for their money,” H explains. “It’s very easy to just go to a pub and spend eight bucks on a beer and then adding tax and tip… A cocktail is roughly $12.00 to $12.50 and then tax on top, so you’re looking at about 15 bucks. But, you’re getting up to three ounces of 40-50% alcohol and some-one’s making it for you.”
Next time you’re in Gastown, check out Notturno and say hi to H. Be nice and respectful, he takes very little bullshit.
Notturno is located at 280 Carrall Street.BC, British Columbia, cocktails, food and drink, Notturno