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.

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.

Innis & Gunn score again with Rum Cask Finish


While I have yet to find an Innis & Gunn product I don’t like, anything’s possible in the wild and crazy world of beer, particularly during the winter season. I’d hazard a guess that I probably won’t be too keen on at least half of what I have in my fridge but the fun’s in trying and you’ll never see my pass up a new brew.

So, on to the Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Finish Oak Aged Beer… I was blown away by how goddamned good it looked; I’ve always been a sucker for boxed beer (even if it is a waste of packaging). Some folks like to serve Innis & Gunn slightly chilled but I don’t bother. It was quite cold coming out of the fridge but I find it warms up a bit in an unchilled pint glass and by the time you take your last sip, it’s generally opened up quite a bit.

Right at the start, I was blown away by the lovely aroma of rum; it was very noticeable and not anything similar to a cheap white rum. It reminded me more of Gosling’s or even Pyrat (which I still sorely miss… Although what’s up with the those two websites? I don’t mind Flash but the floating links are really annoying and not intuitive at all. Whatever happened to a good sidebar menu?)

Taking my first sip, I could pick up on the caramel and molasses notes. The oak and rum have changed what I would imagine is a fairly standard Scottish ale into something special. In fact, I think I like it better than the Whiskey Cask which is saying a lot as that’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

There’s also no hops bitterness apparent which is fine by me ‘cos I’m not a hophead at all. Give me something smooth and mellow and I’m in heaven… this is definitely my kind of beer.

I hope this sticks around for a couple more months; I’m going to have to go back for seconds.

Does Innis & Gunn get distributed in New Zealand? I can only hope…

Innis & Gunn 750mL more of a good thing


The difficulty with buying a large bottle of beer (750mL+) is that you need to find the proper occasion to drink it and, unless you’re the sort who doesn’t like to share, you need to find a friend or two to drink it with.

There’s a celebratory nature to a beer this size that bears some thinking about and, since I had one in my fridge, I wasn’t about to casually pull it out after a hard day’s work and polish it off.

No, it was definitely the sort of beer I wanted to get into as a prelude to more drinking; a beer to start the night off right with a little class and a lot of taste.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Innis & Gunn’s products. Damn near every beer they’ve ever brewed has been a winner, from their IPA to the limited editions they roll out every year. I’ve yet to try their Rum Cask Finish beer but I’m sure it’ll be good too.

I set the bottle down in front of me. Here was a beer I knew and loved but there was a whole lot more of it. How was I to go about drinking it?

The last time I’d had their 750mL bottle was at a house party and I carried it around as one might carry a cheap bottle of wine. It got a lot of attention and by the end of the night, quite a few folks had begun to see the merits of spending just a bit more for an indubitably superior product.

I wasn’t alone but I wasn’t cracking it open to share this time. No, this was all about pre-drinking which, contrary to popular opinion, doesn’t necessarily have to be about speed and volume. My purpose was not to get drunk but to enjoy that bit of time one spends in their home, getting ready to go out and see what the night will bring.

There was no need to worry about the beer getting stale. Innis & Gunn warms up quite nicely and I was looking forward to what the change in temperature would bring to the taste.

My memory isn’t exact but I think I finished the bottle in less than twelve minutes. It’s a smooth beer with lot of malt and some citrus and vanilla as well. Not too hoppy thankfully (I’m not a fan) and it finishes nicely. It’s a lovely beer and not at all difficult to polish off a larger portion of it.

After I was done, I was perfectly set up for whatever I might drink next and I could have just as easily segued into whisky or continued with beer. It was a great way to start the night.

The end is near!


But before it comes, I plan on enjoying the rest of my time in Canada with some carefully-planned appreciation of the alcoholic products this winter season has to offer us.

In addition, I plan on sharing my favorite cocktail recipes, whether culled from service at the bar or put together to satisfy impromptu after-parties.

Hell, I’ll probably put up whatever I feel like but some kind of mission statement is in order, no?

At this very moment, I am enjoying my third can of Bavaria, an inoffensive lager from Holland that will do when the thought of spending more than twelve dollars on a six-pack is more than you can bear.

Broke or not, it won’t hurt your tongue but it’s precisely that middle-of-the-road banality that will leave with you a thirst for something special the next day.

With that in mind, I have two beers in my fridge, knowingly waiting for me to come back to ‘em like the unfaithful husband I was and beg forgiveness.

The Post Road Pumpkin Ale (by Brooklyn Brewery) and the 750mL Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer (which is really just more of a good thing).