Mixology is a pretty major art form in hip urban centres like London and New York. There, head bartenders are pushing the envelope behind the bar, reinventing drinks by infusing unconventional flavours into alcohol and even altering the physical properties of drinks to create gels, foams and mists to top their concoctions.
Here in Whistler cocktails certainly aren't as convoluted but there are a select few bartenders who are elevating the standard beyond pouring a pint.
Villa Kone has been a familiar face in Whistler for a few years now. He's mixed many a drink in this town, and has even spent time at some U.K. and NY hotspots, learning the finer points of the art of flaring and free pouring (which are sadly quite absent from the bar scene here in Whistler).
As a teenager Kone got a job serving at a fine dining restaurant in Australia and absolutely hated it. So, he talked to the management and got transferred to the bar where he starting learning the tricks of the trade.
"When you're serving, out on the floor, you sort of have less control, you've got to do what the customer wants you to do, but when you're behind the bar you can give them attitude, have a yarn, cut them off," he laughed.
This free spirit quickly discovered that he was much more suited to working behind the bar, and when Kone discovered the art of mixology he was officially hooked.
"That's what I'm really interested in and passionate about... I like to design cocktail menus," Kone explained.
Just as a chef dabbles in the kitchen, creating new, seasonally inspired dishes, mixologists draw influences and inspiration from around the world.
"It's a lot more art... bartending, pulling beers and making highballs, is just mundane and mindless sometimes... there isn't really much to it. I mean, high volume, yeah, with speed and organization," he reflected.
"But with mixology it's taking alcohol, which is quite harsh on its base product, and making it into something where people go, 'wow.'"
Most recently, Kone has taken over the polished bar at Black's Pub. Unbeknownst to many Whistler residents, the long-time restaurant (they're celebrating their 25 th year in business) with prime patio space along the village stroll also has a pub located on the upper level of the building. There, with a perfectly torturous view of the bike park directly across from the bar, Kone has been hard at work creating a list of crafted cocktails to wow the patio crowds during the summer months.
His list contains eight traditional cocktails (or slight variations on the classics, as he puts it, "reinventing the wheel"): the Lemon Drop, Sangria Blanco, Corpse Revival version 2.5, Long Island of Sake (by the jug), Pimms Cup, Margarita, an amped up Mojito 151 (made with Bacardi 151), and the Singapore Sling.
On top of these tried, tested and true tipples, Kone has also created a list of eight signature crafted cocktails that are entirely unique to Black's: Lost, the Eye of Ra, Roger Rabbit, Muay Thai, Black's, Veneno de la Serpiente, Pêche de la Géorgia and Café Glacé.
Now, I like to think I can hold my own when it comes to imbibing spirited beverages, but I only managed to tackle three of Kone's newest creations on my latest visit - Lost, a mixture of Hendrick's gin, lychee liquer, green chartreuse, freshly squeezed lime juice and aloe vera juice; the Eye of Ra, a drink inspired by Kone's travels through Egypt, which combines peppermint tea, Absolut citron, fresh lemon juice, peppermint Schnapps and hibiscus syrup; and the exotic Muay Thai, a marriage of white rum, Cointreau, Falernum syrup, grapefruit juice and spiced rum.
All three were perfect patio drinks: light, refreshing and flavourful, without being loaded down with sugars and syrups. In my mind, there's nothing worse than slowly sipping an oversweetened beverage when you just know that you're guaranteed to get a killer headache the next day. But Kone has managed to create complex drinks with vibrant layers of flavour by nixing the prepackaged mixes and using his own infused syrups and natural juices instead.
Black's will be unveiling Kone's new crafted cocktail menu to the public in just a few weeks. I, for one, will be back to get "Lost" on their patio.