When you walk into Proof Cocktail Bar located along 13th Ave. and 1st Street S.W. you immediately notice a wall embellished with hundreds of speciality liqueurs imported from all corners of the Earth.

The bar has an antique feel, with vintage blankets from the Hudson Bay Company strewn about the leather sofas and chairs that live in the space. Its lighting is moody and low at night, but the bay windows around the bar brighten up the space with natural light during the day.

Proof that cocktails can be an artform. Produced by Tatianna Ducklow and Tyler Ryan.

This hip and cozy lounge specializes in both classic and unique cocktails. Proof has been open in Calgary since May 2015 and was ranked third best in Avenue Calgary’s annual review of “Best Restaurants for Cocktails and Food.”

We find Jeff Savage at the bar. The sound of swirling ice reverberates off the glass as he mixes another masterpiece. As the manager and cocktail curator, Savage believes in creating drinks that heighten the experience for his guests. For Savage, anything can be made into a cocktail.

“Nothing is sacred. People often think whiskeys and things like that, you shouldn’t mix them because they’re so special. Obviously, that’s the case and they are special, but I mean things are meant to be drank, that’s the point of them,” Savage says.Savage MAINThe wide selection of liquor behind the bar at Proof has been specially curated by Savage and his team and there is nothing behind the bar that won’t be mixed. Photo by Tatianna Ducklow.

However, there is one drink that Savage and Proof will not provide that may have some Calgarians raising their eyebrows: The Caesar.

“Caesars are so prolific in Alberta and in Calgary that you can really get one anywhere and what we’re trying to do here is trying to create something a little bit more unique,” says Savage.

A Brief History of the Cocktail 

According to the Telegraph, the history of the cocktail is steeped in both American and British roots but somewhat inconclusive. Originally, the term “cocktail” did not mean a mixed drink but instead, referred to horses that were being sold. A cocktail horse was a horse that was a mixed breed and thus, its tail was cut short to indicate this.

The earliest known reference to the alcoholic cocktail was found in the March 20, 1798 edition of a now defunct London newspaper called the Morning Post and Gazeteer.

In 1862, a bartender from Connecticut named Jerry Thomas wrote the first book that contained a section of cocktail recipes, called How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant Companion. Seven years later in 1869, the first British cocktail book was written by William Terrington, entitled Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks. The first recipe that he wrote was for the “Gin Cocktail,” made with gin or brandy, ginger syrup, aromatic bitters and water.

Fast forward to the prohibition during the 1920’s. The cocktail continued to thrive in Speakeasies and other establishments across the United States that sold illicit alcohol. During this time, a bartender named Harry Craddock stashed and saved a box of over 2,000 cocktail recipes and these recipes were then transcribed into the Savoy Cocktail Book.

Bottles MAINCocktail curator and bar manager, Jeff Savage, shows off a few of the Proof specialty drinks on November 23, 2016. Photo by Tyler Ryan.

Since that time, America has stepped out of the shadows of Prohibition and the cocktail as we know it has undergone some radical changes. Arguably, liquor connoisseurs are experiencing a cocktail renaissance that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. 

Final Thoughts

According to Savage, alcohol consumption and history are interwoven together. Ancient civilizations were consuming alcohol long before literacy was widespread. Whether it was when people were beer-drinking in Sumeria (modern-day Southern Iraq), wine-making in the Middle East, or producing spirits during the early 700’s, alcohol was a normal part of their day to day lives.

“I like to think about [that] when I’m drinking a glass of something, I’m drinking the history of that thing,” Savage says.

tducklow@cjournal.ca and tryan@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this piece is Hannah Willinger an can be reached at hwillinger@cjournal.ca 

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