Tag Archive: wine


Over a week into my vacation on St. Martin and I’m not sure I want to come back. This is quite possibly one of the best islands I’ve been to and considering how little decent information is available online, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Of course, the weather’s really nice. Most days, there was a constant breeze and although it got really hot in the afternoon, it was temperate the rest of the time. I did get a bit of sunstroke but this can easily be avoided by heading out to the beach early, from 8 am till about 11.

The beaches aren’t spectacular but they suffice. For some reason, the French side has a nicer waterfront (come to think of it, the French side is pretty much better in every way) but no matter which end of the island you’re on, you’ll be able to find some sand to settle down on. I liked Grand Case best.

The people are very friendly but this holds true for most French islands as opposed to the British ones. Those who have good manners will go far. I enjoyed my stay here far more than I did my visits to the Virgin Islands and Antigua.

No, I think my favorite thing about St. Martin is the how cheap and available the booze is.

I’m going to get into that and, in the process, offer you a decent guide to the island. This is not where you’ll be looking for where to rent a car or which hotel to stay; those sort of mundane details are best left to the forums.

Many of the articles written about the nightlife of St. Martin read like the authors never hang out in those places. While I may not have visited every bar on the island where drinking is a national pastime (except during the Heineken Regatta where they add sailing into the mix) it pays to know the ins and outs of the system that fuels the party.

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beer clipBecause I’m all about respecting the inner MacGyver, isn’t this a genius solution to preventing beer from rolling around in your fridge? This represents a revolution in beer-storage!

I’ve stopped mourning summer and have gotten on with the fall. Whisky, sausages and root vegetables are the order of the day and I don’t mind wearing jackets anyway because that means three extra pockets for me!

Lately, my links have moved away from cocktails with lots of news and more of a focus on beer. While I’m sure we can all agree that beer is terrific stuff, there’s nothing like a good, stiff drink to take the bite out of those chilly breezes that have been plaguing us lately. With that in mind, these links are almost entirely based around that theme. Enjoy!

Zubrowka is one of my favorite spirits, giving what is nominally vodka a kick of cinamon and herbal notes. Ever since I used to spend my days at Rasputin Vodka Bar in Leslieville, I’ve consumed it either neat or with apple juice. Considering how much of it I imbibed, it’s surprising I never realized it was named Tatanka. Another nifty autumn cocktail is the Sharky Punch, an older recipe featuring calvados, rye and soda to great effect. |The National Post|

It may be getting chilly out there but it’s never too late for Porch Crawlers! |The Bitten Word|

A less potent version of the Negroni substitutes sparkling wine for gin, soaks the oranges in red vermouth and then roasts them. Not all drinks need to be stiff! |The Huffington Post|

While the warm weather may be done, I’m can’t quit gin yet and neither will you after you try The Last Word. |foodtease|

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Personally, as far as I’m concerned, summer is not over. We have at least another month of amazing weather and I will be a the beach tomorrow, getting my tan on,  not preparing for the next holiday on our seasonal list.

But beer is a finicky creature. One the shelves one moment, it’s gone the next whether due to the vagaries of the LCBO or the buying public. It behooves you to grab the good stuff while you can.

So here’s a list of the best Halloween beers provided by BarTowel, along with an addendum provided by myself; sure to enliven your celebration of all things spooky. (Most of these items are not officially released yet and you won’t be able to search for them on the LCBO website until they are. They should be out soon. Don’t forget to use drinkvine for all of your booze-locating needs!)

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The provincial government’s new tax on cellared wines has proven divisive, with the big boys like Peller Ltd. and Vincor Canada crying foul and claiming that it will drive consumers further into the seductive charms of cheap reds from South America.

Whatever… It’s a good idea. Promoting wines grown and cellared in Ontario and protecting our greenbelt by making vineyards economically-viable productions sounds a whole lot better to me than adding to the coffers of the Canadian arm of a multinational corporation that buys wine in bulk overseas to blend with its local product.

The big boys do have a point though. Without a concerted effort to educate consumers on why they should be taking a second look at VQA, they may very well heed the call of the bottom line and buy foreign wine.

Also, this change needs to extend to the LCBO. Give VQA even more shelf space and extend the selection to include vineyards who were excluded before because of their smaller production runs. Only so many people will pay attention to ad campaigns; making a change at the end of the line could have a far greater impact.

(If you want a real laugh, read some of the comments left by readers of the article, howling with outrage over another tax… These people are truly and utterly without a clue.) |The Globe And Mail|

While I’m not a big fan of the trend towards noisy restaurants with minimal padding, the science behind why this makes people drink more certainly rings true. Apparently, people eat and drink faster when sonically assaulted because they want to get the hell out of there which results in bigger profits for the owner.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but doesn’t this seem like a bad idea? How does this create a pleasurable dining experience? I fucking hate the music at Jack Astor’s; if you’re right under a speaker it’s nearly impossible to converse with the person next to you. I’ll take an old-school bistro with small two-tops any day. |The Daily Beast|

It gives me quite a bit of pleasure to share a cocktail that not only comes from my family’s country but employs a whole lot of their bitters: The Queen’s Park Swizzle. |Rum Dood|

Another classic drink that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the Blood and Sand. Like Paystyle says, bump up the Scotch and OJ to achieve nirvana. |Happy Hour|

If you love gin as much as I do, you’re gonna love this collection of gin cocktail recipes, freshly-conceived at a recent Thursday Drink Night. |The Mixosoleum|

I’ve broken my fair share of glassware while washing it so sponges that are shaped to clean ‘em perfectly seems like a good idea to me. |The Spoon Sisters|

Ready to move beyond buying your beer in bottles/cans but not into the idea of brewing your own (it’s not that hard but whatever)? Build a kegerator! |Kegerators.com|

Down in New Orleans, this museum turns into a bar at night. They even tie in the cocktails with the exhibits! This is much better (and a hell of a lot more egalitarian) than the AGO’s members-only wine-tastings.|NOLA.com|

Those of us who don’t have access to flying “Upper Class” on Virgin Atlantic have to make do with what we have around us when it comes to drinking on flights. |Jaunted|

And last but not least, impress your friends and pay off hefty bar tabs with this neat trick of opening a beer bottle with a bill. |Wonder How To|

Toronto’s cocktail scene is about to get a major upgrade with the opening of the Toronto Temperance Society. Perhaps embodying the maxim “drink less, drink better” more than any other venue, the club promises to the sort of joint where you never have to worry about getting anything different than the drink you ordered (unless you like Appletinis).

Only thing is, you have to pay an annual membership fee of $285 for the privilege of hanging out with like-minded imbibers.  Perfection doesn’t come cheap…

In another instance of exclusivity = credibility, a travelling cocktail party in Los Angeles is the Next Big Thing. Only a matter of time before someone starts doing that here (hey, wait-a-minute).

Apparently, shit beer equals poor stock performance for major beer companies. Who’d have thought? Even better, the supposed panacea for these corporations involves buying up perfectly good craft breweries and wringing every little bit of individuality from their recipes.

Robert Parker, the venerable wine critic, rated a wine higher in a blind tasting than he had in his published review of it earler. Cue snickering

Alcademics reviews a new liqueur from Bolivia that is made from coca leaves. While not quite monkey-for-your-back, it apparently does give you a boost. They also take a look at a mezcal, my new favorite tipple.

I’ll drink a bicicletta if it means I get to have a two-hour lunch in the afternoon to boot! Half-an-hour is practically criminal.

Moonshine goes mainstream with white whiskey. Hopefully the LCBO will get notice and start selling a bottle here (I’m not holding my breath).

Another thing they should get on Right Away is St. Germain. Why is this not available in Canada? It practically sells itself! Here are some cocktails to tide you over…

Over at A Mountain Of Crushed Ice, Tiare talks about collecting bar tools (which is about as wonderfully geeky as you can get when it comes to the industry).

Dr. Bamboo resucitates Midori melon liqueur (at least for enthusiasts) with a cocktail that actually sounds pretty tasty. I predict a dark age revival… Can new uses for blue curacao be far behind?

I grit my teeth every time someone asks for a Keiths. A Good Beer Blog pointed me in the direction of guys who just might be my heroes. I wouldn’t mind so much if people just admitted to being biased towards mainstream brands.

If I had a little more discipline, I’d release my own brand of syrups and bitters instead of waiting for lines like Trader Tiki to make their way up to Canada.

SLOSHED! puts together a Bumble-bee Cocktail which sounds amazing, courtesy of Charles H. Baker Jr. and his book, Gentlemen’s Companion (not a new release in case you were wondering). They’ve also managed to introduce me to my new favorite quote (by the same man)

…all really interesting people–sportsman, explorers, musicians, scientists, vagabonds and writers–were vitally interested in good things to eat and drink; cared for exotic and intriguing ways of composing them. We soon discovered further that this keen interest was not solely through gluttony, the spur of hunger or merely to sustain life, but in a spirit of high adventure.

What an excellent sentiment!

(Image taken from Boing-Boing)

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.

Although I spent Christmas Eve and Day at my apartment, my mum picked me up on Boxing Day to spend the next four days at their house in Bowmanville with the rest of the family.

Most of our get-togethers revolve around food and drink but I can’t remember one where we got so into it. I arrived to find a fridge full of beer; pretty much anything you could think of. There was Duchy Organic Ale, Westephaner HefeWieiss, Rogue Yellow Snow, Lowenbrau, Warsteiner, La Fin du Monde, Beau’s Lug Tread (which is now available at the LCBO!) and Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009. The latter two were particularly good with Beau’s being a dry, crisp lager and the Vintage Ale surprising me with it’s almost-sweet alcohol taste reminiscent of cognac.

We made our way through most of that on the first day and went out to resupply on day two. I picked up a bottle of Century Reserve 15 Year Old Rye (discontinued and unavailable in Toronto) and a six-pack of assorted tallboys. Thus suitably supplied, we settled down for some serious drinking, punctuated by some terrific meals and snacks.

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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.

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.)

winePicture yourself buying wine. You’re going up and down the aisles, scoping out the different vintages from countries around the world. Maybe you’ve read an article or two online about some really fantastic red or maybe you’ve gotten a vague recommendation from a friend; you kind of know what you want but not really.

Then you see it. It’s got a really funny, clever name and an aesthetically-pleasing label. Robert Parker’s given it a 92 and an anonymous LCBO staff-member has weighed in with his two cents, praising it for its taste and price-range. Everything about this wine screams you; the image you have of yourself and what you and your friends would be drinking as they all compliment you on your uncanny ability to find the perfect wine for any given situation.

And so you buy it. You take it home, open it up and after taking an appreciative sniff, pour yourself a glass. My god, you think to yourself, I’ve done it again. This tastes really good. You may even be right but you’re probably not conscious of how everything you went through leading up this point may have influenced your perception of the wine’s flavor profile.

A study by Michael Siegrist, a professor at the Institute for Environmental Decisions, and his post-doc, Marie-Eve Cousin from ETH Zurich, put forward a hypothesis that people are influenced by information they receive about a wine before they taste it and this affects their sensory experience of said wine.

“The analysis of the test results revealed that the test people who had been given the ratings with 92 or 72 points before the tasting rated the wine differently to those who weren’t given the Parker rating until afterwards. In the first two groups, the test people who had been given negative information rated the wine considerably worse than those who proceeded on the assumption that the wine was good. Those who knew beforehand that the wine had been given 92 Parker Points also found the wine better than those who only discovered the rating after they had tried the wine.

The information not only influences the sense of taste, but also how deep we are prepared to dig into our wallets: again, the test people with negative advance information were prepared to pay the least.”

Of course we respect those we perceive to be experts, particularly when we feel we might be out of our depth as so many people do with wine. I’d like to extend this to include labels. Indeed, another study by Cornell University found that people given the same wine alternatively packaged as both from California and North Dakota rated the California label as being of higher quality and enjoyed it better on the whole.

While both studies have their flaws, I believe they reveal an essential truth: people often buy their wine on a hunch and they like to have cursory bits of information that back up their choice, whether it’s a nice label, a recommendation or established point of origin.

For myself, the first thing that catches my eye is the label. If I like it, I’ll probably pick up the bottle and see what varietal it is, what year it was produced and where it came from. Mentally, I’ll attempt to cross-reference this with my memories of other wines consumed in the past that may overlap but more often than not, I’ll look at the price tag and take a chance. More often than not, I don’t end up hating the wine. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I really love it and that’s the bottle I’ll come back for.

Do you find yourself falling in love with labels like I do or do you really do your homework?

(Photo taken from smcgee’s Flickr Photostream.)

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