Nicolae Arman. Photo by Jessica Blaine Smith
While a cold beer will probably always be the go-to summertime thirst-quencher for Montreal bar patrons, a well-made cocktail is an equally enticing option. This city is spoiled for choice when it comes to good cocktail bartenders, and last Sunday night I was treated to a show by some of its very best.
For reasons passing understanding, I was one of the four judges for the local leg of the Angostura Bitters x Swizzle Royale competition at Bar le Lab. Cocktail crafters from some of the city’s best establishments — including Coldroom, El Pequeño, Atwater Cocktail Club, Bar George, and of course le Lab — were on hand to go head-to-head in a pretty spirited contest. (Yes, I should be sent to prison for that pun.)
After two very competitive rounds of competition, the two finalists had to brave a Chopped-style mystery box challenge. Bar George’s Elise Sergerie and Coldroom/El Pequeño’s Nicolae Arman were tasked with concocting a swizzle cocktail incorporating Angostura bitters, Bar le Lab’s Tiki 1930 syrup and an icebox watermelon.
When all was settled, Sergerie was the deserving — and surprised — winner.
Winner Elise Sergerie and runner-up Nicolae Arman. Photo by Jessica Blaine Smith
I chatted with both finalists after the competition with one question in mind: where should Cult readers visit for a perfect late summer cocktail?
Dave Jaffer: Nico, you work at Coldroom and El Pequeño.
Nicolae Arman: Yeah, they’re kind of two completely different places but pretty much in the same building.
DJ: What are the best drinks at both of those places, in your opinion?
NA: When you go to the Coldroom, you try the Duck. The Duck is a beautiful, old-fashioned drink with whiskey, Amaretto, Suze, and some duck bitters.
DJ: Duck? You mean like, duck, the animal.
NA: Duck like the bird.
DJ: Duck bitters.
NA: Duck bitters.
DJ: How do you get duck bitters?
NA: That’s a house secret.
DJ: At El Pequeño, what’s the best drink?
NA: Ask for the daiquiri. You’ll get the most perfect daiquiri ever.
DJ: If you weren’t allowed to drink in your bars, where in Montreal would you go for a cocktail and what would you have?
NA: Usually what I do is I come to le Lab and what I order is ginger beer with Calvados. It’s like a Moscow Mule but with apple brandy.
DJ: Elise, you just won the Swizzle Royale competition!
Elise Sergerie: I feel really good about myself right now!
DJ: You work at Bar George. For people who go to Bar George, what’s the drink to have?
ES: Bar George is all about the customer experience. People come in, we have a set cocktail list, signature cocktails, but I tell people [it’s] just a guideline; think about what you like — sweet, sour, aromatic, or more tangy — and we can develop from there. There are a lot of classic cocktails and we know all of them.
DJ: Where would you go for an after-work cocktail if you couldn’t go to your bar?
ES: My favourite bars in Montreal are actually El Pequeño and Coldroom. If I go to El Pequeño, I usually have the mojitos; if I go to Coldroom, I usually have a daiquiri. I like rum. ■