Review: Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis

18
Jan/10
0

First of all, you should know that Kingsley Amis was a bit of an elitist, a misanthrope and a out-and-out curmudgeon. He didn’t have much time for women in a monogamous sense (as both of his marriages show) but he did spend a lot of time drinking (when he wasn’t writing) and Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis is a fairly good example of the dedication an amateur can bring to the subject (whilst being pretty sad all the same)

Amis was not a nerd but he was very much an enthusiast and one with definite opinions on the rights and wrongs of drinking. He was also a massive alcoholic and, as Christopher Hitchen says in the introduction, ” the booze got him in the end, and robbed him of his wit and charm as well as of his health.”

Still, with that in mind, perhaps the best way to approach this collection is with some understanding of the man and the era he came from. Sure, there’s some information here that is wrong (morally or factually) but there’s a lot to enjoy here as well. Amis may have been many things and not all of them were “nice” but he did know what he liked and what he didn’t like and he appreciated others who felt similarly:

“I dislike men and women when they are cold-hearted (a reserved manner is okay), unpleasant to those who can’t hit back (waiters, etc.), unable to allow others to finish a sentence, stingy, disinclined to listen to reason and fact, bad hosts, bad guests, affected, racialist, intolerant of homosexuality, anti-British, members of the New Left, passively boring.” (from The Letters of Kingsley Amis, ed. by Zachary Leader, 2002)

There. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, perhaps we can go on to the book itself. Divided into three sections, On Drink, Everyday Drinking and How’s Your Glass?, it covers a wide variety of topics that interested Kingsley: literature on booze, recipes, being British, the decline of pubs, what kind of bar tools and products you’ll need, purchasing and serving wine, being both a good and bad host (and guest), how not to get drunk and (when that invariably fails) dealing with the inevitable hangover.

The last section is dominated entirely by quizzes that will test your knowledge of alcohol. Most people have found this part of the book boring but I quite enjoyed it; I guess this is where my inner nerd (and Amis’ too) comes out.

I particularly enjoyed his list of G.P (General Principles). Some of the best include:

1: Up to a point (i.e. short of offering your guests one of those Balkan plonks marketed as wine, Cyprus sherry, poteen and the like), go for quantity rather than quality.

4: For any liquor that is going to be mixed with fruit juices, vegetable juices, etc., sweetening, strongly flavoured cordials and the like, go for the cheapest reliable article.

7: Never despise a drink because it is easy to make and/or uses commercial mixes. Unquestioning devotion to authenticity is, in any department of life, a mark of the naïve–or worse.

8: Careful preparation will render a poor wine just tolerable and a very nice wine excellent. Skimping it will diminish a pretty fair wine to all right and a superb wine to merely bloody good.

These four have a lot to offer the modern consumer who is often tempted to go to extremes when it comes to purchasing booze and then gets upset when the product doesn’t match up to their expectations. Amis is quite right; don’t spend too much at the expense of getting the good stuff, buy the cheapest of the best, don’t be pretentious and make sure you prepare your drinks well.

Amis was at his best when he was cutting and dismissive. On Canadian whisky:

I can’t help thinking that the Canadians are a great crowd, but are perhaps the only people who could have produced a boring whisky.

He is less kind to the Irish:

The idea of medieval Irishmen inventing a rather complicated technique like that of distilling, or anything at all for that matter, is hard to credit.

On the Pina Colada:

Just the thing for a little 95-IQ female, fresh from a spell on the back of the bike, to suck at while her escort plunges grunting at the fruit machine. Mind you, he’ll be no ornament to his sex either, quite likely clutching a lager and lime–an exit application from the human race if there ever was one.

On being asked about what you think of the wine:

If asked what you think, say breezingly, “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.

While Amis was fond of the classics (he counts a martini, gin of course, as the best cocktail around) he displayed a fairly remarkable ingenuity for getting the most of out what he had around him. He wouldn’t have been into mixology in the slightest, viewing drinking as an everyday pleasure, but he did appreciate good ingredients, prepared carefully, and who can’t get behind that?

In short, this book is perfect for those who enjoy a bit of British wit, don’t mind some stuffiness here and there and are willing to overlook his hypocrisies. There’s a lot of interesting information here, both historically-speaking and for the bartender-at-home. Amis does have his moments of clarity and the best advice he offers is at the end of of On Drink:

Well–if you want to behave better and feel better, the only absolutely certain method is drinking less. But to find out how to do that, you will have to find a more expert expert than I shall ever be.

Spoken like a true sot.

(For a different take on the book, read John Crace of The Guardian, which is also where I happened to find this rather excellent illustration by Neal Fox.)

Filed under: Reviews

The best booze to buy for New Year’s Eve

25
Dec/09
1

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.

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.

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.)

3 Brewers a welcome addition to Toronto’s beer scene

12
Aug/09
1

3 brewersOn my way home, I was biking up Yonge St. to get to Gerrard when I passed a new pub just south of the Hard Rock Cafe near the Yonge-Dundas Square.

The front was open to the street, it was pleasantly-packed with guests and at first sight, came across as a different take on the mass-market pubs we’re so used to in Toronto.

After going over the menu and finding out they brewed their beer on-site, I couldn’t resist it’s obviously carefully-designed siren call; I simply had to go in and have a beer. Score one for Gerry Kakaroubus (one of the owners as I was soon to find out)!

What really sold me on giving the place a try was the tasting flight of their beers for a measly $6.75! I can’t think of a better way of getting people who might be stuck in their usual beer-buying patterns to try something new.

After taking a seat at the bar (I only ever go where the action is, tables are for parties) I was pleased to discover that all of the beers were above-average; they didn’t knock my socks off but I wasn’t disappointed either and having 5 new beers to try (you can add a couple dollars and get a bit of their special brew) was totally worthwhile.

The first one I sampled was their bi-monthly brew, a red ale called Indian Ocean. It wasn’t so much like an IPA but it was definitely crisp with clove and vanilla undertones and a slightly-bitter finish. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I ended up going back for some more after my tasting was done.

Next up was the blonde which reminded me of a pilsner with a bit of a grassy taste. It wasn’t very crisp but it was well-balanced; I would’ve liked a little more bite though. The wheat was quite delicate and next to the Rickard’s and Keith’s offerings, more than holds its own. Think of it like a Hoegaarden but more spicy and you’ll be on the right track. I wouldn’t go out of my way to order it but it was lighter than a Paulaner, for example, which might be right up some people’s alley. It’s definitely refreshing and I imagine it’d do pretty well as a component in one of their beer cocktails. (Yes, they mix beer with liqueurs which can be a whole lot of fun. I have fond memories of Hoegaardens with a liberal dose of Chambord at Jack Astor’s on Front St. They mix their wheat beer with either banana liqueur or peach schnapps but I’d imagine they’d substitute whatever if you asked nicely.)

The amber ale had quite a bit more bitterness from the hops, more so than the special brew, with some caramel undertones and a wee bit of grassiness. The dark ale was rather predictable with some chocolately-maltiness but I would’ve liked a bit more oomph. I was expecting more of a stout and I got something akin to Cool Brew’s Doublefist Stout except not as good.

(One beer I didn’t get around to trying was La Belle Province, a bottled brew brought in from Quebec City that apparently has a “hint of maple syrup”. It seemed to be a largish portion so I imagine it’d be best shared with a couple of friends.)

To accompany my beer I ordered some mussel’s on the bartender’s recommendation but they didn’t impress me. We’ve got some great mussels in this city (Smokeless Joes, Starfish, BeerBistro, etc.) and there’s no way these can even compare. The broth was supposedly made with beer and tomatoes but it was bland and not even the occasional piece of celery and onion could salvage it. You know you’re in trouble when sopping up the broth with the de riguer bread is a chore.

Where’s the spice? Where’s the fucking flavour??

There was also way too much of it… I actually had trouble finding all of my mussels. Complaints aside, the portion was very generous and the side of fries was crisp and tasty. The house-made mayo dip was particularly nice with a tartaresque quality that left me recalling some pleasant memories at Deep Blue Fish & Chips.

Normally, I do pretty well with picking the best dish to have on any menu but I was led astray by an obviously-inexperienced staff-member. Next time I’ll go with one of their flamms which seem to be very close to a thin-crust pizza. The menu is quite large with a lot of items in place to ensure there’s something for everyone. It’s not my bag but I can see why they’d do it.

Despite not being able to recommend something decent for me, the staff were relatively friendly and not overbearing. I’d definitely go back with friends if I was in the area and with Yonge St. being a relatively bereft of decent dining options, you could do far worse than spend some time with the 3 Brewers.

(Image blatantly stolen from Urbanspoon.)

Colossal LCBO summer ‘09 release beer review

14
Jul/09
1

(This is the second part of a three-part series. Part one can be found here.)

To put it simply beer night was a success. We may not have discovered much good beer but we had a helluva time trying.

With 19 beers to get through (plus extras for insurance) and a lovely potluck spread, we were all set for a completely unbiased and measured review. We decided to start off with the fruity wheat beers followed by the regular wheat beers and lagers and finish up with some of the darker ales.

IMG_1316First up was the Wittekerke Rosé (250 mL, 4.3% ABV, $.2.40), an incredibly girly beer from Belgium’s Brouwerij Bavik. When I picked up this beer at the LCBO, I was repelled by pretty much everything it represented; the casual, joined font of the title (which I’m guessing is supposed to appeal to non-beer drinkers), the tagline “The Fruity Pink Beer”, the long-legged silhouette of the lady and the inclusion of aspartame in the recipe.

Now, I’m not one of those guys who dismisses beers that look or taste “girly”. I like Pink Killer, Früli and Apricot Wheat Ale amongst others and I’ll never turn down a beer I haven’t tried. Still, I was prepared to hate Wittekerke Rosé and my prejudice didn’t change with the first sip.

For all intents and purposes, it tasted like a cooler to me. The Lush thought it tasted like rosy gingerale but not as effervescent. The Connoisseur was amazed that there wasn’t a law somewhere against calling this beer (try Germany). The Alcoholic compared it to white zinfandel and finished it but somewhat grudgingly. She thought it would be a good mixer and I had to agree although only in the spirit of finding anything good to say about this beer. For the next minute or so, recipes for beer punch were floated around but having to buy a bunch of bottles just to make it was an issue with pretty much everyone. The Pothead wanted to know why the fuck the brewery would put aspartame in this beer and I have to say I’m wondering the same thing.

The incredibly-pronounced aspartame aftertaste was what really killed this “beer” for me. It was like drinking a really shitty soda; the fake sweetness kills whatever other flavors might wanna come through. Stay away from this one at all costs. It’s an overpriced cooler and it’ll probably give you cancer.

IMG_1318We tried a personal favorite of mine next; Van Diest Früli Strawberry Beer (250 mL, 4.1% ABV, $2.35), another fruity beer from Belgium. I’d enjoyed this one when I had it on tap at Smokeless Joe a couple of years ago and it’s one I still pick up a couple bottles every now and then.

Maybe the aftertaste from the first beer was plugging my tongue because this Früli didn’t do it for me. It was far too sweet and reminded me of a strawberry daquiri. I still dug the strong aroma of strawberry but everyone else gave it a thumbs down.

The Alcholic was convinced it tasted like Dimetapp mixed with soda water and while the Pothead wondered if it might have the makings of a good smoothie in it. Nearly everyone thought it was way sweeter than the Rosé and I’d have to agree; this is definitely a different beast from what you can get on tap.

Try it at Smokeless Joe or wherever else you might see it but I’d avoid buying a bottle. Make yourself a Strawberry Basil Balsalmic Mojito instead, produce your own strawberry liqueur or even buy a bottle of Fragoli (500 mL, 24% ABV, $23.45).

Trust me, it’ll be better than this.

IMG_1319After overdosing on the sugar, we decided to tart it up a bit and opened Chapeau’s Lemon Lambic (250 mL, 3.5% ABV, $1.80) which is produced through “spontaneous fermentation” using wild yeasts that are only available in the area. I find ‘em far too sour for my liking and even though fruit lambics are generally a bit sweeter, that damn sour aftertaste comes in swinging before the beer hits the back of your throat.

We all hated this beer. I poured the rest of mine down the drain and keep in mind this is a 250 mL bottle split in six. None of us could imagine drinking an entire bottle of this.

The Connoisseur compared the smell to an unholy combination of puke and Alka-Seltzer while the Lush branded it “skunky” and refused to have anything more to do with it. The Pothead said he’d drink anything but and the Alcoholic issued perhaps the most damning statement when she said that if this was the last bit of alcohol on Earth, she’d rather be sober.

Personally, I don’t get it. I’d rather make some lemonade and spike it or have any kind of ale. Hell, I’d rather drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade! I don’t like lambics and I don’t think an overly-artificial lemon taste makes them more palatable.

IMG_1320It was with a fair bit of trepidation that we approached the next beer on the list, the Exotic Lambic (250 mL, 3.5 % ABV, $2.40) from the very same brewery. The exotic on the label referred to pineapple which is one of my favorite flavors, especially where cocktails are concerned, but it was still a lambic and I didn’t think this would be any better than the Lemon.

Surprisingly, we all found it quite pleasant in comparison to the previous beer. The aroma was cloyingly sweet and artificial (think cleaning product) but the taste was acceptable from what we could make out with the same flavor you might get if you drank one of those pineapple sodas they import from the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the nose almost completely overwhelmed any pleasant effects although it did lessen the naturally-sour aftertaste of the lambic.

I really don’t understand why anyone would want to drink this. If you like pineapples, go buy one or get some juice and throw some dark rum in there. Hell, make it a sour and you’re still better off. Beer-wise, there are so many good products coming out of Belgium that it’s almost a crime to waste your time on something like this.

IMG_1321Next up was a beer that’s been around for awhile: Amsterdam’s Framboise (4×341mL, 6.5 % ABV, $11.95). I’ve it on tap at a variety of bars and I don’t mind it all that much but I take issue with Amsterdam on one issue and it’s a biggie.

Back in 2003, they purchased Kawartha Lakes Brewery which had been producing a Raspberry Wheat. While they continued to produce most of the KLB line, it’s been widely discussed how the flavors seemed to change, especially with the Raspberry Wheat which was pretty much a competitor to Amsterdam’s Framboise.

While my memory’s been doused in suds one too many times, I remember the Raspberry Wheat being particularly good and I’ve always enjoyed the odd pint at C’est What?. With this in mind, I wanted to do a direct comparison to the Framboise and see how they stacked up or (worse) if they’d become indistinguishable from each other.

The Pothead thought it smelt and tasted like weed and while it might be argued that he’s a bit biased, we all agreed there was definitely an aroma of marijuana emanating from our glasses. The Connoisseur dismissed it as Benilyn (why do so many fruit beers have a medicinal quality?) in an otherwise-decent beer but thought it had a good mouth-feel. The Alcoholic said it reminded her of why she doesn’t like beer with berries. The Lush thought it would be a good Christmas beer.

I liked the tart finish and while it’s not a beer I’m particularly devoted to, I wouldn’t turn away the odd bottle either. It’s got a nice level of carbonation and none of that fake sugary sweetness that dominated the other fruit beers we tried but it still tastes more like a raspberry concentrate flavor than anything fresh (but then again, I’m not quite sure how it could taste any fresher).

IMG_1322Of course, KLB Raspberry Wheat (500 mL, 4.5 % ABV, $2.75) had to come next. The Connoisseur was pleased that it looked and smelt like actual beer. The Pothead liked how subtle the fruit flavor was but the Lush swore she detected notes of apricot and apple amongst the raspberry.The Alcoholic was happy that she’d finally found a fruit beer she could actually drink and thought it would make a good caeser chaser.

I must admit to wondering why they called it a raspberry wheat when there’s nothing in the makeup of this beer that would suggest it; no spices, unfiltered sediment, crispy graininess or effervescence. The carbonation was quite low and it had a smooth mouth-feel and a bitter finish.

I enjoy this one but it loses points for not being wheaty enough; I’d almost go so far as to add half-an-ounce of whatever fruit liqueur you enjoy to a pint of your favorite wheat beer for an arguably tastier beverage. Chambord would work pretty well…

So which beer is better? I like Framboise well enough for it’s high ABV and a better raspberry flavour but the KLB is a better beer overall, especially at C’est What?

IMG_1323Our next beer was the Raspberry’s sister, Amsterdam’s Pomegranate Wheat (500 mL, 4.5 % ABV, $2.75) which was a considerable letdown after the KLB. Opinions varied considerably with the aroma being compared to everything from a “christmas tree” to “cat piss” to “rather nice with a bit of citrus”. I dunno, it smelt like fruity gum with a bit of malt to me…

One thing we could agree on was that it was weak and watery. Any presence of beer almost seemed like an afterthought with this artificial pommy taste dominating a small bit of hops. The carbonation was definitely higher than in the KLB and closer to the Framboise.

Again, much like the KLB, Amsterdam’s stretching the definition of “wheat beer” by quite a margin. I don’t really get why they thought pomegranate would be a good idea unless, like Greg Clow pointed out on Taste T.O., they probably figured it was an easy marketing point. In the end I can’t say I really care because so far, the only way I like my pomegranates is in a syrup (otherwise known as Grenadine); keep it out of my beer!

Look for part three next week where I finish up the wheat beers and delve into darker territory.

The best karaoke bars in Toronto

6
Jun/09
3

hip-hop

(A current list of all the karaoke nights currently running in the city.)

Karaoke’s always been a bit of a niche scene, with the larger Asian segment dominating like a Pacman-shaped portion of the graph while a slice of more western nights comprise a small (but loyal) contingent of singers spread throughout the city.

The most common reaction I get when I confess to enjoying karaoke is a surprised “Really?” tinged with (I think) a bit of disdain. The common thought seems to be that it’s all about tuneless, drunken sing-alongs and while that might be part of it (and God bless every single one of those martyrs for the cause) booze-soaked renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody are the exception, not the rule.

And therein lies the reason behind this list.

Everyone who gives a shit has an opinion about where to go for the best karaoke, some local spot that’s unreservedly fantastic and I won’t even pretend to be some kind of authority on the subject; my intention with this list is to merely provide a short (but solid) selection of joints that I think stand head and shoulders above the rest.

These places feature (mostly) good singers, eclectic song lists, drink specials and they’re open during the middle of the week; the only decent time to hold a really good karaoke night.

My favorite of the moment has to be Paradise (488 Parliament St.). Located just north of where Carlton begins, it’s a bit of a dive but the owners are friendly, especially when they realize that you’re not like the rest of the bums that infest this place.

Karaoke nights are Sundays and Wednesdays and both feature $3.50 pints of Cool ($11 for a pitcher!). However, those in the know point to the Guinness tap from which flows Doublefist Stout. I can’t find anything about this beer and I don’t even know if that’s its actual name; the bartender wasn’t exactly sure himself. What I do know is that it’s smooth and creamy with a bit of coffee and caramel to taste. I like it; especially at $5 a pint.

However, the best thing about Paradise is the song selection! The MC (whose name escapes me at the moment) will proudly tell you that he didn’t pick any crap; just the stuff he likes and it shows. A quick flip through his book reveals the Sex Pistols, Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode, The Clash, Björk, T. Rex, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, The Arcade Fire and The Pogues!

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to be able to sing along to the best of Shane MacGowan and Co.! Having spent many a night doing the same thing on the way home from a party, it’s even better to do it pint in hand, backed by the original recording. It’s one of those things you can feel your way through with your eyes closed and if you’re a fan, you have to give it a try.

I even saw Berlin’s Sex (I’m a…) which I count as one of the best duets of all time. If you can sing this, you are my hero. Best of all, you’ll get to perform at least half-a-dozen songs which is unheard of if you’re not renting a private room.

When I’m too tired for Paradise and my coworkers at the hotel come calling, we go across the street to Hoops Sports Bar & Grill (458 Yonge. St).  While the food is nothing special (go for the Monterey burger, the wings or the nachos), they do have relatively-clean taps and if you can find the screen with the lyrics amongst the jumble of sports games, you’re gonna have a good time. The smart-ass MC Jeremy will get you up there and the song selection is pretty good for a typical karaoke night. The crowd is usually pissed and very supportive and I have a good time. Bonus: Mixed amongst the crappy singers are some real professionals who have real talent so even if you’re not going to get up, you’ll enjoy some of the show.

Karaoke happens every Wednesday and Thursday and even if you don’t arrive until midnight, you’ll probably get a couple of songs in which is more than Peter Styles and the Gladstone Hotel can claim.

One event which I enjoy going to but have never actually taken the stage at is Hip-Hop Karaoke. Held at Revival (783 College St.) it’s the spot for aspiring MCs to show their stuff. Forgoing the usual screens displaying lyrics, here it’s all sheets but since most of the would-be rappers know the songs by heart, trying to read while performing is not recommended. Even if you’re not going to perform, it’s a blast to watch some unknown do Biggie and in many ways, it feels more like an open-mic/concert than a karaoke night proper which is fine by me.

Neutral has a pretty damn fine karaoke night on Tuesday that has some longevity in an industry where most don’t last longer than a year. Located at the mouth of Kensington Market (349a College St. West at Augusta Ave.) it features a more alternative selection of songs, curated by Steve-O, and while Nick Cave may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and why not?) with over 20,000 songs to choose from, you’d be hard-pressed to sing the same one twice in a month.

It can get busy but when it’s not, everyone gets their fair share of stage-time and the drinks are reasonably-priced, with some kind of special usually featured.

In a nod to the neighborhood’s past, Baby Huey’s on 70 Ossington St. now does karaoke! I haven’t actually tried it out but I have been to Huey’s and I know Richie Rich from his karaoke nights at both of the Foxes and I think it’s safe to say that you’ll find a good time here. He’s a great MC who’s very friendly and tries to get everyone up there. His song selection is also very decent.

(I’m pleased that he’s doing another night at a different venue because no one should be going to the Fox & The Fiddle on Danforth. Managed by Jimmy Georgoulis (along with O’Grady’s) he is known for fucking over his employees. The guy’s a first-rate asshole and doesn’t deserve anyone’s business. Full disclosure: I worked there last summer so I know of what I speak.)

The drinks are cheap ($4.50 for a domestic beer, $5.50 for bar rail) with $3.50 Jäger shots being just the thing to give you enough courage to join your friends behind the mic.

Do you have a favorite karaoke joint? Let’s hear about it!

(Image taken from therozblog’s Flickr photostream.)

Massive LCBO spring ‘09 release beer review

22
May/09
6

(This is the first part of a three-part series. Part two can be found here.)

It’s been a long time coming. So many new beers have come out in the past few months that between finding time to drink them and finding people to drink them with (which is harder than it sounds), I’ve had precious little time to actually write about them!

Still, most of ‘em are still available and some of ‘em are even worth checking out if you haven’t already done so.

img_0220My current favorite is the Great Lakes Green Tea Ale (650 mL, 4.2 % ABV, $4.95) . I first had a bottle with my friend Alex and we both found it quite refreshing.  I hadn’t much enjoyed the brewery’s other products but this one is definitely the best of the bunch.

It pours with minimal head but has a nice, golden, cloudy hue. The lack of carbonation initially surprised me but I grew accustomed to it as I drank more.  The nose was fruity with a bit of caramel which continued on with my first sip. The aftertaste where was I began to detect a bit of that green tea but I didn’t get much ginseng until the end.

By the end of the bottle, the tea flavour was a bit more pronounced which gave the beer a bit of an astringent feel but I still enjoyed it overall. Definitely one to try, especially if you want to pair it with some spicy food. It’s generally available everywhere but check the LCBO website first before you head out to pick it up. This beer is easily shared or you can drink it on your own.

If this is any indication of the leaps in quality that the Great Lakes Brewery is making, I think I’ll be looking forward to this year’s Orange Peel Ale. Recommended.

img_0219Alex and I also tried the Rogue Brutal Bitter (650 mL, 5% ABV, $6.95… ouch) . Pouring a golden orange colour with one helluva thick, foamy head, it had overtones of caramel maltiness and a bit of citrus and hops in the nose. The taste also started off sweet but finished pretty bitter (although not as nearly much as the name might imply). It did had really good length.

I’ve never been a fan of Rogue’s beers; I know they’re popular but they just never did it for me. This one was alright but I wouldn’t drink more than one and I’d probably split the bottle. Also I found it to be just a bit too expensive considering I didn’t love it. The Brutal Bitter is discontinued but you can find it with a bit of effort.

img_0223The third beer that we tried was another offering from Rogue called Kell’s Irish Style Lager (650 mL, 4.8 % ABV, $6.35).

Despite the confusing name (what’s an Irish lager anyway?) it tasted lot like an American lager. It poured a clear golden colour with a average head that shrank quite quickly. The aroma suggested malt with a bit of hops and an herbal, grassy quality that wasn’t entirely unpleasing.  The taste was surprisingly bitter and didn’t give me nearly enough of the malts that I could smell but there was a yeasty presence that didn’t sit with me all that well.

At least it was crisp enough to leave me wanting another swallow but overall, I was left wanting something else. Kind of like most basic American-style lagers except more expensive. Like their Brutal Bitter, Kell’s is also discontinued but your best best is the Summerhill location if you really want to seek it out.

img_0221Having exhausted our lighter options, Alex and I went with a doppelbock for our next beer; Doppel Hirsch Doppelbock (500 mL, 7.2% ABV, $3.95).

I’ve never liked any of the doppelbocks I’ve ever tried. They’re far too sweet for me and a hefty alcohol percentage doesn’t really interest me either.

Pouring dark with a light tan head, it gave off a sweet, raisin smell which mingled with this weird maltiness I couldn’t quite place until I tasted it and amongst the wheat and dried fruits was this malty, metallic flavour that ruined the finish for me.

The Doppel Hirsch is discontinued but you can get one at the St. Clair and Keele location or Queen’s Quay.img_0222

After the Doppelbock, we needed something a bit lighter so we went with Cameron’s Dark 266 (341 mL, 4.5% ABV, 6x$11.95).

Unfortunately, it was a bit too unsubstantial for us. I was a bit confused until I did some research and came to the conclusion that was more of a dunkel (or dark lager) than brown ale. This reminded me a lot of Upper Canada’s Dark. It’s rather boring but I like it chilled in a frosty glass.

Pouring with a dark, cola colour there was a minimal head. The aroma was all malt with some molasses and cocoa and the taste was equally straightforward, ending with a bit of hops.

The Dark 266 is not discontinued but finding it can be a bit of a trick. Your best bet is the Summerhill location but Bay and Dundas has a few kicking around too.

img_0217Alex and I followed up this completely-average beer with something extraordinary: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (500 mL, 5% ABV, $3.25). Not technically a spring release, this stout was (very wisely) given a general release by the LCBO and you can now find it everywhere.

It pours a dark, dark brown with a dark beige head that holds up well. Aroma has a nice blend of malt, coffee and, of course, chocolate. The taste is more of the same, just more intense with a bit of barley peeking through and a little bitterness to finish.

This beer was easy to finish and I’ve bought it several times since. It’s perfect for sharing but just as easy to drink on it’s own; I could very well have several of these over the course of a night but I’m just that kind of guy. Recommended.

img_0224Alex and I finished up with a trio of beers from Trafalgar. Released as a boxed set and not-so menacingly titled Triple Threat – Very Strong Beer (200 mL, 15% ABV average, 3x$10.95) they are that indeed.

The Black Bullet is apparently a Belgian triple and while my memory of what exactly constitutes a triple is hazy (so many nights at Beer Bistro…) all I got when I tasted this was a lot of sweetness with a strong aftertaste of alcohol. Since we were drinking these after eating, I suppose you could treat it like a icewine but it has none of the finesse one might expect from a benchmark example of the latter.

img_0226The Korrupter didn’t taste much different, even though it’s supposed to be a barley wine. With Alex, his partner and I sharing a bottle, it was just enough to be acceptable without going overboard but I don’t doubt that was because we weren’t having more than about 75mL each. I’m not a fan of this type of beer in general but Mill St. did it better with their winter release.

Critical Mass has some fruit flavour in there but the sweetness and booze dominate. I can’t imagine drinking an entire bottle of this.  Where are the hops? Shouldn’t there be some bitterness in there??

img_0225Ostensibly brewed for shock value and rushed into production to meet licensing restrictions, this pack is yet another example of Trafalgar pushing a concept at the expense of taking the time to develop a truly great beer. Not surprisingly, this product is discontinued but you can find it at Summerhill. I say go with some icewine instead.

Overall, I would stick with the Green Tea Ale and the Double Chocolate Stout. The majority of these are not worth going back for seconds and when it comes down to it, that’s the big question that I think ultimately determines a beer’s worth.

I’ll have the second half of my beer review up next week.

Bar Blacklist – VIP Billiards

10
May/09
5

vip

The bar I went to tonight has prompted me to create a whole new category on this blog. Yes, it was that bad.

From now on, when I go to a bar that is so godawful that I walk away wanting those hours of my life back, I’m going to write about it here.

Maybe that’s not fair though. After all, we all have different tastes and opinions, right? Maybe some people enjoy bad draft beer, auto-grats, watered-down cocktails and indifferent service. Normally, I forgive the last one on the list but the first three really make it hard to overlook.

So you don’t clean your pipes. Every beer is stale; the kind of taste you might get if the bartender put together a pint with the spill from all of the pints they’ve been pulling all night. Some (Rickard’s Red) are downright near-skunky but we let it pass because we were having a good time (and we’re probably too nice for own good anyway).

Your cocktails suck. I’ve had every kind of shitty drink you can find in this city but I’ve yet to come across one that’s watered-down and this bar’s definitely a contender. My coworker’s lychee martini might’ve been almost 1 oz of booze if we’d been pissed but it was the first drink of the night and it was pretty damn obvious.

The mediocre service I could overlook except that our table was slapped with an automatic gratuity.

What the fuck?

We ordered no food and you never bothered to tell us that you were going to tack it on to our bill (nor was there any mention of it on the menu). I’ve yet to go to a bar that does that and I wouldn’t have minded so much if the drinks had been good and the bartender had put together our round of shots in a timely manner (ten minutes is a bit much).

The icing on the cake had to be the manager-on-duty coming up to us and offering us VIP cards for (get this) free pool if we referred his establishment to our guests when they asked us for a recommendation. Then, and only then, would we could get a free game of pool and a line-bypass.

Whoop-de-fuckin’-doo.

VIP Lounge & Billiards Club is a shithole.

Bars that don’t carry bitters

8
May/09
1

bitters2

In the past week, I’ve found myself at two bars that don’t carry bitters.

I don’t have high expectations when it comes to going out because this is Toronto but I would’ve thought that most bars, especially ones in Little Italy, would carry Angostura bitters. Maybe not Pechaud’s or Averna or even Unicum but Angostura for sure, right?

Wrong.

Toronto, you have managed to disappoint me once again. The first bar, Clinton’s, is not exactly the most classy place but they had a nice selection of bourbon and I felt that a Manhattan would hit the spot. No luck although the bartender did offer to throw a splash of Jagermeister in there which failed to make its mark.

Now I like Clinton’s. It’s a good venue and every week, they throw Shake a Tail, one of the best dance parties in town. I’m quite happy to stick to beer and shots there but part of me wants to buy them a bottle of Angostura’s just so I can have it available when I’m around.

The second bar I went to, Strange Love, didn’t get off as easy. It comes across as the Social of Little Italy which is not a compliment. The Social, for those who don’t know, is a coke den/club on West Queen St. West that caters to hipsters and a motley assortment of jocks and 9-to-5ers looking for a little credibility. Strange Love is like The Social’s stranger, grubbier little brother with no cover and cheap drinks (if you get there before 11).

Still, any place that offers bottle service and claims to offer a “sophisticated lounge experience” should damn well have some fuckin’ bitters to offer! I was feeling poorly and thought that an ounce of bitters in my rye and ginger would be just the thing to settle my stomach but the girl didn’t even know what I was talking about.

You may be asking yourselves why I’m working myself up into a righteous fury over an absent bottle. You may even feel that this smacks of outright pretension (point taken) but I can’t see why any bar worth its salt can’t take the time to head out to the nearest grocery store and pick up a bottle of Angostura. It’s cheap, it will probably last forever and when an individualist like me comes in, you’ll keep him happy.

It’s like not having scotch! Yes, we know the plebes will stick with their bar rail and god bless ‘em, they represent the bread-and-butter of every bar. God knows I serve enough on the weekends and I certainly don’t begrudge them their mediocrity.

But!

When someone enters your bar and desires something a little more substantial, maybe a drink with a little complexity (and I cannot think of a more appropriate example of this than a Manhattan, the king of cocktails), you damn well better have the ingredients on hand to please them.

Especially when everything about your bar suggests that you care about that kind of thing.

I leave you with my favorite version of the Manhattan which isn’t that radically different than the classic recipe except I generally forgo rye in favor of bourbon and I like a touch more vermouth and bitters. And I really like cherries.

JAPHET’S MANHATTAN

2 oz Woodford Reserve (substitute Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey if necessary)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
4 dashes Angostura bitters
3 Maraschino cherries

Stir the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the cherries.