What I am Drinking this Festive Season (with bonus recipe!)

Anyone who knows me IRL knows that I adore Christmas. I love the food, picking out gifts, the lights, and feeling like snow is pretty rather than distressing. #CanadianProblems.

As the only alcohol-snob in my family, I insist upon selecting the drinks for the day. Here are my picks for Christmas 2016:

First of the Day 

(Because, really, being a childless adult over the holidays is all about drinking all the drinks without judgement.)

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Fuller’s 2016 Bottle Conditioned Limited Edition Vintage Ale

It’s a personal tradition of mine to enjoy a bottle of Fuller’s Vintage every Christmas. I’m intrigued by beers that should be aged and served at cellar temperature. Last year, I made the mistake of purchasing only one bottle, which I drank with my partner the day of dear Lord baby Jesus’  birth.

To really enjoy Fuller’s Limited Edition this year, I bought 4. Now hear me out on my reasoning for this extravagance. This brew is meant to be aged for 3-4 years, but I want to drink it now, dammit; and geek out over how the flavour changes over time. As well, at 500mL per bottle, it’s really just a wee taste if I share with my partner. This year, I splurged. There’s one for me, one for him, and two to age in our cellar.

Of course, by cellar I mean closet. I’m not that fancy.

Aperitif

Cynar

This mind-blowing aperitif came to my attention via the bar chef/manager at Thoroughbred Food and Drink. Pronounced CHI-narr, this is an Italian liqueur featuring over 13 herbs and plants, the most dominant being artichoke. Does that sound strange? It did to me at first, too. Cynar is Fonzy-smooth, flavourful, and isn’t overpowered by an alcohol bite. Cynar adds depth to cocktails, and alone it’s a friendly sipper. I like it straight up and room temperature, or expertly mixed by Thoroughbred’s chief bartender.

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(If you look real close you can see me in the bottle, hee hee.)

With Dinner

To me, a formal dinner means wine. Sorry, beer, but you can be too heavy and take up too much food room in my tummy.

This year, I chose local VQA wines to have with dinner. I discovered the wines entirely by accident. The Wine Shop recently opened close to my apartment, so my partner and I checked it out while on a snowy walk.

The friendly and knowledgeable wine server offered us some samples of their Christmas features. At her suggestion, we sampled one red and one white: Trius’ anniversary Bordeaux blend, and their 2015 barrel-fermented Chardonnay. We went home with both wines for our Christmas celebrations.

Trius Red the Icon: Anniversary Bordeaux Blend (2014)

French wine, especially Bordeaux, makes my heart and taste buds sing. I think it is exciting how French grapes have the potential to work in Canada, as we are a cold and wet country with a large Maritime region. Of course, there are a lot of issues with wine growing and making in Canada, but that is a different post for a different day.

A Bordeaux blend uses the main grapes of the region, consisting of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. It also includes smaller components of Malbec and Petit Verdot.

Trius’s anniversary take on Bordeaux blend is dominated by Cabernet Franc, with ripe black and blue fruit and cracked pepper notes. There’s also undertones of sweet smoke and cocoa. Although colour isn’t a huge factor in the quality of the wine, the ruby red of this wine is gorgeous. With this flavour profile, and pretty bottle to impress the non-drinkers, I was sold. I can’t wait to uncork this with my in-laws, who favour red meats for Christmas dinner.

Trius Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay (2015)

With the white wine drinkers, I will be sharing Trius’ Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay from 2015. New world Chardonnay usually scares me. It typically sees too much oak, making it flabby, obnoxious, and boring. I didn’t have a lot of hope for this wine, and I am surprised by how much I enjoy it.

This Chardonnay has seen some oak in the form of new French barrels. It isn’t overdone. There is a vanilla, warm butter, and clove aspect to this wine, but it’s rounded out by tropical fruit and lees contact. The acid was just right – it evened out the oak, and left a clean finish on my palate. Surprise, surprise: it’s not a life-changing wine, but it’s a wine that made me smile.

Coffee Cocktail

Another personal tradition of mine is to make a coffee/eggnog cocktail for my partner’s parents. It’s a small thank-you for the delicious meal they make me. For serious, my father-in-law could be a gourmet chef. Too bad he’s a banker!

This year, with two jobs and the attempts at writing, I sadly won’t have time to make this drink. But as a bonus for you, dear reader, here is my most requested Christmas batch cocktail recipe for your enjoyment!

  • 1 Small pot of cold, strong coffee (roughly 4 mug’s worth, unflavoured dark roasts are best)
  • 1 Cup EggNog (if you hate eggnog, cream and high-fat milk works just as well.)
  • 5 oz Bailey’s
  • 3 oz Chambord (If Chambord is out of your budget any raspberry liqueur will work.)
  • Ice
  • Raspberries and sugar for garnish

Brew the coffee, add eggnog and let cool. Once cold, gently stir in Bailey’s and Chambord. After stirring, I use a funnel to pour into a bottle for transportation. I just use a dollar store bottle with a flip top, the kind that stone-oven pizza places use. Shake as needed, depending on the brand of eggnog or the fat content of the dairy it may separate. As long as the dairy isn’t expired, it’s fine.

For the garnish, take raspberries and dip in sugar.

To serve, pour over ice. You can float the sugared raspberries or use a skewer. If you don’t have fancy reusable skewers or disposable skewers, toothpicks are a solid substitute.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Meaning that if you accidentally use too much or too little of one ingredient, don’t worry! Taste and adjust the ratios to your own palate.

Happy drinking this holidays!

Not a Beer Drinker? Here is How to Start

There is a lot of confusion and pretentiousness involved in the liquid conveyors of drunkenness. With the armies of craft breweries and colourful, boobalicious, beer advertisements, it’s hard to know where to begin. A beer is a beer is a beer, but snobs (like me) try to make it something more.

I feel for you, poor beer noob. In the spirit of kinship (and homage to my days when I refused to drink hops) here is a short and sweet guide on how to start drinking beer, and actually enjoy it.

Have a Loved One Share Their Favourite Brew

I fervently believe that beer (and wine) are stories and histories which we inherit. I remember my first alcoholic drink: a gin and tonic with my dad. It was special. I didn’t like it (no one likes their first drink) but the smells and flavour reminded me of my dear old dad: pine, outdoorsyness, and a strange metallic something. It tasted like my favourite dad memories: sitting at a cottage with dusk falling, and dad portioning his ammo for a future hunt. I felt close to my dad, in a way that his shyness and aloof intellect often doesn’t allow.

While this example uses gin, it applies to future beer drinkers. Let a more experienced drinker share what they like in they way they like to drink it. You probably won’t like it, but it can become a cherished memory.

Start Big

The big brewers are big brewers for a reason. It’s the same reasons Coca-Cola is so big. Massive brewing powerhouses like Budweiser, Canadian, Coors, Stella, Heinekein, and Corona offer what (most) people want. These beers are a good place to start in the beer world. People like them, and they have been designed so that people will continue to like them.

Opt for Variety

Once you’ve tried out Corporate Beer™, check out a local brewery. Talk to your server/beertender about what they offer, and what makes them special. Tell them what you have had, and what you like. If you like certain wines or spirits, tell them! Many beers have similar taste profiles (or borrow techniques) from other alcohols. Get a tasting flight based on their recommendations. Don’t ask your server for what they like to drink, though – I can guarantee that their tastes are different from yours based on a scary amount of tasting experience.

Exercise Your Ravenclaw Side

As I said before, I think that beer and wine is a history we have inherited. Every brew, bottle, and brewery has a raison d’être and story. By drinking, by putting your hard earned dollar toward a certain beer or brewery, you are contributing to the world history of beer.

With this in mind, I encourage the new beer drinker to do some research. When I decided to learn about beer, I initially took a two-pronged approach. Being Irish, I wanted to learn about good Irish brews. Being a Torontoian, I wanted to know why we favour certain brews and why specific trends come and go.

Why do you want to drink beer? Why does a certain beer taste good to you? Why doesn’t it? Why does yeast poop do that thing to your brain? What the hell does torrefaction mean? The more you know about the products you consume and imbibe, the more you can enjoy and make informed decisions.

Don’t be “That Guy”

Don’t be the guy who drinks too much too fast, or who thinks that they know everything after drinking one craft brew. It’s ok not to know anything about beer. The great thing about beer is that there is always more to learn and enjoy. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the scene!

Never, ever, be the person who thinks that they can drive after beers. Just say no. Uber is cheap!

Good luck on your beer adventures. Drink wisely, and have fun. Beer is an adventure – Avante!

How Hipster are You Based on Your Beer Choice?

Hipsters and beer: a love affair like none other. If you drink beer, you’re probably a hipster of some kind.

Here is my guideline to discerning your hipster status based on your beer order. Data has been compiled from my extensive undercover investigations as a hipster and drinker.

Session/Saison

You’re vanilla, but you think you’re cinnamon. You hang out with the hophead hipsters, but you don’t really relate to them. Eventually, you will give up on new beers, sticking to lager classics.

Wheat Beer

You’re a hipster, but you’re not annoying about it. You probably do write in moleskins and have whimsical knick-knacks in mason jars, but also shop at Costco and occasionally enjoy Budweiser. Wheat beer lovers are everyone’s best friend!

Lager

You’re not a hipster, you’re a dad.

Pale Ale

You’re an entry-level hipster: you’re too self-aware for boring beers like lager and Session, but not quite ready to flaunt how nonchalant you are by ordering an IPA or cask brew.

Cream Ale

There is two types of people who drink Cream Ale: wee English grandparents, and new drinkers who think Cream Ales should taste like cream soda. It doesn’t. Not hipsters.

Porter

Did you ask for the Porter? You’re pretentious, and you own that title. You have great taste.

Did you ask for a dark beer and were confused by follow-up questions, and somehow ended up with Porter? Aw, you’re cute. Feel free to ask more questions and get a beer you like.

Are you confused about the difference between Porter and Stout? Don’t worry, everyone is. You’re probably not a hipster.

Are you an old person wearing argyle who specifically asked for Porter? I like you. Let’s smoke some cigars.

Stout

See above, with the caveat that not all stouts taste like a traditional stout and you are confused by that. You drank warm Guinness in Dublin, goddammit, you know stout!

India Pale Ale

So hipster it hurts. Your hipster flag flies loud and proud and is hand sewn with locally sourced fabrics.

Sours

Sour drinkers are the most confusing beer drinkers. They’re just strange. If they were a Harry Potter character, they would be Luna Lovegood or Mrs. Figg. These are the people who eat candy for dinner but don’t post it on Instagram. They are the people who make their own clothes, but their creations look like Zara’s new line.

I don’t get you guys, you strange magical creatures. On a hipster level, you’re an elephant mermaid.

Cask

Go home, hipster, you’re drunk.

This post was made with love for, and without harm to, hipsters and dads. Here is a bonus dad joke: What do you call an earless bear? B.

Statements that Won’t Help You Order Your Next Favourite Beer

Craft breweries! San Diego’s old news, Toronto’s new passion.

On the side, I serve and bartend at a Torontonian craft brewery in the glorious West end. Having worked with, and sold, craft beer for eons I have encountered lots of confusion with patrons who don’t “speak beer.” There is disjoint between what the drinker knows, and the language the server speaks.

Here are some statements to avoid to actually get the beer you want on your next night out:

“I don’t like hops.”

Sorry not sorry,  but craft beer is all about the hops. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: many beers are brewed for flavours that come from the yeast. However, the majority of craft beer drinkers and lovers don’t like the bread-like, funky, grassy, affect yeast has on taste.

Beer has a limited number of ingredients. (Pro tip: if a brewery brags about their four ingredients, it’s not special. It’s standard.) Hops, water, sugar, and yeast are the basic ingredients. Sugar can be found in starches and wheat and gives the yeast something to eat to create alcohol. Alcohol is just yeast poop.

Hops act as a preservative and give the beer its flavour. Certain strains are bred to promote certain flavours. Chances are if you don’t like hops you just don’t like beer (which is A-OK!)

“Is it dry?”

Beer can be dry. However, unless you’re a sommelier or work with alcohol you do not know what this means. I guarantee it.

People think “dry” means:

  • a beer that isn’t fruity
  • a “grown up” alcoholic drink
  • the proper way to inquire as to taste
  • something else I haven’t figured out, because no one knows what this word means.

To be honest, the beer industry fails the consumer in educating them on how to drink and how to order a beer. How to drink is a plethora of knowledge and experience for another day. For now, I will tell you now the idiot’s guide to dry:

Does it make you thirsty?

Sounds stupid, but that is literally what dry means. A “dry” beverage is one that you gulp down because it makes you thirsty. It’s a drink that requires a side of water. It does not mean a “grown up” or “not fruity.” Many (not all) dry drinks have elevated sugars to create a more balanced beverage, but that is more common in wine than beer.

“I don’t like bitter.”

Yes, hops are bitter and we have already established that beer is hops. Did you know that hops can also be savoury, funky (barnyard), and sour? There are differences between each flavour. If a drink is sour, you can expect a tingling sensation or dryness – which means that it makes you thirsty. Sour often makes me gasp, since it’s sensation and taste I don’t particularly enjoy. A funky drink will just confuse the hell out of your mouth. Bitter is jalapeños, chard, or Starbucks Pike place roast.

If you can learn the difference between these tastes, it will better help you understand what beers you do like. Often times brewery goers cannot differentiate these tastes, lumping them together as “bitter.” They’re actually very different! I am rarely surprised when a stout drinker enjoys sour beers, but I am always surprised when a double IPA drinker loves a sour. There are relationships and differences between these flavours.

“Do you have anything like Canadian/Coors/Heineken/Corona?”

No, and get out or STFU and take this generic lager we slapped together for heathens like you. You should be thankful a microbrewery bothered with a drink as boring as a lager.

“I like all beers.”

Do you? DO YOU? Because I drink all day every day and there are definitely beers I do not like. That’s like saying “I love absolutely everything about my spouse!” when in reality you hate their morning breath and how their poops clog the toilet.

If you haven’t met a beer you dislike, it’s because you haven’t been adventurous with your choices and you are drinking the same thing constantly. Take a chance and try out the strange and the rare! If you’re not sure where to start, ask your server what beers the brewmaster was most creative with. Order a tasting flight of these beers and allow yourself to be horrified. It’ll be fun!

Anyone who has ever said to me “I like all beers” has not liked all beers. Sometimes tastes and palates are defined by what you don’t like, and that’s absolutely fine. Trying the new unusual keeps your palate and mind sharp.

“What’s your favourite? Can I have that?”

This is a great conversation, but it doesn’t help your server give you the drink you want. I love stouts, porters, Belgium beers, APAs, and IPAs. Those are not popular beers to drink, and I don’t expect someone new to craft beer to enjoy any of them. I also dislike wheat beers and lagers, but those are always popular selections.

If your server is skilled she will tell you one of her favourites and a best-seller, and then ask what you like to drink. Based on what beers you do like she should be able to suggest something you will actually enjoy, not something she does.

“I don’t like beer. What should I get?”

Well, why are you wasting time in a brewery?

Bandit Brewery’s Refreshing German Alt Beer

I will be honest, I don’t have any of pictures of this beauty. I gulped it down.

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Relatively new to Toronto’s craft beer scene, Bandit Brewery is nestled next to the cozy and hipster neighbourhood of Roncesvalles. It’s bottle shop is open from 11AM -11PM, with the restaurant open at varying hours. The beers have clever names (Farmed and Dangerous, Hassle-heffe, Smoke on the Porter) and clever branding. As native Torontonians will know, the raccoon imagery is an homage to our unofficial mascot, and short lived celebrities. It’s cute, in spite of the macabre reference.

Bandit’s German Alt beer isn’t on the regular menu. It’s a special, limited edition, Oktoberfest brew. I chose this beer specifically to review as it is not a beer I would typically order on a night out, or take home with me from a brewery visit.

Bandit’s interpretation on German Alt Beer is crisp, refreshing, and flavourful: in a word, delightful.

Initially, the nose and palate were dominated by corn and corn husk notes. This was scary at first, as I normally associate “corny” with Canadian/Coors brews. However, the scent and taste was hearty and snappy. The corn-elements opened into more subtle flavours: crushed clove, white honey, dried sage, cut twigs, soft citrus and subtle malts. Savouring this beer felt like a walk in the park on the first day of fall.

Bandit’s German Alt beer is delicious! I highly recommend Torontonians (and our guests) try it out while fall beers are still available.

Prost!

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A Perfect Thanksgiving (or, Thanksgiving is for Hobbits)

Modern Thanksgiving is great – there are mountains of food, days off work, and bright, colourful, crisp weather. December may be the “most wonderful time of the year” but Thanksgiving is definitely the prettiest.

Even though many religious holidays circle around it (Sukkhot, Diwali, and Rosh Hashanah to name a few) it’s a family and food centric holiday an atheist like me can get behind. Plus, even holiday haters can tolerate this one: no one is Scrooge if they sleep through this holiday, and there are sports and German beers for alternative celebrations.

Thanksgiving is great, but this is what my Thanksgiving needs to be completely perfect:

A Basic Walk

I have a confession: I love fall. I love it so much. Transitional seasons are best, but spring is lame because in Canada we can have snow until May. I firmly believe spring does not exist in the Great White North.

On the other gloved hand, fall is amazing. It’s pretty, it smells like wine, and I can eat fattening pastries and savoury meats without worry. Food baby? Layer over! Gross mulled wine stain? Layer over! Fall is amazing, even if it turns me Basic™.

Every Thanksgiving, I must have a walk with my beloved man through a beautiful park. Thanksgiving is one of the last weekends that a Canuck can hope for decent weather, and I insist on appreciating it with a delicious Cinnamon Latte. It’s just not Thanksgiving without a walk through crunchy maple leaves, a warm beverage, and my love beside me.

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Potatoes and Gravy

Thanksgiving food is the best! It’s full of butter and animal fat and herbs – yum! The only negative to Thanksgiving food is that the desserts aren’t as great as Christmas and Easter, or even Halloween. I can forgive the holiday for this, because of the POTATOES.

Coming for an Irish family, we make the best potatoes and gravy. I would eat a bathtub of them if I could. I want to live in a  mashed potato castle with a gravy moat and French fry furniture.

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My Nieces, and their Caregivers

It wasn’t too long ago that my family didn’t have the next generation. Holidays were quiet, and it was hard to get excited about them. Kids change that – being around my wonderful nieces is what I live for, and at Thanksgiving I get to enjoy their company without the distraction of gifts and candy. Have you ever played pretend superheroes with a sweet and sassy little girl? No? Then you aren’t living!

Their parents are pretty cool, too. My sister in law puts up with my crazy family, and is one of the strongest women I have ever met.

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German Alcohol

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love beer and wine. Thanksgiving is the best of both these liquid worlds. Oktoberfest beers flow from the taps of the many craft beer breweries in my neighbourhood, each more delicious than the next. As a bonus, Oktoberfest beers rarely clash with wine at dinner: usually, I can’t switch between alcohols, but going from a Bock to a Reisling at Thanksgiving is delightful. Riesling is amazing with turkey and pie! The Germans make delicious beverages, and this is their time to shine – and my time to imbibe.

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With the feel good things about Thanksgiving, there is also the nasty: this holiday does not have pretty origins. I hope that our Canadian leaders will take this time to look further in the missing and murdered Indigenous women in our country (Wiki article here) as well as our disgraceful inheritance from residential schools. There is a lot to love about being Canadian, but this part of our history is not that.

PS – here is a bonus Samwise gif, since he’s a BAMF and Thanksgiving is for hobbits:

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4 Unique Things We Do As Millennials

Eat Veggies

You know I mean kale.

We are BAMFs because we use our greens to put green back into our bodies. We’re healthy! There is a whole world of delicious things to eat, and we don’t limit ourselves to traditional family meals.

Also, how cool is it that brussel sprouts are trending now? YES PLEASE to sprouts, bacon, and spicy sauces!

Work Really, Really Hard (but only sometimes)

There are less jobs than ever, but millennials are still hustling. We work as baristas, bartenders, and cashiers for minimum wage because kale is expensive AF. It is unfortunate  that many of us will never have a high powered or “respectable” job, but we still find ways to pay the bills.

The weird thing about our work habits is that we give ourselves the freedom to take time off. Weirder still is that the “time off” is usually spent on the side hustle or passion project. Our Instagrams may look like we are bumming around India, but the reality is that the wanderlust sufferer is probably sourcing new materials or inspiration for the side hustle.

Think

We ask WHY, and we do not accept convention as law. We find out where our information is coming from, and why our Twitter crushes suddenly promote products.

We don’t get fooled AGAAAAIINN.

We Create Our Own Cultures and Traditions

Living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, I am particularly proud of this one. Millennials blend traditions to create new ones: I serve my Grandma’s Irish dishes with baklava and French wine, and participate in “Friends-giving” and Festivus.

On the funny side, we have a whole sub-cultures of hipsters and entrepreneurs! We are the generation that creates cultures based on personal identity, not (necessarily) limited by heritage.

Of course the evil side of this is cultural appropriation. Not cool, dudes. Not cool.

 

All in all, we are a weird, albeit financially fucked, generation. It’s pretty cool to be alive right now!