A little over a month ago I’m cruising Facebook (as I am want to do) and the lovely Lauren Mote (of UVA Wine and Cocktail Bar and Bittered Sling) had posted an article on a young gent named Jean-Sebastien Michel based out of Montreal. I take special interest when friends post food and cocktail related material but this one in particular caught my eye as I was a mere two days out from a trip eastward.
The article details the story of a man that is the “secret weapon” behind Montreal’s emerging cocktail scene. Michel runs a beautiful space in Outrement that specializes in cocktail tools and small-batch, handcrafted ingredients. I immediately decided that I had to meet the man. A Google search, some more Facebook creeping and one DM later, Jean and I had a plan to meet at his shop on Friday afternoon (mere hours after my red-eye flight landed).
After a nap and more coffee than I care to admit, I biked up to Outremont and even through my jet-lagged, sleepy haze I could see how special the space really was. At first glance, the shop looks like a boutique fit for Rue Saint-Honore and it’s shelves could just as easily be lined with Louboutins and Hermes.
What I anticipated would be a 30 minute meeting turned into a 2 hour rap session on all things cocktail. We spoke of favourite bars, compared notes on our respective cities and discussed the heavy restrictions faced by Montreal bartenders when it comes to liquor laws. If you thought we have it bad in Vancouver, you were wrong. No barrel aging, no infusions. In the Montreal cocktail scene, necessity truly is the mother of invention as bartenders use imagination and ingenuity to create the balance and flavours they desire even in the face of such rigid laws. And Michel is supporting this movement- one bitter, one spoon, one tonic at a time.
When I asked Jean about the impetus behind Alambika, he explained that his passion began during his university degree. He majored in Political Science with a special interest the Prohibition Era. After graduation, Jean was working at a wine accessories store and quickly realized that there was an entire community interested in spirits with limited local resources to meet their needs.
“Basically I realised that I was surrounded by young and interesting people who enjoyed great alcohol other than wine but had no place to turn to in order to cater to their wants and needs.” He explained that wine speciality stores tended to cater to a 40+ clientele and had limited knowledge about quality spirits and cocktails. “That’s when I realized I was working in a promising, but old industry in which I could become a major player if I was able to connect with the younger crowd and become an expert in niche markets other than the overcrowded one that was wine.”
Jean shared that his original plan was to become partner in the wine store where he had been employed. He notes that the deal falling through was one of the best things that ever happened to him as it resulted in the creation of a space that not only speaks to his passions but meets the needs of cocktail enthusiasts and professionals alike. If ever you are in Montreal, I encourage you to head to Outremont and pay Jean a visit. His knowledge and dedication is beautifully represented in the space he has created and the products he shares with his community.