BEHIND BARS: Creating a cocktail culture in Oak Bay

Vis-à-Vis head bartender Josh Boudreau brings a wealth of experience to this wine-centric eatery

Josh Boudreau, head bartender at Vis-a-Vis in Oak Bay, begins creating a Roots and Blues cocktail. It’s similar to an Old Fashioned, but includes house-made root beer syrup with Fernet Branca liqueur and Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Don Descoteau/Monday Magazine

Josh Boudreau, head bartender at Vis-a-Vis in Oak Bay, begins creating a Roots and Blues cocktail. It’s similar to an Old Fashioned, but includes house-made root beer syrup with Fernet Branca liqueur and Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Don Descoteau/Monday Magazine

Vis-à-Vis bouchon-bar in the heart of Oak Bay Village is well known for its charcuterie food items and its selection of quality wines.

But head bartender Josh Boudreau is working to add a more interesting cocktail element to the popular eatery.

Starting in 2010, he began cutting his bartending teeth at Veneto, one of Victoria’s cocktail havens, and began specializing in something he calls “jazz improv cocktails.” Getting hired there was a case of “right place, right time,” he says. “I developed my skills as people in Victoria got thirsty for something new and fresh. There’s a huge demand for quality things,” he says, including beverages.

He has continued to work on his craft since he arrived in Oak Bay, balancing the occasional experimentation with cocktails – New York sours and red wine reduction, for example – with increasing his knowledge of fine wines.

While customers can order whatever they like, the “creative cocktails” menu here is simple, yet elegant which helps create a scenario where consistency can be achieved.

When my companion on this day, Monday craft beer columnist Matt Poirier, joins me in asking Josh what he’s excited about on that menu, he offers up a Goddess of the Hunt, a mixture of Pergolo Prosecco, Taboo Absinthe, white chocolate syrup and fresh lemon. It makes for a good introduction to absinthe, Josh says. While I enjoyed a different mixture with this same brand of absinthe at our last stop (Stage in Fernwood), I would tend to agree with him, given the Goddess’ combination of bold, yet complimentary flavours.

Matt chooses a Roots and Blues, kind of a Vis-à-Vis version of an Old Fashioned, with house-made root beer syrup mixed with Fernet Branca liqueur and Woodford Reserve Bourbon, finished with a twist of lemon.

“There’s a magic that happens when these ingredients are put together,” Josh says.

Matt likes its consistency, calling it a “good winter weather cocktail.”

“It has that Old Fashioned note, but because of the thickness, the flavours stick around,” he says, describing how the ingredients bind together and the liquor doesn’t evaporate quickly.

Despite the Village’s reputation as attracting an older demographic, Vis-à-Vis tends to draw a slightly younger crowd, people who are seeking a unique food and beverage experience, Josh says. “It’s a busy room,” he notes, but not so busy that bartenders can’t create something special.

Let’s hear from Josh:

Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique?

I am most proud of my ability to customize cocktails. With a few questions, I can quickly pinpoint a guest’s taste, improvise a creation to their liking and have fun doing it. Through several years of “jazz improv” cocktail making at Veneto Lounge, I had the privilege of fine tuning my skills to precisely provide unique creations and experiences for anyone and everyone.

What’s hot right now?

Zero waste is hot right now … and should always be. For example; discarded lime husks can be cooked into a fun syrup or cordial. Trimmings from garnishes can be put in a jar with some local booze and made into bitters. Reducing our carbon footprint and having fun doing it! I will always have open ears for any creative ways to make treasure out of trash.

What traits make a good bartender?

They love their craft and, more importantly, they consistently deliver positive and memorable experience for their guests. That is a very simple answer but I believe it tops the list.

What’s your signature drink?

Every guest’s taste is different. If I had to pick one cocktail it would be Goddess of the Hunt. It is built with equal parts absinthe, white chocolate syrup and lemon (1/2 oz. each), finished with a big splash of Prosecco, served neat in a flute. I chose this because of its modesty and simplicity. Easy to prepare for anyone with some ice and a shaker.

What are you drinking these days?

I’m a big fan of the classic margarita. However, I prefer a pinch a salt shaken right in the drink. I don’t often find chefs putting a pile of salt on the side of a dish, why should drinks be any different?

Best memory from behind the bar?

A particular couple comes to mind. They met for the first time while having drinks at Veneto a few years back and fell in love. Every year for their anniversary they would come back and visit for cocktails again. These experiences are what makes the gig so special to me. It’s so much more than mixing booze.

ALSO IN BEHIND BARS:

Cocktails from fresh and approachable to spirit forward

Nothing common about this place

Learning about the versatility and nuanced flavours of sake



editor@mondaymag.com

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