Are you a newbie shaker meets mixer looking to up your cocktail game? Or do you already feel like a seasoned mixologist and simply want to stroll through your own slice of Nirvana? Fans of the slick sip head to Toronto’s artsy Queen West neighbourhood and pop in for a bartending binge at BYOB Cocktail Emporium.
Kristen Voisey first opened the doors at BYOB five years ago. She offers up a bit of a history lesson, “to tell the truth I had no experience in the cocktail industry when I opened the store. I had a large collection of vintage glassware that was a large part of the store’s offering when we first opened. I got the idea to open a cocktail themed store when I was in LA and came across a store called Bar Keeper that sold bar tools, vintage glassware and actual booze…which I don’t see us being able to offer anytime soon, ha!”
When I ask her about the evolution of Toronto’s cocktail culture she chirps, “Our shop evolved with the cocktail industry. When we started there were a handful of bitters companies and today there are so many we can barely keep up, or fit them on the shelf. We expanded our bar tool selection to include very high end Japanese bar tools and glassware that sell very well. We were lucky that we opened just when the cocktail boom in Toronto started. We’ve now expanded to a second location in Kensington Market called 1/2 oz Cocktail Emporium and now offer international shipping online.”
For cocktail fans keen on keeping on trend Kristen offers a final word on what to look for, “I hope to see more unique presentation with cocktails this year. Each drink having its own unique glass, garnish, coaster etc… This is a European cocktail trend that I think is making its way over here. Each drink can be its own piece of art.”
The Bitters wall at BYOB forces one to pause and marvel at its wild selection. I’m a big fan of supporting local and picked up two bottles of Dillon’s Distillers (pear + rhubarb) which are produced with wine grapes grown in Niagara.
If you’re looking for design chic, uber high quality tools for when you host your next splashy soiree you’ll want to pick up from BYOB’s collection of rose gold, gold, silver and copper coloured Yukiwa mixing glasses, shakers and strainers.
If you’re a fan of the G&T pick up a bottle of Jack Rudy Cocktail Company’s high quality tonics. Produced in Charlton, their top notch concentrated tonic syrups are all natural made with real cinchona bark (where quinine comes from), lemongrass and orange peel. I’m told they are one of BYOB’s top sellers, available flavours include small batch classic tonic and elderflower. Just add soda water and gin for a perfect G&T!
Stroll to the back of the store and you’ll find an entire table dedicated to the city’s newfound love for Tiki. It’s a kitschy lovers dream featuring smiling whales, serious skulls, pretty panda, colourful parrot, pink flamingo and other Polynesian inspired ceramic mugs.
Perhaps the most ornate offering in the shop is that choir of eye popping French Absinthe Fountains which scream “vintage I love you.” You simply put cold water and ice in the glass bowl and allow the contents to drip over a sugar cube that sits on a slotted absinthe spoon. Once the sugar cube has dissolved you’re ready to sip up!