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Foodie Friday: Ottawa’s newest microbrewery goes gaga over craft . . . cocktails?

By Tobi Cohen on December 12, 2014

So Ottawa’s newest brewpub fancies itself a cocktail connoisseur eh? Well, let me be the judge of that.

I was invited to the Lowertown Brewery in the Byward Market last week, not to sample its southern barbecue or craft brews, though I did try both. I was there to try something a little less obvious – its handcrafted cocktails which, on weekends, are supposedly served up with flair.

On a Wednesday night, the mixology show consisted of a short-lived burst of flame while heating up an orange peel with a temperamental Zippo. Neat but hardly the Tom Cruise Cocktail show I was expecting.

General manager Kate Gauvreau may have overhyped the flair just a tad but I am promised some cup tossing, showy shaking and creative pouring on Friday and Saturday nights so I will return on a weekend to check this out. Bartending flair is not something I’ve seen in Ottawa and I must confess, I wore out the soundtrack to my copy of the 1988 Tom Cruise flick so I’m kinda all shook up over this.

Spiced Whiskey Sour.

Spiced Whiskey Sour.

I kicked things off with the Spiced Whiskey Sour made with fresh squeezed lime juice, egg whites, a housemade maple simple syrup and garnished with a housemade maraschino cherry, locally sourced and fermented in bourbon and maraschino liqueur.

The shaken egg whites gave the drink a creamy, velvety frothiness that made it something quite special. The cherry was not nearly as sweet as your typical maraschino and may have given the one-ounce beverage a little extra alcoholic kick.

This was, by far, my favorite of the evening.

Bartender Jordan Sien whips up a classic Old Fashioned with flair.

Bartender Jordan Sien whips up a classic Old Fashioned with flair.

The bar has a wide selection of bourbon and bartender Jordan Sien recommended an Old Fashioned for my second sample.

The strong, two-ounce “male martini,” as Sien calls it, can be customized. You can order it with the bourbon of your choice, or price point, or your favorite rye whiskey. I went with a classic bourbon version.

It’s made in a rock glass on ice with a maple simple syrup, a few dashes of Angostura bitters and fresh orange zest that falls off the rind when heated with a lighter. Hence the orange zest flame ball mentioned earlier.

It’s well made. A strong, slow sipper. Not for the faint of heart. A definite old man drink, as a friend put it. Or, as the case may be, today’s hipster beverage of choice.

Cucumber Quencher.

Cucumber Quencher.

I capped things off with the Cucumber Quencher, the perfect summer patio beverage for an, ahem, chilly late November evening. It’s made with an ounce-and-a-half of gin, a white sugar simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, muddled cucumber and is shaken with ice before it’s poured into a tall glass and topped with soda.

It’s refreshing and not too sweet. The cucumber is pleasantly potent, perhaps because it’s muddled with the gin.

While not particularly innovative compared to other bars in the capital that have been upping the ante in the cocktail department with housemade not-so-simple syrups, shrubs and inventive seasonal recipes, Lowertown Brewery’s cocktails are fresh, well made, familiar and cheap.

Most are under $8 compared to the $10 to $13 you’ll pay elsewhere.

But for a brewery seeking to specialize in cocktails, conspicuously absent from the menu are beer cocktails. If the place ever wants to get a little more, shall we say, crafty, what better place to start.

Lowertown Brewery is a step up from the Hard Rock Café that used to be in its place. What its own craft beers – Lowertown also serves up Clocktower Brew Pub suds – lack in uniqueness, they make up for in mass-market appeal. The same might be said for its pub grub, though my experience with the menu rests solely with the smoked beef brisket and onion relish sandwich, house cut fries and coleslaw I split with a friend.

The chunky, crispy wedge fries were great. So too was our popcorn snack, which was drenched in smoke-infused butter that had been left inside the smoker. The brisket and slaw, however, didn’t even come close to the comparable southern fare being served up mere steps away at the Smoque Shack. (What’s up with Ottawa? A taco shop opens up and suddenly it’s Mexican on every block. Same goes for southern BBQ, pizza, burgers. You name it!)

As any real estate agent will say, it’s all location, location, location. At 73 York St., Lowertown Brewery’s got that in spades.