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Before a cocktail reaches your table at the Marcus Bar in the Four Seasons Montreal (an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property), every microscopic detail of the drink has kept Jonathan Homier awake at night. Instead of adding to a recipe, he is constantly stripping back. He asks questions and experiments with techniques based in science. In the end, he has been known to take something decidedly unfashionable—like the lychee martini, a hit drink of the ‘80s—and transform it into a drink worth booking a plane ticket to try.
Locally and beyond its borders, Montreal has a firmly established reputation for food. But innovative bartenders like Jonathan Homier are pulling the attention away from smoked meat or Montreal-style bagels and toward cocktails. Part of that success is treating the bar like a laboratory, utilizing equipment like a centrifuge (for clarification) and a Rotovap (for distillation) to push boundaries about what exactly makes a satisfying—and surprising—drink.
“We aren’t interested in just the novelty of a technique,” Homier says. “We use a new technique because it brings something to the table, because it transforms an ingredient in a meaningful way.” At first glance, Homier’s cocktail menu doesn’t detail his experiments with clarification, carbonation, and re-distillation, but clues reveal themselves when the first round is served.
Take the Dove, a cocktail inspired by a classic paloma (a tequila-based drink with lime juice and grapefruit-flavored soda).
Homier has utilized the power of a centrifuge to clarify fresh grapefruit juice into a crystal-clear liquid with the same acidity as the original. Along with tequila, lime, and dry curaçao, the clarified juice is then carbonated in a small keg. It can be served straight from the tap or bottled. When poured, it resembles a glass of Champagne, tiny bubbles and all, but its citrus and tequila punch surprises from the first sip.
Many ingredients for high-end cocktails are used only one time. But as sustainability gains ever more momentum, Homier found himself thinking about how to extend the life of ingredients, using them at least once more beyond a traditional lifespan.
“We’re rethinking how we use ingredients and when we discard them,” Homier says.
The Sustainable Colada is a twist on a traditional piña colada, with elements that have been repurposed. Citrus peels are used to create flavored syrups, and then dehydrated to make colorful powders. Pineapple peels are used to create tepache, a fermented beverage. Guests can chat with the bartenders about the detail of these sustainability initiatives or simply enjoy the colada—a blend of rums, pineapple, coconut, and nutmeg.
In its classic form, the lychee martini is an overly sweet, artificial-tasting drink with a cloying mouthfeel. This type of reputation is bait to Homier, who embraces the challenge to reinvent a cocktail. His interpretation of the ‘80s drink is the Shiso Fine, a refreshing cocktail served over crushed ice. He takes lychee juice mixed with vodka (Ketel One Botanicals, a vodka that is treated like gin and distilled with different botanicals) and distills it using a high-tech machine called a Rotovap (rotary evaporator). The result is lychee vodka without even a hint of sweetness or artificial aftertaste—the opposite of the ‘80s iteration. In its final form, the vodka is combined with shiso and white cranberry juice for an elevated version of the original drink.
Beyond the Four Seasons, other Montreal bars are pushing boundaries with cocktails as well. Homier recommends StillLife in Old Port for its fun ambiance and pre-batch cocktails that are perfect for groups of friends. He also recommends Atwater Cocktail Club (or ACC), a speakeasy-style bar with an upbeat vibe that stays open late.
“The end game is delicious cocktails, served quickly and efficiently,” Homier says. “These techniques help us do just that.”