In the sands of Saudi Arabia, the wind whips at the dunes, the sun pounds on the desert and the black gold flows profusely, by the millions of dollars, from the ground below. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is unique in the sheer size of its drought-ridden land, the intense heat of its sun and the endless amount of oil bubbling beneath its territory.
On the other side of the world, another large country claims different sorts of uniqueness. There, the wind whips at the pine needle branches, the snow pounds the landscape and the sugary sap flows profusely, by the millions of dollars, from the trees above. It is unique in the sheer size of its forests, the intense cold of its dark nights, and the endless amount of maple syrup running from its trees.
Yes, Canada is the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup. And East London Liquor Company’s Head of Drinks Development and native Canadian, Mikey Pendergast, has begun to employ the viscous sugar bomb in his cocktails.
In some respects, Mikey’s not that Canadian anymore. He spent a lot of his childhood traveling with his archaeologist parents to digs in different parts of the world, especially in Belize (is Canada’s ground too cold to dig in?). This coming January, he’ll hit fifteen years as a Londoner, a period during which he fell into bartending and the drinks world, despite his archaeological studies.
As luck would have it, Mikey ended up working with “genuinely talented bartenders” learning not only to mix and experiment with cocktails but also to make syrups, bitters and gin from scratch. His archaeologist blood prompted him to begin digging into the history of drinks, a history that he thinks is grossly under-researched.
As he experiments with even more concoctions, the meticulous nature imparted on him during his life as an archaeologist will be reflected in the notes he makes on his cocktails. Who knows? Someday perhaps we’ll have an account of drinks history and contemporary times as rich and as thick as the syrup that runs through the maple veins of Mikey’s homeland.
1. What cocktails with maple syrup do you mix?
It’s not a common ingredient of my cocktails but I have begun to play around with it in whisky cocktails thanks to the influence of a bar on Old Street called Nightjar. There’s a cocktail called the Toronto whose original recipe calls for Fernet Branca, rye whiskey, and simple syrup. Nightjar began making it with maple syrup.
2. As a Canadian, do you defend Canadian whisky over the Scotch, Irish, Japanese and American versions?
I have to admit, I love Scotch, bourbon and rye and I’m developing soft-spot for Japanese whiskies. They’re doing some mind-blowing things over there. There’s one called Chichibu which is floor malted - insanely good. The Japanese are doing great subtle-flavoured blends, but I don’t think they’ll ever replace Scotch.
3. What does a Canadian bartender do for fun in London when not pouring drinks?
I’m either in another bar hanging out with my bartender friends and trying new drinks, or I’m playing video games. I’m pretty retro so I like the old games. They’re a good way to unwind.
4. What’s your favourite music to mix cocktails to?
Definitely reggae. They have loads of reggae in Belize so I’ve always listened to a lot of it - the classics like Jimmy Cliff.
5. Where’s the one place in the world you would go to for a cocktail that you haven’t been to yet?
New York, without a doubt. I haven’t been back since I’ve been of drinking age. Although there’s some cool stuff going on in London, the New York scene is something that all bartenders have to witness, particularly what they’re doing at the Dead Rabbit.
Bonus Question: As a Canadian, do you miss ending your phrases with “eh?”
Ha! I certainly don’t miss it, but it’s something I definitely pick up when I go back home. It might slip out once in a while in London too, especially after a maple syrup cocktail.