Beer Night!


Beer_Hunter_MillerAd05MWhen you collect beer like I do, drinking it can become something of a chore; especially if it starts to pile up. I can maybe get through eight or so in one sitting but my notes get sloppy by the fifth and it’s usually down-hill from there.

Inviting friends to help is a good strategy but you can’t just invite anyone. Most folks, when asked about the beer they’re drinking, will usually offer up such gems as, “this one’s bitter” or “this one’s not so bitter” and my favorite, “this one’s pretty easy to drink”. With that kind of feedback, it’s essential to find people who put a bit more thought into their evaluation.

It doesn’t have to be a by-the-book tasting either; one of my favorite comments about a beer was by a friend who compared Stuarts Natural Session Ale to “licking a wet dog”.

Tonight, I’ve invited five friends over for beer and food. The vast majority of them are part of the LCBO’s summer beer release but I’ve included a few old favorites too…

Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse

Erdinger Weisbier

Whistler Export Lager

Heritage Maple Bush Lager

Duchy Originals Organic Ale

Warka Strong

Banks Caribbean Lager

Chapeau Lemon Lambic

Chapeau Exotic Lambic

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale

Fruli Strawberry Beer

Innis & Gunn Blonde

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Amsterdam Strong Framboise Beer (which I want to compare to…)

KLB Raspberry Wheat (owned by Amsterdam!)

Amsterdam Pomegranate Wheat Beer

Wittekerke Rose

St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2009

I was unable to procure any Edelweiss (damn LCBO strike!) but hopefully my brother will be bringing a bottle to bring the beer total to eighteen.

Food-wise, we’re going to have sesame seed crackers with smoked cheddar, pickles and walnuts,  mini-wraps (the filling is, at this point, unknown) and some homemade hummus and pita.

It should be a good night.

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I’m not alone!


kyleI’ve got some company in the blogosphere surrounding Toronto.

While perusing Fasebook the other day, I come across an interesting status update by my friend Kyle which said something about making “peach bitters”. It turns out that not only is he a long-time member of the bar and a general enthusiast but writes his own his own blog, The Bespoke Bar.

It wasn’t long before I found myself, bag of bottles in hand, heading into the west end to reconnoiter with Kyle and see what trouble we could ourselves into.

First drink was his version of an Old Fashioned, albeit with orange zest in place of grapefruit and Knob Creek standing in for Jim Beam. I especially dug his homemade bourbon cherries but the finished cocktail was nicely-balanced indeed.

My round turned out rather sweet but was fun all the same; starting with the Knob Creek as a base, I added some of my orgeat syrup, a bit of his orange bitters and just a touch of the chocolate grappa. It reminded me of one of those chocolate oranges you pound on the table before eating which isn’t a bad flavour to recall but I’m not a fan of sweetness so it was a bit of a mixed blessing.

Owing to the cumulative effects of alcohol, I can’t quite recall what he made next but I do remember a couple of Manhattans being prepared (with the bourbon cherries of course) and a last minute inspiration consisting of the aforementioned bourbon, Kyle’s home-made ginger beer and some organic maple syrup which was quite good after we balanced it out.

It was nice hanging out with someone that has a four years on me when it comes to booze and I very much enjoyed soaking up what knowledge I could. Usually I hang out with people who know mostly nothing so being the small fish was fun and informative.

(Image taken from The Bespoke Bar.)

Possible LCBO worker strike! + eight more links


beerBetter stock up on your booze because LCBO workers could be on strike by midnight tonight! Just in time for Pride too… but I’ll try to stop thinking like a consumer and see this from the union’s perspective.

It’s definitely not fair for the LCBO brass to favour the employment of casual workers and the right to issue 90-day lay-offs at a moment’s notice when the number of full-time employees has gone down by 60 per cent and many of them are making less than $20,000 a year.

But enough about their rights, am I going to rush out and restock my barren liquor cabinet? Finances being what they are, I have to abstain from any booze-panicked sprees but I’ve got a bottle of brandy, some scotch and lots of vermmouth. I’ll be okay (I hope).

(edit:  The LCBO and the union have reached a deal! Apparently, casual workers will get more benefits and there will be more opportunities for full-time work. Let’s hope the city’s workers can reach a similiarly-quick compromise.)

Researchers at the Heidelberg University Hospital have found that consumption of alcohol causes a number of changes in the human brain’s operation, including running on the sugar from the booze instead of the regular glucose and (most scary) a slight decrease in the presence of substances that protect the cells.

Long term affects are unknown but it’s not like we really need another reason to favour moderate consumption…

Generally, cheap beer is beloved but Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites spent $25 recently on a bottle at BeerBistro and wants to know what your limit is. (Mine’s about eight dollars less.)

Looka! has extremely good news: A revised  edition of Dr. Cocktail’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie, 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them is being released on July 1st. I’d buy it just for the stories and it makes a great companion piece to Henry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book.

While I have no idea how it tastes, I love the way Big Boss Brewing packages their beer!

Art of Drink provides an overview of the venerable rye-and-ginger which is one of my favorite cocktails of all time and my go-to drink for bars of unknown quality.

If fresh berries are your thing, the Food Woolf has what looks like a terrific recipe for a boysenberry cocktail.

I like Dubonnet on the rocks (and so does my mum which spells trouble when I’m at the parent’s house) but Robert Simonson of Off The Presses has a couple of recipes for those of you who are hard-up for ideas on what to do with that bottle in the back of your cupboard.

Dr. Bamboo wants to know about the worst cocktail you’ve ever had.

Please excuse the mess…


You may have noticed that the look of this blog has been changing dramatically. I’m a bit of a tinkerer at heart and while I don’t know all that much about CSS, I’m definitely willing to rip this project’s guts out and try and put ‘em back together in a manner more to my liking.

While this approach has worked thus far, I’ve reached a bit of an impasse and find myself unable to find certain vital bits of code needed to affect a change in several graphic elements.

So, while I make some new friends on the Wordpress forums, I hope you bear with me and ignore the bits that don’t like quite right. They should be fixed soon.


Designer ice + five more links


1244077083In the Globe & Mail, Alexandra Shimo focuses on an oft-neglected aspect of the cocktail-creation process: the ice. From spheres that fill the entire glass to jagged shards, it’s all covered here.

Christine Sismondo gets a bit more real over at The Star as she brands Toronto ” a beer town” and wonders when we’re going to wake up to the wonders of a good cocktail.

I couldn’t agree more. Time and time again, I run into (tons of) servers, bartenders and owners who don’t give a shit and aren’t interested in raising the bar when it comes to mixology. Give me something new! We need a stronger community and we need people who actually give a shit about making a goddamn drink!

The Amateur Gourmet makes his own ginger ale and pronounces it good.

Greg Clow reviews the two new Innis & Gunn beers over at Taste T.O.  I’ve had the Blonde, I can’t wait to try the Canadian Cask!

Now that summer’s here, it’s time to start making your own cordial. Megan of Feasting on Art shows you how to make a citrus version.

The Bar Towel’s got a list of all of the upcoming beer events in the area.

The Creme de cacao killer: chocolate grappa


After celebrating my brother Jonathan’s birthday, I was stuffed with some fine food. He had requested Chinese for his dinner and my mum whipped up some deep-fried pork in plum sauce served with grilled asparagus and zuchini, vegetable stir-fry (water chestnuts, pineapple, mushrooms, carrots, ginger root…) and the ever-important steamed white rice.

She accompanied these fine dishes with a couple of rosés from Provence which were rather dry and fruity and served to cut all of that saucy grease quite nicely. Afterwards, we had a couple of tart Grand Cosmos (I went overboard and squeezed in a couple ounces of lime juice but it worked out alright) and then I went home.

While I was in no mood to party, I was definitely in need of something a little sweeter and my roommate, Mike and his friend proved the perfect foil for me to experiment.

I took a bottle of Bottega’s Gianduia Cioccolato e Grappa (500 mL, 17% ABV, $29.95) I’d been gifted from my friend Alex and added a little Frangelico. To finish it off, I layered a splash of 18% whipped cream I had lying around in the fridge and added a light dusting of cinamon. The results were pretty damn good.

The first thing to hit your tongue is the cinamon but before that even has time to fully register, the cream coats your mouth, followed by the gentle warmth of the Frangelico and the rich grappa. It’s not half as sweet as it sounds nor does it leave a nasty dairy aftertaste. I’ve already three and I may just have a fourth…


1/4 oz Gianduia Cioccolato e Grappa
1/4 oz Frangelico
1/4 oz 18% whipped cream
cinamon powder

Layer the grappa, the Frangelico and the whipped cream in that order in a stemmed shot glass.
Sprinkle a light dusting of cinamon on top.


Yes, I’m aware that a cocktail with that name already exists. This is my version. If you want a bit more of a kick, feel free to add some whiskey. I like Centennial but I’d imagine that pretty much anything would do.

While not as aesthetically stark as crème de cacao, I’d also wager this would make a helluva decadent chocolate martini.

(A little internet research also told me that this particular chocolate grappa is made with not only those two ingredients but also milk, cream and hazelnuts which, minus the cinamon, is what I mixed with it but I still say it adds so much more to the liqueur than just drinking it straight.)

The best karaoke bars in Toronto



(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.)