How to open a bottle of wine with your shoe + six other links + four more links

8
Nov/09
0

For those of you stuck on a street with no corkscrew and a crowd of friends eagerly awaiting to imbibe.

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Do you know the difference between whiskey and whisky? The Kitchn fills us in.

The Pegu Blog reveals just how close we came to losing Angostura Bitters in the latest economic crisis.

In case you can’t find enough uses for apples this fall, SLOSHED! gives us the Bum’s Rush. I think I like apple juice with tequila even more than with Zubrowka

In more serious news, we’re now being told that mixing cocaine and alcohol is bad for you ‘cos it forms a whole new chemical in your liver. There’s a definite British vibe, seeing as this is the Guardian and all, but I can’t say Canada’s on the level with our neighbors across the pond, seeing as our coke’s really quite shitty at the moment (hearsay, I swear!).

In Spain, there’s a bit of a debate going on regarding teenagers and their right to throw public parties called “botellons”. Neighbors talk of noise and vandalism, teens say they’re being scape-goated. Regardless, it sure beats that period of my youth where I hung out in this public park in Whitby, furtively smoking joints and wishing I had some kind of booze.

And proving yet again that Canada’s one of the most efficient squelchers of fun ever, the City of Richmond, the B.C. liquor board and even Ottawa are burying the Dutch in red tape when all they want to do is bring their beloved Holland House tradition to the 2010 Olympics.

God forbid we should let people have a good time. I’m sure these policy-Nazis are afraid that if Canadians realize how much fun the rest of the world is having, they’ll stop putting up with some of the most draconian alcohol laws around.

One day, I’d like to walk around town with a beer in my hand. One day, I’d like to be able to bring my favorite bottle of wine with me to a restaurant for a reasonable corking fee without having the owner jump through bureaucratic hoops. One day, I’d like to be able to decide for myself which liquor store to patronize (and that will be the one that offers stuff I can’t find anywhere else). Hell, I want to be able to buy it at the corner store and then walk back up to my apartment and share it with my friends! One day, I’d like to be able to drink past 2 in the morning because I had work till last call and maybe I’m not quite done yet.

One day…

It seems like it’s been a busy day for booze and I have some more links. Instead of putting up another post, I’m going to add ‘em to this one.

If you’re a construction worker, you probably drink a lot. Top three professions are: construction, agriculture and general labour which is not much of a surprise. The report by the group appropriately titled Ensuring Solutions to Alcoholic Problems also found that male-dominated industries had more incidences with excessive-drinking and job absenteeism.

As far as I’m concerned, the only really interesting bit of information was that service and sales (my area if you will) ranked a solid fourth and fifth, respectively. (I knew we were all drunks but I didn’t know we ranked that high.)

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, based out of Oregon, had not 1 but 12 themed cocktails for their latest event. When not drowning your sorrows in The Yog-Sothoth, you could order everything from a Twisted Tentacle to the Pamakazi of Ibn-Ghazi. While some of them look fairly derivative, I still dig the idea.

Fancy a taste of the world’s strongest beer? Utopia, produced by Samuel Adams, reigns in at a hefty 27% ABV and is a veritable stew of yeasts, malts and hops with a bit of Triple Bock. It’ll cost ya $150 but at that strength and price range, it’s more like a spirit than anything.

How to redesign a bar

20
Apr/09
0

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, the Akia is one of my favorite bars.

Not only are Charlie and Vivian willing to take risks with new products when the majority of their current clientele drink only Budweiser (why do so many Asians drink Bud anyway?) but if you happen to come semi-frequently and have a favorite beer, they’ll probably hold some for you. My friend Gil and I drink Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, this other fellow usually goes for Tsingtao and John, the resident, affable know-it-all will have Molson Export and nothing else.

They have a bottle of Żubrówka on hand (my suggestion) and they said they’ll bring in some Centennial as well. Their prices are very fair and they treat everyone who walks into their bar as a potential friend.

And yet the Akia is not busy. Their weekends are dead and even happy hour (generally the point when bars like this do most of their business) is not as good as it should be. Charlie sat down at my table tonight and asked me why. After listening to his concerns, I brought up several points for him to consider.

1. The bar has a bad rep.

The Akia has a lot of history. For the past decade, it’s been a dive bar that bums, gangsters and cokeheads flocked to for its anything-goes, laissez-faire attitude. You could go there and know that the owners wouldn’t hassle you. The cops also generally stayed away although this changed as time went by.

Most passerbys might not be aware of everything that went on inside but you can bet they saw the motley assortment of people entering, leaving and smoking their cigarettes outside. One of the first assessments many potential guests will make of a venue is the crowd and I would imagine many of the folks in the tonier area north of the bar probably avoid the Akia for that reason.

The best way to overcome this is through word-of-mouth, some careful flyer distribution and a careful application of the convert-one-person-they’ll-bring-their-friends approach.

akia2. The sign sucks.

The second thing that a potential guest will look at is the sign. It can tell you a lot about the place. Akia’s sign is old, too foreign and rather cheap-looking. The bits about the “grill” and “cafe” are definitely misleading and the subheading on the sign on the left advertising the products available makes it seem a bit low-class. The whole sign seems designed to attempt to appeal to everyone by throwing out words without considering what the establishment can offer.

The colours, make me think of Ikea and are a bit too convenience store and not enough neighborhood bar. This sign has been here longer than I have and it should be trashed.

I’d do away with the garish colours and go for earth tone with a white or red type. It shouldn’t be too hip or too grungy either… Like Czehoski but with less of a look-at-me attitude.

3. They have a great location they’re not taking advantage of.

That, in a nutshell, is what the Akia should be. When I think neighborhood bar, I think of the Gem or the Only and while I have a definite bias towards individualistic establishments that have an eclectic jukebox, good beer and interesting people, I don’t think I’m way off base here in proposing that kind of template for the Akia. Hell, they already have the first two; all they need is the third.

The area between the Danforth and Gerrard is full of young couples and families who would probably be up for a casual weekday pint without having to go more than a couple blocks in either direction. Sure, East Chinatown is predominantly Asian but there are still quite a few young artist-types who might dig it too. And as much as I like Queen St. East, I don’t always want to go down there.

4. The interior is not inviting.

The ceiling is this dull, rusty colour and three of the walls are beige. The wall behind the bar is a nice, rich red and the lights are kind of sexy but two good bits can’t overcome the vomitous mess closing in on all three sides. The chairs and tables, while a bit bare-bone, are workable and the TVs are fine. The tiles on the floor suck but since replacing them would be very expensive, I think they’d be better off sticking with a new paint job.

I’d leave the one red wall and paint the rest of them dark brown or black. The wood panelling and trim should be sanded down and varnished; this would give it a much classier feel and make up for the cheap seating.

5. They don’t have a patio.

To the north of the bar is a rather large rectangular piece of asphalt that is not being used for anything. It would make a perfect patio and although it would look out onto the Don Jail, it would get a fair bit of sun and allow the smokers to sit and drink instead of congregating around the entrance.

According to Vivian, the third-last owner enquired with City Hall about building a patio and was told that there were issues of “hydro access”. I told her she should check this out herself and see if there was some kind of work-around; there’s no harm in asking.

Even without a patio, I think that making nice with the neighbors, changing the sign and repainting the interior would definitely give the Akia a chance to attract a different crowd. These things do take time but Charlie and Vivian would be improving the area and they’d probably make some money too.

They seem to be willing to overhaul their image and I’d be happy to help; we’ll see if anything comes of it.

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.