Tag Archive: labelling


COCKTAILS

Got the perfect summer cocktail? Whether it be something original or a clever twist on a classic, Adam McDowell would like you to submit it for his contest. Winners get bragging rights, 15 min of fame and some bar swag. I entered for the hell of it. Rob Montgomery’s already been featured with his Blackberry Cabarnet Caipiroska, a take on the Brazilian caipirinha. (National Post)

NEWS

While the situation for established and aspiring bartenders may be improving, it can still be difficult to source out all of the right products. (NOW)

Why booze doesn’t have nutritional information on the label. (The Globe And Mail)

There are macro-lagers and then there is craft beer and no matter how much Molson-Coors or InBev would like us to believe, never the twain shall meet. They can buy up as many breweries as they like but there will always be some ambitious fella who wants to make beer his way. (National Post)

Mill Street Brewery’s expanding to Ottawa. The way they’re going, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes knocking, looking to buy. (CTV)

If you’re young and Irish and your country’s going to hell, you come to Canada and ask Jimmy McVeigh Sr. to find you a job. (Open File)

Toronto used to be a whisky-town before cheap beer and Prohibition came a-knocking. (Toronto Standard)

FOOD

The best burgers are griddle-smashed burgers. Go to Burger’s Priest and then get back to me. (National Post)

While the Globe might be none-too-subtly trying to suggest birch syrup might be better than maple, I’d posit they both have their own merits. Give the former a try if you haven’t yet. (The Globe And Mail)

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I recently met Philip Duff at the G’Vine Connoisseur’s Program 2011 Preliminary at Swirl Wine Bar. (I competed too; more on that in a future post.) A bartender and consultant who travels around the world, he was in town to promote that program and G’Vine’s gins. He gave a lecture on the spirit and the history of distillation that was funny, interesting and not at all boring. The video above, which rips into bartenders who walk into other bars and make life hell for their colleagues, shows more of that wit.

COCKTAILS

Forget the sweet stuff. The latest trend is is herbal and vegetal. The red pepper puree is my new favorite mixer. (Details)

Cinco de Mayo may be over and done with but summer’s just starting and this is going to be a good year for tequila! Brush up on your history whilst drinking a Margarita Tenacatita. (Salon)

Caribana (I’m still not used to the new name) is coming up and while I’m not the biggest fan, I’ll be using the festival as an excuse to cook up some tamarind syrup. The fruit is tart but still a bit sweet. Mixed up as El Tamarindo, you won’t find a more refreshing highball. (12 Bottle Bar)

The blog above also has an outstanding post on infusing simple syrups. Even if you don’t have a herbal garden, you owe it your cocktails and your guests. (12 Bottle Bar)

If you have pomegranate juice, you can make your own grenadine syrup. (CHOW)

How to make Falernum #9. No Zombie is complete without it! (Post Prohibition)

One of most refreshing juices I can think of comes from the hibiscus flower. Too bad Agave & Aguacate stopped serving it. (Muy Bueno Cookbook)

Is it bad that the first thing I want to do with this recipe for switzel, a spicy non-alcoholic drink is add some dark rum to it? (The New York Times)

So you’ve just gotten used to Angostura bitters? Learn about the next essential bitters you need to have in your home bar: orange. (Serious Eats-Drinks)

Everything you ever wanted to know about amaros. My current favorites are Nonino (933796, 700 mL, $42.95) and Montenegro (601484, 750 mL, $24.15). (Post Prohibition)

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proof whiskyProof (173351, 500 mL, $19.95) Whisky is a bit of a mystery. The bottle says its produced in Toronto but a little sleuthing on the internet says it’s from Alberta. (Edit: Adam McDowell of The National Post says he heard it was produced by Highwood Distillers who also make Centennial 10 Year Old)

It also goes on to say that they’re going to release a rum and a vodka too. Right off the bat, this doesn’t sit too well with me. See, when I look at a spirit, I want to know that they’re putting out a product that they believe in. These guys should really love their whisky, I mean really love it. I want to buy my booze from true believers who know their stuff and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

So when I hear that a company is trying to diversify its brand by releasing three spirits, all marketed under the same eye-catching design; I get a bit suspicious. I start to think that maybe it’s not about the product after all but more of a gratuitous circle-jerk centered around a too-obvious marketing campaign trying desperately to cultivate a little cachet with the urban crowd.

I’m down with Canadian whisky. Hell, I’m damn-near patriotic at times and if you give me a decent product at a fair price, I’ll buy it every time. Centennial 10 Year Old (387209, 750 mL, $24.80) and Century Reserve 15 Year Old (105858, 750 mL, $30.05) are quite strong competitors and neither of them are trying to be quite so cool as Proof.

But enough about the goddamned look of the bottle. Is the whisky any good?

Pouring it into my cowboy-style shot glass, I take a whiff. Very clean with the alcohol front-and-center (I guess that extra 2% really does give it some “edge”). A couple of sips in, it becomes very clear that this is hardly any different from your dad’s Canadian Club. It’s a bit sweet, as Canadian whiskies generally go in that direction and there’s any interesting citrus element tucked away in there but this is hardly memorable. If anything it reminds me of my college days when my fellow freshmen and I thought we were trading up by going for the C.C. Reserve.

This whisky is a mixer and while you could do worse, the irritating marketing campaign hardly puts me in a favorable state of mind that would find me going back for a second bottle. Drop the pouty models and put a fuckin’ deer on the label.

pouty model

(Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Canadian whisky “whiskey”. I blame spell-check. Maybe lack of sleep.)

Robert Simonson of the New York Times looks back at a decade of innovation (and reinvention) when it comes to cocktails. St. Germain is indeed one of the most interesting liqueurs to hit the market lately and I really dig the idea of “bartender’s choice” as an option on a drink menu.

Dana Rourke of  the Live Organic Food Bar (located at Spadina and Dupont) shares her recipe for The London, a drink that you can feel good about imbibing, with The Toronto Star. To no one’s surprise, moderation is still the key.

Matthew Biancaniello’s an inspiration for anyone who’s gotten sick of the grind and taken up bartending because they’re an enthusiast (I can’t be the only one). His concoctions sound pretty interesting too…

For those of you who want to take a harder edge to your drinking, CAMH has released an online test that may help you get a handle on your drinking. Apparently, I drink more than 96% of males, aged 25-34, in Canada. I also spent over 1,700 hours under the influence of alcohol in 2009. Moving on!

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Indiana University have found a molecule that may repair the enzyme mutation that causes people of Asian descent to get flushed faces when they drink. It does other stuff too (like cause cancer and neurodegenerative diseases) so this seems pretty important.

Jason Wilson of The Washington Post looks at rare cognacs. If it’s all about the bottle, how is this different from collecting any other kind of antique? I’m not sure what the deal is with spirits this expensive but an “indescribable” taste sure sounds interesting.

If you’re tired of creamy chocolate liqueurs, this Austrian spirit looks like just the thing to reverse that trend.

In need of some wintery cocktails? Cocktail Virgin Slut offers up some Boston Grog, Drink Snob has Writer’s Block while White On Rice Couple is all about the Sidecar Fizz.

Over at SLOSHED! they have a list of the ten most popular posts on their site for 2009. There are some really good recipes to be found so have a look.

For those of us who drink beer, here’s a handy flow-chart for determining which brand to go for (and yes, no one should ever be caught drinking lime-flavored beer). Once you figure that out, you can play Beer Battleship.

According to The Guardian, bigger whisky makers are feeling the pinch and have been shutting down plants in Scotland. With all the great new whiskies around, I can’t say I really care. If anything, this is a warning against getting too big and being bought out by a company like Diageo.

Beer companies aren’t really paying attention. Heineken now owns the Tecate, Dos Equis and Sol brands which it must hope will give it a leg up on Grupo Modelo (Parent company of Corona. Interesting sidenote: Anheuser-Busch owns half of GM.).

This follows an incredibly-sad statement in The Globe And Mail by Richard Musson, the vice-president of marketing for Labatt, who said that “in the end, what pays the bills is Budweiser.” Truer words were never spoken. Fuck innovation, let’s acquire someone else’s credibility.

Gothic Epicures VinCuisine has put together a handy list of all the best-value red and white wines for under $20 in the 2010 LCBO Vintages release.

While this cellar is presented as an “awesome” idea for storing beer, it would work so much better for wine. Still, it looks good.

After international wine critic Jancis Robinson accused the wine industry in B.C. of being misleading when it comes to clearly differentiating between wines produced in that province and wines blended there, their version of the LCBO and several wineries have pledged to improve their labeling practices.

I’m happy to report that this is already a standard in Ontario. While at the LCBO today, I noticed that the blends were on the left and the VQAs on the right which, while it may seem a small step, is important when it comes to helping consumers make an informed choice.

In other semi-serious news, scientists at the University of Colorado have determined that there’s a genetic difference between people who are alcohol-dependent and those of us with a tendency to consume high amounts of alcohol. Just show your friends this article whenever they call you an alcoholic!

Over at SLOSHED! they’re doing their best to keep us warm this winter with two excellent recipes; the Green Tea Toddy and Pumpkin Cider. My sore throat is thanking them already…

Mixology Monday featured vermouth and I’m happy to say they found some uses for that bottle that many people reach for last. The Old Town Alchemy Co. offers up the White Ladder while Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice presents the Signora Rossa. Both are delicious!

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of thing but I can’t help but notice that The Washington Post is busy trashing a reality show that features s0-called bartenders competing against each other in “a showdown of skills, smarts and spirits”. Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds and contributes to the bartending-until-I-get-something-better mindset.

I don’t read the Toronto Star for reasons I won’t go into here (involves one of their columnists trashing a guy’s reputation in what was an on-going court case) but this is a damn tasty recipe. Tamarinds add a whole new dimension to the margarita.

Lastly, if you’re really into making clear, pretty ice, Alcademics.com has figured it out for you. Me, I just want my drinks cold but I admire the ingenuity on principle.

(Photo taken from dogwelder’s Flickr photostream.)

At the hotel where I work, the most popular beer is Keith’s India Pale Ale.

Obviously, we’re not the only establishment that serves this beer and it’s pretty uniformly popular across the city. It kind of bridges the vague, drinking gap between those older guys who only drink Molson Ex or Labatt 50 or Blue and the little shits who’ll drink whatever’s put before ‘em. Along with Stella, Heineken and Corona, Keith’s flagship brand serves to represent Canada on the international front as Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico purport to stand for the formers, respectively.

Much like it’s cousins, Keith’s Red and White (we don’t serve it’s ugly little brother the Staghead Stout so I’ll discount that here), Keith’s is not really an I.P.A. at all but a mutant clone, watered-down and designed to appeal to broader tastes; in much the same way Labatt Blue is called a pilsner.

It’s not even as good as Rickard’s (Molson’s brand) but people will continue to order it everyday. Now clearly, the marketing and perceived credibility of the brand affect the likelihood of a consumer being familiar enough to feel comfortable ordering it but I would argue that this actually has very little to do with what people actually order at my hotel.

Can you guess who’s responsible for Keith’s products being the biggest sellers? Why the bartenders of course! They recommend these beers and not because they like them but, in blind subservience to a vicious cycle, recite their names first when asked because they’re big sellers!

I take a different approach. If asked what we have on tap, I mention Mill St.’s Organic Lager and their Tankhouse Ale as likely options. 9 times out of 10, the guest will order one and be done with it. If they press me I’ll mention that we serve a number of  big brands and ask which one they would prefer. Sometimes, only a Stella will do and I’m not going refuse someone’s request. Still, the majority of guests will go with my suggestion and, particularly in the case of the Tankhouse Ale, I’m comfortable offering them a beer I consider to be one of the better ones produced in Ontario.

There are two factors at work here. Many people, when arriving at the critical juncture of the meal where they must choose from a number of options will often go along with a timely suggestion from their server. These people don’t want to have to give a lot of thought to their choice and they’re comfortable letting their choices be influenced by a confidently-knowledgeable server.

The second factor is one of novelty. These guests will often be up for trying something new if it’s well-presented by the server with a minimum of bullshit. I find that many foreigners are extremely keen to try a local beer but many Canadians will go for it as well.

The bartenders I work with don’t give a shit about supporting local products. They take the franchise element of the hotel to the extreme and offer  what they feel will be most comforting and familiar to a traveler.  They just can’t be bothered to concern themselves with the idea of which items are better.

One of them, seemed to be slightly irked by my constant orders for Mill St. beer. She wanted to know why I always sold their beers and did not agree with my assertion that they were the best of what we had to offer. According to her, Keith’s was obviously the best beer because it was the most popular.

This is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink beer. Mind you, she’s a fairly-good bartender for this hotel and a nice person to boot but I simply can’t wrap my head around her view-point.

She thought I was being pretentious in my devotion to our local brewery and while that may be true, I still think Mill St. makes a better beer. You may like Keith’s and Stella and could argue that those beers are different but even if you get technical and hold up Keith’s Red to the Tankhouse Ale, the latter comes out a clear winner. End of story.

So I’ll continue to sell as much Mill St. beer as I can (and if you guys are reading this, I’d be up for some kind of brand ambassador position…) and my coworkers will continue to think I’m odd but I can’t imagine selling anything but what I like myself.

I think servers owe their guests that kind of honesty.

(Photo taken from the Go There Guide.)

beerBetter stock up on your booze because LCBO workers could be on strike by midnight tonight! Just in time for Pride too… but I’ll try to stop thinking like a consumer and see this from the union’s perspective.

It’s definitely not fair for the LCBO brass to favour the employment of casual workers and the right to issue 90-day lay-offs at a moment’s notice when the number of full-time employees has gone down by 60 per cent and many of them are making less than $20,000 a year.

But enough about their rights, am I going to rush out and restock my barren liquor cabinet? Finances being what they are, I have to abstain from any booze-panicked sprees but I’ve got a bottle of brandy, some scotch and lots of vermmouth. I’ll be okay (I hope).

(edit:  The LCBO and the union have reached a deal! Apparently, casual workers will get more benefits and there will be more opportunities for full-time work. Let’s hope the city’s workers can reach a similiarly-quick compromise.)

Researchers at the Heidelberg University Hospital have found that consumption of alcohol causes a number of changes in the human brain’s operation, including running on the sugar from the booze instead of the regular glucose and (most scary) a slight decrease in the presence of substances that protect the cells.

Long term affects are unknown but it’s not like we really need another reason to favour moderate consumption…

Generally, cheap beer is beloved but Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites spent $25 recently on a bottle at BeerBistro and wants to know what your limit is. (Mine’s about eight dollars less.)

Looka! has extremely good news: A revised  edition of Dr. Cocktail’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie, 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them is being released on July 1st. I’d buy it just for the stories and it makes a great companion piece to Henry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book.

While I have no idea how it tastes, I love the way Big Boss Brewing packages their beer!

Art of Drink provides an overview of the venerable rye-and-ginger which is one of my favorite cocktails of all time and my go-to drink for bars of unknown quality.

If fresh berries are your thing, the Food Woolf has what looks like a terrific recipe for a boysenberry cocktail.

I like Dubonnet on the rocks (and so does my mum which spells trouble when I’m at the parent’s house) but Robert Simonson of Off The Presses has a couple of recipes for those of you who are hard-up for ideas on what to do with that bottle in the back of your cupboard.

Dr. Bamboo wants to know about the worst cocktail you’ve ever had.

liquorTiare over at A Mountain Of Crushed Ice gets into using vegetables in your cocktails. I’m really interested in trying out beets and plaintain but they all look pretty good to me. It might also help me feel better about not getting my eight servings a day.

The Intoxicologist takes issue with patriotic booze and so do I. The idea of exploiting an American’s patriotism to market cheap booze while making vague statements about supporting “everyone in uniform” (without saying which organizations they send money to) doesn’t sit well with me.

Science Daily talks about a new study completed in the UK that claims that “beer goggles” do not affect drinker’s perceptions of age. The idea is that this might prevent men from claiming that they didn’t know that their partners were underage. This is all very fine and well but doing a study in a pub is very different from doing one in a nightclub. And what about when you’re all on ecstasy?

Vietnamese snake wine with big-ass cobras in it!

Martin always said so but now we have some sense of what having Kingsley for a dad must’ve been like. Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog reviews “Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis”. Like many famous British drunkards, Amis Sr. was really good at being an insufferable prick but you gotta love quotes like these:

“If asked what you think [about the wine], say breezily, ‘Jolly good,’ as though you always say that whatever it’s like. This may suggest that your mind’s on higher things than wine, like gin or sex.”

I want a copy!

For those following in his footsteps, here’s a handy method for hiding booze at the office. Helen Gurley Brown might sneer but this sort of thing is generally frowned upon nowadays.

If drinking at work is too risky and you live in London, you could always visit the Alcoholic Architecture exhibit which makes you feel like you’re walking through a giant gin-and-tonic.

Finally, I have 116 bits of alcoholic trivia for you. While quite a few of ‘em fall into this bizarre wordplay category (otherwise known as “who gives a fuck”), the historical ones are genuinely interesting. For instance:

“33. The bill for a celebration party for the 55 drafters of the US Constitution was for 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that ‘ducks could swim in them’.”

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I like how that one white dude really digs the music.

(Image taken from wil.widner’s Flickr photostream.)

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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