Playing with St. Germain

8
May/09
0

As I mentioned before, my roommate Andrea brought me a bottle of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur from NYC as a birthday present and, of course, I had to play.

With my neighbor Jacqueline as a willing participant, we started off with a refreshing apertif of Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut mixed with the St. Germain. It was good but eventually, we were ready for something more and so we went tiki for the next drink.

TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO

1 oz Sailor Jerry Rum
1/2 oz St. Germain Elderflower
1/2 oz Marie Brizard Banane
2 oz pear juice
2 oz passionfruit juice
1 tablespoon mango sorbet
splash of L’abbé Francois Cassis

Pour the splash of Cassis into a cocktail glass.
Shake and strain all of the other ingredients and layer on top of the Cassis.

It was good, if a bit sweet, but I wouldn’t have more than one. What was missing was a bit of spice, maybe some carbonation and I had some ideas of where to go from here.

THE MONTELEONE CANDIDATE

3/4 oz Sailor Jerry Rum
1/2 oz St. Germain Elderflower
1/4 oz oz Marie Brizard Banane
1/4 oz McGuinness Apricot Brandy
1/4 oz Grand Marnier
splash of orange juice
1 oz lime juice
6-8 slices of ginger, diced
ginger beer
slice of ginger

Shake and strain the first eight ingredients into a cocktail glass.
Top up with ginger beer.
Rub slice of ginger along the rim and use as garnish.

cocktail

It was sampled and proclaimed to be quite good; good enough that I experienced a moment of  insanity where I envisioned it featuring prominently on the list at my friend’s bar but that was temporary and the pleasure gained from watching folk’s eyes light up as they imbibe it far outweighs any proprietary concerns I might entertain. I’ve never been one to hoard a good recipe anyway…

Also, I’d be a dishonest bastard if I didn’t admit that this contest totally influenced my decision to publish this recipe tonight.

Putting together the perfect birthday bar

24
Apr/09
1

The big day has arrived and passed but the party is happening tomorrow. I still haven’t decided upon a cocktail and in the absence of any notable flashes-of-brilliance, recipe-wise I’ve decided to cover my bases with a wide variety of liquor.

So far, I’ve picked up an ever-reliable bottle of Centennial 10 Year Old Rye, Stoli (I used to buy Iceberg but then I realized that Stoli was just a dollar more and quantifiably better), Martini Rosso, Hungarian Grande  Cuvée Brut and McGillicuddy’s Peach Schnapps. My friend Alex McLeod and his girlfriend gifted me with a bottle of Gianduia chocolate-flavoured grappa which I suspect I will have little problem finding a use for.

On the day of, I’ll probably head back to the LCBO and pick up some Sailor Jerry Rum, Grand Marnier, McGuiness Melon and Banane and Hendrick’s Gin. If I have any money left over, I might buy some Jagermeister, Luxardo Amaretto and Unicum bitters but I have some Angostura at home which will do in a pinch.

Mix-wise, I’ve already made some simple syrup and I have a bottle of grenadine lying around too. I don’t have any time to make anything else (unless I can persuade my mum to help me make  a bottle of orgeat syrup) but I’m probably going to buy some juices (cranberry, orange, acai blueberry, pomegranate, aloe), pop (soda water, ginger beer and green tea ginger ale) and maybe a four-pack of Red Bull.

Fruit will probably be nothing more exotic than a ready supply of lemons and limes but I’d like to have some ginger root on hand. I also have spices left over from the last party and I’d like to use ‘em more this time.

For the wine-drinkers, I have three bottles of red kicking around: the Pascual Toso Malbec 2007, the Barco Reale di Carmignano Capezzana 2006 and the Cent’are Nero d’Avola 2006. After my last post on Fuzion, I should probably get a bottle of that too but I’m not sweating it.

Yesterday, I decided against a bottle of Ironstone Symphony 2007  but I might change my mind tomorrow.

I let other people bring beer. My brother Lowell is always good for a mini-keg of Heineken.

Looking at this list, I think I might very well be going overboard but I replenished my bar in such a long time and I really want to do my own Fridgin’ Out: Liquor Cabinet Edition.

In completely unrelated news, I’ve sampled the rest of the LCBO’s 2009 spring beer release, including the new Innis & Gunn Blonde! I’ll probably post that when I recover from the inevitable party hangover, sometime next week.

innis-gunn-blonde

(Image taken from ralph&dot’s Flickr photostream.)

The best, cheap booze in Ontario

13
Feb/09
2

boozeIn honor of Esquire’s list of the best, cheap liquor one can buy in the US, I’m proud to present an Ontario-centric version featuring all of the best buys I’ve found at the LCBO. This knowledge wasn’t bought in some fly-by-night operation; it’s the result of many years of drunken trial-and-error as I slowly but surely trained my taste buds to appreciate all things alcoholic.

Like many young folks, I went for coolers because they were cheap and weren’t as gross as my virgin tongue made beer taste. I quickly found out that their sickly-sweet nature hid one hell of a hangover and I quickly progressed to old standards like rum-and-cokes and vodka-and-sevens.

The nightclub I was working at had a special version of these for employees that came in a pint glass and that worked just fine for me awhile until I got bored; a situation was paralleled at home as I got tired of having the same old cheap beer and liquor. (Wine didn’t really register for me at the time because it was something people brought over when they didn’t drink the above two which was inconceivable to me. “How could you not like beer?”, I thought, conveniently forgetting my inability to even finish one Corona back in ‘97.)

So I start buying new products. I’d usually stick with beer (because in terms of individual cost, I had the least to lose) and I came to see there was a happy medium between the bottom-of-the-barrel shit and the super-premiums. I also started going to quite a few more tastings and between trying new stuff at bars and availing myself of the tasting booth at the Queens Quay LCBO, I built up my tongue to supplement what I was learning online.

Fast forward to the near-present. A year-long stay at Joy Bistro as their bartender leaves me with a healthy appreciation for wine and I set about building a little wine-cellar at home, hampered only by my budget and thirsty roommates.

I discover how much fun buying wine can be and it’s much more forgiving than beer. Statistically-speaking, even choosing by label produces passable results but that soon gives way to being aware of regions and appellations, how the same grape will grow differently depending on where its from and differentiating the good years from the mundane and the bad.

Now, I spend far more money on wine than I do on beer and liquor combined. With the added bonus of having no roommates for a month, I’ve managed to build up a healthy collection in a couple of weeks and it’s gratifying to be able to go into the LCBO and know the taste of at least two-thirds of their inventory from experience.

But let’s go on to the list. I will cover one sterling example from pretty much every category but, unlike the Esquire list, my choices are equally drinkable straight or mixed in a cocktail. I demand that kind of versatility in my bar and I think you should too.

One caveat: I haven’t included any cognacs, sake or bourbon because I don’t think you should skimp on any of them ( but feel free to suggest something if you have a favorite).

centenFirst up is the Centennial Rye 10 Years Old Whiskey. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t get too much into again but suffice it to say, this is the best blended whiskey I’ve ever had for the measly price of $24 ($23 if you act now) and despite scary rumors, the man at Queens Quay insists that the LCBO is standing behind this product for the foreseeable future; even in absence of the heavy sales it so rightfully deserves.

I love this straight but it makes a lovely rye-and-ginger (go with ginger beer for that spicy kick-in-the-head feel) too. If you’re feeling fly and have ten more, go for the 15 Years Old, sip slowly and let the fireworks kick in. You don’t have to thank me; just drop a bottle off at 585 Gerrard. St East.

zubrowkaNext up, we have Żubrówka vodka, an herbal-flavored vodka from a region bisecting Poland and Belarus. Like Centennial, it retails for only $24 but is unfortunately not quite so available and can usually be found in the Vintages section.

It starts of grassy then gets a bit fiery before finishing on a slightly-bitter note. I get hints of vanilla mixed with almond but it’s more mild than one might think for a so-called flavored vodka. Traditionally, it’s served with apple juice but I find it much more versatile than that. Try Green Tea Ginger Ale with a splash of grenadine, for example, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

For those purists out there, go for Iceberg Vodka. It’s nothing special but it’s definitely better than Smirnoff or any of the other cheap Canadian brands available right now.

sjMy next choice is a bit more expensive but still of good value. Sailor Jerry Rum can be had for $27 and for all of that cherry, vanilla goodness, you’d be hard-pressed to do better. I like it with banana liqueur but you can go the traditional route with a Coke (hold the lime this time) or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a touch of extra-decadent gluttony.

By this point, you may have noticed that all of my choices are slightly-tweaked versions of what is regularly served but I’d rather have that than the same-old, same-old, especially when it’s cheaper.

50672I don’t buy much gin because I like Hendrick’s and I can’t afford to regularly stock that but when a party calls for some, I’ll generally go with Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin.

The juniper and savory spices come to the fore but I also taste the coriander. It’s light character belies a complexity that rewards its use in a martini or even with the standard tonic.

Like Sailor Jerry, it’s very nearly breaking the cheap bank at $30 but all of the really good gins cost at least $12 more so you’re still saving a bit and at 86 proof, it outperforms the 94 proof Broker’s London Dry which is still not worth it at $6 less.

I’m not going to feature any liqueurs but suffice it to say that you should probably stock at least three; apple, melon and banana and just buy whatever’s cheapest. Midori was the only one of the lot that noticeably tasted better and it’s discontinued, more’s the pity, so follow the sale and you’ll be fine.

On to beer! If I’m cheap (and we are today!) I’ll buy Grolsch tallboys (currently a steal at $2.05) and if I’m near-broke, I’ll go for Bavaria Holland ($1.79 each for a $10.75 six-pack) or Tuborg’s Gold or Pilsner (both currently at $2.15 but quite often discounted).

If I’m looking for something a bit tastier, I might go for a Creemore (still decent at $2.60) or Dragon Stout ($1.81 each for a $10.90 six-pack)

31Last, but most certainly not least, I’m going to mention my house red, white and sparkling.  Currently, like most of Quebec, I’m in love with the Fuzion Shiraz/Malbec 2008 from Argentina.

It’s extremely well-balanced and versatile and can either be enjoyed on its own or with poultry, fish or pasta. I like how smooth and fruity it is and the tannins don’t rub me the wrong way either. Best part is, it’s only $7.45 so buy two and leave that Valpolicella on the shelf.

For my white, we head across the Pacific to New Zealand for the Monkey Bay 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. $14.95 buys you an intense fella with plenty of acid and structure. It’s less grassy and more fruity with a bit of citrus. I like it with chicken, pork and seafood.

If bubbles are what you crave, I recommend the Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut. Dry and light, it’s everything a cheap sparkling wine should be and it’s way better than many more expensive bottles at a mere $11.95. It works well as a base for a Kir Royale or a Mimosa or can be enjoyed on its own as an apéritif.

And that, dear readers, is that. The entire bar can be had for under $200 or you can buy whichever bottles strike your fancy. You can rest easy knowing you’ll be getting the best, damn value for your coin this side of the border and you’ll be able to satisfy all of your party’s wants without hurting your wallet.


Creating a better cocktail for tomorrow’s party

23
Jan/09
0


Or you can always just buy yourself something nice. Drink less, drink better!

I’m having a bit of a shindig tomorrow with the new (temp) roommates. Our Facebook invite (which may or may not be visible to you) quickly found itself divided into the yes’s, maybes and no’s and our expectations of what the party might be adjusted as more and more people confirmed.

While I was originally going to buy almost nothing for the party and had thus designated it a “BYOB event” I got caught up in the excitement of having guests over and since several of them are dear friends and colleagues, I resolved to do a little something to impress.

I headed out to the LCBO having no idea what I was going to pick up beyond a bottle of Centennial 10 Year-Old Rye which has now become standard in my bar. I ended up stepping up to the 15 Year-Old because it was a dollar cheaper! Apparently, no one is buying it which is incomprehensible to me but I’m not your average consumer with a hard-on for CC, Wiser’s and Crown Royale.

People, seriously, get your asses over to the LCBO and pick up one of the smoothest blended Canadian whiskies you will ever see for a mere $23. Don’t be a fool, this will be gone from Ontario shelves in two months.

I also picked up a seriously-discounted bottle of Navan, old favorite Sailor Jerry Rum, Luxardo Amaretto, Iceberg Vodka and Marie Brizard’s Banane liquer. By then, I had some idea of what I was going to do so I stopped over at The Big Carrot, one of Toronto’s best organic stores, for some allspice, cloves and cinamon. I figure I’ll be able they’ll work really well with several of the liquers I’ve got but I’ve got to work on making sure I don’t make ‘em too dusty; powders can be tricky.

Lastly, I got a whack-load of fresh fruit and some mixers (pineapple, guava and ginger beer). With all of this, I’m sure I can come up with at least half-a-dozen amazing cocktails to wow a favored few with.

When I got home, I tested out a few ideas, with my roommates as willing guinea pigs and the results were pronounced delicious. First, I produced a base from which I would then add three different final ingredients.

The Base

3 oz of Sailor Jerry’s Rum
2 oz of Navan Vanilla Liquer
4 oz of pineapple juice

First round, I added a splash of ginger beer and it was very good with a spicy bite that finished smooth.

Next up, we tried the base on it’s own and it was much too strong for shooting although one could comfortably sip it.

For the third round, I added a splash of guava juice and a couple drops of grenadine. This one was my favorite, keeping the spiciness of the first concoction but adding just a touch of sweetness.

We then had a round of modified “Banana Jacks”; substituting the Centennial rye for the bourbon and adding a third of Navan for the vanilla. It was really good as well; the perfect antidote for this miserable weather we’re having.

I’m sure I’ll come up with some more ideas tomorrow but I’m quite pleased with the bar as it stands now and I don’t doubt we’re all gonna have some fun tomorrow.