Oh bartender!Published on December 8, 2012

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  • Steve Benson

Everyone loves the guy or gal tending bar, and not just those looking for a drink! Dazzle guests at your next party by hiring Ottawa's Steve Benson to serve as a flair bartender and bring a unique, fun element to the event. 

What is flair bartending and how did you get started? Flair bartending dazzles guests with the manipulation of bar tools like shakers and liquor bottles; these items are flipped, tossed, juggled and caught with pizzazz, all while actual cocktails are being prepared. I'm self-taught and got my start at Jack Astor's, the only flair bar in town at the time. I later enjoyed a stint on the North American competitive flair circuit, after which I returned to Ottawa to teach in the bartending program at Algonquin College. Now I'm becoming known as a creative mixologist, which is a natural progression. I wanted to round out my resume and felt that learning more about how to create really great cocktails would be a perfect fit.

Where have you tended bar in town? I worked at Play Food & Wine. As the restaurant evolved, so too did its cocktail menu. I wanted to design drinks that were a good fit for the environment they were trying to create. Unique cocktails add another dimension to any restaurant experience. I like coming up with new twists on familiar classics. Now, I not only offer my skills as a consultant through my company Ottawa Cocktails, I also tend bar at the popular ByWard Market eatery Brothers Beer Bistro, where I have fun designing new cocktails with co-owner Nick Ringuette. We've been working on some outside the box stuff including beer - like our piŮa colada which includes Malibu Rum, dark rum, egg whites and Spearhead's Hawaiian Pale Ale. 

What services does Ottawa Cocktails provide at parties and events? We offer a fully customized experience - everything from creating signature drinks to the full flair bartending experience to "working flair," which is toned down but still fun to watch. We plan it with clients, asking questions like: How flashy do you want it? What is your budget? We can do things like a multi-course tasting menu with paired cocktails, scotches, beer or wine; we have a whole team of experts including chefs and sommeliers that we call upon. We also offer events that teach people how to mix drinks. The bar can become a focal point, drawing people together and giving them something to talk about.

Why do you think cocktails are becoming more popular today? Cocktails can be very food friendly - people are starting to realize that cocktails are more fun and festive. Thankfully, we've moved away from 1980s style drinks which were not very memorable or appealing. The TV series, Mad Men has given the cocktail industry a huge boost and Ottawa is embracing the trend.

Steve's tips for successful cocktail making:

Always use fresh ingredients, rather than premixed ones

Many cocktails include bitters - watch for different brands in your travels

Use the appropriate glassware - it can greatly enhance the perception of a cocktail

Pay attention to the quality of the alcohol you are using - better is best!

If you are creating your own signature cocktail make sure you've thoroughly tested it and have someone else taste it before you serve it at a party.

Market candy apple cocktail

Recipe courtesy of Steve Benson of Ottawa Cocktails

1oz Jim Beam Devil's Cut Bourbon

.5oz Caramel Syrup

1.5oz Hall's Apple Cider

1 burnt sugar apple slice

Combine the Devil's Cut, Caramel Syrup and Hall's Apple Cider in a cocktail shaker and shake for 30 sec.  Strain over new ice into a rocks glass and garnish with a burnt sugar apple slice.

Caramel Syrup 

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

In a heavy duty pot on medium heat, add sugar.  Allow the sugar to melt and brown. Once the sugar has completely browned, slowly add water, a bit at a time, until the liquid will coat a spoon much like the consistency of maple syrup, but will not harden on the spoon.

Burnt Apple 

Cut a .5cm thick slice of apple.  Cut a small wedge on one side so the apple can sit on the rim of the glass.  Place the apple on a plate or other heat resistant surface and sprinkle with sugar.  Using a brulée torch to brown the sugar on the apple and let sit for 30-45 seconds to cool then use as a garnish.




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