Cheers! To the craft cocktail scene

Hospitality professional and guest blogger Brenda Perrin shares her thoughts on where to find the best craft cocktails in the Fredericton Capital Region.

I have been impressed with how our local bars & restaurants have been upping their game when it comes to beverages.  I developed an appreciation for a well-executed boozy masterpiece a few years ago and consider myself an equal-opportunity crafty-lover: craft beer, craft coffee, craft cocktails…if it involves some skill to do it just right, I have an appreciation for it.  And I’m here to tell you: there is much being done just right- here in the Fredericton Capital Region.

 Yes, there has been a flurry of awesome taprooms that have sprung up in the region in recent years, earning its reputation as Atlantic Canada’s Craft Brewing Capital.  And now, I am so happy to see that distilleries have been making themselves known as well!  While I’ll probably always consider Fils du Roy the OG of the NB distilleries thanks to their amazing and versatile Gin Thuya, there have been some fantastic additions in recent years, some of them right here in the Fredericton Capital Region!

 There’s the award-winning Devil’s Keep vodka and gin, and Gagetown Distillery’s brandy, gin, and ciders.  Newcomers like Black Galley and First Light Distilleries, which are churning out some beautiful spirits in their stillhouses on the Hanwell, and Maritime Moonshine based in McLeod Hill  is nicely pairing “high quality” with “high octane”.  Last but not least, exceptional-caliber liqueurs like those produced by Big Fiddle Still from Harvey, and Gagetown Distilling and Cidery, have become hugely popular as well (and with good reason!).

Mead, a honey wine that is perhaps closer to beer than a spirit but still deserves mention, makes a wonderful cocktail base as well, and Pollen Angels, out of Fredericton, makes a score of them that are distinct in their profiles, and serve wonderfully as a brunch beverage.

OK, I got a little excited, and when I get excited, I squirrel.  Back to the craft cocktails…

I went to some of my favourite craft cocktail purveyors around town to check out which Regional products are available, and as expected I was not disappointed.  I’m positive you won’t be either.  From alcohol-forward modern cocktails to dangerously deceitful drinks that taste more like punch, here are some delicious mixtures that will make you a barstool fixture at these local hot spots.  Some ideas for your next evening out: 

Since its opening at its original home on Regent Street, 11th mile has been the epitome of truly inspired cocktail magic.  I even remember my first cocktail order there: the Lionel Richie (cuz, how could you not?), and the Muffie Meyer.  What I love about this place, and what has carried over to their new location on York Street, is that there is a story behind everything they do, a purpose behind every selection they make.  This careful curation results in unique flavour combinations and thoughtful blends that make returning regularly to see what’s new on their menus a must.

Since the Muffie Meyer was one of my first cocktails there, I was delighted that co-owner (and all-around amazing superwoman) Jennie Wilson would suggest this as “the” cocktail when I asked about what speaks to her as a “local” drink.  With their small-but-serviceable bar space, they keep a limited liquor stock, and the afore-mentioned Gin Thuya factors heavily as an ingredient year-round.  Though it’s no longer on the official cocktail menu, the faithful who have been going to 11th mile since its opening still ask for it by name.  And it’s not hard to understand why it’s a favourite with real staying power.  In Jennie’s own words, it embodies “gin-soaked luxury”, and I can think of no better way to describe…well, anything.

This was one of the first-ever cocktails Jennie crafted, before she and co-owner and head chef Peter Tompkins even made the move back to New Brunswick from Toronto.  Drawing inspiration from the notes in the Gin Thuya Peter’s sister had brought from Florenceville during a visit, she combined it with Campari, simple syrup, lemon, bergamot bitters infused with Earl Grey tea, and egg whites for that beautiful frothy top.  Its deceptively feminine appearance packs a wallop, much like its namesake.  One of the first female movie directors in a time when that wasn’t a thing, Muffie directed the original Grey Gardens in 1975, along with a slew of documentaries and other films.  She is a force to be reckoned with, much as I view the owners and team at this beautiful restaurant that’s captured the hearts of many locals and visitors.

HOT TIP: May tells me from behind the bar she takes requests for cocktails!  If they have the items in stock, she will make it. 

Located inside the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Fredericton, Southside Shake is the only gin bar in Atlantic Canada, featuring over 60 gins!  You may have heard of them already for their brilliant Gin & Jazz weekends, or their sister restaurant The Pickle Jar and their incredible brunches.  If you haven’t heard of the Tiny Tinis yet, though, hold. the. heck. on.

Tiny Tinis made their debut in the summer of 2020 not long after we crawled out of lockdown.  What’s this?  COCKTAIL FLIGHTS?!  There *is* a God, and he’s truly shone his light on us!  Unexpected flavour combinations like their Basiltini, Watermelon jalapenotini, and Pineapplelemongrasstini are as inventive and delicious as they are pleasing to the eye. They’re perfect if you’re like me and love to sample a little of everything.  “The variety of all things forms a pleasure”…if Euripides said it, it must be true.  Rounding out the newly-updated menu selections are the Rhubarbini, Blueberrytini, Cucumbermelontini, Raspberrypeachtini, Greenappletini, and Vineberrytini, there is much to mix and match!  All Tiny Tinis are made with Fils du Roy’s Gin Thuya or Grande Bagosse vodka.

The Southside Shake also incorporates popular local mead producer Pollen Angels into two of their brunch cocktail menu items.  The Melon d’Eau is a silky sweet fruity beauty, blending tropical fruits with the honey wine base, and is not to be missed!  And of course, their “bottomless” brunch cocktail options give you a choice of the classic mimosa, Caesars, or (my favourite) the meadmosa.  Brunch gatherings are the jumping-off point for a sunny weekend day well spent !

This bar offers up some of the distilled-right-here gins mentioned in the introduction, including Devil’s Keep (regular *and* barrel-Aged) and Gagetown Unfiltered, in addition to other New Brunswick-crafted favourites like Moonshine Creek (Pink Ginny and their Get’n’ Pickled moonshine, naturally), Blue Roof, and of course Fils du Roy’s Gin Thuya (regular and Silver).

HOT TIP:  The gin lover in you will be transported by Southside Shake’s Gin Passport! Try out each of the 30 gins in the passport, getting a stamp each time, then turn in your completed passport to the team to earn your free night’s stay at the Hilton Garden Inn!

Walk down the alleyway between The Abbey Café & Gallery and 540 Kitchen + Bar on Queen Street, and you’ll be welcomed by a vibrant, colourful patio scene that is sure to become your favourite new summertime watering hole!

The Lot features sips & nibbles (including desserts) from The Provincial, but also allows for freeform food options.  You can order from The Abbey for vegan options, Naru for sushi and Japanese cuisine, or the new Beatz n Eatz food truck that they share back alley space with for an eclectic, upscale-casual menu.  The latter also supplies a high-energy, 90’s-dance-heavy soundtrack that added to the summery good-time atmosphere.  As the hot days turn to cool evenings, relax and enjoy friendly conversation while enjoying warmth and ambience courtesy of their fire tables.

I have long loved The Provincial’s cocktails, and of course I immediately set to work on checking their menu for which concoctions feature locally-distilled products.  I was thrilled to find that one of their cocktails that I already love was one of them: The Espresso Martini.  Silky, rich and gloriously full-bodied, this is a classic cocktail that will never fail you, assuming you are a coffee lover like me, and features Devil’s Keep’s equally-smooth vodka.  Like the love interest in a movie, this drink deserves its own theme music as it makes its way to your table.  “Dreamweaver”?  No, too cheesy.  “Fever” (the swingy/sassy Peggy Lee one)?  Now we’re cookin’ with gas…

Others with Devil’s Keep as a base ingredient include the can’t-miss classics like the Moscow Mule and Tom Collins.  Being a huge fan of sparkling wine, I couldn’t resist trying the Radio Star.  With vodka, passion fruit, vanilla, banana, lime, and Ruffino sparkling rose, it is beautifully-made, sweet effervescence personified.  I could order this all summer long.

HOT TIP:  The shrimp fritters from Beatz n Eatz were astounding!  Since my first cruise to the Bahamas when I experienced conch fritters, I’ve been wanting to go back and have them again.  This is as close as I’ll come for a while, but I am definitely not mad about it.  I love the whole concept of The Lot.  Go!  Enjoy!

You may not have visited this part of Hanwell before, but let me tell you - you’ll be glad you did. Located on Fairway Lane, First Light Distillery is a cute little boozy oasis in the Hanwell industrial business district.

Owners Jen and Kevin Stewart discovered their love for spirits while living in Toronto. After ten years in the big city, they decided to come home to Fredericton and turn their shared passion into a business. Thus, First Light was born. Producing vodka, gin, cream liqueur, and rum (white AND spiced!), they opened their doors in June 2022, and have been serving up a good time ever since.

Situated directly beside their distillery, The First Light tasting room was built with a vision of being a happy hour rendezvous, as well as a gorgeous space for private events like fairy tale weddings…and they have hit the mark, this spot is “grammable” as can be. From their two outdoor patios, to their expansive, high ceilinged indoor space, and their adorable, colourfully wallpapered powder room, no aesthetic detail has been overlooked - and it will come as no surprise that they put that same TLC into their cocktails!

The menu at First Light is constantly evolving. Inspired by the seasons, and always featuring a house made spirit, they expertly curate drinks to entice every palate. A favourite for me (and many others, I’m told) is the Elderwand, which blends the First Light Gin with cooling cucumber, refreshing mint, and a dash of black pepper. Another menu staple is their boozy iced coffee, which mixes First Light Cream Liqueur with Milltown Roaster’s cold brew. Make sure you grab a bottle of the cream liqueur as you’re going to want to recreate this one at home! You will also find some local brews, wine, coolers, and a selection of chips on hand, to ensure you don’t go hungry. During the warmer months, they regularly host food trucks, making First Light a great spot to spend an afternoon with your partner planning your dream wedding, or with the fam playing cornhole or fooseball. You’ll find owners Jen and Kevin behind the bar most nights - just look for the two with the biggest smiles. And don’t forget to say hi to their sweetheart of a dog, Ruth! Did I mention they are dog friendly?!

Happy hour hack: the drinks at First Light go down real easy- so plan for a cab, or assign a designated driver for your visit.

The tasting room is open to the public year-round, Wednesdays-Saturdays, with the exception of closures for private bookings. Keep an eye on their social media for hours, special musical performances, and food truck schedules!

HOT TIP: Don’t miss team trivia at First Light, which takes place every other Thursday, hosted by @capitalcitytrivia and providing you a chance to show off your pop culture knowledge, and win some generous First Light gift cards!

If you’re looking to enjoy some libations responsibly, turning an evening outing into a staycation is a great way to keep the good times rolling!  Local hotels are offering terrific Stay & Play accommodation packages that include $50 BONUS Downtown Dollars or Northside Dollars to spend how you chose during your stay!

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of places that feature fantastic fusions, these are my current top picks.  However, you enjoy it, I hope to see you out and about this summer, enjoying all the tastes and good times our amazing local businesses have to offer!