Archive for December, 2009


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.

So Christmas is tomorrow, New Years is around the corner and you still need to buy more booze. Obviously, you can’t get anything tomorrow or on New Years Day (for those of who like to extend the party a day or two) and The Beer Hunter’s not much help because of holiday hours.

With that in mind, I thought I’d find out whens and wheres of buying booze in TO for the next week and share it with y’all.

LCBO

No stores will be open on Boxing Day but Dec. 27th will see most stores open from noon till 5pm. Monday to Thursday will also see regular hours of operation but on Thursday, New Years Eve, all stores will close at 6pm. You’re best off hitting up your local store and avoiding the downtown core.

The Beer Store

They’re closed Boxing Day but all stores that normally open on Sundays will do so on Dec. 27th. Just be sure to get there before 5pm. Monday to Wednesday will also see regular hours of operation in effect but they will close on New Year’s Eve at 6pm so don’t leave the party-stocking till the last minute. Better yet, don’t shop at The Beer Store.

Mill St.

There were no holiday hours specified but the retail store is usually open from 11am till 9pm on Saturday. Sunday to Tuesday, it’s 11am till 6pm. Wednesday and Thursday, it’s open from 11am till 8pm. I’d phone ahead.

Steam Whistle

It’s business as usual except on Christmas Day and New Years Day. Boxing Day, they’ll be open from 11am till 6pm.  Sunday (the 27th) they close at 5pm and from Monday to Thursday (New Years Eve), they’re open from noon till 6pm.

Amsterdam

Their website says holiday hours are 11am till 9pm  so I’m going to assume they’ll be open Boxing Day, at least until 6pm. Monday through Thursday sees them at normal hours of operation which is 11am till 11pm. Call ahead just to be safe.

Wine Rack

Gotta love a store that stays open till 11pm! Despite the lack of decent selection beggars can’t be choosers and I’vewritten about some decent options before so if you’re stuck, hit one up and make do. They should be open from Boxing Day till New Year’s Eve and most of the downtown locations are open till 10pm or 11pm. Check before you head out though.

Vineyards Estate Wines

While there are no holiday hours posted anywhere, it’s a safe bet that if the Loblaws, Metro or Sobey’s they’re in is open, they will be too. They’re generally closed by 6pm.

I was quite surprised to read in The Globe and Mail that the Liberal government has hired two banks to look into selling the LCBO and other Crown assets to cover this year’s deficit.

After all, wasn’t this brought up before by Mike Harris et al. (and Ernie Eves before him?) and dismissed when the government realized that selling valuable assets to raise money may help cover their deficit now won’t do much for balancing the budget the next year?

But leaving aside whether it’s smart for the Liberals to divest themselves of one of their best and brightest cash cows, which is best for the citizens of Ontario; sale or no sale?

Judging from the comments on the G&M article, a lot of people are confused as to whether this would be a good thing and while I’m not an unabashed fan of the LCBO, I’m also not about to jump on the privatization bandwagon unless I’m sure that it would really benefit us.

So let’s look at the three of the biggest points being raised and see whether they have any merit or not.

Booze would be cheaper.

Really? That would be nice but most consumers don’t realize is that there In the US, each state has its own laws concerning the distribution and sale of alcohol. Some places are cheaper than others but I still have fond memories of brown-bagging tall-boys in NYC; I went to quite a few variety stores and prices ranged from $1.25 to$2.50 for a Coors Light which is not that radically different but you obviously pay more for the “convenience”. A case of mass-market, domestic beer that costs $36 in Ontario typically costs $22 in Quebec and about $18 in New Jersey.

The reason it’s generally cheaper down in the States has everything to do with taxes. Here in Canada, we pay a 26.5% tax on alcohol which includes a 5.75% liquor mark-up fee. In the US, the percentage of taxes applied to alcohol varies from state to state but they’re nowhere near as high.

I’d be the last person to suggest we get rid of the taxes that pay for our health care system (amongst other things) but I do think the mark-up is ridiculous. Still even if the LCBO were sold and the mark-up was removed, we wouldn’t be looking at the same price levels they have in the States; we would probably be a lot closer to Alberta or Quebec. (Strangely enough, spirits are cheaper in Alberta but wine and beer aren’t. Wine and beer are cheaper in Quebec thanks to provincial subsidies that favor local products.)

And there’s no guarantee the mark-up would disappear. If anything, it’s unlikely it would go anywhere since pricing is regulated by the government to ensure socially-responsible consumption of alcohol which, along with store hours, is one of the primary methods they employ to prevent us from degenerating into a bunch of booze-soaked rummies (so we’re told).

Worse yet, if the entire company was sold and allowed to continue as a monopoly except in private hands, we’d have yet another Beer Store on our hands and you only have to look at Hydro One and the telecom companies to see where that gets the consumer.

Looking at the graph above (snatched from the LCBO website) it’s clear that the LCBO controls too much of market to allow it operate as a second private monopoly, answerable to no one but its stockholders.

The selection would be greater.

Yes and no. While the opportunity for specialists to open shops catering to niche markets is greater, there’d be just as many people carrying the same mass-market swill we see everywhere. With the exception of the bigger stores, most LCBOs only stock what they know consumers in their area will be likely to buy. Most private operations wouldn’t be any different.

One big concern is that while the bigger cities in Ontario would probably have no worse selection than they do now, many smaller towns in outlying areas would see their stores close with no guarantee of any replacement.

The sale of alcohol needs to be controlled.

Deciding who buys booze and when they can buy it is an age-old concern. Some people say there’s no harm in having convenience stores sell beer and wine while others argue that public drunkenness and under-age drinking will become bigger problems.

I’ve always argued that kids should be exposed to alcohol sooner rather than later (presumably limiting all of that surreptitious, binge drinking) but as that’s generally an unpopular opinion to have, I’d also like to point out that those same stores seem to do a pretty good job of preventing kids from smoking too.

Fact is, people will do what they want to do and the best results have always come from education and integration, not prohibition. The laws we already have in place will take care of the egregious offenders; why persecute anyone else?

Despite my beefs with the LCBO, I’ve come to realize that the provincial government is responsible for nearly all of ‘em… the insane mark-up, lack of inter-provincial distribution (where the hell are my Quebec beers and my BC wines?) and inconvenient store hours.

Selling the LCBO doesn’t change any of that.

The powers that be will still regulate the fuck out of whomever’s selling us our booze and unless they decide private operators to cater to niche consumers, we’ll be looking at another monopoly. We don’t need another Beer Store.

What we do need is a reexamination of the liquor laws and regulations that have their background in Ontario’s Scottish-Protestant roots and adjusting them to fit a society that, over the past decade, has become a lot more conscious of when and how they drink, what they want to buy and where they buy it from.

(And a little store downtown selling me limited-release tequila, absinthe and bitters would be nice too.)

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Over at Sloshed! they want to make sure that you get the perfect gift this Christmas and I can’t help but agree with their choices. Please… get me some o’ that.

Must be a slow news day over at The National Post ‘cos they’ve got “a short etymology of inebriation” for y’all. Enjoy and employ whenever you feel like appearing excessively clever.

Brewdog from Scotland’s got the strongest beer in the world!

As far as Chowhound’s concerned, you’ve been making your punch all wrong.

And, despite my lack of a camera, I’ve got two very fine recipes to share with you!

First off is a drink I tossed off to a girl I was flirtin’ with online. I’ve never tried it but she said she liked it and so I thought you folks might too. Honestly, it’s never passed my lips but it sounds damned good to me and I’ll buy you a drink myself if it’s shit.

KAT O’ NINE

1 oz rye
1 oz passion fruit juice
splash of Jager
splash of orange juice
Soda water

Fill a highball glass with ice and pour in the first four ingredients. Top up with soda and stir.

Next up is something I made while over at my boy’s house. We were high and he had some interesting bits in his fridge for me to play with.

UNFRIENDLY STRANGER

1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari (I used this strange soda I’d never seen before but regular Campari would work just as well)
splash of brandy
lemon soda

Fill a highball glass with ice and pour in the first three ingredients. Top up with lemon soda and stir.

Enjoy! The second drink in particular takes some getting used to but it’ll reward you in the end.

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