Let me preface this by saying this review is not sponsored. I picked up the bottle initially because of the absolutely wicked job done by their marketing department, and purchased it because I was thoroughly intrigued. It’s not everyday you find a pre-bottled cocktail of this calibre. Plus, it’s BarChef. Take my money. I had posted the bottle on my Instagram stories a few weeks back when I first tried it and was peppered with questions. And so, the BarChef Project review was born.
And why in blazes would you read a review by someone who knows next to nothing? Because chances are you probably know next to nothing, too. And that’s all the difference. I could go on about how this cocktail has notes of plum and slightly aged dates… How it smells of pine resin and moss. But I’d be making shit up. My nose and palate aren’t trained yet. But, I can taste the cocktail like the average person, and sometimes that’s what you want in a review.
Great. Let’s get started.
BarChef Project: The Toasted Old Fashioned is a collaboration between the esteemed Toronto cocktail bar BarChef and Still Waters Distillery’s Stalk & Barrel whisky. The result is truly a Canadian Old Fashioned, through and through.
Toronto’s own BarChef is among one of the top cocktail bars in the world, and for good reason. Combining molecular mixology, top-notch ingredients and service, absolute innovation, and just plain skill, they create an experience as much as a really good cocktail. Some bars do one or the other well, but to do both is difficult. That’s what sets BarChef apart. So when they set out to make a standalone cocktail, without the drama of their showroom, they had the chops to create a product that could more than hold its own. Blending their own in-house made Toasted Chamomile and Saffron bitters, locally sourced maple syrup, and a meticulously chosen whisky, a BarChef cocktail was created that could be enjoyed anywhere.
While BarChef may be the heart of the cocktail, Stalk & Barrel whisky is undoubtedly the backbone. Also Ontario-bred, and in fact, the first micro-distillery in the province, Still Waters’ Stalk & Barrel whiskies are rising stars in a time when Canadian whiskies are making major waves. With little to hide behind– the spirit in an Old Fashioned is the star of the show– Stalk & Barrel’s Red Blend didn’t disappoint.
The resulting product is a complete cocktail, crafted to be enjoyed directly from the bottle– pour chilled straight or over ice. I tried both and while each way was enjoyable, I preferred the addition of ice. The slight run off from the melting ice beautifully softened the flavours and the alcohol. I would suggest chilling the bottle and first trying the drink straight. After acquainting yourself with it, add a large chunk of ice (to minimize the run off) and see how the flavours and sensations change as the water is slowly added. While no garnish is needed, an orange twist is a welcome addition. Simply use a knife to carve off a slice of the zest, twist it over the glass, and drop it in. The twisting releases the orange oil from the skin, and adds flavour, and most importantly, aroma, to the drink. If you want just a smidge of orange, twist over the glass, but don’t drop it in. You’ll get a fine mist of oil on the surface of the drink– just enough to impart the essence without being quite obvious.
The bottle really is beautiful, and just as the cocktail was artfully crafted, so, too, was the design of the bottle. It’s one that can easily be nestled among the front row of your bar shelf or cart, not only for easy access, but also for aesthetics. I would suggest cutting the wax seal with a knife prior to chilling the bottle to keep it pristine. I cut mine while the wax was cool, which resulted in cracking and a bit of an unkempt appearance– fixable but something I’ll keep in mind for my next bottle. While the wax adds beautiful texture and elegance, I did find that it began to soften and smudge onto my hand during opening and closing when the bottle was at room temperature. While not exactly a hindrance, it did have me wishing the wax on the stopper was easily removable.
The cocktail itself is a beautiful amber colour, much like maple syrup. And it has a nice weight to it. The syrup adds richness and viscosity that almost coats your mouth. Maple and anise are prominent in both smell and taste. Beyond that, I really won’t offer much more than to say that it does offer warming spice and that ‘toasted’ quality that they’re marketing, which must come from the bitters. Overall I found the cocktail to be quite sweet– enough that for me it’s a replacement for dessert after dinner. Still, I wouldn’t have more than one in a sitting. The aromas and flavours have depth that come from them being real, something not often seen in a bottled cocktail.
I actually keep finding myself coming back to the whisky. While I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about whisky yet, (it is, however, a burgeoning affection), it’s evident that this drink is built on something really quite good. It’s intrigued me so much that a Stalk & Barrel bottle will be my next purchase. I want to see this one on its own.
It should be noted that this is not a purist’s cocktail. It’s made with maple syrup and Canadian whisky. But purists be damned. This is a Canadian take on the classic, made in Canada, by Canadian companies, with Canadian whisky, and Canadian maple syrup. And seriously, who doesn’t like maple syrup?
This a drink for anyone who enjoys whisky. If you already enjoy an Old Fashioned or a good Scotch or bourbon, you’ll appreciate this cocktail. For anyone who wants to dip their toes into the world of whisky, this is a great place to start. At 38.9%, remember that you’re mostly drinking straight whisky. Yes, there’s a slight burn, but I find that the maple syrup does a fantastic job of minimizing and soothing, allowing you to focus on the flavours. It’s a great way to start tasting. This is also for anyone who enjoys a sweet cocktail or who wants to substitute dessert.
It’s also a far more affordable and accessible way to enjoy a BarChef cocktail, particularly for those of us up North. Sure, you’re not experiencing the “production” of BarChef, but we have our own kind of spectacle up here. A 375 mL bottle will run you $24.90 at the LCBO and pours 6 2 oz drinks. This works out to $4.15 a glass. BarChef Project: The Toasted Old Fashioned is currently available at Kenora, Thunder Bay, Fort Frances and Toronto-area LCBOs (among others), and may be available for order. It is not presently available in Manitoba, however, it is available to order online at Stalk & Barrel.
This product was likely created as a way to enjoy a BarChef cocktail in your own home. And honestly, that’s something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. But the versatility of it, particularly being so compact in size, is quite exciting. This is a bottle you can easily throw in an overnight bag to enjoy an Old Fashioned in a hotel room or while camping. It can be brought along on fishing and hunting trips. (Perhaps best suited when all firearms are tucked in for the night, though.) Wedge it in the snow next to you in front of a bonfire. Open it at the cottage so you’re spending more time on the dock than in the kitchen. This Toronto-crafted cocktail can now be enjoyed in the far reaches of the Canadian wilderness– that’s pretty exciting!
I love this cocktail. I love that it’s Canadian, and I love that it’s set the bar for what a bottled cocktail can be. If you give it a try, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.