Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wild Wild West Part 1

Last weekend a family engagement took me out to Calgary, and it was an eye-opener for sure. On November 11,  Remembrance Day, we decided to celebrate my cousin Alex’s graduation with a big family dinner and a big bowl of punch from the big silver family bowl. I was recently given Dave Wondrich’s fantastic new book “Punch” and was busting to try out one of the old recipes. The Canadian Punch was fittingly selected partly for its name and partly for its ease of ingredient acquisition: no whale cholesterol in this one (you, laugh but at least one of his receipts calls for it…yum),  so off the The Willow Park Wine Store to round up a few bottles. 
I was also very keen to compare the selection at this, one of Calgary’s premier liquor retailers, (in fact, the largest privately owned liquor store in Canada)  to the old LCBO offerings back home.  This also happened to be the day that Willow Park has its 15th annual Remembrance Day wine sale.  Apart from a minute of silence at 11 am, the rest of the day is filled with wine reps,  and importers shouting as they hawk their wares, by the case where possible. At some point early on they were selling wine at a buck a bottle, but by the time we got there the wines were all in the 6-8 dollar range. Cheapola. Mahem. Sadly there were no deals on premium bourbons or funky rare absinthes but the spectacle of free enterprise happening at a liquor store warmed the cockles of my wee heart nonetheless.  The Alberta Liquor guide led me to believe that there was some Yellow Chartreuse to be had at Willow Park but I could not find it and I probably picked the wrong day to have a customer service issue.  The cocktail ingredient selection was every bit as good as any Ontario LCBO and maybe a tiny bit better but not much.  I selected a bottle of good old Alberta Premium rye and a bottle of 114 proof Guyanese Demerara rum for the punch and we waited 45 minutes to check out.
The Punch was very good  although I don’t know why it’s called “Canadian” when it calls for pineapples, lemons, rum and Wonderich specifies NOT to use Canadian whisky unless it is 100% rye which very few are.  To be continued…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Art of the Cocktail roundup

Here is a story in the Victoria Times Colonist about this great event. I have to say that Victoria has really established itself at the forefront of the Canadian cocktail world.  This proves more than anything that cocktailing is a culture in the true sense of the world. A place does not have to be one of the biggest cities in Canada to sustain a vibrant scene where people learn from each other and get together to learn and create drinks, bars, events, and products (gin, bitters, etc) which further feed the development of the culture.

Let's hope that the rest of us catch up soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Art of the Cocktail, updates

Because I couldn't get out to Victoria myself,  I have deputized Darcy O'Neil of Art of Drink as our correspondent to this fine event.  Read his latests posts.  He is a) a good writer b) Canada's premier cocktail blogger,  so you are in good hands.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lucky us!

I don’t pretend to be an expert on cocktails or ingredients such as whisky etc. I have devised this blog as more of Canada-specific portal to the wider world of all things mixed bevy.  There are so many excellent blogs out there written by people who have been part of the scene WAY longer than I have. I have linked their sites here and will continue to add more.   Their blogs talk about  new and interesting ingredients,  gear, events, competitions,  histories, reviews and recipes, old and new.  They are our sherpas and native guides on a voyage of delicious discovery.  It turns out , lucky us , there are three such fine resources in our midst and when you get a chance, visit these three great Canadian booze blogs.

The  world’s foremost expert on Canadian whisky, Davin de Kergommeaux keeps up the ultimate resource on this most important element of so many cocktails, .  Take pride in our own home-grown “water of life” especially since it is one of the few things we have excellent access to in Canada.  Davin has also made contact with Canucktail and sounds like a straight up guy (probably takes his whisky that way.)  He will be at WhiskyLive. Track him down.

Nick Nemeth lives in St. Catherines, ON  and runs Cocktails and Cordials. Another friendly and extremely knowledgeable cocktailian, Nick has pointed out that old tom gin has been available at the LCBO since early this summer. He also says that maraschino comes and goes from the Lickbo and, “has a habit of rotating in and out of the LCBO, just long enough for us cocktail geeks to re-stock before it disappears again!”  If Nick says re-stock, RESTOCK! He will also be at Whisky Live. This makes me think I need to go.

Finally, Darcy O’Neil of Art of Drink lives and/or works in London, ON and is one of the original die-hards of the cocktail world.  His blog is linked universally and has an amazing amount of info on it, some of it related to doing our thing on this side of the 49th.  

A last note.  I guess its not surprising that the people I have met so far (virtually, for the most part) Nick and Davin, among them, are very friendly, encouraging and welcoming. They are doing something they love and, after all,  if thing get stressful, they always know where to get a good drink. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Whisky Live Toronto

For all you whisk(e)y lovers out there with a couple of bucks in your pocket, this might be a fun event to attend.  It bill itself as: "The world’s greatest celebration of the whiskies of the world, now in its fifth year, [and] Canada’s whisky tasting event of the year, bringing the celebration of whisky to Toronto."

It is taking place on Friday,  Oct 22 at Halls F & G of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

According to their site, "Whisky Live Toronto brings all the very best whiskies from around the world under one roof. Appealing to both the enthusiast and the novice Whisky Live Toronto has expert advice on hand as well as the opportunity to learn about the whisky basics.

"It is the ultimate whisky experience with such a stunning range of whiskies, delicious food, Masterclasses, live music and regular nose-off competitions. And with more room for more whiskies and more food, this should be the best whisky event ever."

Hope so. People more interested in mixed cocktails, like me, might find this kind of event a bit one dimensional as it will largely be about single malts and other kinds of whiskey that are supposed to be drunk unadulterated. Their site does mention cocktails, however, and hard core cocktailians are always interested in raw ingredients, so be our guest, go and report on your findings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Art of the Cocktail et cetera.

First of all, This is why I WISH I was in Victoria next weekend:  Art of the Cocktail.  This wonderful looking event is actually a fundraiser for the Victoria Film Festival.  If you are anywhere close and there are still tickets available, head on over. See lots of super bartenders, brand ambassadors and cocktail luminaries such as Dr. Cocktail himself, Ted Haigh.  

You Victorians are so lucky,  they make delicious artisanal gin and orange bitters in your town and now this!  Stratford (Ont.) hosted its own itty-bitty (but fabulous) cocktail fundraiser a couple weeks ago. Cocktails for a Cause seems to be a trend. Lets keep it up.

Next announcement:  as promised, a formerly unavailable product is now (sort of) available at the LCBOntario. Drum roll please. OLD TOM GIN!!!!  Good news: you can get it. Bad news: as soon as it was available, it was discontinued just as quickly.  As of this entry, the LCBO was still in possession of 132 bottles of this magic elixir (Hayman’s brand). 

For the uninitiated, old tom is a kind of gin like London dry or genever.  It is the gin that London dry gin is “dry” compared to, which is to say it is sweetened and, is often more heavily flavoured than dry gin.  It preceded dry gin and was, for a long time more popular.  It is often called the “missing link” between genever (dutch or Geneva) gin and the modern dry style.  In its day, it served an important function.  Before modern distillation techniques took hold, unaged liquor often had a harsh, jetfuelish taste. The flavours and botanicals added to early gins helped mask this nastiness. Old tom was the English industrial revolution, mass-produced version of gin.  It was designed to be cheap, and drunk straight, often on-the-run.

The story goes that it got its name from London tavern owners in the 1800s  who installed a plaque in the shape of a cat on the outside of their establishments.  The plaque had a slot for a coin and a tube going inside. A “drive-thru” patron could get a shot of this stuff outside by putting a coin in the kitty’s mouth and putting their cup (or mouth) under the spout. YIKES!   No slot for an age of majority card…

Anyway, our hero Charles H. Baker says that a bottle of old tom is more important than vodka to a home bar.  Tom Collinses, old school gin fizzes, Martinezes… more recipes here.  132 lucky Ontarians should run out and grab this cool little piece of booze history. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Great news!

The strangest thing has happened. Just a day or two after I decided to get this blog rolling and use it as my bully pulpit from which to rant and rave about the LCBO and its counterparts in other provinces and how they are conspiring to keep us from having the necessary ingredients to flourish in the cocktailosphere, BOOM! I enter the word “maraschino” in the search box on the LCBO website (which I have been doing wistfully, over and over, with the same disappointing result for a year now) and lo and behold THEY’VE GOT IT!! They have good old Luxardo Maraschino Originale. Girolamo Luxardo has been making the stuff over in Italia since 1821, so it’s about bloody time.

Maraschino is a funny old liqueur which is actually fermented from marasca cherries and their crushed pits, aged in ashwood vats and sweetened (in the olden days, with honey). It is to cherries what triple sec is to oranges, both equally indispensable ingredients in so many old time cocktails. The Cocktail DB has 211 listings for it including such classics as the Aviation, the Martinez (the original Martini), The Mary Pickford, the Seventh Heaven, the Brooklyn, the Quebec and the Canadian Pine. It is also called for in any “improved” cocktail.  

I am sure that at one time it was readily available in Canada, back when there were a whole lot fewer liqueurs around, and people liked richer, sweeter and more flavourful cocktails. With the post World War II trend of drying the cocktail out on the one hand (eg. the Vodka Martini) or making it into a sweet, vodka-based, booze-candy-girl-drink on the other, poor old maraschino just fell down the gap in the middle and demand for it dried up completely. Only the cocktail revival has brought it back to Canada, now, apparently, even to Ontario. As something you might want to drink on its own, it suffers from being sickly sweet, slightly almond bitter (from the cherry pits) and has the bouquet of medium-duty moonshine. But in small amounts in cocktails, it blends beautifully with all kinds of liquors, bitters and other ingredients.

So bomb out and grab a bottle of this straw-clad wonder of the cocktailian universe, before the LCBO changes its mind. Oh yeah, the bottle will make your home bar look super official and geeky. Remember, not all stores will have it, so go to the LCBO site to figure out which stores have it, or ask your local store to bring some in for you.   

Some better independent liquor stores (in provinces where such things are allowed) carry it such as Vancouver’s Brewery Creek Liquor Store.  Ask Gerry.

Interesting side note: it is $33.75 at Brewery Creek and $25.95 in Ontario, which goes to show you what the buying power of the LCBO, the largest booze retailer in the world can do when it want to.

Stay tuned for ANOTHER nearly as fabulous announcement. Think "Tom" Collins.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Welcome to Canucktail!

Canucktail is a blog dedicated to the great wide world of cocktails. (Mmmmm.... delicious cocktails) But with a twist, no not that kind of twist (lemon, lime). The twist is: the struggles of the cocktailian in Canada.

You see, if you're not from Canada, you will not realize that liquor in our fair nation is controlled by the various  provincial liquor boards who effectively get to decide what kind of liquor we are allowed to buy and put in our cocktails. They make a LOT of money from being our booze pushers which is fine (they are all broke, and, lord knows, there are potholes to fill) but the tragedy is that we cannot get things, SO essential to our existence, such as maraschino liqueur, yellow Chartreuse and many other key ingredients in classic cocktails, not to mention St. Germain, Allspice Dram, Creme de Violette, Swedish Punsch, Old Tom Gin, white dog, (on it goes...I cry into my Classic Pegu as I write this) et cetera. Yes, it is downright Soviet, the way we are treated by our provincial governments.

If you are from Canada and enjoy a good cocktail, you have probably never heard of the above ingredients and the wonders they can impart to a good drink. Boy, do you have a lot to learn. Stay tuned.

So here's what we're up to. We will talk about yummy cocktails. This is not new to the internet, by a long shot: many of the best and most sophisticated blogs (we will link them) on the net are cocktail blogs. Many of them are gorgeous and written by talented, erudite, funny, sloshed people whose knowledge of these things goes WAY beyond what we could ever hope to match. Indeed, cocktails was a subject of discussion on the internet back in the days of AOL and billboards and the internet is probably responsible, directly or indirectly, for the re-introduction of some cocktail ingredients.  Would old tom gin have reappeared after 50 years were it not for the internet? Maybe not.  What we will do is talk about cocktails in our own context of the frosty soviet north.  We live in Stratford, Ontario and we will talk often about the glimmers of hope in our own little neck of the world. And we will talk about the Ontario cocktail scene AND we will talk about the cocktail scene in all nine other provinces and 3 territories of this, otherwise, fabulous country of ours.  Cool, eh?

Like I said,  stay tuned.