Vancouver is one of the few cities with its own signature cocktail, a drink that, like the mythical Phoenix, enjoys periods of obscurity only to resurface. Interestingly, this cocktail is just a tad younger than the city itself—almost a century old, or perhaps even older, given the shrouded origins of its first mix. With Vancouver holding such significance in my heart, I couldn’t resist sharing the tale of this connected concoction.

The history of the Vancouver cocktail echoes the narratives of other forgotten and revived classic drinks.

Its original recipe made its debut in the 1925 “About Town Cocktail Book” by Mitchell Publishing, alongside descriptions of the town’s popular meals and libations. This recipe featured dry vermouth.

Dash of Orange Bitters
50% Gin
30% French Vermouth
20% Benedictine
– About Town Cocktail Book, 1925

Curiously, the book also featured a riff on the Vancouver cocktail that substituted sweet vermouth for dry. This variant was aptly named “Fitchett” after Joseph A. Fitchett, the head bartender at Vancouver Club bar. Fitchett, as the book’s author(s) noted, not only scrutinized and tested all the cocktail recipes but also contributed many of his own.

50% Gin
30% Italian Vermouth
20% Benedictine
Dash of Orange Bitters
Olive or Cherry
– About Town Cocktail Book, 1925

The Vancouver cocktail enjoyed popularity in the 1920s but faded into obscurity, only to be resurrected in 1954 at the Sylvia Hotel as the hotel’s signature drink.

Yet, this rebirth brought with it a twist, replacing dry vermouth with sweet vermouth, and thus, under the banner of “Vancouver,” its sibling Fitchett found its way back.

1.5 oz London Dry style gin such as Victoria Gin or Long Table Gin
0.75 oz sweet vermouth such as Punte E Mes or Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth
0.25 oz or “a good splash” of Benedictine liqueur
2 dashes of orange bitters
—Original recipe from the Sylvia Hotel

In the 1960s, Vancouver, like many other classic cocktails, faded from the city’s bars.

However, like the enduring spirit of its namesake city, it experienced yet another revival in the 21st century.

In 2006, Steve Da Cruz, a bartender in Gastown, the most historical district of Vancouver, embarked on a quest through the archives in search of forgotten cocktail recipes, seeking something captivating and unique. It was during this pursuit that he crossed paths with Josiah Bates, a seasoned Vancouverite with a colorful character. Bates generously shared with Da Cruz a cocktail recipe he had savored back in the 1950s at the Sylvia Hotel. A delve into the annals of City Hall unveiled that Sylvia Hotel had earned the distinction of being the first hotel in the city to secure a cocktail lounge license, and for this historic occasion, the Vancouver cocktail made its debut as the hotel’s signature libation.

Until 2020, the narrative of Vancouver’s origin held that its birth year was 1954, its birthplace the Sylvia Hotel bar, and the recipe included sweet vermouth. Then, in 2020, Scout Magazine unearthed information from the “About Town Cocktail Book” of 1925. This revelation rewrote the cocktail’s history, revealing that it was far older and, in its current form, was more accurately attributed to Fitchett than the original Vancouver. Such is the relentless nature of evolution—only the most fortunate endure.

Yet, the artistry of crafting cocktails always offers room for alternatives. Initially discovered in Difford’s guide, the Vancouver cocktail presented a compromise—using equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. This nuanced option is reflected in the recipe below. If your palate leans toward sweeter concoctions, opt for solely sweet vermouth, whereas those inclined to dryer flavors may choose dry vermouth exclusively.

The cocktail’s defining characteristic is its intricate, robust herbal bouquet, derived from the harmonious interplay of gin, Benedictine, and vermouth. To fully unlock this complexity, I recommend selecting gin and vermouth variants with rich herbal profiles. As for the Benedictine, it remains irreplaceable.

The hybrid recipe of original Vancouver and Fitchett.

1 2/3 oz / 50 ml London Dry Gin
2/3 oz / 20 ml Benedictine D.O.M.
1/2 oz / 15 ml Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz / 15 ml Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Garnish with orange zest.

Cocktail glass

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