"Spirited Dinners" took place at eight Vancouver restaurants last night as part of the Tales of the Cocktail conference insanity, with cocktail-paired menus addressing important questions like “Is Vodka Truly ‘Dead’?

At the posh Jean-Georges restaurant Market, located at the also-posh Shangri-La Hotel, the topic was the Dutch spirit genever. This rediscovered predecessor of gin is pronounced along the lines of “yuh-NAY-vurr,” though you can also get away with “YUH-never”; revered London bartender Agostino Perrone was scheduled to be present to give the British pronunciation, but alas, he had suffered a herniated disc. The Shangri-La’s lead bartender, Jay Jones, suavely ran the show himself instead, including a drink called, coincidentally, the Stranger, involving Bols Genever, VSOP Cognac, cherry brandy, espresso, and Angostura bitters. He poetically described the mysterious meeting of ingredients, the darkness of it, as the genesis of the name. It did not, he said, have anything to do with the Billy Joel album.

In today's seminar sessions, everyone's all excited to see food-science author Harold McGee and super-expert bartender Audrey Sanders—two names to make eating and drinking geeks go weak in the knees—speaking on the topic of dilution (which they can make exciting if anyone can, plus, you know, there'll be drinks).