It feels like the Hamilton food scene has gotten more coverage recently than the Britney Spears 2007 breakdown: WestJet Magazine, Huffington Post, the Globe & Mail, and most recently Elle Magazine, they've all written their piece on 'Best Places to Eat in Hamilton."
Key word, "eat." But why no love for the bar scene? We might be a blue-collar town, but we're thirsty for craft cocktails just as much as the next guy.
Making cocktails is an art form and Hamilton has a slew of artists. The talent pool in this city is plentiful, young and itching to pour you a drink.
'Once you get into the craft cocktail game, even the size of your ice cube matters.'
Turns out bartenders are treating their drink menus with the same integrity as Hamilton chefs treats their food menu — highlighting the importance of seasonal ingredients, innovative techniques, and rotating them with the seasons.
The result is, the craft cocktail scene is thriving in Hamilton. There was even a charity cocktail showcase at Serve Ping Pong bar earlier this week. In a town where food seems to be the new steel, get to know the friendly faces behind your favourite restaurant's bar.
Tailored and hand-made
First of all, lets define the newest foodie buzzword, "craft cocktail."
It's typically an alcoholic beverage that's been tailored and handmade from scratch using house-made syrups, small-batch bitters, custom ice cubes and stemware.
A genuine craft cocktail bar will boast about infusing their own spirits, having the most unique, sought-after liquors and top quality ingredients. It's a very artisanal craft.
Yes, we know, that word's been thrown around left and right on all the hipster menus, its almost lost its meaning.
One of our own, Nick Incretolli from The Tavern on George recently took home the People's Choice at Made With Love (the most extravagant mixology competition in Canada) at the Toronto finals and went on to compete in the national final. Incretolli competed and won with a cocktail called Love in Milan.
It consisted of milk-washed Campari, a homemade pistachio orgeat, eucalyptus syrup, lemon juice, egg whites, and a eucalyptus tincture rinse in the glass, and then dusted with a little fresh grated cinnamon over top.
Yeah, how's that rum & coke looking right about now?
Remo Presutti of Bar Solution Management Co, says Hamilton is on the verge of an electrifying bar scene. Presutti sees restaurants elevating their cocktail menus to meet the evolving local palate. The days of sickly sweet drinks and simplistic highballs might be dead.
"The new connoisseur wants something more balanced" says Avi Constam, Director of Wine & Spirits at The Aberdeen Tavern. Expect to see draught cocktails, more eclectic flavor profiles and uniquely-sourced liquor the next time your eyes land on a cocktail menu.
"It's progressive and moving fast" says Dave Fauteux, Operations Manager of The Other Bird restaurant group. 18 years in the industry, Fauteux is one of many recognizable cocktailers in the city.
As with the evolution of the local food scene, gourmands are insisting on good quality ingredients when it comes to their beverages.
Establishments like Aberdeen Tavern, Mezcal Tacos & Tequila, 2 Black Sheep, The Tavern on George, & Lake Road to name a few are known for their house-made infusions, innovative techniques and fancy-shaped ice cubes.
Yep, once you get into the craft cocktail game, even the size of your ice cube matters.
Aiming for clean, fresh and true
One of the pioneers pushing the cocktail movement in Hamilton is James Neil, cofounder of the Cocktail Showcase, an independent cocktail competition.
He's also currently writing the drink menu for Sasso, a new pizza restaurant opening soon on Upper James and Rymal.
"People want to drink clean. When I say clean drinking, I mean they want fresh ingredients, true spirits that are preservative free and without all those super sweet sugars and flavours" say Neil.
Whether you're a fan or not, the craft cocktail is a trend that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon.
The highlight of doing it all in-house is the opportunity to tailor every creation to each unique guest.