To be totally transparent, it is a dream of mine to invent a popular cocktail that people order by name long after I’m gone.
How does a cocktail become a classic? Obviously it needs to be delicious. This is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient: bartenders make delicious new cocktails all the time, and very few become classics. I suggest that there needs to be something else about the drink, as a concept, that engages people and says something about them or their current time. I am hoping that Alberta’s general dislike of Premier Jason Kenney can be just such an underpinning for my bid to invent a famous mixed drink. Allow me to present the case for the Kamikaze Candidate cocktail.
The Kamikaze Candidate is Delicious
You’ll taste one soon, but in the mean time let me try to convince you. The Kamikaze Candidate is made with a dark, aged whisky of your choosing, Cointreau, lime juice, and a touch of simple syrup. It is shaken on ice and served in an absinthe-rinsed glass. It employs the same ratio as several classic cocktails featuring citrus, notably the Sidecar, Pegu Club, and Margarita. This particular balance of alcohol, citrus, and sugar has been enshrined in the cocktail repertoire for more than a century.
The brown sugar and caramel notes of aged whisky get along famously with citrus. Like the Whisky Sour, the Kamikaze Candidate is founded on whisky-citrus synergy, but here the citrus is a one-two punch of both Cointreau and lime.
Citrus and anise form another flavour power-couple, one that I am particularly fond of, so the Kamikaze Candidate includes an absinthe rinse. I personally love the fennel-forward Absinthe Blanche made by Strathcona Spirits.
The punchy yet harmonious combination of dark whisky, citrus, and fennel is what makes this a flavourful, nuanced twist on the Whisky Sour.
The Kamikaze Candidate is Political
For the purposes of this post you can consider me, personally, apolitical. I just want to make a famous cocktail, and I am opportunistically riding the wave of mass disapproval of Jason Kenney.
The Kamikaze Candidate’s quirky name comes from a scandal regarding the 2017 UCP leadership race. Jason Kenney’s primary opponent was Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose Party, and Kenney allegedly had Jeff Callaway run as a “kamikaze candidate” that would undermine Jean’s campaign to the benefit of Kenney’s. This has been common knowledge ever since a whistle-blower alerted the Alberta Election Commissioner to the dubious funding behind Callaway’s campaign. You can read about the whole debacle in this CBC article. Kenney’s involvement with the financing was unclear at the time, but the fines levied by the Election Commissioner are now being challenged in court, and the CBC pored over numerous filings to discover that Kenney was present for some of the money discussions, and also stipulated some key terms in Callaway’s campaign. You can read the CBC report here. This is all still under investigation and not proven in the courts, but it has captured the imaginations of pundits on both sides of the political aisle. So much so that “kamikaze candidate” is something of a buzzword in Alberta politics.
It also happens to be a great name for a cocktail. A little long, maybe, but memorable and fun to say.
There is a long tradition of naming cocktails to reference politics or current events. Bartender folklore tells us that the Ward 8 cocktail “was created at the Locke-Ober Café in Boston’s eighth ward to celebrate the victory of Democrat Martin Lomasney in 1896”. I think it’s probable that giving a new drink a connection to a popular politician can help the drink become popular. My hope is that associating a cocktail with the misdeeds of an increasingly unpopular politician will have the same result.
The Kamikaze Candidate is for Cocktail Nerds
We have established that the Kamikaze Candidate is a delicious cocktail with an interesting political backstory. But there is another detail that recommends this drink specifically to cocktail enthusiasts both amateur and professional: it was originally made (by me) with a spirit that is no longer in production!
The above-mentioned CBC article includes an intriguing detail regarding the Kenney-Callaway exchange: after Callaway withdrew from the leadership race at a predetermined date and endorsed Kenney, a party was held. It was a thank-you party for Callaway, at which Kenney allegedly gifted him a bottle of Dark Horse Alberta Premium Whisky.
Dark Horse Alberta Premium Whisky was first produced in 2015 by Alberta Distillers. According to distillers.com it was a blend of two 100% rye whiskies (a 6-year and a 12-year) that was then was cut with 8% bourbon and a small amount of sherry. It was discontinued in 2019.
A discontinued spirit in a recipe is always interesting to cocktail nerds. It will inevitably send some of them on a quest to find old bottles of the original brand so they can prepare the most authentic version of the drink. There is no record of any store carrying Dark Horse on LiquorConnect, so treasure-seekers have their work cut out for them. The bottle in the photo above was purchased from a restaurant in the Edmonton International Airport that happened to have it on display.
In the absence of the original spirit, most mixologists will have to make a substitution, and this is an excellent opportunity for them to showcase their understanding of whisky flavours and put their own stamp on the drink. If you think the sherry notes of Dark Horse whisky are what make the authentic cocktail sing, perhaps you’ll reach for a bottle of Strathcona Spirits Oloroso Cask Dreamland Whisky. Or if you think the dark caramel notes and shades are more important (as I do), you might grab a bottle of Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye.
Despite all this esoteric bar stuff, I want to emphasize that the Kamikaze Candidate is not elitist. To the contrary….
The Kamikaze Candidate is for the People
I think this cocktail can heal Alberta.
That’s an ambitious statement: our province is deeply divided. But regardless of your opinion on almost any major issue from the last two years, polls show that you likely don’t approve of Jason Kenney.
It doesn’t matter what you thought during the simpler, gentler times of the pandemic. Whether you thought the provincial government was over- or under-reacting at various times, it’s likely that you don’t think Kenney handled the situation well.
It also doesn’t matter how you acted during the more stressful and divisive times of the pandemic. Whether you got your family vaccinated and then voluntarily took your children out of school to contain the spread, or protested mandatory vaccinations by standing outside hospitals and banging on ambulance doors, either way you probably don’t trust Kenney.
It doesn’t matter what you thought about the Coutts blockade. Whether you donated bitcoin to the organizers and took your kids to the border to see what freedom really looks like, or you thought the whole ordeal was illegal and obnoxious and harmful to the economy and hurt exactly the wrong people, you almost certainly don’t approve of Kenney.
It doesn’t matter what you thought of the occupation of Parliament Hill. You could be one of the guys flying an obscene flag from a hockey stick mounted to the back of your truck, or you could be Justin Trudeau, either way, in this case especially I’m positive you hate Kenney.
Whether you’re mad that Jean lost in 2017, upset that Kenney changed the terms of his current leadership review, or worried about what legislation like this means for the future of fair elections in our province, I’m sure you are tired of Kenney’s tactics.
Again, I’m not political. But there are so very few opinions shared by both ends of Alberta’s wide political spectrum, this dislike of Jason Kenney seems as good a place as any to start to understand each other. And what better way to do that than share a drink?
One idea I had to help make the Kamikaze Candidate a real phenomenon was to propose a catchy toast to be offered as people raise their glasses.
I personally don’t like the trend in politics to put the f-word on material like flags and bumper stickers and coffee mugs. If you’ve ever seen video footage of parliament, or God forbid watched a leaders’ debate during a federal election, you know that the level of political discourse in this country is already embarrassingly low.
But if one day I walk into a bar and see people lifting a round of Kamikaze Candidates, sharing a restrained but cheerful chorus of “Fuck Kenney”, I will have achieved my goal.
Kamikaze Candidate Cocktail Recipe
- 2 oz Alberta Premium Dark Horse Whisky, or other dark rye or bourbon
- 0.75 oz Cointreau
- 0.75 oz lime
- 0.25 oz simple syrup
Rinse coupe glass with absinthe (recommended: Strathcona Spirits Absinthe Blanche).
Shake remaining ingredients with ice and double-strain into absinthe-rinsed coupe glass.
- A “dark horse” is a competitor or candidate that does much better than expected in a race.
- From The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, Sterling Epicure, New York 2011