“The idea for a lot of the cocktails I freestyle comes down to a simple ratio: equal parts strong, sweet, sour, herbacious,” says Jake Valianes, owner and bar manager at Linwood Essentials in Toronto.
Like many people in the industry, Valianes started from the bottom at a young age — washing dishes, then bussing tables — and worked his way up — to serving, then bar management — before opening a place of his own. Though, his experience behind the bar actually came out of error. “My first ever night managing on a Saturday night, super busy, it started raining, and that usually means we’re super slow, so I cut 90 percent of the staff that night,” he says. “And then we got slammed. So I had to hop on the bar out of necessity, and that’s how I got started.”
The idea of opening Linwood Essentials stemmed from two things: travel and the realization that Toronto doesn’t have many great cocktail bars. “Before I opened, I did a whole bunch of traveling all around the world,” says Valianes. “I went to as many great cocktail bars as I possibly could. I learned as much as I could from every single one of those bars. I just wanted to take everything I learned and open my own bar here with all that knowledge. Toronto doesn’t have very many cocktail bars, so I wanted to bring as much great knowledge of cocktails to this bar as I possibly could.”
In this “Across the Bar” episode, host and Foodable founder Paul Barron imbibes three of Valianes best cocktail creations and gets the background on each.
Cocktail No. 1: Dr. V’s Magical Quick Fixer Elixer
“I wanted to do a cocktail with snake oil, much like an Old West traveling salesman, but that’s not a real thing, so I kind of improvised from there,” Valianes says. The drink comes in a medicine-like bottle, enveloped in a box to match. Comprised of Amaro Montenegro, Becherovka (an herbal liqueur from the Czech Republic), Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and sparkling wine, Barron describes the drink as “refreshing” and “balanced.”
Cocktail No. 2: The Bitter Ballad of Timothy Grapefruit
The name itself may make your lips pucker with assumptions of sourness. This cocktail has “an interesting silkiness to it,” notes Barron. Valianes says there’s two ingredients that contribute to this: an IPA caramel (“It’s a caramel that we make out of American IPA… definitely going to add a nice thick texture to it”) and Aperol-infused Aperol. “We take a whole bottle of Aperol, throw it in the dehydrator until it turns to crystals — pure crystals, no liquid. Take those crystals, add it to a normal bottle of hydrated Aperol, and combine it until it’s Aperol-infused Aperol.” This adds a lot of sweetness and bitterness to the drink, which comes with a story pinned to the glass. Aside from the Aperol-infused Aperol and IPA caramel, this cocktail is also made up of Linwood Grapefruit liqueur and Cocchi Americano.
Cocktail No. 3: One Wild Night in the East Village
Outfitted in a tiki mug, Valianes admits this is a more elaborate drink ingredient-wise, but for good reason. “Every single ingredient in this drink corresponds to a different bar in the East Village,” one of his favorite cocktail destinations in the world. The mace-infused Bols Genever represents the cocktail bar Mace, Cazadores Reposado tequila represents Mayahuel, Linwood Amargo blend for Amor y Amargo, PX Sherry and Yellow Chartreuse for Pouring Ribbons, Yuzu for Angel’s Share, lime juice for balance, and Flander’s Red Ale to represent Proletariat. The cocktail, topped with a mini hotdog-looking gummy, represents PDT (a bar hidden inside a hotdog joint), and the tiki mug to represent the tiki bar Mother of Pearl.
“We want people to experience a different style of drinking here,” says Valianes. “Cocktails should be fun. People are definitely looking for more spirit-forward cocktails.”
“I think people just get bored of the same old, normal stuff and they want to advance their palates, they want to taste new things, they want to better themselves for the industry, they want to just make a better product, and they want to be better than they were before, and that’s a major driver in the industry,” he says.