By Kathy Mak
When I think of sublime cocktails, I think of bartender Tarquin Melynik. He is among the top cadre of bartenders elevating the cocktail game in Vancouver. I first met Melynik in 2014 when he was the bar manager at Gastown’s Bambudda, which shuttered in 2017. His level of creativity–panache, really–had an indelible effect on many cocktail aficionados, including yours truly. He continues to improve the art of libations, currently helming the cocktail program at the Long Table Distillery’s lounge.
During a recent visit to the distillery, Melynik told me that when he first became interested in cocktails over a decade ago beverages were not understood in the same way that chefs knew cuisine. At that time, as an example, fresh ingredients or juices were not used for mixing at bars. “To train as a bartender, you had to travel to cities like New York, San Francisco, Tokyo or London to find people with the skill to truly guide you”, says Melynik. “It was a multi-year apprenticeship for me. Nowadays, the knowledge is a little more open source”.
With the widespread boom of artisanal spirits and craft cocktails, drink purveyors are now just as dedicated as chefs are to quality ingredients and elevated flavour experiences. This is evident with Melynik’s cocktail program at the distillery which focuses on exploring complex and layered flavour profiles between spirits, aromatic bitters, and hyperseasonal ingredients, much like how the distillery explores botanicals to fashion exceptional gins!
Long Table Distillery is no newcomer to Vancouver. They have the distinction of being the city’s first micro-distillery, co-founded in 2010 by head distiller Charles Tremewen and his partner Rita at their present location on the north side of False Creek. Best known as Ginsmiths, Long Table Distillery’s portfolio includes multiple award-winning expressions of gin – London dry gin, cucumber gin, and bourbon barrel aged gin. Each batch is crafted from 100% Canadian grain with locally or globally sourced botanicals.
In addition to gins, the distillery produces a Texada vodka and various seasonal spirits, including a Langbord akavit, barrel-aged akvavit, “Pairs of Pears” brandy, “Amaro Linnaeus”, and “Tradizionale Limoncello”.
Their newest lounge menu shows Melynik’s true cocktail craftsmanship and hits all the right notes with several unassuming twists. You’ll be spoiled for choice with some 40 tipples, including 13 house cocktails, 8 house G&Ts, 8 classics, and a secret menu which currently has 6 iterations of a Negroni and 4 iterations of the Hotel Georgia cocktail. “I have worked very hard to offer an incredibly diverse menu – while holding close to the fact that we [Long Table Distillery] primarily use the 9 foundation spirits that are made in house”, says Melynik.
And, leave it to Melynik’s curious nature to come up with a new cocktail menu that was inspired by legends of sea monsters. “One of the great historical reasons for travel and exploration was to source prized spices and botanicals from assorted regions. We took inspiration from the legendary sea monsters found in the regions where the botanicals/garnishes for each G&T originated”, explains Melynik. For example, the Jörmungandr is an homage to the norse mythological serpernt (features akavit, rhubarb elderflower syrup, lemon, Smoke & Oak bitters, lemon tonic and pear & rose petals), while the Umibozu G&T is a nod to Japan’s sea-dwelling spirit (features London Dry Gin, Junmai Gionjo sake, Yuzo Syrup, Mt Fuji Bitters, classic tonic and frozen grapes).
To the uninitiated, expect an inviting communal vibe when visiting the distillery’s laid-back lounge to explore Melynk’s cutting-edge house creations. The warm, cozy space is outfitted with a 14-foot long table centerpiece made from redwood sequoia, bar-stool seating, lofty ceilings and an up-tempo playlist of tunes, which may just be as popular as the cocktails. Drop in to sample/purchase spirits and stay longer on Thursdays to Saturdays to unwind with cocktails. And, don’t leave without trying their popular Hotel Georgia cocktail. (Recipe here.)
Learn more about the man behind the bar – Tarquin Melynk – at the Long Table Distillery:
How long have you been a professional bartender?
I became interested in cocktails/cocktail culture in 2006. I studied, practiced, lived, traveled and worked at learning to bartend exclusively for years, finally calling myself a Bartender in 2010.
Do you prefer to be called a bartender or mixologist?
Bartending is the occupation. Mixology is only a component of what a good bartender can offer. Like KRS-One said, “Hip Hop is the culture. Rap is what I do.”
Do you have a bartender or cocktail mentor?
Many. I watched Kazuo Uyeda videos on repeat to understand technique. I went to Dave Arnold seminars to understand the science. I read David Wondrich, and others, to grasp the history. I once flew Shawn Soole to Edmonton to give me hands on inspiration. Gez Regan taught me classification of styles. Dale Degroff brought home the importance of freshness. Philip Unger taught me about flavor extraction. Dylan Williams inspired my love of concept driven work. Many Vancouver bartenders taught me excellent things. I look up to people like Robyn Gray, Jeffrey Morganthaler and Matt Grippo a lot. I keep fighting to understand more and improve, everyday.
What other projects are you involved in?
I collaborate with a crew called Project Happy Days and I travel for both the Long Table Distillery and Ms. Better’s to bartend globally. Project Happy Days is a collaboration of talented professional bartenders lending their skills to creating picture/film content related to all forms of beverage culture. YouTube channel coming soon!
How did you get involved with Ms Better’s bitters?
A happy meeting with food scientist Philip Unger. He wandered in to Bambudda one day with a box full of his experiments. We began working together immediately. The Miraculous Foamer was when all involved knew we had to progress to the next level.
Why are some of best bitters in the world from Vancouver?
I think there’s a confluence of botanical interest in such a varied growing region, global bar influences, talented creatives and access to production/transport in Vancouver.
What inspires you when designing cocktails?
I’m inspired by classics. But I never feel the old ways are sacrosanct. If it’s perfect, great. But I also love using classic recipes as a template for drinks. It comes from viewing flavors as notes and drinks as falling within a categorical style.
Which spirit is your favourite for mixing?
I truly love the flexibility of gin. My weakness is smoky scotch or mezcal. In gin, you can open the flavors in many directions to enhance the botanical structure. With smoky spirits, I love the creamy terroir, earthy and sometimes BBQ notes. I like to combine my core spirits – such as gin with akvavit.
What are your favourite ingredients?
I like fresh ingredients. My staunch opposition to the powdered or fake stuff is what started me on this journey in the first place.
Which are the most popular cocktails at the distillery?
Our version of the Hotel Georgia is a runaway hit. ‘The Joyce’ and ‘Tears In The Rain’ are our most popular house drinks – and will remain on the menu for some time.
Are there any new trends for cocktails?
The next shiny thing is whatever is niche and new. Bartending is an arms race. For me, it’s the artful use of vegetal garnishes.
What is next for the distillery and lounge?
We have big announcements coming – so stay tuned.
Lounge Hours: Thursday 4-9 pm, Friday and Saturday 3-11 pm. Happy hour till 5 pm Thursday to Saturday. Shopping Hours: Wednesday 1-6 pm, Thursday 1-9 pm and Friday & Saturday 1-11 pm.