Archive for March, 2010

One of my favorite surprises is finding a new beer on the shelves of my local LCBO. While drinkvine (a fantastic resource for finding out about upcoming wine and beer releases; sign up right now if you’re not already on there) has lessened the extent of that surprise somewhat, it’s still possible to walk into the Danforth location, for example, and find a product you thought you might have to go down to Queen’s Quay for.

Too bad that with Hogs Back Traditional English Ale (157560, 500 mL, $3.75)  my excitement didn’t last much longer beyond the pour (which was quite lovely with a dark, amber colour and a fair bit of sediment). Maybe I’ve been ruined in super-hopped beers but I was fairly underwhelmed by the light body and mild flavor. There was some malt and caramel in there and a very slight, bitter finish but that was about it and the aroma was similarly-disappointing.

Honestly, it felt a little stale to me (the quickly-dissipating head worried me a bit too) and I couldn’t help wondering if this would’ve been a whole lot tastier pumped fresh.

I’d like to try another bottle or, better yet, get in on a cask but for now, I’ll stick with Fuller’s E.S.B. (106435, 500mL, $2.45).

How I came by the couple bottles of Rickard’s Dark currently sitting in my fridge is another matter altogether.  I’d missed a tasting at O. Noir, a new restaurant where you are served food in darkness by blind servers, and the P.R. company associated with the event had sent me some samples.

In the back-and-forth battle between Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch InBev to branch out through their subsidiaries, Rickard’s and Alexander Keith’s respectively, I’d been a practically non-existent spectator. While I’d hesitate to call either the Red of the faux-I.P.A undrinkable, they’re both unremarkable, especially when there are so many other delicious beers out there.

Rickard’s had definitely edged out Keith’s (why the hell does Keith’s White taste like Corona?) when it came to wheat beers but that’s like praising one of the slow kids because the gifted child happens to be out of the room (which in this particular instance is Weinhenstephaner Hefe Weissbier [75291, 500mL, $.3.05]).

Honestly, I generally prefer Rickard’s to Keith’s and it’s not just because one of the latter’s spokesmen turned out to have a thing for kids. I also think their beers are better, if only marginally so.

Seeing as I’d been out biking all day and worked up a powerful thirst, I decided to crack one open and see what this new, dark beer was all about. Described as being “brewed in the style of English porters” I was hoping for something with a nice body that I could order at a Firkin, for example, in place of a macro-lager.

It poured a dark amber (much like the T.E.A. actually) and retained at least half of the head a couple of minutes after pouring with some minimal lacing. The aroma was a bit trickier in that I had quite a bit of trouble detecting much of it at all beyond a hint of roasted malt and maybe some caramel.

A couple mouthfuls in, I was struck by how it managed to be both sweet and fairly watery; definitely lighter than I was expecting. Flavour-wise, it was a stronger take on on the aroma with a hint of maple syrup in the astringent finish.

This is definitely not a porter; it was more of a dark ale in the broadest sense of the handle.

While not as good as their White, it was definitely not going to compete against some of the porters from the States and England that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking. I’ve never gotten around to trying Keith’s Dark (incorrectly introduced to the market as a Stag’s Head Stout) but I would imagine Rickard’s take is probably the better one.

Do I hate this beer? No but I’m not particularly impressed either. You could do far worse at many bars but in this day where there’s usually at least one decent beer to pick at any given venue, I can’t see many people making this their go-to dark beer.

Everyone I’ve talked to who has tried it feels pretty much the same. I’m guessing Molson could style it as an introduction to dark beers but likening a product to training wheels for better beers is hardly the best way to carve out a meaningful share of the market.

(Photo taken from Matthew Black’s Flickr Photostream.)

Everyone likes lists; especially when we get to make comparisons and argue over the results. This list featuring the best rums is pretty good even if we can’t get some of ‘em up here in Ontario. Hence my take on the best value for your money:

Flor de Cana 7 Year Old (26286, 750 mL, $30.20)

El Dorado 5 Year Old (894014, 750 mL, $24.80)

El Dorado 15 Year Old (705418, 750 mL, $59.75)

Havana Club Barrel Proof (113159, 700 mL, $55.20)

Havana Club Anejo Reserva (443903, 750 mL, $26.95)

Sailor Jerry Spiced (80127, 750 mL, $28.45)

Wray & Nephew Overproof (326223, 750 mL, $34.95)

Matusalem 15 Year Old Gran Reserva (464222, 750 mL, $39.95)

Pyrat XO (a bit of a cheat ‘cos it’s not available anymore)

Appleton V/X (177808, 750 mL, $23.75)

There are some new rums out there that I have yet to try; Element 8 Gold Rum (135517, 700 mL, $ 59.95), Brugal Gold Label Rum (600502, 750mL, $22.95), Papagayo Fairtrade Organic Golden Rum (118612, 700mL, $26.35) and Sea Wynde Pot Still Rum (162537, 750mL, $49.95).

Of course, with the here-today-gone-tomorrow attitude the LCBO has when it comes to keeping products on their shelves, I’ll probably not get a chance. Anyone tried ‘em yet? |Kaiser Penguin|

For every recipe there can be as many as half-a-dozen alternatives. While we can debate the “trueness” of each one, it makes much more sense to focus on enjoying what works the individual. I like my gin-and-tonics with a healthy dose of Angostura Bitters (an adulterated Pink Gin if you will); it works for me.

As a bartender, I’m sometimes guilty of getting snarky with guests who assign the wrong name or attributes to a cocktail they’ve ordered. It can be difficult to separate ego from adequately satisfying the needs of a guest but I find the best way to sidestep this issue is to ask a series of leading questions in order to establish exactly what it is they want.

You can always make fun of their shitty taste when they’re gone. |Underhill-Lounge|

If you happen to be in Phoenix, check out some of these bars. Last time I was there, I wasn’t even legal. |AZCentral|

On the other hand, if you’re in the Liaoning Province in China and someone offers you a bottle of moonshine, don’t accept… it could have been made from tiger bones! |UPI|

The National Restaurant Association is looking for “signature cocktails” and if they pick yours you’ll get cash and be featured in all sorts of promotions. Judging from the picture on the website, it won’t be much of a contest if they’re using Bacardi flavored-rums. |National Restaurant Association|

For those of us looking for good drinking, look no further than these Kentucky Mimosas. Bourbon and sage? I’m down! |The Bitten Word|

Next time you’re at a halfway-decent bar, try asking for the Bee’s Knees. You won’t be disappointed. |Science of Drink|

Or you could always just get a Zombie. Like most tiki drinks, fresh ingredients will make or break this cocktail so don’t just order one anywhere. Most places that couldn’t make one properly also probably wouldn’t serve more than 3OZ of booze in one sitting so you’re not missing out. |Sippity Sup|

(Photo found randomly through Google Image search. Yes, this means I’m not going to credit it.)

An ex of a friend once brought a couple growlers of his home brew for a party. Despite being a bit “green” it was still remarkably alright and so when I read articles about how cheap and relatively easy it is, I’m get perilously close to giving it a shot and seeing what I can come up with. |The Globe And Mail|

These illustrations in a cocktail recipe book from 1967 remind me of the psychedelic children’s board games I used to play with the other home-schooled kids. |So Much Pileup|

Substituting a stronger-proof alcohol can lead to a better cocktail, especially when its competing with a plethora of other flavors. |San Francisco Chronicle|

Creme Yvette, another one of those liqueurs thought lost to the golden age of cocktails, is being rereleased by the same geniuses behind St. Germain in NYC. Maybe this means we’ll finally get the latter up here in Canada… |The Dizzy Fizz|

While I’m no vodka-hater, I prefer pretty much everything else when it comes to making an interesting drink. Still, there’s no excuse for getting pretentious; Zubrowka is amazing! |Imbibe|

Bars aren’t always about drinking. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped in at my local through a strange compulsion that even I’m not always fully aware of. Sure, drinks are a given but more often than not, it’s to see the other regulars; those people I may not interact with in any other part of my life but who are, in some ways, dearer to me than friends I’ve had for years. |San Francisco Chronicle|

Why do you randomly go to bars?

Beer bottles aren’t usually as pretty to look at as their cousins, wine and spirits but there are always exceptions and these ten designs certainly make the grade. |The Coolist*|

Find out which brewers are making an effort to be more eco-conscious. Way to go McAuslan! |The Globe And Mail|

Lastly, I leave you with the Goldfinger 007, an apparently-complicated but ultimately-rewarding cocktail from the barman at Blowfish. I think I’ll just go and have mine there. |The Globe And Mail|

I’m not going out tomorrow. No matter who calls, what delicious beers they promise me along with all of that good company.

No, fuck that.

I will be staying in and maybe I’ll open that second bottle of Fuller’s Vintage 2006 I have in my closet. Maybe I’ll be really Irish and listen to Elliot Smith covers (like the one below) and be as dour as I possibly can be.

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Or I’ll just clean the house and go for a bike-ride. It’s going to be a lovely day tomorrow; loads of sun and temperatures hovering around the 15 celcius. I’ll probably get thirsty too and than of course I’ll have to stop at a bar. Maybe Betty’s but seeing as eyeing the traffic is the best part, I’ll probably settle for a patio on Queen St. West.

No sense drinking alone so I might as well call some of those friends and see what they’re up to and before I know it I’ll be where I said I wouldn’t be, having the time of my life.

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Do I stay in with Emily Haines or go out with Shane MacGowan and The Pogues? I think I know what by what power I’m compelled… Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don’t bogart your liver!

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I really, really love Jen Kirkman. She’s pretty much always funny but I think she’s even hotter when she’s drunk.

Korean scientists have found that adding oxygen bubbles to alcohol reduces the time needed to recover from a hangover by about half-an-hour. They also found that the effects stack so even if you drink a lot of this booze, the effects of the hangover are not as debilitating and happen with less frequency.

Just what people need. A way to drink more often and not pay for it. Why don’t we just snort alcohol? |i09|

Or you could just chase your whiskey with pickle juice which is what I’ll be doing come next Wednesday (St. Patrick’s Day!!) |The Washington Post|

Tired of shitty cocktails made by bartenders who don’t care? Give a robo-bartender a try! (Or you could just patronize good bars.) |Wired|

If you’ve ever made a bad drink, you probably tried to fix it. Seeing as it’s all about balance, here are some great suggestions for reviving dead-on-arrival cocktails. Ginger beer is so easy but I agree with the bitters comment. If an ingredient always makes a drink better, it is really a cheat? |Kaiser Penguin|

We don’t get any of Sierra Nevada’s line up here but the idea in this article that I find interesting is the idea of a good, solid beer being overlooked when something new and stylish comes along. A good example of that up here would be Black Oak’s Nut Brown Ale. Another example might be Mike Duggan’s No. 9 making Mill Street’s Tankhouse Ale seem bland. |CHOW|

The Barbacoa combines ginger and chipolte among other things. I would imagine the peppers work very well with mezcal and the idea of garnishing with beef jerky gets me all tingly. Can’t wait to try it! |Saveur|

If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter, try the Oh Pear. I’d substitute a scotch for the Irish whiskey and I would necessarily use a pear liqueur (maybe a cinnamon syrup?) but it looks delicious regardless. |Imbibe|

I really like the cocktail pitcher but several of these bar tools are must-haves for entertaining at home. Square ice cube trays really are essential. |Valet|

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Or how to entertain at home and make it look effortless.

I’ve been throwing parties since I was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman at art school. Back then, it consisted of a couple 24s of the cheapest beer I could find, a bottle of vodka and some insanely-sweet liqueurs and potent mix of classmates and club-kids. Nudity was a foregone conclusion and the three bedrooms in the house were valuable territories with no-man’s land being the long, narrow hallway.

As always, things change, people grow up (somewhat), you have more money to throw around and your tastes become simultaneously more refined and debauched.

Some things, however, remain the same. Booze + music + crowd = good time. Where it gets interesting is the infinite amount of variables that you can play around with.

Before I wrote this, I Googled for how-to’s and guides and one thing was glaringly evident: the people who throw great parties sure as hell aren’t writing about it. Most of what I found was either incredibly straight or stupid and nearly all of it was useless.

Nobody needs to know how to throw your average get-together or function. A little food and drink and background music will keep squarely within the realm of mostly-forgettable events that serve as social grease for lots of folks.

If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t want that.

While you’re not a frat boy, you haven’t quite given up on life yet. You want your guests to enjoy themselves and you want to have fun.  You don’t want to trash your house (after all, you’ve spent some time and money to get it looking nice like that) and even though you had the foresight to get the next day off from work, you probably want to be in bed by the time the sun comes up. Maybe you even want to make some money.

585 GRRD is here to help.

We started with The Awkward Adolescent Party last year which was exactly what it sounds like. In January, we had Bramazon, which was a birthday for a close friend, Bram. The theme was “excess” so naturally we got dressed up, had a full bar and did all we could to make sure the night lived up to its tag.

Last weekend, we threw Smashed for Timbits, another birthday but for my fellow 585 GRRDer, Ash. The theme (very loosely applied) was “90′s hip hop” and we scaled back the bar to a couple of kegs and Purple Drink which is simply vodka and Kool-Aid. This one featured more of a BYOB element but the bar was empty by about ten in the morning.

By the end of this article, you’re going to be able to see how you can throw the best jam ever (hopefully without getting kicked out of your pad or getting arrested).

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I thought you should know why I suddenly split when you turned to talk with the guy on the other side of you. Yes, you were being loud and offensive which was why I gave you the cold shoulder outside of the washroom but I can chalk that one up to a simple misunderstanding.

Following me to the bar and trying to make amends by buying me a shot was a nice gesture but you fucked it up by sticking around afterwards and trying to be my new best friend. Newsflash: we’re not “relating” and while your proposal that we get “shit-faced” and sullenly mull over our collective sorrows is very Bukowski of you, I’m going to have to decline.

It’s not only that. Your repeated attempts to get the other denizens of the bar to cease with their celebrations of Canada’s triumph in Olympic hockey by screaming, “Shut the fuck up!” made me feel less like I was trying to enjoy a well-deserved pint at my local and more like I was baby-sitting a war vet with the emotional development of a fourteen year-old and PTSD to boot. Trying to throw a balled-up napkin at them was not such a hot idea but at least I was able to stop you. I might have had less success if you’d gone for a pint glass instead.

The reason we got along so well is because I’m a bartender and one of the more tiresome facets of my job is keeping idiots like you in check. I’m pretty good at it too but that doesn’t mean we have anything in common. The fact you occupied the seat next to me for over fifteen minutes when you don’t know me paints you squarely as a friendless dick who comes close to realizing the sad truth on the drunken, emotional rollercoaster that is likely a typical night for you.

I’d wish you the best of luck in finding other angry, young men to play with but I don’t think it’s in society’s best interests for you guys to congregate. For every Black Panther, there’s an Al Qaeda.

Just sayin’.

(Cross-posted from Craigslist. I couldn’t resist.)

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