Pouring the perfect pandemic cocktail

When Mackenzie Irvine found herself short of work this spring, she turned her attention to upping her home cocktail game. She's not alone, as many Ottawans — restaurant industry folks or not — have embraced the art of mixology during the pandemic.

Is the negroni it? It's certainly up there, says one Ottawa bartender

Is the bitter, complex negroni the perfect pandemic cocktail? It's certainly up there, says Mackenzie Irvine, normally a bartender at Ottawa's Riviera restaurant. (Lucy Sherman/AP)

When Mackenzie Irvine found herself short of work this spring, she turned her attention to upping her home cocktail game. 

For Irvine — normally a bartender at Sparks Street restaurant Riviera  — it's an understandable pursuit for her pandemic downtime.

But there's no doubt that a good number of Canadians, restaurant industry folks or not, have embraced mixology over the last year, as COVID-19 restrictions translate to free time, more disposable income, and nostalgia for the olden days.

"I think people really miss going out and sitting at the bar or in a restaurant and having that experience," said Irvine.

"I see a lot of people channeling that energy. It's been a year now of this, so I think some people have really become amazing bartenders from doing it at home."

The perfect pandemic cocktail?

So for the languishing vibe we find ourselves in, what makes for a good stay-at-home cocktail?

Irvine says something "stiffer" like an old fashioned or a negroni is ideal. Less sweetness, after all, means less chance of tossing back three or four during your Netflix binge.

And the negroni — a gin, campari and vermouth cocktail believed to have been invented in early 20th-century Italy — also lends itself to customization, with variations switching the gin for other spirits like tequila and the campari for other bitter liqueurs.

There's also the fact, Irvine says, that many Ottawa bars have pivoted to sell bottles of obscure vermouths and amaros that can't be found in the LCBO.

One CBC Ottawa web writer's negroni setup, orange not included. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

As for getting that home bar up to restaurant quality, Irvine suggests investing in a tin cocktail shaker, a jigger to measure volumes, a strainer and proper ice cube trays.

All of those accoutrements will not only enhance your final drink, Irvine says, but also simply make the act of pouring one more fun.

"It's been such a hard year. People used to go out to restaurants as a release, to enjoy themselves. And we lost that a little bit along the way," she said.

"So it's really great to see people make drinks at home — and not let the art of it die."

The classic negroni


  • 1 oz. campari.
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth.
  • 1 oz. gin.
  • An orange slice.
  • Ice.

Pour the gin, campari and sweet vermouth into a cocktail glass and stir. Add in ice and garnish with an orange slice.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now