We sat down with Evelyn Chick of Prettyugly Bar in Toronto to chat about her work, Canadian rye whisky, Canadian drinking culture, and her drink for February’s Rye Not Canada? Box, the Home Is Canada!
S&S: How would you characterize Canadian rye whisky relative to the many other types of whiskey out there?
EC: Canadian whisky, I would say, is probably the most misunderstood type available on the market. People always think that it is less of a product because it is smooth, easy to drink, and typically quite soft. Yes, we allow additives like port, sherry, caramel coloring after distillation, but there are also a crazy amount of rules when it comes to distillation. What I love about Lot 40, for example, is that it is 100% pot stilled rye and it has the boldness that stands up against some of the better American rye whiskeys out there.
S&S: To what would you attribute the upswing in Canadian whisky’s reputation over the last few years?
EC: Really good Canadian whisky like Lot 40 and its super charismatic global ambassador Dave Mitton. It’s all about spreading the gospel and he does that effortlessly.
S&S: What types of cocktails and ingredients do you think a rye whiskey pairs well with overall?
EC: There is so much you can work with. People tend to go with sweet spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, or bitters and amari. I like to pair some brightness in it, like the peach, citrus you will see in the Home Is Canada cocktail.
S&S: You’ve described the Home Is Canada in terms of an experience that it brings to mind—a wintry daytime walk through the park. Is that a common way for you to conceive of a recipe?
EC: Developing recipes for me is like a 24-hour job, it can pop up anytime—in a dream, a walk, an event, or if I am sitting down at a laptop and have to crunch out recipes for a deadline. I really try drawing from flavors that I normally wouldn’t pair together, but that work well in another domain—like coffee and peaches. I remember tasting a particular Costa Rican roast and thinking—this tastes like stone fruit! That’s where that came from.
S&S: Is there any specific food you would recommend pairing with the Home Is Canada?
EC: Maple pecan pie, it’s so obvious. Or barbecue. You know, same same.
S&S: What music do you hope people are listening to as they mix and enjoy it at home?
EC: The Techniques.
S&S: Speaking of home—and Canada—what’s been happening lately in Toronto’s cocktail scene?
EC: Lots! There are so many new bars popping up that deserve recognition globally. There’s also a shift to looking into health and wellness of your staff and providing more educational opportunities and platforms for female and younger bartenders to showcase their talent. Events like the Restaurants Canada Show (providing seminars for hospitality individuals to attend) and Speed Rack (all-female speed charity bartending competition) certainly help.
S&S: Did you notice any regional changes when you made the move from Vancouver to Toronto?
EC: Yes, the seasonality of drinks is drastically different in the sense that there is none in Toronto. We have to work with what we get and sometimes that means working with different methods of preservation.
S&S: What are some of the latest things you’ve experimented with at PrettyUgly Bar? How did your journey lead there?
EC: Zero, low-waste cocktails and nonalcoholic (we call them “Placebo”) cocktails. Alcohol consumption has dipped in the last couple years, people are focused on a more healthy lifestyle, and the drinks we put out certainly have to adhere to that need.
S&S: What would you say has been your biggest hit?
EC: Currently on the menu, the mezcal-based ’Sup Wit Dat’ is getting close to 10,000 units sold since we opened! It’s got dry vermouth, balsam fir, cucumber, lime. I haven’t met a single person that doesn’t like it.
S&S: We sure wouldn’t be the exception! How about the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
EC: A clarified raspberry pie punch.
S&S: What’s the best drink you’ve ever had?
EC: A classic gin martini at the Savoy.
S&S: What do want to be when you grow up?
EC: A race car driver.
S&S: What do you do when you’re not working?
EC: Cook! I’ve recently started making fresh pasta. Addictive!
S&S: Yum! What’s your go-to drink order when trying out at a new place?
EC: Cynar and grapefruit juice.