Archive for February, 2009


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The Telegraph recently posted an article about how some companies such as Facebook and Google, the NBA and American television companies are relaxing their restrictions on alcohol advertising in order to generate new streams of revenue.

This is apparently a big deal although I fail to see why as long as they’re not misleading and they don’t market it to minors. Facebook tends to skew to an older crowd anyway although I’d wager it’s a pretty tight demographic (18-25?) that’s likely to install any applications offered by the likes of Anheuser-Busch or Bacardi.

Apparently, most of these apps offer allow users to win contests that get them into sponsored parties. I wouldn’t know because the Bacardi Mojito Party was unavailable to me (likely due to it being restricted to American users) and Miller’s Today I’m Toasting was under construction. In fact, none of the applications that have been developed were available which leads me to wonder if they’re specifically targeted at an American and not Canadian audience because we get to legally drink two years before they do?

The only application I’ve seen anyone use is Booze Mail, a particularly stupid bit of code that allows you to send drinks to your friend’s walls which is just as retarded as those gifts that get exchanged. Two apps I find much more appealing are Bottlenotes and RateBeer, both of which allow like-minded users to rate and talk about wine and beer they like (or dislike), respectively.

This doesn’t really help us Canadians, with our limited options for purchasing alcohol, and I’d be surprised the LCBO hasn’t jumped on this marketing opportunity except that I’d bet anything that they’re a) too cheap and b) far too old-fashioned. It’s too bad because an app that tracks new product releases with links built into their website allowing people to find what stores carry them and then contact those stores seems like a natural to me… Or maybe not but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds the LCBO website irritating.

But moving on, what about television? We’ve all seen our fair share of beer ads, ranging from stupid to offensive, but how is this regulated in Canada? The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a code that specifically deals with what can be broadcast and what cannot. Here are some highlights.

“Commercial messages for alcoholic beverages shall not:

(a) attempt to influence non-drinkers of any age to drink or to purchase alcoholic beverages;

(b) be directed at persons under the legal drinking age, associate any such product with youth or youth symbols, or portray persons under the legal drinking age or persons who could reasonably be mistaken for such persons in a context where any such product is being shown or promoted;

(e) attempt to establish the product as a status symbol, a necessity for the enjoyment of life or an escape from life’s problems, or attempt to establish that consumption of the product should take precedence over other activities;

(f) imply directly or indirectly that social acceptance, social status, personal success, or business or athletic achievement may be acquired, enhanced or reinforced through consumption of the product;

(g) imply directly or indirectly that the presence or consumption of alcohol is, in any way, essential to the enjoyment of an activity or an event;

(k) use imperative language to urge people to purchase or consume the product;

(n) contain inducements to prefer an alcoholic beverage because of its higher alcohol content;

(o) refer to the feeling and effect caused by alcohol consumption or show or convey the impression, by behaviour or comportment, that the people depicted in the message are under the influence of alcohol;

(q) contain scenes in which any such product is consumed, or that give the impression, visually or in sound, that it is being or has been consumed.”

Now, far be it from me to be a negative fuckin’ nancy but don’t they regularly break (e), (f), (g) and (q)? Doesn’t the Molson ad I just linked to fit the bill? How about this one? There are good ads out there.  Arrogant Bastard Ale released this campaign that pretty much made fun of mainstream beer drinkers and companies they support that release “outrageously conniving, intentionally misleading, blatantly masturbatory and fallacious ad campaigns.”

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I don’t know about you but I’ll take that their brand of arrogance over what the other guys are offering any day; even if it treads dangerously into that extreme, stressed graphic style I find distasteful. At least it has some credibility.

We’re way past the days when Anheuser-Busch et al. could lay any claim to putting out a “premium product” and in a way, their advertising is a perfect example of that. They can’t really claim to have the best-tasting beer but they sure as hell can sex it up.

So what’s my point with all of this? I guess I’m saying that I’m in favor of allowing spirits advertisers back into mainstream media and I’d argue that having those ads play during prime time television and be printed in newspapers isn’t going to raise a nation of underage binge-drinkers.

No, we have the stupid neo-prohibitionistic notion that children must be protected at all costs from the dangers of alcohol to thank for that. These ads will bring in important revenue and if the product is good, I see no harm in it. However, I have one proviso and it’s a biggie.

The ads should deal directly with the quality of the product. They should make you want to drink it because, goddammit, it’s the best product of its kind and you’d be a fool not to. The ads can be funny, serious or clever as long as they’re honest. Maybe I’m asking too much but I don’t think so. I’d like to see both advertising and it’s retarded cousin, Facebook apps, up their  game and start treating consumers with a little respect.

They can be the cooler, older brother if they want to.

Paystyle over at Umami Mart hits the nail on the head when he talks about the “dumbing down of drink culture” in reference to that venerable cocktail, the Irish coffee.

While drinks can get pretty complicated (bring on the liquid nitrogen!) I believe that simplicity, like in a basic pasta dish, can be a thing of beauty with a cocktail. Look at a margarita made with freshly-squeezed lime juice or a negroni with the surprisingly-balanced interplay between sweet, bitter and herbal notes.

With the wealth of information available online and in many fine books, there’s no excuse for not drawing upon the knowledge of all the bartenders who have gone before to make your cocktails as good as they can possibly be. As in cooking, experimentation can be a lot of fun but start off by following the recipe exactly. You won’t know how to build your own spin on a classic if you can’t appreciate the foundation.

Let’s look at the margarita again.

A lazy bartender might take the house tequila, add some Triple Sec, pour in an ounce-and-a-half of the semi-sweet lime mix and stir it all together in a rocks glass over ice with a salt rim. A much better alternative takes only a minute or so more to prepare and you can taste the difference.

Another way many bartenders cut corners is with technique. They’ll shake when they should stir (or vice versa) or use premixed juices or halve ingredient proportions to save on inventory. The guest may or may not notice but this kind of attitude, whether encouraged by the management or not, will come back to bite you in the ass.

The hotel I work at currently has a bartender who won’t make anything too complicated; he prefers to tell the guest that “we don’t do that”. I don’t have to work around him too often to know that he’s leaving guests with a less-than-favorable impression of the bar and the hotel, whether they may say anything or not. Now, I’m not necessarily advocating a SIR Corp approach to bartending but there’s got to be a happy medium between maniacally-smiling up-seller and dour old schooler. The pretentious, the incompetent and those mercenaries who are only doing it for the money should really find another line of work (hardly practical, I know, but those fuckers get me down).

Guests at home are even more forgiving but that’s no reason not to show off what you can do with a minimum of effort.

Classic Margarita
2 lime wedges
kosher salt
1 1/2 oz agave tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Cointreau

Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of the chilled margarita glass, and salt the rim. Fill the prepared glass with ice. Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice. Strain into the prepared glass. Squeeze the remaining lime wedge over the drink and drop it in.

Now, if you know a classic margarita by heart, you’re entitled to a little fun.

Japhet’s Margarita
4 limes (approx. 3 1/2 oz juice)
kosher salt
1 1/2 oz agave tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Grand Marnier

Rub a wedge of lime around the rim and ring the glass with coarse, kosher salt. Fill the prepared glass with ice. Take three of the limes and roll them firmly beneath your hand on a cutting board (this separates the juice from the pulp and makes it easier to squeeze it all out)
Cut them in half and squeeze ‘em into the glass. Add the tequila and then the Grand Marnier and stir. Peel a thick slice of zest of the remaining lime and place on top of the cocktail.

While I may be more precise with my instructions, they’re easy to follow, don’t take that much more time and still fall under the mantle of being “simple”. My take doesn’t diverge that much from tradition and there are plenty of folks who have arrived at the same conclusion but I believe that guests really appreciate a personal touch when they take the time to go out to a bar. They could be at home drinking whatever but they’re out; the least a bartender can do is prepare something with a little love and flair.

I use Grand Marnier because I think it makes most cocktails that call for orange liqueur better (try it in your cosmos, it’s called a Grand Cosmo) and I think it balances the tartness of the lime juice without the need for any added sugar. Some bartenders feel that it takes away from the flavor of a premium tequila but I’d argue that you should just go with a Tequila Sour at the point. Kosher salt is obviously more flavorful than the regular variety and also has a more pleasing texture.

I like to use Mittie Hellmich’s Ultimate Bar Book (the classic recipe above is quoted verbatim) but as any good one will tell you, the secret to a great margarita is to use freshly-squeezed lime juice with 100% agave tequila and premium orange liqueur.

I wasn’t going to do anything for Valentine’s Day. Unlike some people, I don’t loathe it but I’m no fan either; why do you need a day to show how much you love someone? Cards generally suck and aren’t flowers good pretty much any day? So I had no plans until my friend Michelle came to me with the idea of a dinner party for Saturday. Despite not knowing who might already have plans, we decided to throw something together and see what might happen.

Invitations were sent out and we got seven guests; a perfect number for this kind of thing. Michelle was going to make salmon with lemon and capers and baked squash with carrots and walnuts, drizzled in maple syrup. For cocktails, we decided to make mimosas so I went out to the LCBO and picked up two sparkling wines: Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut and Yellowglen Pink Rose. I’d never tried the Pink but I’d heard it was sweet and light and since I was juicing the oranges and grapefruit, I wanted two options depending on the flavor of the juices. If they were a bit more tart, the Pink would go well and if they were sweeter, the Hungaria would do just fine.

People were invited to bring a dish and any drinks they might want. Michelle and I also ended up buying a bottle of Absolut and Flor de Caña (a Nicaraguan 5 year old rum, currently only $23 at the LCBO!). I also had a bottle of Centennial lying around as well as beer and wine so I figured we were well-prepared.

After dinner, we broke out a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut (a very thoughtful guest had brought it) but didn’t mix it with the orange juice. I always like Veuve because it’s one of the few champagnes with a distinctive taste to my tongue. It’s so crisp and not too dry with a bit of tartness and hints of apple and citrus.

The last drop drained, we moved onto the Hungaria which held up pretty well considering what had come before it. The addition of the orange juice was nice but I wish it had been a bit sweeter. The grapefruit juice was far too bitter and I had to add some grenadine. We never got around to trying the Pink which was a shame because it might’ve worked better with the juice.

Before leaving for the night’s entertainment, I created a shot with some amazing maple syrup Michelle had picked up from a friend’s farm. The recipe goes as follows:

3 oz Centennial Rye
3/4 oz maple syrup
top up with green tea ginger ale

The syrup adds a complexity that complements the hints of green tea and ginger. The rye is smooth enough that it never overwhelms and the carbonation gives it a smooth finish.

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Replete and more than slightly drunk, we headed out to Man Men, an improv show playing at the Bad Dog Theatre that skewers Mad Men, the AMC show about an advertising company in the 60′s. It’s incredibly funny and if you’re looking for something to do on a Saturday, you could do far worse. It’s playing until the end of February so check it out if you get a chance.

Since the show ended at around eleven, we capped off the night by attending Shake a Tail, a retro rock ‘n’ roll night at Clinton’s Tavern. The bar has a great style,with log cabin walls and an excellent selection of beers on tap. The back area–where the party’s at–gets really sweaty but that’s how it should be; I don’t think I stopped dancing all night. It’s less esoteric than Goin’ Steady, Toronto’s other retro night, but while the songs are more well-known, there are no huge line-ups and the crowd’s a bit more varied.

boozeIn honor of Esquire’s list of the best, cheap liquor one can buy in the US, I’m proud to present an Ontario-centric version featuring all of the best buys I’ve found at the LCBO. This knowledge wasn’t bought in some fly-by-night operation; it’s the result of many years of drunken trial-and-error as I slowly but surely trained my taste buds to appreciate all things alcoholic.

Like many young folks, I went for coolers because they were cheap and weren’t as gross as my virgin tongue made beer taste. I quickly found out that their sickly-sweet nature hid one hell of a hangover and I quickly progressed to old standards like rum-and-cokes and vodka-and-sevens.

The nightclub I was working at had a special version of these for employees that came in a pint glass and that worked just fine for me awhile until I got bored; a situation was paralleled at home as I got tired of having the same old cheap beer and liquor. (Wine didn’t really register for me at the time because it was something people brought over when they didn’t drink the above two which was inconceivable to me. “How could you not like beer?”, I thought, conveniently forgetting my inability to even finish one Corona back in ’97.)

So I start buying new products. I’d usually stick with beer (because in terms of individual cost, I had the least to lose) and I came to see there was a happy medium between the bottom-of-the-barrel shit and the super-premiums. I also started going to quite a few more tastings and between trying new stuff at bars and availing myself of the tasting booth at the Queens Quay LCBO, I built up my tongue to supplement what I was learning online.

Fast forward to the near-present. A year-long stay at Joy Bistro as their bartender leaves me with a healthy appreciation for wine and I set about building a little wine-cellar at home, hampered only by my budget and thirsty roommates.

I discover how much fun buying wine can be and it’s much more forgiving than beer. Statistically-speaking, even choosing by label produces passable results but that soon gives way to being aware of regions and appellations, how the same grape will grow differently depending on where its from and differentiating the good years from the mundane and the bad.

Now, I spend far more money on wine than I do on beer and liquor combined. With the added bonus of having no roommates for a month, I’ve managed to build up a healthy collection in a couple of weeks and it’s gratifying to be able to go into the LCBO and know the taste of at least two-thirds of their inventory from experience.

But let’s go on to the list. I will cover one sterling example from pretty much every category but, unlike the Esquire list, my choices are equally drinkable straight or mixed in a cocktail. I demand that kind of versatility in my bar and I think you should too.

One caveat: I haven’t included any cognacs, sake or bourbon because I don’t think you should skimp on any of them ( but feel free to suggest something if you have a favorite).

centenFirst up is the Centennial Rye 10 Years Old Whiskey. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t get too much into again but suffice it to say, this is the best blended whiskey I’ve ever had for the measly price of $24 ($23 if you act now) and despite scary rumors, the man at Queens Quay insists that the LCBO is standing behind this product for the foreseeable future; even in absence of the heavy sales it so rightfully deserves.

I love this straight but it makes a lovely rye-and-ginger (go with ginger beer for that spicy kick-in-the-head feel) too. If you’re feeling fly and have ten more, go for the 15 Years Old, sip slowly and let the fireworks kick in. You don’t have to thank me; just drop a bottle off at 585 Gerrard. St East.

zubrowkaNext up, we have Żubrówka vodka, an herbal-flavored vodka from a region bisecting Poland and Belarus. Like Centennial, it retails for only $24 but is unfortunately not quite so available and can usually be found in the Vintages section.

It starts of grassy then gets a bit fiery before finishing on a slightly-bitter note. I get hints of vanilla mixed with almond but it’s more mild than one might think for a so-called flavored vodka. Traditionally, it’s served with apple juice but I find it much more versatile than that. Try Green Tea Ginger Ale with a splash of grenadine, for example, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

For those purists out there, go for Iceberg Vodka. It’s nothing special but it’s definitely better than Smirnoff or any of the other cheap Canadian brands available right now.

sjMy next choice is a bit more expensive but still of good value. Sailor Jerry Rum can be had for $27 and for all of that cherry, vanilla goodness, you’d be hard-pressed to do better. I like it with banana liqueur but you can go the traditional route with a Coke (hold the lime this time) or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a touch of extra-decadent gluttony.

By this point, you may have noticed that all of my choices are slightly-tweaked versions of what is regularly served but I’d rather have that than the same-old, same-old, especially when it’s cheaper.

50672I don’t buy much gin because I like Hendrick’s and I can’t afford to regularly stock that but when a party calls for some, I’ll generally go with Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin.

The juniper and savory spices come to the fore but I also taste the coriander. It’s light character belies a complexity that rewards its use in a martini or even with the standard tonic.

Like Sailor Jerry, it’s very nearly breaking the cheap bank at $30 but all of the really good gins cost at least $12 more so you’re still saving a bit and at 86 proof, it outperforms the 94 proof Broker’s London Dry which is still not worth it at $6 less.

I’m not going to feature any liqueurs but suffice it to say that you should probably stock at least three; apple, melon and banana and just buy whatever’s cheapest. Midori was the only one of the lot that noticeably tasted better and it’s discontinued, more’s the pity, so follow the sale and you’ll be fine.

On to beer! If I’m cheap (and we are today!) I’ll buy Grolsch tallboys (currently a steal at $2.05) and if I’m near-broke, I’ll go for Bavaria Holland ($1.79 each for a $10.75 six-pack) or Tuborg’s Gold or Pilsner (both currently at $2.15 but quite often discounted).

If I’m looking for something a bit tastier, I might go for a Creemore (still decent at $2.60) or Dragon Stout ($1.81 each for a $10.90 six-pack)

31Last, but most certainly not least, I’m going to mention my house red, white and sparkling.  Currently, like most of Quebec, I’m in love with the Fuzion Shiraz/Malbec 2008 from Argentina.

It’s extremely well-balanced and versatile and can either be enjoyed on its own or with poultry, fish or pasta. I like how smooth and fruity it is and the tannins don’t rub me the wrong way either. Best part is, it’s only $7.45 so buy two and leave that Valpolicella on the shelf.

For my white, we head across the Pacific to New Zealand for the Monkey Bay 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. $14.95 buys you an intense fella with plenty of acid and structure. It’s less grassy and more fruity with a bit of citrus. I like it with chicken, pork and seafood.

If bubbles are what you crave, I recommend the Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut. Dry and light, it’s everything a cheap sparkling wine should be and it’s way better than many more expensive bottles at a mere $11.95. It works well as a base for a Kir Royale or a Mimosa or can be enjoyed on its own as an apéritif.

And that, dear readers, is that. The entire bar can be had for under $200 or you can buy whichever bottles strike your fancy. You can rest easy knowing you’ll be getting the best, damn value for your coin this side of the border and you’ll be able to satisfy all of your party’s wants without hurting your wallet.


Over at bevlog, they’re asking what readers think of a ongoing proposal by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to change the labels of all beer, wine and spirits by including “Servings Facts” information on each and every bottle.

monavie_nutritionBasically, it would indicate “typical serving size, number of servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat”. It would also be divided into two sections, ingredients and alcohol facts.

Even though this is an initiative proposed by the TTB of the USA and doesn’t effect Canada (at least initially), I’m generally in favor of more information being released to consumers to help them make decisions about the products they want to purchase.

First and foremost, the “alcohol by volume” percentage which is already printed on the label is supplemented by a box informing you of the “fl oz of alcohol” per serving. Despite some comments declaring that this might be mathematically confusing for consumers, I think it’s a fairly important piece of information to be including on the product, especially when you think about how most people don’t know how much alcohol is in individual servings of whatever they’re consuming and this can vary from product to product.

Sure, there will be lots of people who won’t give a damn but a conscientious person who wants to monitor their intake because they have to drive will be able to measure that a whole lot better or refuse a drink that would put them over the legal limit.

The other boxes don’t really matter so much although I suppose some people monitor their calorie intake closely enough that a drink will make some difference and it could be argued that people don’t pay enough attention to the empty calories they consume through drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The one exclusion that really catches my attention is the lack of any information concerning the amount of sugar in a product.

Surely this is a rather large oversight; sweeter drinks are often cheaper, mask the taste of alcohol and include more nasty congeners, the by-products of fermentation which are toxic and, along with dehydration, are largely responsible for hangovers. (On an unrelated note, I was surprised to find that bourbon drinkers like me are especially at risk; our favorite tipple contains thirty times as many congeners as vodka.)

Criticism of the proposed regulation has come from at least two different groups; another post on bevlog that featured Bluemont Vinery’s opposition from the viewpoint of a small business and a PDF posted on a government site by Wine America, a national association of wineries. Both of them are opposed because they claim adhering to these standards would result in untenable costs to smaller producers and lead to general consumer confusion due to excess labelling. They go on to state that because there is little variation in alcohol content and carbohydrates of most wines, there is no point in releasing this information and since most people already know how much they can generally handle, telling them how much pure alcohol is in a serving would also be unhelpful.

I call bullshit. I’m generally in favor of labeling for most food and drink. Most people now appreciate being able to determine the nutritional content of products they purchase at the grocery store and I would imagine they would feel the same about alcohol. Hell, I’d go further and add regulate the spread of GMOs as well as the food we’re served in restaurants but that’s another issue. As for the cost, I don’t see why it couldn’t be passed on in part to the consumers if this is something that people are truly interested in.

I’m well aware that regulations often favor the big guys like Diageo who have the money to spend on laboratory testing and label redesigns but I don’t see why both the American and Canadian (when the time comes) governments couldn’t subsidize the little guys with grants and tax breaks.

Bevlog also linked to a video of former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop talking about why adding this information to labels is important and although it’s rather dry, I agree with them; this video deserves some attention as well.

Madison Beer Review put together a great post talking about this issue and they presented several things I didn’t know at the time of writing this: one of the biggies is that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the group who originally petitioned the TTB to change these regulations has been accused of having a “neo-prohibitionist” stance by many “beer supporters” and is of the opinion that alcohol is ruining America. I don’t doubt that their voice would be moderated by the presence of health organizations and industry lobbyists but it’s still something to consider.

However, both sides have some explaining to do. It’s also pointed out that while the Beer Institute “objects to publishing alcohol content” because said content “in most beers is in a very narrow range” this is hardly true when one considers the beer “can range from less than 4% ABV (alcohol by volume) to over 20% ABV”. As we move away from the the narrower definitions of beer that its members (who include Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken) generally espouse, it makes sense to include this information on the label without it hurting the same folks whose products warrant its inclusion.

Also, as Madison Beer Review notes, it’s hardly realistic to reduce serving portions proportionally in terms of the ABV-2 oz for a 20% ABV brew is just silly-it would make sense to consider how beers with a higher ABV are meant to be shared and incorporate that information onto the label somehow.

In the end, I agree with them. Full disclosure of ingredients would be a nice step and would also tie in nicely with the trend to more natural, healthy products. After all, I’d take a St. Peter’s Organic English Ale over a Smirnoff Ice cooler any day.

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