Over the last two years, many of us have had a chance to acquaint ourselves with products from the growing number of local distilleries in and around Calgary. The demand for spirits that reflect a sense of place has blossomed and there are plenty of local gins, vodkas, and whiskies on liquor store shelves for home mixologists to play around with. But home experimentation is not the same as stepping into a distillery’s tasting room and trying out a professionally made cocktail with some food designed to pair with the product.
Romero Distilling opened its tasting room in 2019 with the hope of creating a meeting place for customers to come to learn about the company’s craft rum, but the pandemic put a damper on that party. Management decided that now is the time to give their little venue a fresh start, relaunching it earlier this month with a new food and drink menu to showcase the distillery’s high-end rum.
Craft spirits enthusiasts may have noticed that artisanal rum isn’t very common around these parts. To officially be called rum, a spirit has to be made with sugar cane juice or molasses and since sugarcane isn’t grown in Canada, rum generally does not fall in place with the industry’s prevalent farm-to-glass philosophy. Some locally-minded distilleries get around this by importing sugar cane juice or subbing in beet sugar (Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku cheekily calls their beet sugar spirit “brum”). Romero addresses the issue by making their rum with Canadian-produced molasses and marketing it around the story of Alberta and B.C.’s Prohibition rum-running past, a tale that is told with gusto to anyone who takes a tour of the company’s production facility.
That tour is part of what Romero has put together to draw people into its tasting room experience. The company’s amber and dark rums retail at about $75 a bottle, which is a little steep for an unfamiliar tipple, so getting the public in to taste and fall in love with the stuff is essential. To renew interest in the tasting room, the distillery hired award-winning Toronto-based bartender Kelsey Ramage to put together a new menu of Prohibition-inspired cocktails that draw on local ingredients like Saskatoon berry-infused vermouth, buckwheat orgeat, and haskap honey. Going far beyond your typical pina colada or mojito, Ramage’s concoctions like the “Lassandro Daisy” (named after rum runner Florence Lassandro) and the “Blairmore Hotel” are compelling but playful and perfect for visitors who may not think they like rum and rum fanatics alike.
“Before this new menu, the cocktails we offered were tasty but they weren’t as complex or unique. We wanted to go to the next level,” says the distillery’s Nerissa Romero. “We have the tour, we have the stories, we have the luxury rum — we wanted to have food and cocktails that show off the uniqueness of the place as well. We also wanted to incorporate a lot more of the local artisans around us and local ingredients that tie back to sustainable practices.”
Where there’s drink, there has to be food and Romero rounds out its offering with a simple but suitably indulgent selection of snacks that pair well with Ramage’s drinks. Since the distillery is right beside the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the company does have that local focus in mind, the items on the tasting room’s charcuterie platter ($25) and in dishes like stuffed olives ($4) and savoury popcorn ($5) are sourced from local producers and vendors as often as possible. If the snack menu isn’t enough, patrons are allowed (and encouraged) to bring in their own food or even order takeout from a nearby restaurant. To sweeten the pot, Romero also plans to start hosting live music and burlesque shows to further create a venue that is more than just a storefront to sell bottles of rum.
Romero Distillery is located at 300, 688 Heritage Dr. S.E. and the tasting room is open daily. For more information, visit romerodistilling.com.
In other news, the month of April has been designated Filipino Restaurant Month across Canada and Calgary’s diverse Filipino restaurants are taking part. Filipino food doesn’t seem to be as well known here as some of the other cultural cuisines that make up our food landscape, despite our city’s vibrant Filipino community, so this is an excellent chance to try some classic dishes.
For those not in the know, Filipino cuisine takes influences from other Asian countries, Spain and America with uniquely tasty foods that are often both sweet and salty and sometimes spicy. If you’re not sure what to order but want a comprehensive introduction to Filipino food, look for special prix fixe menus at local restaurants like Amihan Grill and Bakeshop, Bro’Kin Yolk, and Pacific Hut during this month of celebration. The three-course menus will run from $15 to $35 per person depending on what’s on offer.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth