Tequila and Mai Tais

28
Sep/09
0

While combing over my recent music downloads (Bruce Dickinson does a decent, apropos cover of All The Young Dudes!) I came across a .doc file of semi-intelligible bar reviews tucked away in the bottom, left-hand corner of my desktop. A week ago, I’d gone on a bit of a tear with some friends that started on Ossington and continued east on College through Little Italy.

Since, I haven’t done a proper review in awhile, I decided to post these scribblings and maybe even bone them up with whatever memories I have left of the night…

Reposado Tequila Bar was our meeting spot. I’ve only ever been there on the weekend and between the limited seating and the jazz bands they usually have in, you might have a difficult time of it. It’s still worth it.

I couldn’t begin to tell you which tequilas I’ve tried there because when you’re handed a 2 oz pour in an extremely-pretty stemmed shot glass, you shut up and drink it. I’ve stayed in the mid-price range and been very well-rewarded. They do offer Corzo Blanco Tequila (which I had the pleasure of imbibing at home after Bacardi sent me a bottle) which would pair pretty well with their freshly-squeezed juice but I recommend going with some of their more complex reposados and anejos for some slow-sippin’ pleasure. Stick to 100% agaves and you’ll do just fine. Hell, you’ll have a good time if you give yourself over to Andrea the bartender. She knows what she’s doing.

Next up, we went to Sutra Tiki Bar in Little Italy. I’d wanted to go to Sidecar but one look inside convinced me otherwise; it was far too brightly lit and when you’re bar-hopping, the last thing you want to do is stand in an empty room anyways.

Now, tiki occupies a very particular niche in bar culture. It comes and goes, surging in popularity as people rediscover kitsch only to disappear again as soon as it peaks. The much-maligned quality of the cocktails doesn’t help either.

There are many ways for a tiki drink to go wrong. With multiple ingredients and garnishes that are meant to evoke tropical fantasies as well as stimulate your taste buds, a “sweet rum drink” is a rather crude understatement.  Using multiple rums, spices, freshly-squeezed juices and home-made syrups is a must.

Take the Mai Tai. Two essential ingredients (orgeat and curacao) aren’t even available in Canada.  If you want to make orgeat this recipe by Rick of Kaiser Penguin is one I’ve used and it’s good. The closest thing we have to Curacao in Canada is Cointreau but you should really just go across the border and pick up a bottle in Buffalo.

What, you ask, is in a Mai Tai? Trader Vic’s family (who came up with the most enduring version) provides three recipes and (one psuedo-recipe) on the website that bears his name and I’ll reprint the first one here:

THE ORIGINAL MAI TAI

2 oz 17 year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 oz Rock Candy syrup
juice from one fresh lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell in the glass and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Now obviously, we Canadians run into trouble with the first item in the recipe, the rum. If you’re a bit of a traditionalist, you could go with Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy rum (750 mL, 43% ABV, $89.55) which is produced by J. Wray but I agree with Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice who recommends a good demerara (rum from Guyana).

The only available brand in Canada is El Dorado (you can get two vintage Bristol Classics but they’ll cost you anywhere from $200-$250); their 21 Year-Old (750 mL, 40% ABV, $109.95) would probably work very well.

If you’re feeling really fly, you could use an ounce from each; part of the fun of a good Mai Tai is the mixing and matching of different rums. Regardless of your budget, there’s probably a couple of bottles you can afford.

As for the curacao, you really should make a run and grab a bottle of the good stuff but Cointreau will do in a pinch. Rock candy syrup is not the same as simple syrup, it has a whole lot more sugar, and a decent recipe can be found on the Tiki Central Forum. I don’t even need to get into why you should use a fresh lime do I?

Anyway! Sutra’s Mai Tai doesn’t even come close to the traditional recipemenu2 as you can see from their menu to the right. Substituting amaretto for orgeat is lazy bartending and those juices don’t belong anywhere near a Mai Tai.

I ordered one anyway, just to see what it was like and while it’s not bad, it’s certainly not worth $7.50. Stick with the recipe above because you won’t find one bar in Toronto that can make a decent Mai Tai.

Most of their other cocktails were similar bastardized versions of the classics. A coconut cup with a little umbrella does not a tiki drink make.

Despite the disappointing cocktails, the music was boomin’ and the back patio floor is covered with ankle-deep sand which is kind of charming. There are better bars for the cost of the drinks but you could do worse if you’re with the right friends.

(For more information about tiki, head on over to A Mountain of Crushed Ice.)

We were going to go the College Street Bar but the bouncers carded us and insisted we pay cover. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal but there were quite a few of us and, feelin’ rowdy and a bit put-out by the delay, we headed down the street to The Midtown where we were greeted with open arms.

It’s a new bar but it’s still stuck in the first few years of the millenium. Fatman Scoop and Co. were on the playlist and the bar was packed nine-deep with young ginos  ordering round after round of shots. Between the dancing and the Jager-bombs, we fit right in.

Nostalgia can have a powerful draw; we didn’t end up leaving till after last-call so this venue marked the end of our “crawl” but I suppose it was for the best that we didn’t close the night at Bistro 422 with pitchers of rye-and-gingers in hand.

What’s wrong with Cosmos? + seven other links

27
Sep/09
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boozeSamantha Harrigan of Cocktail Culture takes issue with the massive hate-on bandwagon for vodka that everyone seems to be jumping on these days and shares what should be the defacto Cosmo recipe. Read, learn and stop with the excessive use of cranberry juice!

If the elitist in you is still not convinced, head on over to The Land of Forgotten Cocktails where John Myers compares vodka to ” the wall-eyed slag still standing at the end of a kegger who’ll partner up with anybody. Have fun. Wear a condom.”

I take issue with his choice of Smirnoff as an affordable choice for the cost-conscious home bartender. Stoli is only a couple of dollars more and so much better. One doesn’t need to be extravagant but there’s no excuse for stupidity.

BEST BLOODY MARY EVER.

If your cognac knowledge is only passable (like me, shhhhh!), head yonder to Alcademics.com for an overview by Camper English.

Drink of The Week serves up the most interesting recipe I’ve come across all week-long: the Ultimate Bell-Pepper Cocktail.

What do you do when you fall off the wagon after checking yourself into an asylum for alcoholism? If you’re William Seabrook, you create a cocktail of course! Enjoy this eponymous ode to boozing, I know I will.

The Underhill Lounge offers a Prairie Oyster Cocktail which I’m sure would give many a drinker pause (but only if egg yolks make them nervous). Me, I want to chase mine with Bakon vodka

Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice lays down all of the necessary steps to make your cocktail photography as nice as those pretty pictures you see in Food & Drink.

(I can’t remember where I found this photo. If you recognize it, let me know.)

Wine Rack makes last-minute save!

19
Sep/09
1

When it’s past 10pm and everything is closed, go to the Wine Rack. Breeze past all of that shitty wine from Inniskillin, Sawmill Creek and Jackson-Triggs and go straight for the coolers. Grab a 2L bottle of Grower’s White Cranberry cider and a magnum of Spumante Bambino sparkling wine and get yourself home.

Get out a couple of flutes, use some ice if you need to make it cold and fill with equal measures of both.

It’s not too sweet and the low alcohol content ensures you can have quite a a few… Delicious!

Wine tastes better when we think it will

17
Sep/09
0

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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Canadians enslaved by the LCBO? + eight more links

9
Sep/09
1

hokus pokusI missed this when it was first posted but over at the CBC, Neil Macdonald bemoans the lack of private competition for everyone’s favorite provincial monopoly, the LCBO. He makes a lot of sense but it’s really interesting to see how uptight and short-sighted some Canadians are when it comes to talking about privatization.

Ever make a drunken promise you didn’t keep once sober? Wired looks at the science behind this foolishness.

At Taste T.O., Greg Clow gives high marks to Flying Monkey’s Hoptical Illusion. While I’m no hophead, I’m still excited by the direction the (formerly named Robert Simpson) brewery is taking.

The Bar Towel lets us in on a few beer-tastings taking place at Beerbistro and the Black Creek Brewery this fall.

I must admit I admire the kind of dedication it would take to write a blog about one cocktail. Jennifer Rowsom has that level of commitment in spades and she takes purdy photos of caesers. Would I like a caeser? Yes please!

10engines reiterates the importance of correctly utilizing a twist with your cocktail. Read and consider yourselves illuminated.

While New Zealand may be one of the few countries in the world where you can legally own and operate your own distillery, that hasn’t stopped many folks in the South (US of A that is) from making their own moonshine. Salon provides an overview and profiles an interesting man by the name of Col. Vaughn Wilson who makes copper stills and sells them.

The Ottawa Citizen has an interesting four-part series on the trials and tribulations of bars dealing with liquor law regulations.

(Photo taken from Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoche’s Flickr Photostream.)

Cutting Edge Music Festival + Festival of Beer = excessive summer drinking!

9
Sep/09
0

So I figured that since I’m behind on several updates, I’ll just smoosh them all into one big post and get it out of the way so I can get ready for the next season (and perhaps even become more timely with my writing!).

The big thing for me this summer was festivals and travelling. I went to the Cutting Edge Music Festival at the start of August and when not enjoying some hard, hard music, I did my fair share of drinking as well.

My friend Kat (who bartends at one of my favorites, Rasputin Vodka Bar) and I packed a couple 24’s worth of booze. There was no liquor but I brought Corona (my go-to camping beer) and she brought half-a-dozen types of coolers.

I can’t stand the damn things due to what I feel is an excessive amount of sugar and Kat doesn’t generally drink beer but over the next couple of days we dipped into each other’s stashes and I have to admit that Bacardi’s Blueberry Guava Breezer was actually quite refreshing, dare I say even buyable if one were prone to that sort of thing.

bud busIn terms of where one could drink there was a licensed area set to the side of the two main stages which was a Budweiser Bus. I generally hate segregated beer gardens with a passion and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $7 for a plastic cup of Bud when the camping area was licensed as well.

Unfortunately, drinking there required leaving the pit, making your way through security without getting anything confiscated, climbing up a monster hill and trying to find your way through Tent City. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a 10 minute walk, made exceedingly challenging for many folk dealing with the variety of substances playing havoc with their bodies. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard stories of people dropping where they stood but I can’t believe that fucking hill didn’t claim more victims. Still, I made the trek over twenty times and I’d do it again if it meant not drinking a Bud.

CEMF was my first music festival and I’m definitely looking forward to attending more although I think I’d prefer ones in other countries that don’t have such draconian licensing restrictions.

The next big thing I went to was Toronto’s Festival of Beer. I’d never been and I figured I should probably go to see what the fuss was about. I was a bit put out by the steep entrance fee ($45!) and getting in to the event was a challenge of labyrinthian proportions but I still enjoyed myself.

I know that Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites was largely unimpressed with the festival, Troy Burtch at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer also had some quibbles and Save Your Fork… There’s Pie’s Sheryl Kirby gave a number of good reasons why it sucked when stacked up to the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and while I agree with pretty much everything they said I think I’m coming from a different place in my take on the event.

dug those barrels!

They’re right when they take issue with the smaller number of craft brewers in attendance, the roaming packs of drunken louts (and requisite “beer Nazi” security force) and all the cringe-worthy accoutrement of the Molson-Coors/Anheuser-Busch Inbev crowd.

Beerfest was all of that but it was also fun! Tecate’s human foosball was a glorious mess of tangled limbs and drunken saves and almost good enough for me to forgive them for the piss they call beer. Sure the hats you received for winning looked dumb but my group largely negated that by stealing ours. The Steamwhistle photobooth was also nice carnival-style throwback but other than those two promotional tie-ins, I mostly stuck with drinking as much beer as possible.

My friends were already trashed by the time I got there but I managed to catch up pretty quickly with a stop at the Trafalgar Brewery booth and I had another go at their Critical Mass and Korruptor strong beers. Both tasted much better than I remember from that three-pack I bought back in the spring (or maybe I was just happy to finally have a beer in my hand).

In quick succession, I hit the Wellington, Radeberger & DAMM and McClelland Premium Imports booths. The first two didn’t do that much for me but the last one featured both the Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, Fruli and Affligem’s Dubbel, Tripel and Blonde. Unfortunately, they were out of Delirium Tremens by Sunday; this saddened me because I’ve always loved it and since it was banned by the LCBO awhile ago, it’s been very difficult to source it out beyond a few bars.

One of my friends had a massive hankering for wings and that was just fine with me because it allowed us to sit in the southwest corner of the festival where Great Lakes Brewery’s CASKapalooza! held court. I’d heard good things but I had no idea they’d have so many great brews just waiting for me to sample!

We ended up spending over an hour here; quite a feat when you consider that most booths didn’t merit more than a couple of minutes at best. During our time there, I tried the Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Kaptain Kolsch, Iron Eagle Pilsner, Simon Says Stout and Superior I.P.A.

All were pretty good with the Snaggle Tooth and Kaptain definitely meriting a place on the shelf. My disappointment at not being able to try more of them has been tempered by the hindsight that I was pretty trashed by this point and wouldn’t have made it through much more.

Still, there was more of the grounds to traverse and I forced my comrades to take me back to the Bier Markt’s Oktoberfest Experience. There, we dined on sausages, sauerkraut and a most excellent weissbier which I believe was imported. The only finer example I’ve had would be the rather untraditional Edelweiss’ Snowfresh or Denison’s.

After this point, my memories of what we did next begin to jumble together like a night of partying… I remember watching some booth girls playing a drinking game that involved some kind of soccer chant and being extremely disappointed by the Eastern European lager I got when it was my turn.

We ended up in the center of the grounds and although I think I tried some great beers I don’t recall what they were called or even what they tasted like. I remember a couple of friends climbing up into a tree and getting reprimanded by security and one of our cups getting confiscated by the beer Nazis after we doubled up while one of our friends went to the washroom. We ended up dancing in front of the bandshell to some no-name band playing a cover of Home for a Rest, a song that is somehow synonymous with being smashed and Canadian. (On a sidenote: there are so many concert videos of that song being played by the band on YouTube… they must be very tired of playing it but if the festival is any indication of public opinion, no one seems to very tired of hearing it.)

In retrospect we were pretty much like everyone else by that point; very drunk and very, very happy. This may not be the best way to try out new beers but it can be a terrific condition in which to enjoy yourself. I may be getting older but I still take some pleasure in this sort of thing from time to time. The day I stop doing so may very well coincide with the day I start taking my writing more seriously but it hasn’t come yet. I saw plenty of assholes but I also met some incredibly-fun people and drank some damn good beer; those are the memories that stick.

When not going out, I’ve had the opportunity to buy a few beers here and there but not too many of them stick out in my mind.

IMG_1601

Boris Organic (not pictured here, I misplaced the can, but I’m sure you can picture it) is a middle-of-the-road lager with that slightly-malty, clean, inoffensive taste that features in so many beers of its kind. There’s not a whole lot of carbonation and you’re left with not much of an aftertaste because it’s so damn watery. It reminded me a bit of Mill St. Organic except not as good.

Both Nektar and Ochakovo Premium were both equally bland and I’d stay away from both of them. I don’t like the Eastern European lagers the LCBO brings over here and neither of these changed my mind.

Estrella Damm, on the other hand, is a lot better but that’s faint praise considering the company it was keeping. It poured with a nice thick head that left a lovely amount of lacing on the glass which was unusual given that I wouldn’t call this a full-bodied beer.

Still, it was quite lovely; dry, crisp and refreshing. The nose was definitely light and there was a decent mouthfeel but I would’ve preferred more carbonation. It’s definitely less grassier than some pilsners with some malt and just a touch of bitterness. Bonus points for no evident skunkiness or overt sweetness. There was very little aftertaste but the dryness definitely became more pronounced which I didn’t mind.

Everyone I know who doesn’t generally enjoy beer and has tried Damm has enjoyed it; this is definitely one of those beers you can satisfy most people without sinking to the level of your garden-variety macro-brews. I’ve had a couple cans with everything ranging from a tuna-melt sandwich to pasta and found it worked quite well as a “carb-soaker”. My only real caveat with this beer is that is has to be served ice-cold; it loses points for not aging well in the glass. Overall, it’s a decent beer to get drunk with but there are cheaper tallboys that don’t sacrifice too much in taste.

(Top photo by Matt Eckensweiler.)