Sipping $650 Cocktails with Canon’s Jamie Boudreau
Canon is, undoubtedly, one of the best bars in the world. It’s been nominated for and won countless awards and is currently in the running for the 2017 James Beard Outstanding Bar Program title. Stepping into the Seattle fixture is like entering a booze library. It boasts the western hemisphere’s largest spirit collection with more than 3,500 labels lining the walls from floor to ceiling. And these bottles aren’t just for show. They’re available for consumption, served solo or in spirit flights that range from scotches or Washington whiskies to the $1,051 “Ghost of Pappy Past” flight, which offers samples of three 1950s expressions.
Of course, you can also get a great cocktail. The menu offers distinct takes on classics like a sparkling Negroni and an aged Hanky Panky, as well as originals like the namesake Canon Cocktail (rye, Ramazzotti, triple sec foam, bitters), and the spicy, smoky Campfire in Georgia (mezcal, peach-habanero shrub, fresh OJ, cinnamon French oak, bitters). But the most interesting part of Canon’s menu merges the bar’s cocktail program with its vast bottle collection. It’s the Vintage section, a list of classic cocktails made with decades-old spirits that range in price from $205 to $650.
Aside from the obvious cool quotient, there is a reason to splurge on these vintage drinks. Spirits change over the years. Not only do they get more complex as they age, but the ingredients and methods that go into making the spirits change with time, too. So a familiar classic like the Sazerac is going to taste significantly different when it’s made with spirits from a different era. Canon’s vintage version is mixed with your choice of a 1935 Cognac or 1945 Monticello rye and Pernod absinthe from 1940. Think about that for a second. If you order that Sazerac, you’ll be drinking a version of the cocktail that’s damn close to the many that Katherine Hepburn sipped in State of the Union. These vintage cocktails offer more than a novel drinking experience—they actually take you back in time.
We couldn’t help but wonder where Canon found bottles from the 1930s and who’s dropping hundreds of dollars on a single libation. So we spoke to the man at the helm of Canon’s expertly executed bar program, Jamie Boudreau—who recently released his first mixology manual The Canon Cocktail Book: Recipes from the Award Winning Bar. Here, he talks about how vintage cocktails came to be and which ones to order, should you find yourself with a few hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket.
Supercall: Why did you decide to dedicate an entire section of Canon's menu to vintage cocktails?
Jamie Boudreau: We had the ingredients, so we’ve always had the ability to make these types of drinks. But it seemed like people weren't aware, so I added the section to the menu.
SC: There are some super old bottles of spirits on this list. How do you go about sourcing them?
JB: We've been hoarding booze forever. You'd be amazed at what you can find in liquor stores, especially in tiny towns. Better-stocked liquor stores sometimes have a small vintage section as well.
SC: The oldest bottle currently on the list is a Calvados from 1900. How does a brandy that old taste?
JB: That Calvados is amazing. It was aged for 60 years and sat in the bottle for decades, yet the apple is still bright and fresh with an insane finish.
SC: How many vintage cocktails do you typically sell in a week?
JB: We typically sell one vintage item per week. When we first opened, we would only sell one vintage cocktail every month or two, so interest is definitely picking up. They're not cheap, so I don't expect them to ever really move with any speed as we don't live in a place like Los Angeles or New York.
SC: Which vintage cocktail is your favorite on the menu? Are you working on any new ones for the near future?