Bartender Tommy Klus is a seriously focused professional when it comes to creating a bar list—but there has always been a whimsical side to his creations as well, wherein he puts unexpected touches in certain festive drinks, as in his fondly remembered competition-winning Feliz Noggy Nog (that was when he showed up in pyjamas and a ratty old plaid robe, because it was, you know, the holidays), the Zucca Hour, because everyone knows scotch whisky and rhubarb liqueur and grapefruit cohabitate so well, or his 15 Year Nog at the Multnomah Whisky Library—aged cachaça and oloroso sherry, anyone?
At his latest gig at La Moule, that instantly iconic emporium of mussels a la Belge with Chef Aaron Barnett on the kitchen side and partner Klus on the bar side—literally so, as the curious space is an abridged combination of two shop fronts, with kitchen on one side and bar on the other—Klus works closely with Bar Manager Mark MacMinn, constantly tweaking and fine tuning every element of the beverage menu so the serious and whimsical converge in perfect congruity.
Take, for example, the Boot Strap Buck, a seriously tasty rum drink that embodies the casual fun of the Caribbean. You can almost hear the tinny echo of the steel drums in the background beating out their irresistible rhythms. Or maybe it was the pots and pans furiously clashing over on the kitchen side. Hard to say. (Note: a Buck, or a Mule, is the bartender’s name for any drink that features an icy combo of spirit, ginger beer and citrus juice. A vodka version is a “Moscow Mule”; a rum version is a “Rum Buck.”)
In any case, at our table things got festive at the first sip of the Boot Strap Buck. ‘Twas suddenly the season.
The Boot Strap Buck is a tall collins glass filled with crushed ice, laced with molasses-driven Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, thick and treacly, lime, spicy ginger beer, malty and earthy demerara brown sugar, and a dash of nutmeg. Rich and sweet, but balanced by the sour lime and hot ginger spice, it was a slurpy delight.
My wife delicately tasted the Buck, flashed an open-eyed grin of delight, and plunged in for a larger sampling. Almost bouncing in her seat, she exclaimed, “It tastes like a Maple Bar! Exactly like a Maple Bar!!!”
Realizing the danger signs, I immediately rescued the glass and pulled it to my side of the table for protection.
(A bit of background: my wife is a woman of personal discipline and strong willpower (whereas I am not). There are only three things she cannot resist: maple bars, Nanaimo bars, and potato chips. If they are in her presence, she will eat them; in consequence those three things are rarely in our presence and don’t last long when they are. So when she said “It tastes like a Maple Bar!” I had to deflect her to salvage my drink.)
“There’s no maple in there,” I exclaimed, reading her the list of ingredients that did not contain any maple whatsoever.
“I don’t care,” she blithely responded. “It tastes like a Maple Bar!”
“That’s a very dangerous drink,” she mused, as she glanced with longing across the table. “I could drink that down without even thinking about it. Then I’d want another one.”
“Oh, hey, look, the mussels are here,” I yelped, as I nudged the Buck behind the water bottle and slightly further away from her. “They look good, don’t they? Smell good too. They have the Domaine d’Ecu Muscadet by the glass and that’s great with mussels. Let’s order you some Muscadet.”
As she happily consumed the MusseIs Classique, I surreptitiously sipped at my Boot Strap Buck until it was nothing but crushed ice slowly melting. Then I sucked on the ice.
She was right. It did taste a little like a Maple Bar.
Message to Tommy Klus: Do me a favor. When you’re tinkering around in your cocktail laboratory, don’t make a drink that tastes like a Nanaimo bar, okay?