Remember when virtually all patriotic Canadians toasted July 1 with the same beverage? Oops, forgive me, I spoke too soon. Perhaps you’re too young to recall. So, pull up a high chair, my rosy-cheeked Shawn Mendes groupies and let me tell you a scary tale about the dark ages of Canadian drinking.
Back in the 1970s, when your parents were shaking their booty to KC and the Sunshine Band, trying to avoid a dangerous collision with my satanically possessed body on the disco dance floor, Canucks drank beer. Not just any beer, but one in particular. Sure, it may have gone by a variety of brand names and been made at various breweries but it all tasted the same, as though it had come from the Keystone XL/Trans Mountain Beer Pipeline.
Fast-forward. Today we live in a golden age of summertime sipping. Not only have people discovered all manner of barbecue-friendly wines, we have at our disposal a wealth of flavourful craft brews, fine spirits and compelling and ready-to-drink flavoured beverages.
For this selective roundup of long-weekend refreshment, I’m dipping into fashionable tippling trends, including rosé ciders, beer-and-fruit-juice radlers, premixed red-wine sangrias and highball-style drinks in a can (spiked kombucha, anyone?).
If you don’t mind mixing your own, you might want to improvise with tonic water, le mixer du jour. In Spain you can find bars nowadays with literally 40 or more variations on the gin and tonic – using such fresh garnishes as rosemary or thyme and all manner of fruits and aromatic flowers. Next door in Portugal the ubiquitous cocktail is white port and tonic, a low-alcohol alternative to the G & T.
Happy “beerday,” Canada.
Roku Gin, Japan
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $49.70
This comes from Beam Suntory, the global giant behind such brands as Jim Beam bourbon and Hibiki Japanese whisky. It’s a gem, distilled with offbeat Japanese botanicals, including sakura flower, yuzu peel, sansho pepper and sencha and gyokuro green teas. Dry and juniper-forward, with plenty of citrus and spice tones. Great for a classic martini – preferably garnished with a slice of peeled, fresh ginger. Available in Ontario at the above price, $48.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $44.49 in Manitoba, $50 in Quebec, $52.30 in New Brunswick, $49.98 in Nova Scotia, $49.98 in Prince Edward Island.
Gin Mare, Spain
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $55.15
Spain is crazy for gin. This inspired brand brings a twist to the category by mixing Spanish arbequina olives with Italian basil, Turkish thyme and Greek rosemary. Dry, very garden-like in its aromatics, it finishes clean, with a kick of peppery spice. Great for a gin and tonic – but go easy on the tonic, or try half tonic with half club soda. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $58 in Quebec, $58.99 in New Brunswick.
Windfall Hail Mary Rosé Cider, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $5.99/473 ml
Enticingly delicate colour – barely stained, pale pink. This is a superb, inspired cider, a blend of B.C. apples with saskatoons (the sweet-nutty berries after which the Saskatchewan city is named). Very dry and crisp, with fresh crabapple flavour and a brightly effervescent texture. It would pair well with a variety of lean foods, including simply grilled fish or chicken. Available at select private B.C. liquor stores, including Jak’s, Liberty Wine Merchants, Legacy and Everything Wines.
Kitsch Block Party 2018, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21
A blend of chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir. The “block” here primarily refers to the five vineyard zones from which the grapes are sourced. But it’s a double-entendre, telegraphing that this white is designed for casual fun. Medium-bodied, plump, round and dry, with notes of pear and lemon in the foreground along with green melon. Available direct through kitschwines.ca.
Gahan Blueberry Ale Wheat Beer, Prince Edward Island
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $3.25/473-ml
Thank you, Prince Edward Island Brewing Co., for this inspired beverage. Dry (hurrah for that), it’s hazy orange-gold in colour, clearly not stained with fake purple dye. The blueberry flavour is fresh and true and properly subtle, permitting the underlying wheat-beer flavour to come through with notes of white-flour cracker, spice, peach and banana. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $3.90/500 ml in New Brunswick, $4.19 in Nova Scotia, $3.90 in Prince Edward Island, $4.15 in Newfoundland.
Ketel One Botanical Cucumber & Mint, Netherlands
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $36.15
This is part of a smart new line extension from famed vodka brand Ketel One. At 30-per-cent alcohol, it’s lighter than standard, which makes for easier sipping, particularly on the rocks, which is a fine way to enjoy this breezy and refreshingly unsweet spirit. It also comes alive when mixed with club soda. The cucumber flavour tastes real, and the mint is, as it should be, an accent rather than dominant. I happen to like it in a dry martini – with a whisper of vermouth. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices across the country.
Big Rock The Darcys Poolside Grapefruit Lager, Alberta
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $3.25/473 ml
Here’s a collaboration between Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery and Toronto music duo the Darcys. It’s like a pool party in a can, with pure-tasting grapefruit essence in a crisp, clean, smooth package. Pair it with sunglasses and Coppertone. Available in Ontario.
Beau’s Organic Grapefruit Radler, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $3.25/473 ml
Pours foamy. Hazy pale yellow. Nicely dry for a radler. Tastes real, like grapefruit, with satisfying bitterness. Aromatic, light (at just 2.5-per-cent alcohol), crisp and lively. Very thirst-quenching and natural in taste. Available in Ontario.
Pompita Barcelona Sangria Superior, Spain
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $9.95
Medium-sweet for a sangria, this is flavoured with blood orange and is lifted by a fetching spritz. Excellent flavour and balance. Low in alcohol, at just 5.5 per cent. You could make your own sangria, with red wine, fruit, sparkling water and, optionally, brandy, but it might taste dull unless you know what you’re doing or have lots of time to tinker. Not to be confused with its sister product, Pompita Madrid, which I have not sampled. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $13.99 in Newfoundland.
Lolea No. 1 Red Sparkling Sangria, Spain
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $13.70
Medium-sweet. Smooth and ever-so-faintly spritzy, with flavours of red fruits, aromatic satsuma, peach and cinnamon. The bottle is gorgeously festive, painted with a warm red background and white polka dots, like a white-spotted ladybug, with a flip-top, “Quillfeldt” stopper. A fine way to get the backyard party started. Alcohol: 7 per cent. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.98 at Everything Wine and other private shops in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $17.99 in Manitoba (on sale for $16.19 until June 30), $13.95 in Quebec.
Muskoka Spirits Gin & Tonic Docker, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $3.05
This tastes drier than a bar-mixed gin and tonic. It’s made by the new spirits arm of the excellent Muskoka Brewery. Prominent and complementary cucumber and lime flavours, light in alcohol – at 4 per cent – and well-suited to quaffing in the sunshine on a lakeside dock as opposed to sipping at a downtown cocktail bar before dinner. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Ace Hill Lemon-Ginger Hard Kombucha, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $3.25/473 ml
You know kombucha, yes? It’s a trendy fermented-tea drink with hipster-purported health benefits. Some people believe its probiotic potency is good for the gut. I think it does wonders for booze. In particular, it loves gin and vodka. This product relies on vodka along with lemon and ginger. It pours hazy pale-amber and, at just 5-per-cent alcohol, barely tastes spiked. Refreshingly dry and low in effervescence, it tastes like black tea and lemon, with only the faintest suggestion of ginger. I say add a slice of fresh ginger and call yourself a bartender. Available in Ontario.
Radical Road Cucumber Mint Kölsch, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $3.10/473 ml
Beautiful packaging: a cream-yellow can with large, semi-abstract typeface in a two-tone font of lime green and sky blue, spelling out the words “cucumber mint.” Kölsch is a beer style from Cologne, Germany, essentially a top-fermented and moderately hoppy ale that’s conditioned at low, lager-like temperatures for added freshness. This one’s clear and blond in colour, very smooth and with pronounced but not overwhelming cucumber flavour, with a smartly subtle note of mint. Available in Ontario.
Becherovka, Czech Republic
SCORE: PRICE: $29.95
If you’re not a gin fan but want to get in on spritzy, ritzy summer fun, you need not settle for vodka. You could try white port, or you could go rogue and try a B & T using this herbal liqueur from the Czech Republic. Created in the early 1800s as a medicinal tonic for stomach illnesses, the brand underwent a packaging and PR overhaul about 15 years ago and has since grown in popularity. Sweet and very aromatic, it’s made with all-natural ingredients, including 20 botanicals, and comes across with prominent flavours of clove, chamomile, bitter orange and licorice. Think of it as the Czech Jagermeister. Traditionally served straight, at freezer temperature. But I think it comes alive with tonic. Bottled at 38-per-cent alcohol. Available in Ontario.
Happy Dogs Red Blend 2018, Chile
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $8.95
Here’s a big-value red wine for casual feasts around the barbie. Medium-full-bodied, dry and pleasantly grainy, with succulent cassis and plum fruit joined by a classically Chilean cabernet note of eucalyptus along with grilled herbs and dark chocolate. Made from cabernet sauvignon and carménère. Bring on the burgers. Available in Ontario.
Blue Lobster Vodka Soda Lemon Lime, Nova Scotia
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $2.95/473 ml
Unsweetened. Hurrah. Totally dry, this laudable potation, weighing in at 6-per-cent alcohol, comes from the Nova Scotia Spirit Co. It goes down crisp and clean, with fresh lime flavour. Oddly, the aromatics nostalgically remind me of sticking my face into a beach ball (that plasticky smell, remember?), which is kind of nice and certainly appropriate for summer. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18 for a six pack in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Pump House Crafty Radler Grapefruit & Tangerine, New Brunswick
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $3.10/473 ml
Just as billed, this frothy, peachy-coloured radler tastes like grapefruit and tangerine. But it’s more like fruit soda than beer, with a creamy base clearly attributable to the brew. Bottled at 4.7-per-cent alcohol. On the sweet side but well-balanced. Available in Ontario at the above price, $3.69 in Manitoba, $3.70 in New Brunswick, $3.79 in Nova Scotia, $3.99 in Prince Edward Island, $4.29 in Newfoundland.
Join wine critic Beppi Crosariol and other Globe and Mail journalists, including culinary host Tara O’Brady, European bureau chief Eric Reguly and writer-at-large John Ibbitson in July aboard the Globe’s second Portugal Cruise of 2019. For itinerary and booking information, visit globedourocruise.com.