Robert Parker brands wine bloggers corporate whores + four more links


liquor1Having (mostly) recovered from the birthday party I am busy gathering my wits together for a bevy of beer posts I’ve been planning (‘09 spring LCBO beer lineup, the new Innis & Gunn Blonde and a requested review of Sleeman’s Fine Porter) but after a sleeping most of the day, I’m still not up to recalling all of my tasting notes so a post of links it is!

Robert Parker caused a bit of a fuss and an uproar on his forum (and on the Internet at large) when he bitched about the Wine Blogger’s Conference and what he perceived as collusion between bloggers and the Californian wine industry. An excerpt of this diatribe follows:

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel, car rental, hotels and meals?)…or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet”

Mr. Parker, who I must add is one of the most important writers when it comes to wine, then goes on to state just how much industry cock the bloggers are sucking:

“bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)….hopefully the smarter consumers will recognize the game plan of both the California wine industry and the bloggers-they are certainly more in bed together than I ever imagined.”

While I don’t doubt that bloggers exist out there who are reaping some kind of reward for schilling for companies; just as many (if not more) don’t.

Blogging is often something you do on the side. It’s having passion for whatever you write about and wanting to cast a spotlight on (in the case of booze) products and the recipes used to employ them.

While I certainly like the idea of being sent a couple of bottles (and if you’re reading this and want to send me some, feel free!) I currently buy everything I review from the LCBO (and occasionally The Beer Store). This means I don’t get to write about everything I might want to write about but even if I did get sent products by promotional reps, I’d still give my honest opinion because at the end of the day, if I’m not drinking it on a semi-regular basis, I’m not going to recommend it to everyone.

I want people to enjoy booze as much as I do and I really, really want to expand their horizons when it comes to what they serve at home or what they order at a bar.

Parker et al. have managed to make  a living out of what we do and I would argue that that’s the ambition of many a blogger. We would like to make a living from our writing and we’re going about it the best way we know how. Conferences are fantastic for networking and I don’t see how these events hurt the established pros. There will always be an ear bent their way, as it should be, just as there will always be new blood looking to mingle and get in on the action.

Now that I’m done with my own diatribe, we can move on to something more fun: alcohol in a pressurized can (which I found via Bevlog)!

Two fellows from Atlanta, Paul Urbanowicz and Tyler Moore, have invented flavored, alcoholic whipping cream. Clocking in at 18 ABV, it comes in four flavors: orange, cinamon, macadamia, and almond. Produced in Georgia, it should be available in Nashville and Gainesville by Halloween which does me a fat lot of good up in Canada but I can always dream…

Over at the New York Times, Philip Ward gets comfortable with mezcal which is good news for me ‘cos I’ve been eyeing that bottle of Cazadores at the LCBO for some time now. Maybe he’ll even open a bar in Toronto someday?

Want to make the next legendary cocktail but not quite sure how to go about it? Darcy O’Neil over at Art of Drink writes about popular cocktail recipes, how they got that way and how your own version can get a little attention.

Imbibe magazine’s latest video features Jerry Morgenthaler demonstrating three citrus garnishes (including my favorite, the flamed orange peel). Try ‘em, they’re that easy! (Although I didn’t know until know how much I needed a channel knife until now…)

(Image taken from Agency 26.)

Putting together the perfect birthday bar


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.


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

Fuzion in the top four at LCBO


fuzionYou may or may not have read about it but Beppi Crosariol over at the Globe and Mail wrote about the overwhelming popularity of Fuzion with consumers at the LCBO.

Apparently, it’s the number four product sold at everyone’s favorite provincial monopoly (right behind Heineken, Corona and Smirnoff vodka) What’s interesting to me is how a wine from Argentina, with no advertising and plenty of approving worth-of-mouth, has bumped Bacardi from the fourth spot to play the field with those perpetually-popular big boys of booze.

Corona spent a total of $30 million on print advertising alone last year. Heineken spent $50 million launching Heineken Premium Light (a fuckin’ light beer of all things…). I would imagine Smirnoff spends less (being a Canadian company and not having quite the global dominance of the first two brands) but it probably throws way more money into its advertising than Zuccardi does.

What then, can account for the love people have for Fuzion, the little wine that could? Beppi (I don’t know him but it’s kind of fun to call him that, try it) noted that some folks accused him of fanning the flames of its popularity with his approval of the affordable red that delivers a big taste for its price.

While Mr. Crosariol may have fueled the fire roaring under Fuzion, he didn’t spark it. Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, the National Post and the Toronto Star all reported on the phenomenon but to truly understand what’s going on here, we should look to Malcolm Gladwell and his classifaction of the stages of societal adoption of new ideas/products/etc. known as the diffusion model.

You have the Innovators, the visionaries who prize revolutionary change and will take risks to try out whatever’s new and interesting. The Early Adopters come next. They watch the innovators, evaluate what they do and join in.

Because of the Internet and greater saturation of writing on wine, approval of Fuzion was able to quickly spread in tandem with more personal methods of recommendation. These early adopters congregate on forums like Chowhound and the innovators, those who pay attention to these forums, in turn write and talk about this information through their own channels which is then filtered into the consciousness of the majority. This is where Beppi and Co come in.

They’re followed by the Early and Late Majorities; those people who while they may not have their finger on what cool kids are doing pay attention to the media and other critics.  With this media attention, you can bet the Laggards, those of us who value tradition and the tried-tested-and-true, will finally start paying attention and the next six months will either see them adopt it as a red wine standard (a la Yellowtail) or pass on it as a fad.

There are a couple of factors that will definitely affect whether this adoption takes place. While the change from the 2007 varietal to the 2008 went unnoticed by many, a sharp dip in quality could leave a bad flavor in some people’s mouths and result in a drop in sales.

Also, raising the price could lead to Fuzion competing with a higher quality of wine, at least in some people’s eyes and also result in a drop in its popularity. A similar thing (albeit on a much smaller scale) happened with Les Jamelles, a winery from France. Beloved by merchants and restaurateurs alike, it quickly became must-have by-the-glass option for those looking for that magical Old World median between price and quality. However, increased demand led to a lack of availabilty and was quickly followed by a rise in price. While it still has a good reputation (it’s merlot and sauvignon blanc are both very fine) it’s been replaced by The Next Thing on many a wine list.

Mind you, Les Jamelle’s merlot was never available at the LCBO and they never had to deal with fickle consumers. A change in cost could drastically affect Fuzion’s market share, particularly because one of the wine’s chief selling points is its $7.45 ticket price. While adding a couple of dollars may not seem like a big deal, a shopper at the LCBO may pass on a more expensive Fuzion, particularly if they remember reading about how it used to cost less or worse, they remember buying it for less. On overcrowded wine shelves with the LCBO carefully tracking its process, a severe enough dip in sales could mark Fuzion for eventual delisting.

Another good example is Bohemian, secretly brewed by Molson. The go-to beer for those of us looking to throw cheap parties, art gallery-openings and what-have-you, it was sold for an unbelievable $26 a case! Not only that but it tasted better than all of the other discount brands out there.  There were plenty of times I’d go to The Beer Store looking to get a couple of cases only to find that they were sold out.

When the price was raised to $28, suddenly Bohemian became way less appealing. It began to compete with beers that were, quite frankly, much better and while I don’t have any hard numbers to back me up, I don’t see Bohemian at many parties I go to and I bet you anything they don’t sell half as much as they used to.

The appeal of Fuzion goes beyond its attractive price point and has quite a bit to do with society’s perceived learning curve when it comes to appreciating wine. Many people simply don’t know what wine they should by. Its taken forever to get beyond simple denotations of “red” and “white” and now we find folks talking about “liking chardonnays” or “hating pinot”.

These people are intimidated by wine. They don’t have a McDonald’s equivalent of beer (say Heineken) from which to base their expectations on. Imagine someone coming along and saying there’s a terrific, cheap wine out there that works pretty well with lots of different food and can be consumed rather casually? I would hazard a guess that that would be quite a relief for your average joe staring at twenty-odd bottles in front of him.

Also, there’s the self-fulfilling pride “the expert” can take in recommending a sure thing plucked from the depths of relative obscurity. This person becomes, at least temporarily, cool. They know about what’s going on, even if its tangential knowledge, and unlike beer or liquor, having a working knowledge of wine is something that’s generally considered to be an admirable skill.

Even those of who know some things still can appreciate a good recommendation. I was introduced to Fuzion through my neighbor Jacqueline Rendell, who brought over a bottle one day. She in turn had been given a few bottles from a friend of hers who really liked them. I ended up buying half-a-dozen bottles of my own over the winter and I mentioned Fuzion in my post about the best, cheap booze in Ontario. Several people who read this blog have subsequently told me that they now stock their home with Fuzion on a regular basis and we only have to go back to Beppi to see that this is a personal example of what’s happening all over Ontario and Quebec.

As knowledge of Fuzion reaches its “tipping point”, this will have less of an impact but for now, Fuzion’s cool image will undoubtedly benefit from the advice of whomever we turn to for wine info and its price will only sweeten the deal.

Veggies in your cocktails + nine more links


liquorTiare over at A Mountain Of Crushed Ice gets into using vegetables in your cocktails. I’m really interested in trying out beets and plaintain but they all look pretty good to me. It might also help me feel better about not getting my eight servings a day.

The Intoxicologist takes issue with patriotic booze and so do I. The idea of exploiting an American’s patriotism to market cheap booze while making vague statements about supporting “everyone in uniform” (without saying which organizations they send money to) doesn’t sit well with me.

Science Daily talks about a new study completed in the UK that claims that “beer goggles” do not affect drinker’s perceptions of age. The idea is that this might prevent men from claiming that they didn’t know that their partners were underage. This is all very fine and well but doing a study in a pub is very different from doing one in a nightclub. And what about when you’re all on ecstasy?

Vietnamese snake wine with big-ass cobras in it!

Martin always said so but now we have some sense of what having Kingsley for a dad must’ve been like. Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog reviews “Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis”. Like many famous British drunkards, Amis Sr. was really good at being an insufferable prick but you gotta love quotes like these:

“If asked what you think [about the wine], say breezily, ‘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.”

I want a copy!

For those following in his footsteps, here’s a handy method for hiding booze at the office. Helen Gurley Brown might sneer but this sort of thing is generally frowned upon nowadays.

If drinking at work is too risky and you live in London, you could always visit the Alcoholic Architecture exhibit which makes you feel like you’re walking through a giant gin-and-tonic.

Finally, I have 116 bits of alcoholic trivia for you. While quite a few of ‘em fall into this bizarre wordplay category (otherwise known as “who gives a fuck”), the historical ones are genuinely interesting. For instance:

“33. The bill for a celebration party for the 55 drafters of the US Constitution was for 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that ‘ducks could swim in them’.”

YouTube Preview Image

I like how that one white dude really digs the music.

(Image taken from wil.widner’s Flickr photostream.)

How to redesign a bar


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.

How to make orgeat syrup + five more links


syrup_bottle_5What the hell is orgeat syrup, you ask? Why it’s made from almonds and if you don’t know why it would be an excellent addition to any cocktail, you clearly haven’t ever eaten a handful of freshly-roasted almonds. Learn how to make it over at Kaiser Penguin. (Sidenote: Trader Tiki mentions a orgeat syrup made with cane sugar and vanilla beans… fuck me.)

The Mixosoleum features one of my favorite spices, cinamon. Learn how to make cinamon syrup, what flavours go well with it and a few choice cocktail recipes.

Over at CHOW, they delve into the creation of bitters. Tired of Angostura or Peychaud’s? I know I am!

Tom of cogito, ergo creo starts a batch of elderberry liqueur and shows you how to do it yourself. With any luck, it’ll be ready just in time for summer.

By the way, don’t use your simple syrup recipe for all of these homemade concoctions! You want to make sugar syrup and Homebrew Underground will show you how.

Last but not least, a new bar opens up in Amsterdam that does away with the bartenders. To my mind, this is like renting a private karaoke room when you can go sing at your local bar. Leaving aside issues of crappy drinks and stupid drunkeness at bottle-service levels, it just sounds so goddamned contrived. Sure, you might have more control but whatever happened to enjoying unplanned, random fun? I’ll take the unknown any day…

(Image taken from the Design Year Book.)

The best cocktails of Joy Bistro


joy1While I was bartending at Joy Bistro, there were times where I was called upon to come up with something on the spur of the moment.

Sometimes, I initiated this and other times, the guest was genuinely interested in seeing what I could come up with. It was always a lot of fun and while not everything I came up was well-balanced or even original, no one ever seemed to mind too much.

I stopped working there last July and I don’t really know what they’re doing right now but I would imagine with summer right around the corner, they’re gearing up for patio season. Chef Bryan Burke is probably putting together some seasonal dishes for the menu, Roger Martelli from The Small Winemakers Collection (wine importer and all-around nice guy) is bringing over some new wines to add to the list and they might even be updating their cocktail list.

Last spring, I put a list together with Lindsey King, one of the managers at Joy, and since a year has nearly passed, I’m going to share some of those as well as a couple of others I created during my time there. Some of them are a bit simple but overall, I’m still pleased with what I achieved.

First up is a recipe based off of a cocktail I tried at Whisky Live 2008. If I was making it now I’d substitute Centennial Rye for Crown Royale. Originally, I used Grand Marnier instead of Triple Sec and bumped up the amount of ginger used to give it some kick and I still think those are good choices. I also added bitters because I think it goes with whisky like peanut butter does with jam.


1 1/2 oz Crown Royale (substitute Centennial 10 Year Old Rye)
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
2 oz orange juice
2 oz cranberry juice
dash Angostura bitters
dozen slices of fresh ginger

Slice the ginger into thin wedges.
Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.
Cut a slot into a wedge of ginger and rub it along the rim of the glass. Use wedge as a garnish.

Next up, was a cocktail I created for a party a client was throwing in our lounge. They wanted to use Jack Daniels and didn’t want it to be too sweet. One thing I really liked about this cocktail was that as the blueberries thawed, they’d start to float and by the time you got to the bottom, they were ready to eat!


1 oz Jack Daniels
1/2 oz Martini Rosso
1/2 oz Cassis
splash cranberry juice
dash grenadine syrup
three or four frozen blueberries

Rim the glass with white sugar.
Stir the first three ingredients into a martini glass.
Top with a splash of cranberry juice and grenadine syrup.
Toss in the blueberries.

The next one was a very simple variation on a traditional Italian method of serving sambuca and espresso (sambuca con mosca meaning “with flies”) with some vanilla vodka for some added oomph and flavour. In the winter time, I would sometimes forgo the shaking and serve it hot in an Irish Coffee Cup.


1 oz Absolut Vanilia (substitute Smirnoff Vanilla if you must)
1 oz Ramazzotti Sambuca
2 oz espresso
three espresso beans

Shake and strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with the beans.

This one started out as a shooter. I was looking for a variation on the popular Banana Jack shooter (Jack Daniels and banana liqueur) for a woman who didn’t like the banana flavour and didn’t much care for Jack either.


1 oz Jack Daniels
1 oz Frangelico
1/2 oz Phillips Butter Ripple Schnapps

Shake and strain into a rocks glass.

I wasn’t able to actually make the next cocktail at Joy because, aside from the one time I experimented with some juice I brought in, we never had any on hand. It’s actually quite difficult to find in Toronto and you’re best off making your own anyways.

The sorrel flower is a member of the hisbiscus family and is usually harvested around November and December. You can get them packaged at some West Indian stores; I recommend going down Kensington St. in the Market.

My friend Ernest made some punch for me that not only featured a generous portion of rum and wine but added vodka for good measure! My recipe’s  a bit simpler and not so traditional but still packs a punch.

First up, the recipe for sorrel juice:


1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat.
Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
Allow to cool, then pour into a clean bottle and refrigerate.

24 slices ginger
4 cups sorrel petals
4 tablespoons cloves
2 cups simple syrup

Cut ginger and let it sit for two hours. The flavour will become stronger.
Boil ginger in eight cups of water.
Once water is boiling add the sorrel and the cloves.
Boil for thirty minutes.
Cover tightly and steep overnight.
Strain the juice and add the simple syrup.
Stir, then pour into a clean bottle and refrigerate.

Now, onto the cocktail!


1 1/2 oz Flor de Cana Black Label 5 Year Old Rum (substitute any dark rum)
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz lime juice
dash Angostura bitters
4 oz sorrel juice

Stir the first two ingredients into a highball glass over ice.
Squeeze in half of a lime and add the bitters.
Top up with the sorrel juice.

Ginger beer is the second ingredient I enjoy using that, along with sorrel and mauby (hmm, must find a way to use mauby… maybe with Pernod or arak?), comprise the holy trinity of Caribbean drinks. I’ve always drank it ever since I was a child but I never thought of using it in a cocktail until I was hanging out with my friend Maz and she made this sans pineapple for me.


2 oz Captain Morgan Spiced Gold Rum
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz lime juice
4 oz ginger beer

Stir the first two ingredients into a highball glass over ice.
Squeeze in half of a lime.
Top up with the ginger beer.

Ever since I first tried Hendrick’s Gin, I’ve loved it. I’ve never been the biggest fan of gin, mostly because I don’t love the taste of juniper but Hendrick’s minimizes that in favor of cucumber and rose which I prefer to the more citrusy accents of Tanq 10.  Although I probably wouldn’t use it in a Negroni or even a G&T where it would be overwhelmed, I think Hendrick’s is terrific with soda water, a little cucumber and some fresh herbs.


2 oz Hendrick’s Gin
4 slices cucumber
1/2 oz lime juice
splash simple syrup
4 oz soda water
a pinch of fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, cilantro, thyme are all good choices)

Pour the lime juice and simple syrup into a highball glass.
Muddle the cucumber slices.
Shake the gin with the herbs and finely strain it in.
Top up with soda water.
Garnish with a nice sprig of whichever herb you used.

Since chocolate martinis are kind of boring, I decided to make mine spicy and although this was the most difficult cocktail to persuade guests to try, it definitely rewarded the adventurous! If you want to cut down on the spice, you can just use regular vodka with the spicy rim which is what I normally did.

You can make your own chili/chocolate powder by taking equal parts of each and mixing them together.


1 1/2 oz Inferno Pepper Pot Vodka (discontinued; you’ll have to infuse your own vodka or import one)
1/2 oz Creme de Cacao
chili/chocolate powder

Rim a martini glass with chili/chocolate powder.
Shake the first two ingredients and strain them in.

The last drink on my list was  a contribution from a regular at the bar. He used to come in with his girlfriend and after a few good dinners (and a couple rounds of shots) he shared this recipe with me. It’s one of those ’90s-style, layered concoctions but I always had fun making it.


1 oz Malibu Rum
1/2 oz Dr. McGillicuddy’s Peach Schnapps
1/2 oz Bol’s Blue Curacao
splash pineapple juice
dash grenadine syrup

Pour the grenadine syrup into a martini glass
Layer in the curacao with a spoon.
Shake the rum, peach schnapps and pineapple juice and layer that in as well.

I don’t make most of these cocktails anymore; I’m not working at a bar at the moment and if I’m having a party at home, I tend to spring for something new but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them. Hell, if the notion arises, you can bet I’ll consider pulling one of these out for a guest willing to try something new.

After all, it might seem a bit stale to you or me but most folks don’t venture too far beyond their comfort zones and there’s nothing wrong with giving them last year’s cocktail if they missed it the first time around.

Trafalgar’s beers still fall short of the mark


Trafalagar Brewery is well-known for three things: garish packaging, prodigious output and beer that often has a short shelf life.

Having never been out to see them (they’re in Oakville, I don’t have a car and I hate the GO train) I have no idea if their beers taste better on-site but when picking them up at the LCBO, you’re definitely better off if you don’t let them sit there too long.

oakWith that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I opened up my bottle of their Oak-Aged Rye (5% ABV, 650 mL). I’ve always enjoyed Innis & Gunn ( I like the boozy, warming quality… that suggestion of whiskey that lingers on your tongue) but I couldn’t imagine a brewery with the track record of Trafalgar besting that of Belhaven.

Still, I’d thrown a DVD of Milk on and there were wasabi peas to munch on so, with almost no expectations, I was prepared to spend a fairly pleasant evening.

It poured with almost no head which wasn’t a great start but the aroma was a bit better, if still rather faint, with malty notes of rye and caramel.  Flavour-wise, it’s quite sweet with a bit of spice and some wood but it’s definitely too thin and watery for my liking. As expected, bitterness features predominantly and there’s very little carbonation. Thankfully, it wasn’t too stale but I still prefer Innis & Gunn’s version.

I wasn’t that impressed and I wouldn’t buy it again but this is the best beer I’ve ever tried from them and if this is any indication of where they’re going, I look forward to seeing a product from them in the near future that I’d actually buy more than once.

cedarNext, I cracked open their Cedar Cream Ale (5% ABV, 341 mL). Similiarly to the first beer, it poured with practically no head at all; I would’ve really had to toss it in there to achieve anything. Grainy malt and a bit of toffee feature predomainantly in the aroma but no hint of the cedar. Malt also is the main element in the flavour with just a hint of cedar; swallow and you might miss it.It’s also got a very light mouthfeel and with almost no carbonation, it thankfully leaves just quickly as it came with a short, rather bitter finish.

Although both of these beers are better efforts than previous outings by Trafalgar, they both fall short of the efforts released by better breweries.

At least I had the peas.

How many dive bars carry Young’s Double Chocolate Stout?


Mine does.

Not only that but the Akia Bar & Grill (just north of Gerrard on Broadview, left side of the street) carries Steamwhistle Pilsner and Mill St. Stock Ale as well.

When I stop coughing like a possessed consumptive, I know where I’m going to be drinking my stout.