August 25, 2017

From orchard to glass

Going beyond the grape with Okanagan wine country cocktails

By Joanne Sasvari

The Okanagan Valley may be British Columbia’s wine country, but increasingly it’s also our craft beer country, cider country, spirits country and, most excitingly of all, cocktail country. And why not? The valley is simply bursting with fresh produce just waiting to be juiced, muddled and shaken into drinks.

“The field-to-glass concept is really big here,” says Harry Dosanj, one of a handful of bartenders who are crafting the cocktail scene in and around Kelowna.

Not so long ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a cocktail here that didn’t come from a slushy machine. Then RauDZ Regional Table opened in 2009, and its cocktail bar became Kelowna’s favourite gathering spot, thanks in large part to talented bar manager Gerry Jobe. At the same time, hometown bartender Dave Simpson was building the Bartenders Guild and, a few years later, Dosanj started mixing drinks at his family’s restaurant, Poppadoms. Suddenly, craft cocktails were a real thing in Kelowna.

“Back in the day, Gerry Jobe and Dave Simpson put a lot of work into the Okanagan movement,” Dosanj says. “Now we see Negronis on menus everywhere, so it’s come a long way.”

It doesn’t hurt that bartenders have access to a huge range of spirits produced by nearby artisan distilleries, including Okanagan Spirits, B.C.’s oldest craft distillery, in Kelowna, Legend Distilling in Naramata, Maple Leaf Spirits in Penticton, Dubh Glas in Oliver, and Tumbleweed Spirits in Osoyoos. And it really doesn’t hurt that bartenders have so many great local ingredients to play with, including cherries, peaches, apples, honey, vinegars, preserves, flowers and herbs.

“I love herbs right now,” Dosanj says. “I did a Bees Knees, which is gin, lemon juice and honey, but I made it with a honey-thyme syrup and a couple of leaves of pineapple sage, which gave it a fruity finish.” Today, visitors to Kelowna can still find great cocktails at RauDZ, as well as Waterfront Wines, Bacaro Kitchen & Drink, Krafty Kitchen, micro bar • bites, West Coast Grill and BNA Brewing Co.

But one of the very best place to savour a sip of the Okanagan is at the pop-up long table dinners and special events Dosanj and his sister, the chef Aman Dosanj, host every month or so. “We don’t tell people what they’re going to get and people don’t even care,” Dosanj says. “My regular customers just say, ‘Make me whatever,’ and they trust me.”

CHF Cocktail

Wine country bartender Harry Dosanj created this bright, fresh cocktail for a pop-up dinner at Caldwell Heritage Farm in Kelowna.

  • 1 sprig parsley
  • 2 or 3 basil leaves
  • 1 oz (30 mL) Okanagan Spirits gin
  • ½ oz (15 mL) Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus
  • 1 oz (30 mL) fresh lime juice
  • ¾ oz (22mL) simple syrup (see note)

In a cocktail shaker, muddle parsley and basil. Add gin, aquavit, lime juice, simple syrup and ice. Shake well for 10 to 15 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with herbs of your choice. Serves 1.

Note: To make simple syrup, simmer 1 cup (250 mL) water and 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar together stirring, until sugar dissolves. Cool.

Three to try

If you’re heading to Kelowna, refresh your wine-weary palate with these cocktails.

Lavender Bees Knees
at RauDZ Regional Table

The signature fruit martinis are a go-to here, but we love the spicy floral notes of this cocktail made with Okanagan Spirits gin and lavender-infused honey. raudz.com

Bacaro Smash
at Bacaro Kitchen + Drink
Simple, and simply delicious. A classic bourbon cocktail that’s like a mint julep, only punched up with seasonal fruit from nearby orchards. bacaro.ca

The Procrastinator
at Waterfront Wines
Better than cherry pie. Lemon, mint, elderflower and the sweet-tart tang of Legend Distilling’s Slowpoke Sour Cherry Vodka from nearby Naramata. waterfrontrestaurant.ca

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