Mastering Mixology at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail Festival

Learn how to create the perfect cocktail and appetizer pairings from three experts at Victoria's Art of the Cocktail festival


Learn to serve a signature cocktail and appetizer pairing at your next party

Learning to make a fancy cocktail will add to your entertaining repertoire for years to come, and there’s no better place to do that than at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival

It’s fun to add a new twist to your repertoire, and I’ve been so immersed in pairing wine with food that I never gave cocktails much thought.

A new world of entertaining ideas was opened to me when I attended Art of the Cocktail in Victoria. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or, like me, curious to learn more about (and taste more) gin, whiskey and their cousins, it’s an event not to be missed.

The annual festival – running from October 13 to 15 in 2012 – sees hundreds of bartenders, educators, producers, and cocktail enthusiasts from across the globe congregate for three days of spirited events, including workshops, Sip Around (over a dozen participating eateries serve specially crafted cocktail and appetizer pairings), and the main event, the Grand Tasting at the Crystal Garden convention centre.

The Grand Tasting has dozens of cocktail and food stations featuring cocktails poured by celebrated mixologists and complimentary appetizers prepared by some of Victoria’s best chefs.

Three of my favourite stops during the festival were at the Bengal Lounge at the Fairmont Empress, Veneto Tapa Lounge at the Hotel Rialto, and The Whole Beast in Victoria’s Oak Bay neighbourhood.

I am so excited about the delicious pairings these clever folks have suggested and can’t wait to try them out when I’m entertaining friends and family next. Just as I’ve been learning about what styles of wines complement which foods, it’s been interesting to discover how spirits pair with food too.

From artisan cured meats and local cheeses paired with inventive aperitif wine cocktails to an Asian-inspired match of gin and Lychee liqueur aside a tapas-style combo of slaw and rare beef, I think you’ll agree that these cocktails and appetizers will you give an exciting and unexpected entertaining edge. 

Sampling the 1908 Cocktail and Braised Shortrib Poutine from the Fairmont Empress Hotel

(Image: The Fairmont Empress)

The Fairmont Empress’ Bengal Lounge is well known for its tantalizing Indian lunch and dinner buffet and signature cocktails, and food and beverage director Nathan Pearce, who’s been with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts for over a decade, shares two Bengal favourites: the 1908 cocktail and the braised short rib poutine.

*For a meat-free option, try pairing this cocktail with my vegetarian samosas*

(Image: The Fairmont Empress)

Cocktail: The 1908

“The 1908 cocktail was created in 2008 for the hotel’s centennial celebration,” says Pearce, and features the exclusive Empress-blend tea (a blend of black and green teas).


  • 1 1/2 oz tea-infused vodka
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz egg whites


  1. To make tea-infused vodka, add 4 tea bags to a 40 oz bottle of your favourite vodka and let stand for 4 to 5 hours.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker and serve in a martini glass garnished with a strip of lemon peel.

Appetizer: Braised Short Rib Poutine

“The 1908 cocktail goes great with curry but we also love pairing it with our braised short rib poutine,” says Pearce.

Braised Short Rib Ingredients

  • 350 to 400 grams boneless short ribs
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 100 mL tomato paste
  • 250 mL red wine
  • 2 litres beef stock

Braised Short Rib Instructions

  1. Heat a generous glug of vegetable oil in a medium frying over medium heat and sear short ribs on all sides.
  2. Remove short ribs to roasting pan, and sauté carrot, onion and celery.
  3. Add tomato paste, stirring well to combine.
  4. Add vegetable mixture to roasting pan.
  5. Deglaze frying pan with red wine and add liquid to roasting pan along with stock.
  6. Ensure ribs are submerged in braising liquid.
  7. Cook in pre-heated 300F oven until beef is tender (easily shreds when pulled apart with two forks), about 4 to 5 hours.
  8. Remove beef to separate container and shred into bite size pieces
  9. Strain cooking liquid and pour into medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until thickened.

Poutine Ingredients

  • 454 g cheese curd
  • 900 g french fries, deep-fried is best but baked in the oven will also work

Poutine Instructions

  1. Serve fries in a bowl, topped with cheese curds, braised beef and sauce.

Pairing Hotel Rialto’s Gin Cocktail with Steak Tataki

(Image: Veneto Tapa Lounge)

If you love trying new things you will love Veneto Tapa Lounge, named one of Where Canada‘s Best New Restaurants in 2009, located in the newly renovated Hotel Rialto.

Its tapa-style entrees, which come with three small dishes made from the same or similar proteins like the vegetarian tapa trio, the seafood tapa trio, and the beef tapa trio, are paired here with Bar Manager Simon Ogden’s recipe for a gin cocktail called the Rialto.

*Prefer seafood to beef? Try swapping the steak for prawns or scallops in the tataki recipe*

(Image: Veneto Tapa Lounge)

Cocktail: The Rialto

“The Rialto comprises locally made artisanal gin set against smoky notes of Chinese pine-smoked black tea and the delicate florals of Lychee liqueur, and is balanced with Mexican-spiced chocolate bitters,” says Ogden. “It’s a challenging, multi-layered concoction that proudly represents our hotel and the Victorian who built it in 1911, Chinese-Canadian local legend Lim Bang.”


  • 2 oz Victoria Gin
  • 1/2 oz lychee liqueur
  • 3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Silk Road Lapsang Souchong tea syrup
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters


  1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake.
  2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  3. Garnish with a chocolate straw.

Appetizer: Striploin Steak Tataki with Asian-Style Slaw

“A perfect example of the tapa-style sharing portions that is the popular draw at Veneto,” says Ogden. “This small plate dish was created by the Veneto culinary team lead by Chef Tod Bosence, and chosen to compliment the Asian-influenced flavours of our house cocktail. This dish is currently featured on our menu as a component of the beef tapa trio.”

Sirloin Steak Tataki Ingredients

  • 13 oz striploin steak, grilled to rare and allowed to rest until cool
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced

Sirloin Steak Tataki Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients together, and pour over steak.
  2. Seal the container and allow to marinate for 24 hours.
  3. Remove steak from marinade and thinly slice.

Asian Style Slaw Ingredients

  • 1/4 head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • pinch of salt and black pepper

Asian Style Slaw Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring well to combine.
  2. Place a small amount of slaw onto a serving plate, top with a few slices of steak and spoon a drizzle of reserved marinade over.
  3. Serve chilled.

Slinging Off the Cuff Cocktails and Artisan-cured Meats with West Restaurant and Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria 

(Image: The Whole Beast)

With all sorts of accolades, like Vancouver magazine’s 2008 Bartender of the Year and Art of the Cocktail’s 2009 Best Bartender Pacific Northwest, David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at Vancouver’s West restaurant, is no stranger to inventive, off-the-cuff cocktail-slinging.

Wolowidnyk teamed up with The Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria and Charelli’s Cheese Shop and Delicatessen for the Whole Beast workshop, which was held onsite at The Whole Beast.

Whole Beast co-owner Cory Pelan selected the cured meats from his incredible selection of “hand-crafted artisan cured and smoked meats [made from] farm-raised Island ingredients,” and the gourmet cheeses from Charelli’s, and Wolowidnyk created complementary aperitif wine cocktails especially for the event.

Wolowidnyk shares the three aperitif wine cocktail recipes he created to pair with three different combinations of artisan cured meats and gourmet cheeses.

(Images: West, left; The Whole Beast, right)

Cocktail 1

“The intent is to have a slightly sweet profile to compliment the richness of the cheese, and the pronounced lemon note of the salami,” says Wolowidnyk.


  • 1 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blonde
  • 1/2 oz Pineau des Charentes
  • mist of Ricard Pastis
  • top with prosecco


  1. Stir the gin, Lillet, and Pineau with ice, and then strain into a glass that has been misted with Ricard Pastis.
  2. Top with prosecco and serve.

Appetizer 1

  • Vignerons cheese, Switzerland: “Made from raw cow’s milk, aged for over three months, Vignerons roughly translates as ‘winemaker’s cheese’. Its flavour is similar to a cave-aged Gruyere, but slightly stronger with a sweeter finish.”
  • Lemon and fennel pork salami: “Pronounced lemon zest flavor and aroma, slight lactic acid tang finishing with mild fennel anise.”

Cocktail 2

“The intent is to have a fairly dry and slightly bitter cocktail, with a subtle note of orange from the Amaro Montenegro,” says Wolowidnyk.


  • 1 oz Gin
  • 1 oz Dry Sack sherry
  • ½ oz Amaro Montenegro
  • Peychaud’s bitters-soaked sugar cube


  1. Stir the gin, sherry and Amaro with ice.
  2. Strain into a glass prepared with a Peychaud’s bitters-soaked sugar cube.

Appetizer 2

  • Le 1608 cheese, Quebec: “Le 1608 uses unpasteurized milk from hardy Canadienne cattle, whose ancestors were brought to Canada from France between 1608 and 1670. The cattle are now considered endangered, and the majority of these animals are now unique to the Charlevoix region in Quebec. The cheese has a barny aroma, is complex with a fruity but nutty finish.”
  • Summer Sausage: “Traditional fermented smoked sausage (70% beef 30% pork), smokey with pronounced lactic tang and acidity.”

Cocktail 3

“The intent is a full, rich mouth feel, cutting the subtle sweetness with the Cynar,” says Wolowidnyk.


  • 1 oz Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Cynar
  • fresh thyme


  1. Stir all liquid ingredients with ice and strain into a glass.
  2. Finish with a small sprig of thyme on the surface.

Appetizer 3

  • Roaring 40s blue cheese, Australia: “The winds on King Island in Australia are known as the Roaring 40s and are the basis for the mystique inherent in the island’s history. The cows on King Island have become renowned for producingthe sweetest, creamiest milk party due to their healthy diets including kelp that is washed up during heavy storms. This pasteurized cheese is stronger in flavour but has a nutty, slightly sweet taste that balances the strength.”
  • Lamb prosciutto: “Big, rich bold lamb flavor with hints of rosemary, thyme and black pepper. This one’s a monster.”

I think I’ll tackle these recipes in order starting with the Bengal’s “marTEAni” and braised beef-topped poutine. The 1908 cocktail was my favourite drink of the whole festival and is a nice, refreshing complement to the slow-cooked meat and rich cheese curds and gravy in the poutine.

I can’t wait to see the look on my guests’ faces when I whip out a signature cocktail and individual gourmet appetizers instead of the same old wine and cheese.