Tag Archive: spirits


And this Saturday, The Toronto Wine and Spirits Festival is coming to the Distillery District.

Details are scarce but I can tell you a few things. Emma Brown and Scott Rondeau (co-founder of the Toronto Festival of Beer) of Power Juncture, a Toronto-based events company are behind this one and with 2010 being its second year, hopefully they have some of the kinks worked out.

There’s going to be loads of food and booze. With around 40-50 vendors serving up all manner of alcoholic beverages and food to pair ‘em worth, you’re going to need to make a pit-stop at Cherry Beach just to give yourself time to digest! Notable attendees include Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company, Innis & Gunn, Kado Enterprise (sake), Victoria Gin, and Mill Street (naturally).

It’s low-key. With less people and a bit of a more mature atmosphere expect less drunken debauchery and line-ups.

The whole thing’s outdoors. It looks like the shitty weather we’ve been experiencing is on its way out and I can’t imagine a better way of spending a Saturday afternoon. Overall, I think the Distillery District is a decent place to hang out.

It’s a pretty good deal. $22 gets you in and with your admission comes 5 vouchers good for whatever food and drink you might want. Additional vouchers cost a buck.

The festival is running Thursday and Friday, from 6 to 11pm. Saturday, its open from 12 to 5pm and it’s back to the regular evening schedule for Sunday.

If you’re going to buy tickets at the event, they’ll run you $30 so buy them online or you can pick  up two for $22 through Groupon but act fast ‘cos that deal’s done in eight hours.

To get there, take the Parliament St. bus south until you reach Mill St.

I’ll be out there on Saturday so if you see me, say hi!

Now that you know when you can buy booze this season, it’s time to figure out the best options out there no matter what your tipple. And seeing as we’re all broke-as-fuck from buying too many Christmas presents and engaging in a variety of holiday activities, I’m all about getting you the most bang for your buck.

(All of my selections have been carefully-vetted through the time-honored process of me getting drunk with my friends. It’s the only way to go.)

Wine

While I know that I don’t focus much on wine on this blog, I do buy and consume a lot of it. My go-to red of the moment is the Fuzion Alta Malbec Reserva. Smooth and fruity, it’s medium body makes it a perfectly-acceptable sofa companion or accompaniment to a meal. I have to agree with the LCBO; this is a terrific value at $9.95.

My choice for white is the Cono Sur Viognier ($14.95). This varietal is meant to be drunk right away and with a fruity aroma that belies its low acidity, it’s easy to do just that either with spicy food or as an aperitif. Soft and well-balanced, it’ll set you back a bit more (and it’s not as easy to find as the red above) but it’s well worth it. (If you can, try and find the “Vision” version of this release. It’s just like this but even better.)

As far as bubblies go, I’m going to have to stick with the Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut ($11.90). Outperforming sparkling wines twice its price, it’ll still be good when you whip up some mimosas on New Years Day.

Beer

Folks can be notoriously recalcitrant when it comes to trying new beer so it’s best to have three or so types on hand. The trick is to pick three that are attractive enough to persuade ‘em to switch it up. The following will definitely do the trick…

Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout (355 mL, 10% ABV, $2.60) is the quite simply the best beer of its kind to come along in ages. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout notwithstanding, this is a serious contender that is dangerously-easy to drink. Like a creamy dark chocolate truffle, this stout is neither too malty or bitter and will leave you feeling pretty warm by the time you finish your third bottle. Do yourself a favor and pick up a case at Queen’s Quay LCBO. Most other locations will have a couple bottles lying around but it’ll be gone soon enough and this stuff is meant to last for years.

Flying Monkey’s Hoptical Illusion (6×355 mL, 5 %ABV, $11.95) is also a solid purchase. For those who like their beer hoppy, this brewery admirably steps into that role while still being approachable. While not as complex as Mike Duggan’s No. 9, you can buy twelve of these and that’s all you’ll really need. I like to think of this beer as a good opener for people intimidated by really bitter beers.

Lastly, for those who need a lager look no further than Estrella Damm (500 mL, 4.6% ABV, $2.25). I’ve heard all the arguments about imported macro-lagers and I simply don’t care. This beer is incredibly crisp and doesn’t skimp on the carbonation. The best part is it has none of those weird, lingering aftertastes that ruin the finish of so many domestic macro-lagers. I’ll take a dry finish when I’m drinking all night…

Spirits

The thing to remember is that one wants to stay in the sweet spot between local derivatives (Smirnoff), overpriced imports (Grey Goose) and trendy tangents (pretty much any flavored vodka). Think a smaller company with something to prove and you’ll probably find a decent spirit.

‘Tis the season for whiskey and rightly so! While Centennial 10 Year Old is still my favorite and best value to boot, it’s getting increasingly harder to find and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s gone before we’re even halfway through winter. With that in mind, I’d go across the pond and pick up a bottle of Teacher’s Highland Cream ($24.95 or Té Bheag. The former is an acceptable mixer while the latter is worth the extra $11 if you’re going to be drinking it neat.

Vodka-wise, I’d still pick up a bottle of Zubrowka Bison Vodka. For those who don’t like their vodka aromatic, a bottle ifIceberg will do and it’s only $23.

Broker’s Premium London Dry is fairly good gin and a steal at $24.60.

One has a lot of choices when it comes to rum but I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to try something new. Havana Club Anejo Reserva is perfectly acceptable and currently $2 off the $26.95 price tag. Or you could go with the El Dorado 5 Year Old which is only 5 cents more and just as good. Many other rums are available for only $5 more so will get you something even better so evaluate your budget and plan accordingly.

Tequila’s a little trickier. Saddled with some of the most unfair mark-ups I’ve ever seen, you can find amazing tequila in the States for one-third the price but here, the cheapest brands are home-grown and nothing worth writing about. Go for El Jimador’s Reposado ($32.95)or don’t bother getting any.

With all or some of the above, you’ve got the makings of a fine party and you won’t be breaking the bank.  Buying everything on this list (with extras when it comes to the wine and beer) will only run you $250. Get 25 of your friends and the party becomes even more affordable.

Just don’t buy the big brands. You don’t need to and most of the time, you’re spending more than you have to.

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.


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