Welcome to another instalment of "If I Ran the Beverage World." Wine, beer and spirits can bring so much pleasure, but often the hedonistic sipping experience is marred by the ill-advised practices of professionals who package and serve the stuff. From awkwardly shaped bottles to soapy glassware to stale by-the-glass pours - it's enough to drive a person to drink.
My last screed on the subject met with many appreciative responses and a few additional suggestions. So I'd like to think that this column isn't about me; it's about us. Ready for another round?
Sink the fine print. Am I just getting older or is the typeface on back-of-bottle labels shrinking to subatomic proportions? If you want us to know that your merlot smells of blackcurrant, cedar and the perspiration of cherubs, bump up the font or include a magnifying glass with each purchase. You'd think label designers were writing car-rental liability clauses (maybe they are).
Non-standard wine-bottle shapes. Wine should come in one of two vessels: narrow and tall-shouldered, like the standard Bordeaux shape, or fatter below the neck, with a more sloping shoulder, the classic Burgundy contour. Too many producers nowadays favour pretentious, offbeat designs intended to set their products apart. Trouble is, the rounded bottles are impossible to stack horizontally in the cellar and, in the case of whites and sparkling wines, can roll around in the fridge like a runaway egg. We know your wine is special. Your bottles don't have to be.
Dirty mugs and stemware. When a carbonated beverage such as beer or sparkling arrives with a thick foam that doesn't subside (some beers excepted), it means one thing: a dirty glass, as in actual dirt or, more commonly, soap scum. It's a fact I learned decades ago working on the quality-assurance line for a major brewing company. You can tell for certain when two glasses of the same beer or bubbly are served side by side and one remains frothier than the other. Dear restaurateurs: Rinse your glassware. Now rinse again.
Banal suds on tap. There's a glorious world of richly flavoured microbrews out there. Unfortunately, some establishments that try to pass themselves off as British- or Irish-style pubs seem stuck in a 1970s Canadian-tavern time warp, offering nothing more than big, industrial brands. It's enough to make this man thirsty.
Sexist sales pitches. Fembots, low-cut dresses and other ridiculous advertising images are still used to sell alcoholic beverages. Pricey vodkas and big-brand beers are the worst culprits. That should be our clue to the quality inside the bottle. Can the calendar girls and the implicit promise of sultry sex - unless you can actually deliver on the sultry-sex part.
Pretentious beer closures. What's up with all those new beers sealed with a champagne-style mushroom cork and wire cage? Is a reliable, easier-to-remove crown cap not pretentious enough for you? If we wanted Veuve, we'd buy it.
Swifty serve-a-lots. A reader writes: "My No. 1 wine peeve is servers at restaurants that have been trained to top up your glass in an effort to get you to drink faster and order more booze. Dear server (and by proxy, restaurant owner): Leave the 'darn' bottle on the table. We can handle it from here." Enough said, though I suspect a pour-your-own policy would violate "responsible-consumption" laws in many provinces.
Stale wines by the glass. Ever order a glass of wine early in the evening only to find it tastes like flat prune juice or sherry from Pleistocene epoch? It's probably because the bottle has been sitting uncorked and half-full from the night before, decaying from contact with air above the surface. That wine is history and belongs in the drain.
Useless wine accessories. There's a crazy world of gadgets out there, including magical metal-alloy "wine clefs" designed to accelerate the aging of a young wine through some alchemical reaction and plug-in single-bottle wine chillers. (What's wrong with an ice bucket?) Sure, we can choose not to buy, but the environmentally unfriendly clutter keeps mounting after every birthday and holiday season.
Stratospherically priced whiskies. Whisky companies have come up with a flashy gimmick in recent years, rolling out $35,000-to-$50,000 bottles with fanfare. We in the media lap it up. These are limited-edition spirits tapped from a 40- or 50-year-old cask supposedly "discovered" at the back of the barrel cellar. It tastes so good, the publicity line goes, it had to be bottled as is, rather than mixed, as is normally the case, with younger spirits to create a harmonious blend. Even at the price, the distillery isn't adding much to its bottom line by selling the 250 or so bottles. But that's not the point anyway. The company and its cheaper whiskies benefit big-time from the media exposure. We'll take 350 bottles of our favourite 12-year-old instead, thank you.
Humongous wine lists. Yes, we all love choice and variety. But if we wanted to ignore our restaurant dining companions while tucking into the Encyclopedia Britannica, we'd have stayed home. Save the lap-crusher lists for those gazillionaires who founded Google and Facebook and hand the rest of us a Reader's Digest version, please. We'll wave for the Britannica if the table conversation turns dry.