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The Toronto Festival of Beer has gotten quite a bit of flack in years past for being a vehicle for all of the mainstream brands and this criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted.

I’ve only been going for a couple of years but both times featured plenty of tired brews being sexed up with “booth babes” and loud music, a real-life commercial.  Neither they nor the massive drunken hordes they were serving knew or cared much about beer; the modus operandi could very aptly be summed up as “if it feels good, do it”.

While it can be easy to dismiss this attitude as simplistic and stupid, it can also be a lot of fun with the right friends. I still have fond memories of Human Foosball from two years ago and while a crowd this size will always draw its fair share of idiots, I tend to remember the people I liked.

Bacchanalia notwithstanding, there is some other merit to the event. Great Lakes Caskapalooza!, featuring 20+ unique casks that encompass a wide range of beer styles, has been a consistent favorite ever since it started and I’d expect this year to be no different. Mill Street will have a “busker experience” which I imagine will pair music with their beers.

Last year, all of the Ontario craft beer was featured in the center of the grounds, giving them some much-deserved attention. This year’s attendees include Flying Monkeys, Railway City, Black Oak, Amsterdam, Spearhead and Granville Island, at least a third of which will be featuring seasonals.

Mirella Amato of Beerology will be offering guided tours of the festival on Sunday, at 2:30 and 3pm.

One interesting feature making its debut this year is Mash Up, where 8 breweries will collaborate on developing one-off beers for the festival. Pairings include Beau’s/Black Oak, Nickelbrook/Flying Monkeys, FM/Wellington and Amsterdam/Great Lakes. Expect to see these special brews at each of the brewery’s booths.

I really enjoyed the joint cask by Great Lakes, Amsterdam and Bar Volo that was featured at the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and am definitely looking forward to see what these guys bring to the table this time.

While those who don’t appreciate drunken crowds will stay away, those up for a bit of fun with their beer will probably manage to enjoy themselves. It’s not Session, it’s not even the Hart House Craft Beer Festival but it really shouldn’t be.

I’m just happy I’ve had four festivals to go to this year.

The festival runs from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Sunday, Aug. 7. Thursday and Friday will be evening hours from 4 till 10pm while Saturday and Sunday will be more of an all-day affair from 1 till 7pm.

Friday and Saturday are already sold out but you can still get tickets for Sunday (and avoid some of the weekend crush).

(Photo taken from the Toronto Festival of Beer website.)

If you attended the first outing of Session last year, you might have been inclined to think it didn’t have a much of a future. Despite the quality of the beer and a thoughtful crowd, the location at Sunnyside was difficult to arrive at, the weather was tempermental and the G20 was a collective bummer in Toronto’s psyche.

Thankfully, Jared Corbeil and Curt Dunlop are back this year with a second iteration of the Session Craft Beer Festival, this Saturday (June 25) and desire to a expand on the possibilities of what a beer festival can be.

View full article »

toronto wine and spirit festival 2010

Thanks to the Attorney General of Ontario, the summer of 2011 will go down in provincial history as the first season where people can attend their favorite festivals and drink to their heart’s content without being crammed like cattle into beer tents. Scenes like the above from last year’s Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival are now a thing of the past.

While the Distillery District is quite pleasant to look at, the experience left a lot to be desired. Once a drink was purchased, it had to be consumed before one could move on to the next tent, which lead to traffic jams, overcrowding and rushed consumption.

While over 8,000 people attended (and I think most of us had an outstanding time), Scott Rondeau, the president of Power Juncture (the event company behind the festival) thought they could do better.

“[We saw] Polson Pier as one big open area with 215 feet of untapped waterfront and we liked it. You’re right on the water, watching the sun set and there are no more pavilions. You don’t have to finish your food or drink before moving on to the next vendor.

If you’re in a group and each one of you wants to try something different, you can do that and move along. No one’s stuck.”

When asked about the changes to the liquor laws, Scott is enthusiastic.

“While the onus will always be on the organizers to provide responsible service, it’s nice to see the public be treated in a more adult fashion.”

With 45 vendors bringing over  200 products for guests to sample, the new set-up should make it that much easier to get around and give everything a taste. According to Scott, most beer samples will cost $1; with wine costing up to $3 more and rarer spirits fetching no more than $8. The cigar lounge from last year will return although this time, the smokes will be paired with scotch instead of rum.

Tickets are available in advance for $25 or you can purchase them at the door for $30. As usual, your entrance fee starts you off with 5 tickets.

The Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival is open from 6pm until 11pm on both Thursday and Friday, June 16th and 17th, respectively. On Saturday, June 18th, the festival opens at 12pm and, except for a brief period from 5pm until 6pm, will remain open until 11pm that night.

(Photo taken from the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival blog.)

With Cinco de Mayo happening this weekend, it’s only appropriate that Tequila and More, the first trade show centered around the spirit, it’s  smokier cousin mezcal and Latin American food and culture, should roll into town the day after.

Although both spirits have made significant inroads into bartending culture, a certain reserve still remains when it comes to widespread acceptance amongst the drinking public. Long viewed as a shooter, their presence at any gathering will inevitably provoke a number of cautionary tales centered around an instance where the story-teller over-indulged.

I would argue that the main reason for this has to be the widespread availability of the shitty stuff, known as mixto tequila, which is only required to be produced with only 51% agave sugars, the other 49% being cane sugar and additives such as caramel coloring, oak extract, glycerin and sugar-based syrups.

Drink poorly-made booze and you will get a hangover.

Tequilas and mezcals made from “100% agave” are a good starting point and hopefully, this second outing of Tequila and More will help shift the public perception of the spirits image as a hangover-waiting-to-happen to a worthy companion to whisky, gin and rum in the liquor cabinet.

I spoke to Allan Fryman, one of the organizers, about the show, tequila and its bad reputation.

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“Why do you have so many pictures of food on your Facebook?” a coworker recently asked me, more bemused than concerned.

“What do you love?”, I asked him. “My family,” he instantly replied. His albums are full of photos of them so I presume this to be true. I don’t know him well enough to understand why he wouldn’t make that connection but there it was. Having photos of your family publicly demonstrates your love and fidelity but having photos of the steak you cooked last week seems a bit proud, a little snobby and maybe even gluttonous.

Gluttony’s a really dirty word, the n-word for people who enjoy eating and it can sting a bit when tossed at someone considered guilty of it. While it has its roots in the Latin word gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow and is generally assigned to the overconsumption of food, Catholics went one better and really broke it down. St. Thomas Aquinas thought there were five components:

Laute – Eating food that is too luxurious, exotic or costly.

Nimis – eating food that is excessive in quantity.

Studiose – eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared.

Praepropere – eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time.

Ardenter – eating too eagerly.

Clearly not the kind of man who enjoys himself at the dinner table.

Many people, let alone gourmets, have been guilty of all of the above at one point in their lives. It doesn’t make them gluttons (well, maybe not all of them). While we’re a far cry from fifteenth century Europe, where the class you were born into determined what you were allowed to eat, when you could eat it and how much of it you could ingest, there still live among us those frown at taking too much pleasure in a meal.

B.R. Myers is one of those fellows. Last month he wrote a screed in The Atlantic aimed squarely at gourmets. Appropriately called a “crusade” and taking up the cause of Aquinas, he went on to lay a veritable host of sins at their feet, backed up by cherry-picked quotes from fellow writers and chefs such as Anthony Bourdain, Michael Pollan, Jeffrey Steingarten and Gabrielle Hamilton.

If one were to take his article at face value, one might think we were facing the reemergence of Legion, with the epicenter of demonic activity being New York City. According to Myers, foodies are obsessive carnivores taking pleasure in the suffering of animals being butchered and enforcing elitist ideals when it comes to agriculture whilst flying around the world to blithely appropriate whatever local food customs and culture suit their agenda. They get off on the weird dishes they eat and view religious traditions, such as keeping kosher, as outmoded restrictions ripe for sabotage.

Does this sound like anyone you know?

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Tequila, which still struggles a bit with its undeserved, low-rent reputation, may very well be find itself being thought of on better terms after Tequila and More, the first trade show largely devoted to the spirit, comes to the Metro Convention Centre on December 3rd.

While it could be argued that a larger presence on LCBO shelves and an incredibly-successful marketing campaign by the makers of Patron have done a lot for tequila’s image, misconceptions abound.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people respond with a “I can’t drink that!” when I’ve asked if they’d like to indulge. While perfectly understandable when framed within the context of overconsumption, the response has less merit when attributed to the myths that tequila has more alcohol in it (it’s rarely overproof) or, like absinthe, possesses some mystical ingredient that causes the imbiber to become more drunk than they would if they had consumed whisky or vodka.

If you drink anything too quickly and too often, you’re going to regret it the next morning and if you compound the error with cheap stuff, you’ll only make it worse. While the amount of congeners (complex organic molecules) present in any spirit are largely responsible for hangovers,  impurities also play a part.

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This has been a great year for festivals and tastings for the city of Toronto. Besides the old stalwarts like the Toronto Festival of Beer and Whisky Live we’ve got Session, the Toronto Wine  Spirit Festival and the Conscious Food Festival getting off the ground and offering new products and fresh perspectives.

Events like Toronto Beer Week also help raise awareness of Ontario Craft Beer and that, along with a more noticeable presence at the LCBO, should result in residents of Ontario taking more pride in what this province has to offer.

Next week, be sure to check out The Toronto Beer Experience, a one-day event held at The Berkeley Church on Oct. 21st, that promises to do just that with a seasonal preview that will see local brewers (Church-Key, Muskoka, Flying Monkeys, Mill Street and more) bringing  new beer that they’ve brewed specifically for this day or that they’re about to release. While details on all the beers which might be there are not available, I wouldn’t be surprised if Muskoka’s upcoming seasonal release, their Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, makes an appearance. Great Lakes and Mill Street are bringing their Guard Dog Dunkel and Rauchbier (smoked beer), respectively. Most interesting is Flying Monkeys who are bringing a Cookies and Cream Ale; I have no idea how that will taste but I can’t wait to try it.

For those of you don’t like beer (shame on you!) there will be a variety of local wines on hand as well as cocktails made with Victoria Gin (118737, 750 mL, $49.95). I had a couple this summer at the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival and it’s a well-balanced spirit that follows in the vein of more floral gins like Hendrick’s and Bulldog. Also on hand will be dishes prepared by the Church and live music from local musicians.

There’s also a deal on Groupon right now that offers two tickets for the price of one at only $25! This is only going to be up for the next seven hours so rope in a date and make a night of it.

The Toronto Beer Experience is on Friday, October 21st., from 6pm to 11pm. It will be held at The Berkeley Church which is located at 315 Queen St. East. See you there!

michael prueMPP Michael Prue has introduced a bill in the Legislature that will prevent restaurant owners and management from being able to dip into their staff’s gratuities.

The following is an excerpt from Bill 114:

“14.1 An employer shall not take any portion of an employee’s tips or other gratuities.”

As anyone who’s worked in the service industry can tell you, there aren’t many protections available to them. A quick scan of Craigslist will show you examples of restaurants offering less than minimum wage to potential employees and there are many stories of workers being forced to pay into “house” or “breakage” fees. Tipping out the back-of-the-house staff is often just another way for the owner to offset some of the costs of doing business instead of making sure they’re paid a decent wage.

Sure, I’ve read the stories about profit margins for restaurants averaging 5 to 8% and there’s little room for error but that’s no excuse for cheating your staff who rely on tips for a living. Ideally, we would be living in a world where everyone is paid a fair, equitable wage for a day’s work. Sadly, restaurant workers rely on the tips they make to get by and taking that away from them, even a little bit, hurts.

I’ve heard folks saying that people who work in retail don’t get tips so why should servers? Leaving aside the fact that it’s difficult to make a living on a retail wage, a good server provides an experience that can very well make a person’s night. It’s the kind of personal exchange that can vary greatly depending on the needs of the guest and like any individualized service, deserves to be recognized with a little something if it’s good.

After that nonsense with MPP David Caplan introducing a bill that would ban auto-gratuities, it’s nice to see a politician taking the side of restaurant workers for a change. Here’s hoping this initiative goes somewhere.

whisky live 2010

After spending most of the year with gin, rum and tequila; it’s time to give whisk(e)y a little love. The nights are getting longer, it’s getting a little colder outside and I want whatever I’m drinking to give me the warm fuzzies in my gut. No more tall cocktails filled with ice; give it to me straight and preferably in a flask!

Whether you’re an enthusiast who always has a couple of their favorite bottles handy or someone who’s partner just got them into scotch, Whisky Live is a outstanding event to explore that interest. Currently in its fifth year, this celebration of the “water of life” truly has something for everyone with guided tastings by the distillers themselves, plenty of tasting booths, food, live music and exclusive bottles prepared specifically for the show.

With over 40 exhibitors, including Jura, Compass Box and Auchentoshan; this is an excellent opportunity to sample many bottles you might not have seen at your LCBO, especially when it comes to cask-strength bottlings. Last year, I remember being guided through both the Macallan and Glenrothes portfolios and it was interesting to see how the different ages and casks they were aged contributed to the tasting experience.

Whisky Live 2010 is held on Friday, October 22nd, at the Metro Convention Centre from 7pm to 10pm. Tickets are $60 ($70 at the door) which includes your tasting glass (I still have mine from last year; it’s really nice), 5 drink tickets and all the food you can eat to soak up that booze.

If you’re feeling flush, you can get a VIP ticket for $95 ($110 at the door) which ups your tickets to 10 and gets you in at 4pm. This is also the only way you’ll be able to attend some of the Masterclasses held by distillers from the likes of Johnny Walker, Bulleit and Highland Park. Those cost $20 each and six of ‘em are already sold out so if that’s your thing, you better register soon.

Even if you don’t register for a Masterclass, take the time to talk with some of the brand ambassadors if you both have the time. These guys are passionate about their product and you can learn a lot of you’re willing. I’ve always thought that it could be one of the best jobs in the world and listening to them, I pretty damn sure I’m right.

For those of you who might be moved by such an incentive, I’m pleased to be able to offer a 10% discount for readers of The Jolly Inebriate. Just add this code (to436) to your shopping basket when you’re purchasing your tickets online.

Last year was a lot of fun and I hope to see you there!

An Ontario MPP by the name of David Caplan (remember him, of eHealth infamy?) has introduced a bill that would put a stop to the automatic gratuities added to the bills of large tables. He thinks the policies surrounding the practice are unclear and that the decision to tip should exclusively be the right of the guest.

The bill’s raison d’être is an incident involving an Edmonton Oilers party and a hefty $17,000 restaurant bill that resulted. The hockey players were purportedly outraged at the 18% gratuity added to the bill, even though there were 50 of them and the bar tab alone was over $8,000.

Predictably, the brouhaha over this bill has started a heated debate on the Toronto Life website with people demonizing servers as lazy, ungrateful slackers making too much money off of an easy job and others defending the auto-grat as a necessary option for wait-staff to help them make end’s meet.

The former are wrong. Caplan’s wrong too. View full article »

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