There’s a Story Behind Every Cocktail Made By Guru Restaurant’s Innovative Mixologist
Back in 2012, the owners of Edmonton’s Guru Restaurant travelled to Delhi, India where they met the charming, passionate and innovative, Gurjeet Khaira. It didn’t take long for them to invite him to work for them. Not only was Gurjeet’s nickname coincidentally, Guru, he was also an award-winning mixologist dedicated to the art of creating drinks and telling stories. Gurjeet had never heard of Edmonton and was quite shocked when Google brought up a map of Canada. Soon, he had packed up one single suitcase and was on his way around the world to start his new life.
Gurjeet’s life changing adventure is brilliantly illustrated by their signature cocktail, the Guru. It comes to your table in a small suitcase. After you open it and the smoke clears (literally), you’re presented with not only a delicious cocktail but an opportunity for exploration of the senses. That’s what the single suitcase signified for Gurjeet: opportunity for a new life. He will also tell you, very eloquently and creatively, this story of him coming to Canada while you enjoy the flavours of Johnny Walker Blue Label, one of the best scotches in the world. Every cocktail at Guru has a story attached to it; every single one.
Another cocktail on the menu is named in honour of his grandfather, who was a colonel in the army back in India. He was a whiskey drinker and when he came home each night, he would ask a gentleman who worked for him to make him a special drink. The man would always say, “yes, colonel”. Gurjeet was so curious about the drink since it was always made behind locked doors in the kitchen. The recipe for the concoction was shared with no one. Years later, when his grandfather was passing, he called up Gurjeet and gave him the recipe. And of course, that drink is now on the menu at Guru. It’s called, “Yes, Colonel”.
“Things like that pushed me to become what I am today,” said Gurjeet. “There’s so much happening in our lives and around us; there’s always a story to present. I go to other bars and the drinks are great but I feel the connection gets missed. I may have a different approach with cocktails but this is how I do it. This is my profession, not a job. I don’t do it for money; I do it because of my passion. I love sharing stories through the drinks I create and connecting with people.”
Gurjeet, who started at Guru as a server, has worked his way up to being the general manager and operations manager for both locations. He’s worked in the hospitality industry for 17 years. Guru’s flagship restaurant in the West End is a destination restaurant serving authentic Indian cuisine from all parts of India. The new Guru Kitchen and Bar, which opened last February, is a bit trendier with a tapas-style menu. Guru is consistently voted one of the top ten Indian restaurants in Edmonton. One thing they have in common is Gurjeet and his creative approach to cocktails.
“At Guru, we don’t just sell food and drinks, we sell an experience,” said Gurjeet. “That’s been our concept from day one. From the moment the guest walks in the door to the moment they leave, it’s an experience. They can go in the kitchen and learn how to make naan bread. When I create drinks, I go to the table and share my stories. I tell them why I made the drink; the reason behind it. If I don’t have a story for a cocktail, it’s not on the menu. I don’t mix drinks, I create drinks. What I do comes from the heart.”
Gurjeet puts his heart and soul into everything he does, including picking out the spirits for his cocktails. It’s how his relationship with Taynton Bay Spirits began.
“When I go to a liquor store, I try to pick spirits that are unique,” explained Gurjeet. “I don’t pick the usual stuff. I’ll take half an hour and walk through the entire store. Taynton Bay Spirits made me look twice. I thought, ‘what is this – vodka infused with turmeric and strawberry?’. I tried it out, thought it was really special and so I looked them up and got in touch with their rep, Ryan. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I told him I wanted to do a cocktail night with Taynton Bay Spirits and invited him to experience it.”
This would be the first of many cocktail nights that would quickly become one of the most popular events at Guru. During a cocktail night, Gurjeet makes five cocktails in front of six to eight guests and tells stories with each drink. Ryan had no idea it was even possible to use Taynton Bay Spirits the way Gurjeet did.
“One of the reasons I use Taynton Bay Spirits is because it’s very unique. You think, ‘vodka infused with tea leaves…how are they doing this?’. The flavours they pick for their profiles are unbelievable. Every one of their products is perfectly balanced, not too overpowering, and you still feel the spirit of the drink whether it’s vodka or gin. It’s full of passion. I’ve never been to their distillery before but I keep bugging Ryan to take me there after COVID.”
Taynton Bay Spirits is a craft distillery in Invermere, B.C. Like Gurjeet and our other customers say – once you try it, you’re hooked. Our line of spirits is made from locally grown wheat and our tea-infused cocktails are only made with real ingredients and no artificial flavours, colours or sweeteners. The tea-infused cocktails come from incredible custom blends by The Naked Leaf in Calgary. Flavours include Ginger Matcha, Strawberry Herbal, Blueberry Roobios, Orange Turmeric and Raspberry. We also have high-proof vodka, pickled vodka, gin and a special vodka infused with real cinnamon and honey called Sinferno.
Three out of the ten cocktails on Gurjeet’s menu include Taynton Bay Spirits.
“I named one for my beautiful wife. It’s called Gulabo,” said Gurjeet. “Gulabo means pink…like when you’re smiling and your cheeks change colour. My wife, whenever she yells at me, her cheeks get a little pinkish so I call her gulabo. It’s like calling someone you love, “babe”. I use Taynton Bay’s Herbal Strawberry because she loves strawberries and I mix it with rose lemonade, campari and a few other things.”
If you’re in Edmonton, stop by and see Gurjeet at Guru. He looks forward to sharing his stories with you. And if you’re located in B.C. or Alberta, you can experience the magic of Taynton Bay Spirits at over 500 stores. Hopefully each cocktail you try will become a story you’ll want to share.