Honesty in wine signage + eight other links


After international wine critic Jancis Robinson accused the wine industry in B.C. of being misleading when it comes to clearly differentiating between wines produced in that province and wines blended there, their version of the LCBO and several wineries have pledged to improve their labeling practices.

I’m happy to report that this is already a standard in Ontario. While at the LCBO today, I noticed that the blends were on the left and the VQAs on the right which, while it may seem a small step, is important when it comes to helping consumers make an informed choice.

In other semi-serious news, scientists at the University of Colorado have determined that there’s a genetic difference between people who are alcohol-dependent and those of us with a tendency to consume high amounts of alcohol. Just show your friends this article whenever they call you an alcoholic!

Over at SLOSHED! they’re doing their best to keep us warm this winter with two excellent recipes; the Green Tea Toddy and Pumpkin Cider. My sore throat is thanking them already…

Mixology Monday featured vermouth and I’m happy to say they found some uses for that bottle that many people reach for last. The Old Town Alchemy Co. offers up the White Ladder while Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice presents the Signora Rossa. Both are delicious!

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of thing but I can’t help but notice that The Washington Post is busy trashing a reality show that features s0-called bartenders competing against each other in “a showdown of skills, smarts and spirits”. Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds and contributes to the bartending-until-I-get-something-better mindset.

I don’t read the Toronto Star for reasons I won’t go into here (involves one of their columnists trashing a guy’s reputation in what was an on-going court case) but this is a damn tasty recipe. Tamarinds add a whole new dimension to the margarita.

Lastly, if you’re really into making clear, pretty ice, Alcademics.com has figured it out for you. Me, I just want my drinks cold but I admire the ingenuity on principle.

(Photo taken from dogwelder’s Flickr photostream.)

What makes certain beers more popular?


At the hotel where I work, the most popular beer is Keith’s India Pale Ale.

Obviously, we’re not the only establishment that serves this beer and it’s pretty uniformly popular across the city. It kind of bridges the vague, drinking gap between those older guys who only drink Molson Ex or Labatt 50 or Blue and the little shits who’ll drink whatever’s put before ‘em. Along with Stella, Heineken and Corona, Keith’s flagship brand serves to represent Canada on the international front as Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico purport to stand for the formers, respectively.

Much like it’s cousins, Keith’s Red and White (we don’t serve it’s ugly little brother the Staghead Stout so I’ll discount that here), Keith’s is not really an I.P.A. at all but a mutant clone, watered-down and designed to appeal to broader tastes; in much the same way Labatt Blue is called a pilsner.

It’s not even as good as Rickard’s (Molson’s brand) but people will continue to order it everyday. Now clearly, the marketing and perceived credibility of the brand affect the likelihood of a consumer being familiar enough to feel comfortable ordering it but I would argue that this actually has very little to do with what people actually order at my hotel.

Can you guess who’s responsible for Keith’s products being the biggest sellers? Why the bartenders of course! They recommend these beers and not because they like them but, in blind subservience to a vicious cycle, recite their names first when asked because they’re big sellers!

I take a different approach. If asked what we have on tap, I mention Mill St.’s Organic Lager and their Tankhouse Ale as likely options. 9 times out of 10, the guest will order one and be done with it. If they press me I’ll mention that we serve a number of  big brands and ask which one they would prefer. Sometimes, only a Stella will do and I’m not going refuse someone’s request. Still, the majority of guests will go with my suggestion and, particularly in the case of the Tankhouse Ale, I’m comfortable offering them a beer I consider to be one of the better ones produced in Ontario.

There are two factors at work here. Many people, when arriving at the critical juncture of the meal where they must choose from a number of options will often go along with a timely suggestion from their server. These people don’t want to have to give a lot of thought to their choice and they’re comfortable letting their choices be influenced by a confidently-knowledgeable server.

The second factor is one of novelty. These guests will often be up for trying something new if it’s well-presented by the server with a minimum of bullshit. I find that many foreigners are extremely keen to try a local beer but many Canadians will go for it as well.

The bartenders I work with don’t give a shit about supporting local products. They take the franchise element of the hotel to the extreme and offer  what they feel will be most comforting and familiar to a traveler.  They just can’t be bothered to concern themselves with the idea of which items are better.

One of them, seemed to be slightly irked by my constant orders for Mill St. beer. She wanted to know why I always sold their beers and did not agree with my assertion that they were the best of what we had to offer. According to her, Keith’s was obviously the best beer because it was the most popular.

This is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink beer. Mind you, she’s a fairly-good bartender for this hotel and a nice person to boot but I simply can’t wrap my head around her view-point.

She thought I was being pretentious in my devotion to our local brewery and while that may be true, I still think Mill St. makes a better beer. You may like Keith’s and Stella and could argue that those beers are different but even if you get technical and hold up Keith’s Red to the Tankhouse Ale, the latter comes out a clear winner. End of story.

So I’ll continue to sell as much Mill St. beer as I can (and if you guys are reading this, I’d be up for some kind of brand ambassador position…) and my coworkers will continue to think I’m odd but I can’t imagine selling anything but what I like myself.

I think servers owe their guests that kind of honesty.

(Photo taken from the Go There Guide.)

929 gallons of moonshine confiscated in North Carolina + six other links


Swimming-drunk-282x300A man in North Carolina recently had all of his moonshine confiscated which the director of ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement hah!) is calling the “biggest seizure” of his career. How big is big? 929 gallons equals 118,912 ounces which would keep quite a few bars running for awhile.

Restaurants in Vancouver can now extend last call from midnight to 1 a.m. during the weekdays and from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the weekends. I don’t really see this as a big deal because their bars can already stay open till 3 a.m. but I suppose if an owner wants to extend his service by an owner, it’s up to him. I wish Toronto had a 3 a.m. last call

A fellow by the name of Paul Dickson has written a dictionary of 3,000 synonyms for “drunk”. Eponymously-titled, it’s charmingly illustrated by Brian Rea and deserves a place in every self-respecting drunkard’s library. Kingsley Amis would have a copy!

Jamie Boudreau of spiritsandcocktails.com makes Cherry Old-Fashioneds to accompany an Old-Fashioned in an inspired bit of molecular mixology. It sure beats those liqueur-filled chocolates you get during the holidays.

Sloshed! shares the recipe for the Corpse Reviver #2 just in time for Halloween. I’m no fan of hair of the dog but this could work for me.

I love orgeat so it’s only fitting that Rick of Kaiser Penguin, who pointed me in the direction of the first recipe I used, should come back with what he claims is an even better version. Enjoy and remember, the darker the sugar you use, the better it will turn out!

Equally indispensable when it comes to making quality cocktails is ginger syrup. Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice wants to know how you make your ginger syrup. While I mostly muddle or shake mine, I’d be interested in trying pressed ginger juice.

(Illustration by Brian Rea.)

The underrated Shrub


shrub syrupThe Shrub is a fruity rum or brandy libation, predating the cocktail. The beverage is little known today, but enjoyed immense popularity in colonial America during the 18th and 19th century.

It is considered an unusual drink by modern standards in that the syrup is vinegar based and resembles closely a preserve or cordial. The idea was to extend the life of fruit cultivated seasonally and used to mask the harsh flavors of the the alcohols of the time. The first artificial ice machine was invented in 1851 by John Gurrie and was not commonly used until much later. Therefore, people needed to find alternative methods to combat spoilage. The vinegar works as a preserving agent while delivering a satisfying tartness to the drink. It is most commonly partnered with Rum or Brandy but as far as the ideal fruit to use, there are no limits to the bartenders creativity.

There is a company in the States that produces a line of purportedly excellent pre-made Shrub syrups (Tait Farms of Pennsylvania), but I have found it very rewarding making my own. The Old City Tavern in Philadelphia whose combined liquor and wine sales are comprised of 60% shrubs, has it down to a science. Their recipe (published in Eric Felten’s “How’s Your Drink?, a staple for the cocktail connoisseur) is an easy starting point for making your own. It consists of:


2 oz dark rum
1 oz shrub syrup
4 oz gingerale or soda

Stir into a tall glass and garnish with fresh raspberries.

The syrup for this cocktail is also simple:


1 cup water
1 cup raw sugar
2 pints fresh raspberries
2 cups white wine vinegar

Mix the water and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Then drop the heat to a simmer and add the raspberries and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of white wine vinegar and bring to boil for 2 minutes. Then, let the mix sit and cool. Double strain the excess fruit from the syrup, bottle, and refrigerate.

The raspberries are nice as they give a natural sweet-and-sour pucker to the cocktail. However, I have tried blackberries, strawberries, currants, raspberries, and mangoes, and have enjoyed every one of my concoctions. I’ve also added ginger, cinnamon, spices, and cloves to many of these in an attempt to find the perfect mix, but as I’ve never been disappointed, the search goes on.

The one thing that I have found with the above recipe, is that it is just as good (or dare I say better) when one drops the amount of vinegar to 1 cup. I add a second cup or so of water to make up the difference in liquid. This takes away some of the excessive tartness, and as we have ample refrigeration these days there’s little worry of the syrup spoiling before it is consumed.

Some recipes for the shrub call for ginger beer to be added. I’ve tried this, using Jamaican style ginger beer and found the results less satisfying. The strength of the ginger beer overpowers the refreshing, subtle, flavors of the shrub. I’ve yet to attempt it with a milder ginger beer, say from Bermuda, but think perhaps the results would be better.

Remember that the point of the syrup originally was to mask the flavors of the ‘greasy’ rum of the time. We are blessed these days, due to the wizardry of modern distillation, with a vast array of delicious rums. I suggest trying them all with different syrups. A spiced rum is very nice, and the dark rums work best of all. For this reason the syrup should be added to taste and not necessarily used at full strength.

I make this drink often for friends of mine who frequent my bar. Ross prefers brandy while his wife Jen, prefers rum. I like both. Recently I made a modified version of the syrup for a vodka martini. It is also good in a Kir or Kir Royale. My advice is to experiment. It’s simple and fast to make, and is always a hit. Remember there are no fast rules when it comes to making good cocktails. Just good taste.

(Photo linked from Stirred, Not Shaken’s post about shrub. Check it out for a fantastic recipe for Black Cherry Shrub!)

Meet Ryan McVittie


bars_professionals_mcvittieHe’s the first contributor to the Jolly Inebriate and I’m quite pleased to have him on board.

I first got to know Ryan back at The Comrade, the bar he co-owns in Leslieville. After a long shift at Joy Bistro, I’d frequently start a night of drinking there because they had a fantastic selection of seasonal beers and Ryan could always be counted on to make a damn good cocktail when something stronger was required.

I’ve had quite a few good dates end up there and many quiet evenings on my own as well; although other bars have taken its place, I’ll always remember the good times.

I’ve seen Ryan at a couple of places since then but one thing remains consistent; he enjoys making classic cocktails, knows their stories and can experiment with ‘em when called on to do so. He’s a solid bartender and I hope you get as much from his experiences as I have.

In completely-unrelated news, I can’t get enough of this cover by The Arcade Fire. I couldn’t tell you which show it was recorded at or who did the original but it’s good. Give it a listen, download and share because it’s a bitch to source out on Hype Machine. ‘Tis the season!

The Arcade Fire – Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son (live)

(Photo taken from Toronto Life.)