When I bartended at a Calgary lounge in the late 90’s, and at the tail-end of an epic oil boom, it was all about the cocktail hour. Mixing up a precise combination of a whiskey sour, old-fashioned, fizz or martini – which, whether shaken or stirred, was always made with gin, never vodka – was a bit of an art form to those of us who proudly considered ourselves classic drink masters. The regulars who seated themselves at the smooth dark leather barstools of our horseshoe-shaped bar had discerning palettes and we prided ourselves on fixing a cocktail with deliberate perfection. The citrus fruit combination of a lemon, lime and orange, as well as maraschino cherries and a bottle of bitters was never far from hand, and it should be said, though the bar menu featured a half dozen pages of unique combinations, we would have rather walked barefoot on the contents of the evening’s broken glass pail, than be caught having to look up the ingredients of any cocktail ordered out of the well-worn, leather-bound menus.
I thought that sort of bartending artistry had long been forsaken in the mundane flavored-bottle offerings of today’s establishments, which have all but lost the classic Western cowtown vibe of those idyllic lounges. That is, until I travelled to Seattle to meet a friend with the sole intention of catching up on each other’s lives, whilst working our way through two full days of exceptional restaurants and drinking establishments along the wharf. There, what I had long considered to be a lost art in cowboy town was a thriving ingredient of the Seattle dining scene. Bartenders were mixing their own house bitters, creating amazing tinctures and fusing these ingredients all into a new generation of vintage-like cocktails, serving it all up behind the sort of white aproned and black tie pride I remembered from another place and time.The entire experience filled me with a nostalgic longing and inspired me to envision a return to the idea of a classic cocktail with a western twist. Hence, the Wild West Cocktail column, and my starter spring cocktail, the pear stagecoach. In another world, this might be referred to as a “sidecar,” but I’m striving for a western rift here, so I’ve taken a few liberties. Of note, no matter how precisely I’ve poured this recipe, it doesn’t take kindly to doubling. If you’re serving more than two, be patient, and revel in the art of the creation of each set.
Four ounces (120 ml) pear brandy
Two ounces (60 ml) triple sec (such as Cointreau)
One ounce (2 tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice
Lime zest to garnish
Combine all into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into two chilled martini glasses. You may want to sugar rim them if you decide the drink is too puckery on its own. Garnish with twisted lime zest.