There are two kinds of people in this world: people who go to the mountains, and people who don’t. And if you’d rather summit a peak than drink gross “champagne” from a plastic cup, I know just the place—Banff, Alberta.
Each year more than 3 million people visit Banff National Park to do outdoor snow and nature things. And when they’re done, they need a place to drink—and flat rum and coke simply won’t do. So put down the Baby Duck and follow me to The Balkan Restaurant in Banff for a proper mountain martini. Perhaps even one that’s lit on fire!
At this bar, drinks are conceptualized by mad scientist, Matthew Hendriks, the restaurant’s head Mixologist. Hendriks uses creativity (and fire!) to bring unique cocktails to even the most discerning drinkers. Their menu has at least 25 drinks cocktails available at all times and a team of (good looking) bartenders at the ready to make them. At The Balkan, juices and syrups are made from scratch onsite along with massive deoxygenated ice cubes—I’ll get to those in a minute.
Seated at the bar I peruse the cocktail list unaware that I am about to enter a Cirque du Soleil of mixology.
The Classic Sazerac
This classic whiskey cocktail just celebrated its 145th(ish) birthday and is a standard on any respectable drink menu. But at the Balkan they take it up a notch…with fire and absinthe. Hendricks coats the glass with absinthe using an oil spritzer and proceeds to light the glass on fire. He does this for fun of course, but also to infuse the glass with absinthy goodness. Rye, sugar syrop and Peychaud’s Bitters are mixed separately and added to glass now rimmed with flamed lemon zest. We’re all party people here, but please don’t try this at home.
Local Flavour: The Farmers Market “Very Cherry” Cocktail
In the Okanagan Valley grow some of the most delicious cherries the world has ever know. And because Hendricks is a genius, he has them shipped in by the crate and uses them in cocktails. The “Very Cherry” starts with fresh, mulled Okanagan cherries, spanked basil and Martin Miller’s gin. This gin is made over glacial ice and gives the drink a sweet taste balanced by a fresh, floral tone. After a double straining, the gemstone coloured cocktail is complete—there’s even a sugar soaked cherry on top.
More Glass Spheres than David Bowie
“Balls to the Wall” is a drink you will not find on the menu. It’s a dry, sweet robust mix of flavours and about the prettiest darned cocktail I’ve ever seen. This drink runs on a fine mixture of rye, dry curacao, chocolate bitters, bourbon and sugar soaked cherries all surrounding one giant sphere of deoxygenated ice. When he’s not manning the bar, Hendriks is in the back pulling the oxygen out of water to make 4-inch cubes of ice for his guests. These blocks are placed in a mould to be pressed into a perfect sphere before your eyes. Aside from being a fancy David Bowie glass sphere move, ice balls melt allowing you to enjoy a strong cocktail to the last sip.
About The Balkan
This authentic Greek restaurant is on the main drag in Banff town and has been run by the same family for over 30 years. It has a cozy old-world feel and terrific atmosphere. Delicious dishes like Moussaka, Arni Psito and Kalamari are complemented the biggest selection of Greek wines in North America. Dinner guests are treated to belly dancing show, Greek dancing and are even invited to smash a plate or two. Opa!
IF YOU GO:
All the info you need is on the Banff National Park website.
The writer was a guest of Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau. They did not review or approve this article.