Monday 20 February 2012

Fernet February: "The Chinatown Sour" from The Keefer

We've seen Fernet with a range of spirits, juice, fruit, fortified wines, bitters, amari, and liqueurs, in a wide array of styles. We've even seen Fernet coming in at over an ounce but not being totally overpowering. What we haven't seen yet are some crazy infusions, and that's where The Keefer comes in.
The Keefer is a fairly new establishment (as a lot of our great bars in Vancouver seem to be) located in Chinatown in the midst of the night markets. The decor is amazing, with a long, dark, black and red space sprinkled with backlit pictures of anatomy between jars of bitters and infusions containing ingredients that look like failed Area 51 experiments preserved in fermaldehyde. (Check out these great photos)
Like The Refinery, they make a range of house-bitters, syrups, and infusions, but what makes The Keefer unique is what ingredients they use. There are syrups infused with traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and roots like Yunzhi and astragalus, tea and ginger make numerous appearances, and fruit flavours like pear, apricot, and muroise show up as well. There's even a section at the end of the menu to add herbal health shots to your cocktails like you would at a juice bar.
I must admit that this creative and outlandish use of ingredients turned me off my first visit, but my second visit showed me that not only are the people running the bar skilled, but most of the drinks are variations on classics with creative embellishments, which is how mixology and bartending evolved in the first place, so what am I worried about? If it tastes good, that's what matters, right?

I strategically showed up early in the evening and was lucky to have not only Danielle Tatarin, the bar manager, but also the assistant bar manager, Keenan Hood make me the Chinatown Sour listed below, a new and impromptu Fernet cocktail using ginger and cassis, and a more traditional style original libation using tequila called the Diablo Blanco. I even got to see how they serve their group shots, which is using an old hospital IV drip. I'll get more into The Keefer soon when I post my review. In the meantime, check out these originals:

The Chinatown Sour is a variation on the Trinidad Sour (which uses a whole ounce of Angostura bitters with orgeat syrup to balance) but uses Fernet as the bitters and infuses the orgeat with astragalus root, which has a very earthy, nutty flavour that gives the drink a fuller taste. The Storm Chaser is a spicy, bitter-sweet storm of flavours, which I must repeat was an improvised cocktail by Danielle for my Fernet adventure. I was shocked to hear how much Fernet was actually in there; the lime really cuts through, the ginger spice takes a lot of focus away from the Fernet, and the cassis really calms things down. It's not my usual style, but I was impressed and it was very interesting and refreshing.

Check out The Keefer if you feel like something very different, or just check them out in general. They even have burlesque on thursday nights. I should really finish that review. Or maybe I should just drop by for another drink...

Chinatown Sour
By Keenan Hood

1 oz Overproof Whiskey
3/4 oz Fernet Branca
3/4 oz Astragalus & Orgeat Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
Shake all ingredients for 10 seconds then fine strain into a cocktail glass.

Storm Chaser
By Danielle Tatarin

1 1/2 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Ginger Syrup
Top Soda
1/2 oz Cassis
Build first three ingredients on ice in Collins glass. Top with soda & crushed ice.
Drizzle Cassis over crushed ice to finish.
Garnish with grated lime zest.

Photo from

[[ see the Fernet February introduction here ]]
[[ see the "Gastown Swizzle" from L'Abattoir here ]]
[[ see the "Dark and Fernet-y" from Rob Roy here ]]
[[ see "Pandemonium" from Veneto Tapa Lounge here ]]
[[ see "The Bittercup" from Pourhouse here ]]
[[ see "The Vested Bartender" from Boneta here ]]
[[ see "The Parliament" from The Diamond here ]]
[[ see "Parliament Hill" from The Hideout here ]]
[[ see "The Lucky Lady" from The Refinery here ]]
[[ see "The Denny Triangle" from Jamie Boudreau / Canon here ]]

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