As a passenger traveling by train across Canada, you can sit back and savour the scenery — and a classic cocktail. Some of these refreshments embody the golden age of travel, tapping into the nostalgia for an old-fashioned train journey, while others are inspired by local customs and ingredients.
The real romance of a train journey is the luxury of time: time to sit back, relax and watch the world roll by.
Originally conceived to serve the rich and famous, and those with time to spare, the earliest luxury trains offered travellers a grand tour with every comfort, from opulent sleeping compartments to elegant dining. And retiring to the bar car, as the sun dips low and glints across the rails, evokes the romance of those early rail journeys.
Whether it's a simple-mixed drink in VIA Rail's Prestige Park Car, with its vintage wood panelling and plush seats, or an aperitif in Rocky Mountaineer's glass-domed observation car beneath the scenic Rockies, enjoying a beverage in a rolling cocktail lounge is the epitome of elegance.
With “slow travel” the new buzz word and long train trips back in vogue, crossing Canada’s vast and scenic expanses by rail is a very civilized way to see the country. So, embrace the leisurely pace as the train winds its way across the rocky Canadian Shield and through BC’s high mountain ranges to arrive in the coastal city of Vancouver. Whether you’re on the train or cozied-up in the lounge at a railway hotel, elevate the experience with one of these classic cocktails in hand.
Cocktails in the Golden Age of Train Travel
Conjuring the golden age of train travel always brings The Orient Express to mind, that fabulously elegant train that began ferrying passengers from Paris to Istanbul in the late 1800s. It’s the train that hosted royalty, film stars and spies — and the one that Agatha Christie famously imagined for her Hercule Poirot whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express.
Author Ian Fleming also put James Bond on the Orient Express, and you can see Sean Connery’s 007 battling his evil rival on board the classic train in the movie adaptation of From Russia with Love.
So, what train cocktail represents the Orient Express best — Bond’s shaken martini or a drink shot with Poirot’s favored crème de menthe?
Mixologists at the The Orient Express Bar in New York stir up something called The Commuter that might fit the bill — a gin-based drink, with fortified rose wine, and a shot of emerald Chartreuse.
The 20th Century cocktail is also from this golden era, first shaken up by barman C.A. Tuck to celebrate the luxurious 20th Century Limited, a passenger train that linked New York City and Chicago from 1902 to 1967. A combination of gin with aromatic Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and chocolatey crème de cacao, it’s shaken with ice and strained into an elegant stemmed coupe, then garnished with a twist of lemon — the perfect train cocktail to sip in a posh Pullman car.
Similarly, the aquamarine Blue Train cocktail was designed to mark the two-night journey on the elegant Blue Train between Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa, another of the world’s iconic train journeys. It’s a simple cocktail to make, with two ounces of gin, ¾ ounces each of Triple Sec, Blue Curacao and fresh lemon juice, shaken with ice, and garnished with a wedge of orange.
Cocktails with Canadian Whisky
The Canadian is the famed rail journey on VIA Rail from Toronto to Vancouver, and Canadian rye whisky is the long-time tipple of choice from coast to Canadian coast (think award-winning Forty Creek, classic Canadian Club, or Crown Royal).
After leaving historic Union Station in Toronto, to embark on your train trip across Canada, head to the bar car for a cocktail that celebrates the city — The Toronto (or Torontonian) combines Canadian whisky with a shot of bitter amaro (think Campari or Fernet Branca), and something sweet (maple or simple syrup) for balance.
You might also opt for a classic Old Fashioned (rye sweetened with a touch of simple syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters) on the train across Canada, or have your Canadian rye whisky with ginger ale on ice, with a wedge of lime, for the classic prairie highball. If a more elegant sipper is your style, ask the barman to shake up a frothy whisky sour, with sugar, lemon juice, and egg white.
Canada, Home of the Caesar Cocktail
Many trips on the Rocky Mountaineer start or end in Calgary, and it was at a famed Calgary steakhouse where the savoury Caesar cocktail was born.
The tall, eye-opening vodka and Clamato (tomato-clam juice) cocktail, spiced with Worcestershire, hot sauce and even a hit of horseradish, is the kind of thing urban cowboys quaff at the Calgary Stampede rodeo or at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel (pictured above), the city’s historic railway hotel and the best place to watch the annual Stampede Parade.
Beer is the other drink of choice, and a beer-based cocktail, made with hoppy IPA and pink grapefruit juice, poured over ice with a dash of grapefruit bitters and a shot of red vermouth, is a refreshing low-ABV train cocktail to quaff as the train traverses the foothills, amid the waving fields of barley and wide prairie skies.
Take-away Cocktails from Luxury Railway Hotels
Whether you're travelling across Canada on VIA Rail or through the Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer, consider adding a stay at one of Canada’s historic Rocky Mountain railway hotels. Each location, such as The Fairmont Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise, and Jasper Park Lodge, has a signature cocktail that celebrates its spectacular setting.
The Iconic Peak combines whisky with tawny port, lemon juice Campari and honey, with a dash of piney Fairview bitters, in an amber cocktail that conjures the setting sun at Chateau Lake Louise. The Wildflower is the Banff Springs’ signature, a stunning lavender cocktail made with purple butterfly pea flower-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, Lillet Blanc and plum bitters. Or imagine the Jasper Park Lodge and its blue-green mountain lakes with the Emerald Glow, a vodka-based cocktail flavoured with cucumber vermouth, green Chartreuse and lime juice.
All are available as bottled cocktails from these historic hotel bars, to take with you and toast the Canadian Rockies in style.
About the author: Cinda Chavich is an award-winning freelance writer living in Victoria. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, Canadian Living, WestJet Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Wine Spectator, and Get Lost. Her Travel Media Association of Canada... Read more