On a beautiful autumn evening with a warming whisky in hand, we watched the passionate mixologist Zac Kvas of Wayne Gretzky Estates craft cocktails to a soothing symphony of crackling fire pits.
The Great One’s winery and distillery is located in Ontario’s wine country in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Once the first capital of Upper Canada, the town is now home to heritage buildings, rolling vineyards and a handful of distilleries.
We were lucky to have been invited to enjoy the full experience of the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery at the end of October. On top of tours and tastings , they also have wine/whisky food pairing dinners and a special Canadian whisky cocktail class with their estate mixologist.
A friendly Zac greeted us with smiles, stories and, of course, drinks. He moved fluidly behind the estate’s Whisky Bar while never missing a beat in conversation. We went from talking about The Goonies to how all of the spirits used at their bar (ex. vermouth, bitters) are made in-house. That was impressive to hear and made me see just how much thought they’re putting in these drinks. Before we knew it there were 20 glasses of an autumn themed cocktail before us.
Aptly named the “Rusty Skate”, this cocktail contains Wayne Gretzky Ice Cask Whisky, a house-made Campari like spirit, a house-made pumpkin syrup, allspice and ginger. Boozy and a little sweet. This was the perfect introduction to loosen us up before heading into the classroom.
Clearly not your average classroom. We sat down to settings of 3 shot glasses, a mason jar, a shaker and a plate with mint, lemon and a gooseberry. Zac gave us a rundown on the basics of whisky mixology and a quick history lesson on cocktails and pirates.
Following his teaching we made our own cocktails. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and test my chops at mixing a real drink for the first time. I must admit, between my small hands and general apprehension to making a mess, I need further training on this shaker contraption.
We also tasted the earthiness of a freshly smoked cinnamon and vanilla infused whisky! First impressions of the whisky on its own: flavourful and lighter than other whiskies. A lot like how Canadian whiskies are usually described. It wasn’t until later in the visit, during the whisky tour and tasting , when I learned new ways to admire whisky.
Luckily, this wasn’t the end of the cocktails on this visit. Every month, the Wayne Gretzky Estates hosts dinners that pit cocktails against wines for food pairings. As a hands down beers over cocktails over wine kind of woman, I thought I knew exactly how that would go down on my palate. Boy was I surprised.
219 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON