LCBO workers vote in favour of strike + seven more links


kimIt seems that full-time employees of the LCBO are fed-up with the company’s attempt to rely more on casual workers and are considering a strike action if their demands are not met. Considering that it takes a helluva long time to rise up in those ranks and accrue the benefits that come with that advancement, I’d say they have something to fight about.

Researchers at the University of California think they might have discovered the gene that enables you to drink till 4 am and then stumble into work the next day with nothing more than  a glancing headache. The downside is you just might be an alcoholic but we already knew that.

The Victory Cafe is having their annual Summer Cask Festival on July 12th and Great Canadian Pubs and Beer has all of the details.

I love how we talk about retro cocktails in Toronto but you rarely see anyone actually making ‘em!

But enough serious news… let’s make some cocktails!

Sloshed! features the Norma Jean, a drink made using Cynar (an amaro made from artichokes) and created by Vincenzo Marianella for the last MxMo.

Doug over at The Pegu Blog breaks down the Pisco Sour. I’ve never had the pleasure of trying one but I sure as hell want to now!

When they say a dash of absinthe, they mean just that! Jim Mathews of the Salt Lake Examiner reprints the recipe for the Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail and, having tried it, I can’t wait to pick up my next bottle of absinthe.

The Mixoloseum talks about wine-based cocktails. I particularly like how they have a recipe for sorrel syrup.

In a bit of (un)news, my submission for the contest to decide the new Monteleone cocktail was not chosen but the recipe they did pick features a couple of similar elements so I don’t feel too bad. Since I work at a hotel, I half-suspected it would be a bit too complex and I was right.

Maybe I should follow Thoreau’s advice and consider simplicity for future attempts?

(Image taken from letslookupandsmile’s Flickr photostream.)

Massive LCBO spring ‘09 release beer review


(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.

No more payola for LCBO workers + six more links


boozeThe LCBO has stopped its employees from accepting gifts from distilleries and breweries in order to fall in line with the Public Service of Ontario Act. Does this mean families will actually be able to afford Leafs tickets once more? (Probably not but it’s a start.)

When does an awareness campaign become an advertisement? Is this placement by Droga5 that aligns the Victoria Bitter brand of beer with Anzac (a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for servicemen and women who died during military duty for their countries) appropriate?

Pete Brown thinks so and I happen to agree with him; it sure as hell beats anything we have over here.

Over at A Good Beer Blog, Alan McLeod talks about a proposed law in Alberta that would allow bar owners to collect and trade information about their customers. While it’s designed to stop gang activity, we all know someone who got banned from a bar for a misunderstanding. Who watches the watchers?

Greg Clow of Taste T.O. reviews the newest beer in town, Palm Ale, which is the first in a new line (hopefully) and the result of a deal between Brick Brewery and Latis Imports.

Oh Group shares the recipes for Hellfire bitters (and a resulting cocktail, the Mexican Standoff).

Next week (Friday, May 22nd) is the C’est What Spring Festival of Craft Breweries! Bartowel News has the details. I can’t wait to try Flying Monkeys’ Hoptical Illusion…

The next time sometime disputes my claim that America is far, far ahead of us when it comes to cocktails, I’ll send ‘em this link. Kaiser Penguin shares some recipes whipped up during Thursday Drink Night.

(If you’re in Ontario, you’ll probably be missing at least one of the ingredients from every, single one of these recipes but substitutions are always possible.)

(Image taken from the_thirsty_moth’s Flickr Photostream.)

Bar Blacklist – VIP Billiards



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.


VIP Lounge & Billiards Club is a shithole.

Playing with St. Germain


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.


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.


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.


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.

Bars that don’t carry bitters



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?


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.


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.


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.

I’m in love with St. Germain


st-germain-bottle-standardMy roommate brought me a bottle of St. Germain’s Elderflower liqueur from NYC so, of course, we had to make some drinks. (You can’t get it in Canada so it’s kind of a big deal.)

Results to follow.