Are you ready to party? Perhaps I should say: R u ready 2 par-taye?
Because I am fist-pumping as I write this. The year of the twerk is mercifully drawing to a close.
So is the year of senatorial skimming, the Cronut burger and mayors governing under the influence. It is also the year Pinnacle released a Cinnabon-flavoured vodka, my vote for 2013’s darkest hour.
The prospect of a fresh start puts me in a celebratory mood. There are developments to anticipate. Like a $30-million upgrade to the Beer Store chain in Ontario, including 13 new stores that will depart from the usual Soviet-style decor. We may also see local wine sold at farmers’ markets in British Columbia and Ontario.
Those latter moves are, to be frank, irrelevant to the vast majority of consumers. Not a soul I know outside of the Ontario wine-industry lobby has been clamouring for domestic wine sales at farmers’ markets. This is a case of governments once again pacifying regional business lobbies (wineries) while spinning the announcements as a boon to the broader public. Had actual consumers marched on Queen’s Park for access to local wine at farmers’ markets, the Ontario government would have shooed them off the lawn.
Besides, it’s slightly pathetic that British Columbia and Ontario – the country’s biggest wine-producing provinces by far – are so late to this reality. Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia already allow local-wine sales at farmers’ markets.
But, as I say, I welcome the prospect of expanded wine sales, no matter how modest and timid the move, for the simple reason that it will help put the lie to the ridiculous contention that more liberalized liquor-retail practices will invite the apocalypse or drain beverage-alcohol taxes from hospital revenues.
I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, celebrating the times ahead. You’ll need two things for your party: a taxi phone number on speed dial (whether you’re a guest or host) and a decent selection of fine drink. Herewith some thoughts for a beverage pantry.
It’s nice to have a choice, or at least something other than Corona. Ideally, include something light and something bold. In the former category, I like the new Lake of Bays Top Shelf Classic Lager from Ontario, a flavourful, balanced new beer made in collaboration with the NHL Alumni Association. Creemore Lager or Pilsner, more widely available, are fine alternatives. In a bolder, bitter vein, consider Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale from Ontario, Lighthouse Switchback IPA from British Columbia, Garrison Hopyard Pale Ale from Nova Scotia and, for cheese boards or slow sipping, Unibroue’s strong and superb La Fin du Monde (available in several provinces) or the amazing Trappist-style extra-strong 17 Grande Réserve (Man., Ont., Que., N.B., Nfld.).
The fashionable crowd will admire your au courant sophistication. Bourbon has gone from Louisville to Hipsterville in little time. The top value pick is Jim Beam Black ($27.99 to $29.95 around the country). Solid pricier options include spicy Buffalo Trace (about $40) and robust Woodford Reserve ($48 to $50).
For a smooth and mellow Manhattan, whisky and ginger ale or on-the-rocks sipping, Forty Creek Barrel Select ($27) and Wiser’s Small Batch ($33) are terrific buys. For snob appeal, there’s marvellous Wiser’s Legacy ($50).
There are too many to choose from, and every Scotch drinker has strong preferences. But here goes. Affordable blends: Cutty Sark, Dewar’s White Label, Grants Family Reserve and smoky Black Grouse are hard to argue with, all roughly $24 to $35. Te Bheag is superb, at $38. Well priced single malts: Glenfiddich 12 year old ($50) and the new Highland Park 10 ($60). Superpremium: Laphroaig 10 ($80 to $85), Glenfarclas 17 ($96 to $106) and Ardbeg 10 ($78 to $100).
A woman in Vancouver who described herself as Polish (and had a thick accent to prove it) recently heaped unexpected praise on me for recommending Tito’s Handmade from a rather un-Polish place, Austin, Tex. ($35). How’s that for an endorsement. But there’s also Belvedere from Poland, which comes in a seasonal shiny-metallic-red bottle, at $48 to $50 in select provinces.
Gin is where the bigger flavour differences lie, so your brand choice gets a little more important.
Broker’s makes an excellent, balanced offering at the entry level, at about $27. It comes topped with a signature bowler hat. No. 3 London Dry Gin from the Netherlands ($50) is superb, especially for dry martinis. The softer, cucumber-and-rose-infused Hendrick’s from Scotland ($48) is a satisfyingly different change of pace.
By “party” I mean affordable. As in Paul Mas Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot from southern France (discounted by $2 to $11.95 in Ont. till Jan. 5) and Cono Sur Bicicleta Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile ($1 off, at $9.99 till today at B.C. Liquor Stores).
Impressive for the money: Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay from Chile ($9.95 in Ont., $12.99 in Man.) and Primal Roots White Blend from California ($9.95 in Ont., $16.29 in Sask., $16.98 in Nfld.)
If it’s got to be Champagne, consider bone-dry and minerally elegant Taittinger Brut Réserve (discounted by $3 to $61.99 in B.C., $59.32 in Sask., $58.95 in Ont. $62.50 in Que., $67.38 in Nfld.). Bargain options: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava from Spain ($14.99 in B.C., $14.49 in Man., $14.25 in Ont., $14.75 in Que., $16.99 in N.B., $17.48 in Nfld., $16 in PEI) and Santa Julia Organic Brut from Argentina ($14.85 in Ont.).