31 December 2008

Stella Artois

Here is one Belgian beer that I find I honestly enjoy. Stella is probably the most famous Belgian beer worldwide and is widely available on draught in bars all over Ontario. The self-described "deluxe beer of Belgium" has been brewed since 1366. Additionally, the label also states that "beer is to Belgium what wine is to France". Apparently, I figured that out fairly quickly on my own. It pours the same colour as typical pilsner, goes down smooth and finishes with little aftertaste. However, my one caveat is the green bottle. I have found that green bottled beers always seem to go 'skunked' faster than beer stored in brown bottles. This particular bottle had that funky Heineken taste to it, which I have never encountered with draught Stella (and wasn't that bad as to turn me off drinking it). My advice to anyone looking to juice this one up would be to buy cans or enjoy it at your local pub. While not a standout by any means, Stella Artois is an approachable beer that most people should enjoy.

My final verdict on Belgian beers hasn't changed much since my initial assessment. Belgium may be a hotspot of ancient brewing tradition, but their beers are not the greatest examples of brewing many make them out to be. I could see myself knocking back a few Hoegaarten on a patio in the summer, or a Stella Artois in the pub if the mood struck me but I don't think I'd reach for either as fast as I would a Schneider Weiss or Guinness. If anyone has any suggestions for other varieties of Belgian beers to review (or even better, a free sample!), feel free to contact me and we'll try to accomodate your requests in 2009. Happy drinking!

Leffe Brune

The second of the "Big Three" of Belgian brewing, Leffe Brune ('the authentic Belgian abbey beer') has been brewed since 1240. The rear lable states "the roasted barley malts give this Leffe Brune its sweet caramel yet bitter taste." However, judging by the wine glass supplied to drink it from, I suspected this was going to be another Chimay-style disaster.

The beer is very dark and at 6.5% abv, would be classified as a malt liquor if brewed in Canada. I poured it into the glass and drank. This beer is not for lightweights. The brew hit my tongue with an almost sickly sweetness that many dark beers possess, but followed up with an overwhelmingly bitter finish. This beer is actually not at all unlike the black malt homebrew my father and I used to make. I am certain that Goldings hops were used along with a little crystal malt in the initial boil. The taste profile is almost exactly as I remember our homebrew to be like, except that this was a lot less strong. I strongly suspect the heavy malt of this one will likely result in an early morning "Leffe moment" after a frantic run to the bathroom. It is not as bad as some other Belgian beers I have tried, but it definately is not the best. Perhaps Stella Artois will impress where others have failed.

30 December 2008

Hoegaarten Whitbier

My sister being a huge Stella Artois fan apparently decided that I was harsh on Belgian beer, and gave me a Belgian Beer gift pack for Christmas. Inside was a bottle of Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarten complete with their respective glasses and a pimp bottle opener. As I personally love weissenbier, I decided to properly review these Belgian favourites starting with Hoegaarten whitbier (which in my opinion came with the coolest glass of the three). Hoegaarten is described on the label as "a delicious and surprisingly refreshing taste", and has apparently been brewed since 1445.

I washed the glass out and poured the beer according to the directions. It is definately "white" which I chalked up to the lack of filtration the Belgians are famous for. The cloudy yellow-brown liquid did not look that much unlike the colour of my urine following my recent week-long bender in Las Vegas (what do expect from a desert city that sells $1.00 Michelobs???). I shed that disgusting memory and tipped the glass back. This is definately no Schneider Weiss. The beer was inoffensive enough, but has an odd citrus finish, like someone had squeezed a lemon into it. I am sure by now most people are aware that I don't much care for fruit in my beer, but this is more like a Corona with lime than some horrid concoction like Blackcurrant Rye Beer. Outside the slight lemon flavour, there was no discernable aftertaste at all which made the beer rather refreshing, but it is a shallow profile with little going on outside the lemony finish. I think this one could be good on a summer patio moreso than a late December evening. Still, I have to say I am still looking for that fabled Belgian beer that will blow me away. Next up: Leffe!

28 December 2008

Bah Humbug! Christmas Ale

Another entry under the 'seasonal' catagory, Wychwood Breweries' Bah Humbug! Christmas Ale is another novelty beer brought in by the LCBO for the holiday season. Wychwood Breweries is based in Oxfordshire, England and its line includes other brands such as Hobgoblin, Fiddler's Elbow and Winter's Troll. Most of their products have a colourful cartoon mascot for that particular brand, and Bah Humbug! is no different. The label is a scowl-faced caricature of Dicken's Scrooge (which the beer is somewhat named after) with the ghost of Jacob Marley in the background. The illustration is fitting for more than the obvious reasons.

Wychwood tends to use heavy bottles for its beer, which is great even if you don't live in a country where bottling your adversaries during drunken pub brawls are a common event. The bottle is sturdy and gives the impression of quality. The reverse label indicates the following:

Spiced beer. Brewed with the choicest hops and malt, lightly spiced with cinnamon, this is a rich ale complimented with the subtle taste of dried fruits. Beer with cinnamon.

Now I don't know about you, but the last 'spicy' beer I drank was Chimay and the coriander aftertaste did not fit the flavour profile at all. Undaunted, I poured the dark brew into a pint glass and drank. It smelled not unlike any other dark ale I have tried, with no evidence of cinnamon, nutmeg or any other surprises they may have added for laughs. The taste is a sweet, malty profile to be expected from such a dark brew, kind of flat with a slight cinnamon aftertaste. I personally could not detect any "dried fruits" in the mix, and it was somewhat reminiscent of the dark malt homebrew I used to make at home with my dad. While I couldn't see myself drinking more than one of these without getting turned off alcohol for the rest of the night (and/or becoming violently ill), it really wasn't bad for a before-dinner drink on a cold December night. Definately something different for the holidays, and with enough of them in you, you might just see the ghost of Jacob Marley yourself!

25 December 2008


First of all, I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!!

I apologize for the lack of updates lately but it has been a very crazy week. Between fighting with Ford Motor Company (again) and trying to finish my Christmas shopping amid the shambling hordes of ignorant mall dwellers, I have hardly had time to sit down for a relaxing glass of ale or two. Can someone please remind me why this is called a holiday?

The good news is there are quite a few new reviews coming in the very near future. First, I was gifted this morning with a bottle of Wychwood Breweries "Bah, Humbug!" seasonal beer which is chilling in the refrigerator as I type this. Additionally, due to criticism about my harsh treatment of Belgian beers, I will be reviewing the top three Belgian exports for a final decision on the Belgian brewing technique. As well, I will be diving into my extensive rum collection to see what I have acquired over the years.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great day getting drunk with friends and family. Thanks for your continued support through 2009. Here's toasting a nice, refreshing glass of Cisco in your honour. Again, here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best in 2009!

18 December 2008

Talisker 10 Year Single Malt

While Christmas inevitably brings a truckload of bad alcohol with it, it is also a time many of us reach for quality liquor to share with friends and family. As many of you undoubtedly know, I am a big fan of single malt Scotch whiskey. In fact, I have become something of a "whiskey snob" in that I won't even touch the cheaper quality blends anymore (unless to review for this site, of course). My taste was forged on Glenfeddich and has mostly stayed on the side of Speyside malts such as Aberlour and The Glenlivet. This Christmas however, I decided to jump whole-hog into one of the smokier (and most popular) Island malts, Talisker 10 Year Old.

The Talisker Distillery is located in Carbost on Scotland's Isle of Skye. In fact, Talisker is the only distllery found on the entire island. Whiskey making has been a tradition here since 1830 when Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill built the original Talkisker distillery and started making their famous malt. The original spirit (like Irish whiskey) was triple-distilled, however Talisker switched to a double-distilling method in 1928. All Talisker stills still use worm-coils instead of modern condensers which is said to give this whiskey its full-bodied flavour.

The whiskey is a rich amber-gold colour and gives off a slight peatiness on the nose. The flavour is very complex and despite its strong 45.8% abv, is very smooth on the palate. The finish is strong smoke which fades off to a fantastic sweet smokey-caramel. It is not hard to see why this whiskey has gained such a strong fanbase through the years (including Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson). I can see this particular brand becoming one of my personal favourites despite its rather hefty price tag. It is definately something all fans of single malt Scotch should treat themselves to. It is a exceptional example of the Islay style of malting. Highly recommended.

17 December 2008

Fuller's London Pride

When I was in my twenties, I used to attend the bi-annual Festival of Britain with my father at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The Festival of Britain was a celebration of all things British and featured foods, products and celebrities from the UK. The celebrities were often some dried-up cooze who had outlived her youth on such daily English serials like Coronation Street. In addition to the 'drum and pipe' bands and the flea-market atmosphere of the show, there was also a beer graden that was sponsored by William Grant and Sons, distillers of the world-famous Glenfeddich Scotch Whiskey.

As William Grant and Sons sponsored the event, there was an abundance of cheaply-priced whiskey to be had by all. Shots of Grant's blended scotch went for 75 cents, shots of Glenfeddich were one dollar, and shots of The Belvenie were $1.25. With these prices, it was easy to see why some people just never seemed to leave the beer garden. As a chaser, the beer garden offered 6 oz cups of Fuller's London Pride for a dollar as well. I can say without doubt that this twice-yearly event was what honed my taste for both single malt scotches and Fuller's ale.

I later began seeing Fuller's London Pride at the LCBO, and for awhile both my father and I bought it regularly. Soon afterwards however, it seemed to disappear from the shelves. I had assumed the LCBO had delisted it due to lack of interest from the general public (who were undoubtedly convinced that Belgian beer was the cat's ass of world brewing history - fools!). I had continued to keep an eye out for it, and finally discovered it was added to the LCBO's seasonal offerings this year.

Fuller's London Pride is an excellent example of good British ale. The amber brew has good head, a balanced hop flavour and a refreshing finish. It was a very welcome change from the previously-reviewed Blackcurrant Rye Beer, which is the only liquor I had ever sinked during a tasting. The cool, flavouful ale was just as I remembered it, and it brought back fond memories of the great times I spent with my father getting liquored up at the Festivals of Britain.

16 December 2008

Mort Subite Framboise

One might think I had enough of Belgian brews after the Chimay experience, however I couldn't resist this second example of brewer's madness. Once again, this beer is from Belgium and once again it is sealed in a wine-style bottle with a champagne-calibre cork. Taking my last experience into consideration, I did not reach for the magnum this time. From my knowledge based on past experiences with Belgian beers, I assumed that this one would probably not be very good. As it turns out, I was correct in my assumptions.

I twisted off the wire cage and popped the cork. It left the bottle with a lot less force than the Chimay cork did, and as such was not quite as exciting. As for the beer, Mort Subite Framboise pours a deep reddish colour and fizzes up a pink head not unlike Pink Champale. The scent is a mix of beer and raspberry, which is essentially what this stuff tastes like. It is very reminiscent of Wildberry wine coolers that were popular among girls in high school, but is far too sweet and fruity for my palate. Michelle tried some and remarked it was not that bad at all, however I doubt she would want to get drunk on it either. I would expect the taste of this to be popular with high school kids, but the import price would likely turn them away to cheaper alternatives for a Friday night party. All in all, it was simply another grande example why it might be advisable to think twice before buying a beer brewed in Belgium.

15 December 2008

Blackcurrant Rye Beer

As Christmas approaches, the LCBO never fails to take advantage of the added stress the holiday season inevitably brings with it. This typically means a roll-out of "seasonal" beers and liquors. This also means a plethora of unique and bizarre concoctions for the adventurous (or just plain stupid). Throwing good taste aside, I ventured into the liquor store to find some of the worst products to be pushed onto the buying public in the name of hoiday cheer. As usual, I was not disappointed.

It was actually Brian who spotted this fine example of why brewmasters should be tested for schizophenia before being hired. Perhaps he thought that I would enjoy this dicordant mixture, but in retrospect I think he just wanted to watch me to drink a big glass of misery. Regardless, I picked the bottle up and examined the label, which had a nice rendition of the winter solstice on it.. "Blackcurrant Rye Beer" jumped at me like a neon sign. I reasoned that I like blackcurrants, enjoy rye and have an insatiable thirst for beer so this should be a somewhat enjoyable experience. How could I go wrong? Unfortunately, I had no idea how wrong I could possibly be.

Back at Brian's, I popped the cap on this one and poured it into a pint glass. It didn't smell offensive, so I dove in with a large mouthful, and it hit my tongue like a train wreck. It hardly resembled beer in any form I have ever tried before. It tasted like watered-down prune juice with very little upside on the palate, and a very flat profile. I practically had to force it down., and did not enjoy the experience at all. Brian, who was undoubtedly amused by this display, tried to inspire me to finish the glass. To be quite honest, I made a Herculean effort to drain it, but in the end it defeated me. Brian actually got so tired of waiting for me to finish the vile brew that he took the glass and sinked it. I was never so glad to have someone pour out a beer in my entire life.

The experience brings up something I have thought about for a long time. What is with this current trend of mixing beer with fruit? I could see the possibility of trying to make cooler-like brews that would appeal to women, but I could never imagine a woman getting past an initial taste of this swill. The final verdict is that fruit juice simply does not belong in beer. AVOID!

13 December 2008

Chimay Red Belgian Beer

A while ago, I was talking with a coworker about beer when he asked me if I had ever tried Belgian beer before. After stating I had never had the inclination to try it, he remarked "you should. All the real beer drinkers are drinking it." Having no idea what qualifies one as a "real" beer drinker (I personally consume untold gallons of the stuff), I dismissed his comments as the symptom of yet another pretentious marketing trend. I have since tried Leffe, Hoegaarten and Stella Artois, and if this is what "real beer" consists of I'll pass. Stella was the only one worth drinking and is mediocre at best - certainly not worth the price they charge for it. The others, quite simply, are keif.

Which brings me to the subject of tonight's review. Chimay Red is a Belgian beer that has been the subject of yet another pretentious marketing trend. Made by Trappist Monks since 1862, the beer has actually been touted as "the world's best". Lofty words for a product made in a country that seems to know little more than France about the brewer's art. Evidence of this is the wine bottle the product is packaged in, complete with a champagne cage and cork to seal it with. Seriously, who sells beer in wine bottles besides the French? And why would a beer need a champagne-calibre stopper? We would soon find out.

I removed the wire cage from the cork and gave it a gentle push with my thumbs. The cork took off like a rocket, smashed into the wall and bounced back, nearly strinking me in the face. At least I had the foresight to point it away from the television. "Beer isn't supposed to do that," stated Brian as we got our second clue that Chimay is a little different from our average brew. Brian had selected a couple glasses and we poured the beer into them. The colour was a murky brown, probably due to the fact that Belgians are apparently too lazy to filter their beer. The only unfiltered beer style that is excusable is weissen, and this was far from weissen as you can get. The head was adequate, but Brian's glass foamed up way to much and had to be sinked and refilled. As he went about getting his refill, I noticed champagne-style bubbles in the murky darkness in the glass. I started to wonder if they actually use champagne yeast to make this stuff. One can never tell, but thus far I had not seen anything close to brewing genius from Belgium - especially when they seem to have confused their beer and wine.

Undaunted by this mysterious turn of events, we raised our glasses and drank. The strong flavour of this ale was not unexpected, as I had counted on a strong flavour based on its colour. However, the initial palate was immediately overcome by what tasted like strong coriander. Who in the hell puts coriander in beer? Brian was not at all impressed with the herbal finish, and stated he was not sure if it actually was coriander, but it certainly did not belong in a beer bottle. I concurred with this reasoning and concluded that based on my experience, the Belgians are utterly clueless when it comes to brewing. Chimay may be an interesting novelty, but I could not see myself drinking more than two bottles of this stuff without feeling violently ill. The only way Chimay Red could possibly be "the best beer in the world" is if the only other contenders was a skunky Grolsch and a piss-warm Schlitz. The flavour is simply too spicy to even be considered beer in my books.

12 December 2008

LCBO French Brandy

As any resident of Ontario knows, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (or LCBO) oversees all liquor sales within the province. Recently, the LCBO has gone through a kind of renaissance in that in order to counter cries that liquor sales should be privitized. It has started stocking many fine spirits found worldwide to provide much better selection to the discerning alcoholic. However, the subject of this review is a throwback to the days when the LCBO could care less about good taste, and sold whatever crap it could to turn a profit. Products like LCBO-bottled "French" Brandy are excellent examples of this.

It is unknown where this brandy originated. Back when the LCBO bottled its own imports (presumably after buying them bulk from their country of origin), these "no-name" liquors were usually the cheapest buys in the liquor store. It has since abandoned this practice, which serves as testament to how old this bottle really is (I personally have had it in my collection for 10 or so years). There is no identifying characteristics about this hooch save the name. And while such fine labels are a good indication of how light they are on the pocketbook, they are hardly an endorsement of good taste.

Approximately 10 years ago, I worked in security at a point in my life where I was basically living the slacker lifestyle. As anyone who has worked in this field can testify, it is boring and otherwise poorly paying employment. A friend of mine had told me that her parents were taking a trip to China for three weeks in late December and as I was "experienced" in security, she asked me to watch over her parent's house while they were gone. In return for said duties, she promised me a bottle of liquor as payment. This turn of events was responsible for my coming into possession of the subject of my review tonight.

The girl in question threw a New Year's Party at her parent's house in which we drank like silly fools as only 20-somethings do. The next morning she once again reiterated her thanks for making sure her parent's house wasn't robbed and told me she would give me one of her father's bottles as payment. She opened his well-stocked liquor cabinet, bypassed the Scotch and other high-end liquors, and presented me with this bottle of LCBO French Brandy.

As she handed me the bottle, I muttered my thanks and wondered what the hell you do with brandy. My only experience with this particular liquor was watching old cartoons where the St. Bernard dog carried a flask of it on its collar to give wary travellers who had inadvertantly been buried under an avalanche. I took the bottle home, and decided that a taste test would be my best guide. I recall pouring a shot, downing it, and nearly puking as a result. I have never tasted rat poison, but somehow knew this was very similar. After all, no-name LCBO brand liquor was not known for its quality and the rest of the bottle has sat behind the bar ever since. Now, 10 years later, I believe it is time to find out if time has taken the edge off this hideous low-end hooch.

I poured a shot into a glass neat to fully appreciate (or despise) its full flavour. The smell is something akin to grain alcohol with a bit of white wine mixed in for flavour - not a good sign at all. However, I feel it is my duty to sacrifice myself in the name of good taste and drank the shot down. Strangely, it seems that age had indeed mellowed its otherwise excruciating flavour. It is mellow with a fruity base around the edges. Going down, it is not exactly smooth, but it is still better than Hiram Walker Special Old. However, the after-burn it leaves on the palate is not good at all, and is reminiscent of cheap street hooch. The burn sits on the tongue and is reminds me of such cheap crap as Five Star and 7 Crown. Time cannot gold-plate a turd after all, and while better than it was 10 years ago it still sits well below the line of decent booze. Perhaps I'll take it out again after another 10 years and see if improves after 20, although something tells me it will simply be a big glass of the same misery. Caveat emptor.

09 December 2008

Drunk in Green Bay, WI

For the sports fan, no party is huge as an NFL tailgate and no city knows this better than Green Bay, Wisconsin. Home of the 12 time World Champion Green Bay Packers, this city has seen some of the biggest parties and best football in the NFL. Having made the pilgrimmage to this hallowed ground on four occasions, I can testify to the hospitality and party atmosphere this city provides to fans of all NFL franchises. It is definately something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

Lambeau Field (aka The Frozen Tundra) has been home to the Green Bay Packers since it opened its doors in 1957, and is named after Packers founder Earl 'Curly' Lambeau. After undergoing various upgrades in 2003, the stadium emerged as the crown jewel of the NFL and the premier focal point of the Green Bay community. Lambeau Field is also the location of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and is home to the Packer's three Lombardi Trophies (Superbowls I, II, and XXXI). Due to the overwhelming popularity of this franchise, Lambeau Field is sold-out on a season ticket basis for the next 35 years. Fortunately, there are plenty of avenues available to obtain tickets to a game. The most simple option is to buy a package from Packer Fan Tours which includes 2 nights hotel stay and an end zone ticket to the game. In my experience however, ordering a mid-field ticket from an online broker such as eventusa.com and personally booking a hotel room can end up costing little more than a package deal. Keep in mind that once the NFL schedule is announced, hotels for game weekends dry up FAST. If you want to do all the leg work yourself, don't leave it to the last minute.

Green Bay, Wisconsin is approximately 12 hours drive from Toronto, Ontario. The route we take bypasses lovely Detroit, MI but goes through other tourist meccas such as Flint, MI and Gary, IN until you end up in Chicago, IL (tip: make time to stop for Chicago deep-dish pizza - there is no substitute!). From Chicago, continue north past Milwaukee, WI until finally arriving in Green Bay. The city of Green Bay has a poplation of approximately 103,000 and I was never in any part of the city I did not feel safe. The people there are extremely friendly, accomadating and genuinely want to you to return. This may have something to do with the fact that Wisconsin is known only for four things: beer, cheese, cannibals and the Green Bay Packers.

Once arriving in Green Bay, you will probably want to hit the bars. No matter where you are staying, a bar is never very far away. However, it is a good idea to keep in mind that the party starts early on Game Day. The tailgate officially starts three hours before kickoff, which on a Sunday is generally at noon. This means you want to be in the stadium district and lined up for the tailgate by 8:45. One of the best tailgate parties I have personally attended is the one held in the parking lot of Brett Favre's Steakhouse. The steakhouse tailgate is a stone's throw from Lambeau Field and costs $25 to enter. The fee includes unlimited draught beer, mixed drinks, hamburgers, brats, jambalaya (the Favre family's own recipe), salads and cookies. As you can see from the picture, draught beer and mixed drinks are lined up on tables and you can guzzle all you want. Additionally, it should be worth mentioning that the city of Green Bay suspends all liquor-related bylaws on Game Day. In other words, no one cares if you grab a couple cups of draught for the walk over to the stadium. The party is hosted by a local DJ who plays a mix of parodies that generally poke fun at the division rivals and the visiting team. The party is always a great time and the food is excellent.

Another aspect of the live NFL experience is the crazy outfits people wear to the games. Cheeseheads, jerseys and beads are the norm, with some people going over the top (like Super Ram above). Whether fuelled by alchol or simply a love of the game, people wear some of the craziest costumes I have ever seen. This just adds to the relaxed carnival atmosphere and overall great time one has at the game. Unlike some NFL towns, Green Bay is reknown for treating fans of both the Packers and the visiting team equally, and any ribbing that goes on is always good-natured.

Shortly before kickoff, grab a cup of draught and make the short walk over to Lambeau. There are always people selling souveniers, beads, cheeseheads and other team-related merchandise along the way. As you near the stadium, you'll find the parking lot of Lambeau Field is the scene of an even bigger tailgate party, with some people without tickets bringing generators and televisions along with their coolers and barbeques so they can watch the game at the stadium! The smell of barbequed meat hangs in the air and everywhere people are drinking and tossing footballs around. Once inside the stadium, the party continues full-speed. While security is a little stricter in the stadium to ensure everyone's enjoyment of the game, Lambeau Field does not rape you sans lube when it comes to beer prices. Additionally, they are one of the only teams in the league that serve beer up until the end of the third quarter. Live football is something an anomoly as well in that a three-hour game only seems to be an hour at the stadium. No matter where you sit in Lambeau Field, you always have an excellent view of the field. It truly is one of the greatest football stadiums on the planet.

07 December 2008

Kübler 53 Swiss Absinthe

Kübler Swiss Absinthe Superieure was launched in Motiers, Switzerland by J. Fritz Kübler in 1863. Motiers is the capital of Val-de-Travers, the traditional birthplace of absinthe, which sits on the eastern border of France. The region's climate is what is credited with producing the high-quality ingredients that are used to make some of the finest absinthes in the world. Kübler Absinthe Superieure was the recipient of numerous awards and medals in competitions around Europe up until the Swiss government banned absinthe in 1910.

With the modern absinthe revival in full swing, Yves Kübler, J. Fritz Kübler's grandson, revived the family tradition of Swiss absinthe production. Kubler 53 is made according to the original formula, with a herbal mixture including grand wormwood, anise, hyssop, coriander and fennel. Each herb used in its production is locally grown in Val-de-Travers, and the modern distillery is located just a few miles from Kübler's original site.

I picked this bottle up at the Bonanza General Store at Sahara Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd. in Las Vegas, NV. Having tried several absinthes ranging from mediocre to good, I couldn't wait to get home to louche up a glass. Kübler is a blanche absinthe, which means it is clear as herbs are not used to colour the distillate into the more familiar green normally associated with the drink. Much in the traditional fashion, I poured a shot into a Pontarlier glass and dripped ice-cold spring water over a sugar cube on an absinthe spoon. As the water dripped into the liquor, the scent of an alpine meadow became more pronounced. The smell of the herbs grew stronger as the essential oils seperated from the alcohol, and a cloudy louche started to form at the bottom of the glass. In my experience, the scents coming from this absinthe were some of the best I have encountered to date.

As I continued to drip water over the sugar, the milky-white louche filled the glass and the scent became even more pronounced. Not exactly "room-filling", but it was a lot stronger than most of the other absinthes I have tried. At approximately a 4:1 mixture, I stopped adding water and raised it to my lips. There was no discernable alcohol smell from the drink, just the sweet scent of alpine herbs. I took a sip and let it float around my mouth. The feel of the liquor was creamy, yet crisp and cool. Unlike the previously-reviewed Pernod 68, the licorice taste of anise was not overpowering at all and was tempered with the slight taste of wormwood. The overall flavour was extremely pleasant and made you want to drink more. The finish did not numb the mouth like absinthes heavy on star anise do, and the finish was pleasant and lasting.

Overall, I would say that Kübler is a very good mid-range absinthe with plenty of character for the price. The scent as it louches is similar to Okanagan Spirit's Taboo, and the flavour is clean and very drinkable. While it may be a little light for more discerning absinthe connoisseurs, I find this is an excellent product for both those curious about absinthe and those that want something better than the inferior brands available domestically.

06 December 2008

Pink Champale

"Live a little on very little!" was the tagline when this malt liquor hit the streets in 1960. Heavily marketed toward African-Americans as a poor man's champagne, Champale is responsible for the widespead appeal of malt liquor today. However, unlike traditional beer, Champale is brewed with yeast strains more commonly found in winemaking and allegedly creates a beverage that can be described as "sparkling and elegant." Champale comes in four varieties: Golden, Pink, Dry and Red Berry.

Pink Champale pours like a champagne, quickly fizzing up like soda but leaving no discernable head in the glass. It has an inoffensive fruity aroma and goes down smooth without the burn of traditional street liquor. However, being almost identical in colour to the hideous nightmare that is Strawberry Cisco, I suspect it contains the same cancer-causing dyes as it's psychotic brethren. It should also be noted that the sweet flavour of this stuff is a fairly good indication that a night getting drunk it would lead to one mother of a hangover the next morning. Not being strong enough for the hardcore street crowd, I imagine you would likely find empty bottles of this stuff littering your local teenage drinking spot.

04 December 2008

Street Wine Revisited

As I was posting the reviews of Hiram Walker Special Old Rye Whiskey and MD 20/20 Orange Jubilee, I realized something that may be a unique correlation between cheap rye and skid row street hooch. Despite the inevitable fame (or some may say, infamy) that comes with being associated with the wanton alcoholism that is embraced in the name of this site, Brian was not at all keen to taste the Hiram Walker Special Old when I suggested it to him. In fact, he was dead set against the idea, especially when I tossed the year-old MD 20/20 in the mix. However, once he had a taste of the rye, he himself went to the liquor cabinet and suggested we may as well get the Orange Jubilee tasting under our belts. Strangely, this caused an eerie feeling of deja vu regarding last summer when Mad Dog Johnny decided to chug Cisco.

We had spent the evening drinking beer at our local pub and had come back to my place for a nightcap before calling it a night. As it turned out, I only had enough Aberlour left for two drinks. As we finished them off, Johnny asked if I had more whiskey. The only bottle I had in the house was the Hiram Walker Special Old that Brian and I sampled for yesterday's column. I had purchased the bottle that day as an impulse buy at the local LCBO. I passed it to Johnny who took a nice long pull from it. As he placed the bottle back on the bar, he suddenly asked if I had any Cisco. As it turned out, I still had the over half-bottle of Stawberry left over from the infamous 'Evening of Bumwine'. I retreived the bottle from the fridge and handed it to him.

Now as anyone familiar with this blog will tell you, not only is Cisco in all probability the most disgusting alcoholic beverage ever created by man, but Strawberry is arguably the most vile flavour ever. Despite hearing repeated tales of Cisco's depression-inducing hangover recounted ad nauseum by both Brian and I, Johnny uscrewed the cap and proceeded to chug the remaining contents of the bottle. I stood there in disbelief as he drank, with my only thoughts being to get photographic evidence of the event (along with ensuring I got him out of my house before he vomited and permanently stained the carpet).

The strange similarity between these two events was the fact that it seems drinking Hiram Walker Special Old Rye brings out the street bum in those who consume it. Both times I have witnessed people shoot this particular brand of rye, they seem to immediately reach for a chaser of bumwine to wash it down with. I cannot help but wonder if Brain and I had not lived through the horror that was the 'Evening of Bumwine', would we both have woke up bloodied and beaten as a result of fighting over that last drop of MD 20/20? This peculiarity begs further study, but I do not think I could ever talk Johnny or Brian into serving as guinea pigs for any type of Cisco-related experiments. After all, they both had experienced the devastating streetwine hangover, and neither was too fond of Hiram Walker Special Old Rye Whiskey.

As for Mad Dog Johnny, I managed to escort him out of the house before he made a mess of the carpet. However, he recalls nothing of this incident save waking up in the back seat of his car drenched in sweat as the hot sun beat down upon it. He since requested that should he ever get a bright idea like chugging Cisco again, I am to smash the bottle over his head before he gets the chance.

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye

Last night, I ventured over to my friend Brian's to evaluate another low-end alcoholic beverage, Hiram Walker Special Old Rye. Despite well-founded reservations, Brian finally agreed to sample this product along with a bottle of MD 20/20 Orange Jubilee that I picked up last year in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Brian's wife Michelle, who was present during the sampling, merely shook her head in dismay and refused to take part. Ironically, I think she would have protested this article with much more fortitude had we been evaluating KFC's new Famous Bowls (she constantly decries Brian's desires to sit down and eat one). However, as this was a mere alcohol-based product, she simply laughed at us. After a few beers, we were ready to begin, despite her attempts to dissuade us with a good ball-busting.

Brian was the first to step up to the plate. Normally, he is a straight-up beer drinker, but like a soldier volunteered to sacrifice himself to the cause (after a few pints of ale, of course). I poured him a shot of the whiskey and raising it to his lips, he smiled as he shot it back. The reaction he gave was both one of surprise and shock as this Canadian institution hit his throat. Michelle laughed at loud at the look on his face, despite his protestations that "it wasn't that bad." He placed his glass down on the table and gave me a "you're next" look. He added that he would include his thoughts on this liquor at a later time, as he needed time to mull it over.

I poured my own glass and shot it back. Normally, whiskey doesn't phase me (unless it is Jack Daniel's, of course), but this one was like an out-of control cement truck as it slid down my gullet. While not as bad as Five Star, it still burned but really wasn't that bad for a rye, despite the fact that I could never see myself buying it again. My ages-old criteria for whiskey has always been that if yoiu can't drink it neat, it isn't worth drinking. This product definately needed a healthy dose of ginger ale. The taste was consistant with most Canadian whiskies, but it was far too rough going down to make a night with it alone a pleasurable experience.

Next up was the old ghetto standby, MD 20/20. While MD 20/20 comes in a myriad of flavours, I chose Orange Jubilee for the simple fact that it was the most ridiculous flavour for a wine I have ever heard of. As you can see, it cost me a mere $2.99 for this bottle so it can easily fit into a wino's budget. However, the question remained as with all cheap street hooch: Will it be platable to actually drink, or will the experience turn out to be something akin to Strawberry Cisco? It was time to find out!

Brian was the first to try it, and once again found the taste to be inoffensive (or perhaps he was just too drunk to tell). Inspired by his dedication to the cause, I poured myself a glass of the orange-coloured swill. As I raised it to my lips, I could discern no intensely revolting chemical scent, as one does when indulging in the seven-horned beast called Cisco. I tipped the glass back and let the orange liquor flow around my tongue as to get a proper feel for the evaluation.

The taste was inoffensive and was reminiscent of orange Tang mixed with watered-down grain spirits. However, after several mugs of ale and a shot of cheap rye, the flavours didn't quite mix well which gave rise to my disgusted expression. I would still say that MD 20/20 is the least offensive of all ghetto wines I have tried, and I could see myself downing a bottle on a dare if I was in the U.S. for a week-long bender. However, I wouldn't recommend doing so after several hours of beer drinking.

As we concluded the tasting, Michelle asked if she could "finally throw [the MD 20/20] out?" To which Brian gave a stern "Never!" If you ask me, I think he has a secret penchant for bumwine and these trips "to Chicago" he keeps going on are merely an excuse to fly south of the border to get a fix. Now if only we could get a bottle of Night Train....

Brian also had a couple surpises in the back of his liquor cabinet. The first was a bottle of "Newfie Duck" sparkling wine that I picked up for him on a trip to Newfoundland in 2007. The other was a 20+ year bottle of Baby Duck sparkling wine that he managed to pick up someplace. Both of these products will be both sampled and evaluated on New Year's Eve 2008/2009 as we ring in the new year in true Liquor Pig fashion. This will definately be a grand event. Michelle has even promised to make some of her famous bacon-wrapped chestnuts for the party!

03 December 2008

Drunk In Dublin, Ireland

Last May, after a planned trip to Las Vegas with the now defunct Morbid Pig's Eastern European field reporter Oleg Stavrovsky fell through, I decided to soak in some family ancestery in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin is a great drinking destination for many reasons. From its ages-old pub scene, the Guinness Brewery and the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery, Ireland has plenty to offer to both the casual drinker as well as the seasoned alcoholic. The world-famous Temple Bar is also a must-see on my list. Not only did it serve historical Irish celebrities like Oscar Wilde and James Joyce during nights of drunken debauchery, it was also the final setting that set the stage for the infamous "There's No Bus!" incident where I staggered from the pub, got on the Iarnród Éireann for Dun Laoghaire where I was staying, and passed out. Some time later, I was awoken by an irate Irish Rail worker shaking me and screaming in my face. Apparently, I had passed out on the train and rode it to its final destination in Dalkey. Christ only knows how long I was sleeping there before he found me. When I enquired about a bus to Dun Laoghaire, he shouted "THERE'S NO BUS!!!" as I was dragged off the train and shoved in a cab. 23 Euro later, I found myself in front of The Royal Marine Hotel while I wondered what the hell just happened to me. Good times for everybody involved!

It was also at the Temple Bar where I was drinking with some dude from Cleveland, Ohio and was told about becoming an "Irish Whiskey Taster" at the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery. I was told when you take the distillery tour they ask for volunteers who are given shots of various Irish, Scotch and American whiskies and asked to choose which ones they like the best. Obviously, this is something a souse like me couldn't dream of passing up! However, between bouncing around Dublin's pub scene and soaking up some of the various tourist highlights (including a tour of Newgrange in Co. Meath), I left the Jameson tour to my last day there. Now thorougly hung over from the "There's No Bus!" incident the night before, the last thing I could stomach would be shots of whiskey. However, I still had not visited Ireland's oldest pub, The Brazen Head, and knew I still had at least one more mission to accomplish.

The Brazen Head pub is Ireland's oldest, and sits on a site that has held a liquor license since 1198. Even feeling close to death from drinking like a crazy fool the night before, I knew I had to get there to soak up some history (as well as a few pints). I wandered along the Liffey River until I found the pub in the westernmost part of the tourist district. I went inside and ordered a Guinness. After some initial trouble getting the first few mouthfuls down, the black gold worked its Irish magic, and my hangover slowly started to recede. I checked the time and saw it was only 3:00 and I still had time to make the Jameson Distillery. Feeling much better, I left the Brazen Head, crossed the Liffey and made my way to the home of one of the largest whiskey distillers in Ireland.

I managed to get a ticket for the second-last tour of the day. While the Guinness had helped ease the pain of the adventure the previous night, I still felt horrible and the last thing I needed was multiple shots of whiskey. However, even in my deteriorated state, I knew when they asked for volunteers I would never be able to resist the siren's call of free liquor and the distinction of being a certified Irish Whiskey Taster. Sure enough, when the tour began and we were ushered into a theatre to watch a short presentation on uisce beatha ("The Water of Life"), the request for 3 male and 3 female volunteers was made, and my hand shot up faster than anyone in the room. And as the tour guide pointed at me to be one of the chosen, I smiled even as I knew this was probably going to be a very bad idea.

Whiskey was invented in Ireland, who then taught the art to the Scots. Initially, both Scotch and Irish whiskey starts off the same way. Barley is soaked in water until it germinates, which changes the starch it contains into fermentable sugar. Once germination has taken place, the barley is roasted to carmelize the sugars and prepare it to be mashed into malt. Up to this point, the process is identical in both Ireland and Scotland. However, it is the fuel used to dry the barley that differs from the two regions. The Irish used coal to dry the barley while the Scots used peat. The use of peat is what gives Scotch its distictive smokey flavour. After the the barley is dried, it is placed in a mash tun, boiled into malt, and finally fermented. This entire process is no different than what is done when making beer. However, after the "beer" has finished fermenting, it is distilled three times, which accounts for Jameson's legendary smoothness in the finished product.

Another interesting fact about aged whiskey is what is known as the "Angel's Share". When whiskey is aged in oak barrels for long periods of time, some of the whiskey evaporates through the wood. The longer a whiskey is aged, the more disappears from the barrel. This missing whiskey is called the "Angel's Share" in Ireland, and was historically attributed to being taken by God's angels, who apparently love really old Irish whiskey. A barrel aged 12 years may lose a fifth of it's contents, while a very old barrel may lose up to half. This accounts for the vast price difference between 10, 12, 18 and 25 year old whiskey. The older the whiskey, the longer it sits and the less finished product the distillery has to sell.

Now came the part we all had been anticipating, the tasting. Myself, along with 5 other lucky volunteers, were given a shot each of Paddy's Irish Whiskey, Power's Irish Whiskey and Jameson Irish Whiskey. We were then told to taste each and pick the one we liked the most. 5 of us chose Jameson, while one girl chose Paddy's (silly fool). However, no offence was taken as these were all Jameson products. After choosing our favourite Irish whiskey, we were given a shot of Johnny Walker Red (Scotland's best selling wiskey) and Jack Daniel's (America's best selling whiskey). As soon as I heard the name Jack Daniel's an involuntary shiver ran down my spine. In my opinion, Jack Daniel's is one of the most horrible concoctions ever conceived by mankind. And after chugging 2/3 of a 40 ouncer in Grade 9 along with Mad Dog Johnny, I knew full well this was not going to be a pleasant experience. However, I reasoned after drinking Cisco and Thunderbird, Jack Daniel's should be a breeze, and I wanted my certification, dammit! "In for a penny, in for a pound" I remembered my grandmother saying as I managed to put down the Jack along with the Johnny Walker, and easily chose Jameson as my favourite of the lot. As I was presented with my certificate, I was named a certified Irish Whiskey Taster and was given another glassful of Jameson's finest to savour while reflecting on this awesome experience.

02 December 2008

Pernod 68 Absinthe

This was my first encounter with the Green Fairy. I picked this baby up at my local LCBO after hearig that absinthe was finally available in Ontario liquor stores. While not the best absinthe I have ever drank (far from it, actually), it is much better than the Czechsinthe that allegely makes you TripBallz and is about as close to real absinthe as homemade corn whiskey is to a fine single-malt Scotch. Regardless, here is my original review of Pernod 68 that I wrote in January 2007:

I tried this stuff on Monday morning. Personally, I hate sugar in my drinks so I didn't bother with the sugar ritual. I poured a good shot and mixed it with ice-cold water until it turned a cloudy death-green (kinda like the colour of really old antifreeze out of a '72 Gremlin that has been on blocks in your parent's backyard since '81). It had a rather pleasant bitter-licorice flavour. I sat back and drank the glass down and have only one thing to say:

This shit hits you like Fred Vogel's hammer in August Underground.

I was sitting in my family room drunk at 8:00 AM. Though I must say it wasn't a brutal buzz you would expect if you knocked back a glass of 151 or chugged half a bottle of T-Bird. It was kinda strange. So like an idiot, I poured another one to see what I would feel like after 2 of them. After the second glass I was properly drunk and went to bed falling into the deepest sleep I have had in months (with the exception of the times I took lorazepam for insomnia).

Surprisingly, I had no hangover. I had a slight headache when I first woke up which had more to do with deep sleep than anything else. Nothing that wasn't cured by a couple codeine-laced aspirins and a cup of coffee. I really don't think I would want to go Van Gogh and get smashed on this stuff. At 68% alcohol, I can see what possessed the man to cut his own ear off.

Originally posted on 26 January 2007

01 December 2008

An Evening of Bumwine

Last night, I got together with my friend Brian from Plaid Stallions for the previously announced "Evening of Bumwine". We sampled all four bottles above, and while somewhat coherent, wrote our thoughts on the taste of these infamous ghetto wines. As Brian's wife Michelle would probably skin us alive if we stained the carpet with any of the cheap dye used in making this crap by vomiting on the floor, Brian got a hefty puke bucket in case of any emergencies. We selected a couple coffee mugs for the sampling and we were ready to begin.

The first wine we tried was Cisco Black Cherry, which Brian was able to locate at Roadrunner Liquors in Clearwater, Florida. Apparently, Michelle was not impressed with the drug dealing look of the clientele that hung around the place like pilot fish. However, they managed to escape unscathed, and came home with a bottle of Cisco to evaluate.

Cisco Black Cherry: D -

From the moment Brian cracked this one, we knew things were going to get bad. The smell off this swill alone was enough to bring out cries of "oh god - what the hell is in this crap?" The colour was a putrid bluish-brown, and probably would have warned off anyone who poured a glass by mistake. However, despite the obvious warnings, we raised our cups and drank. I can desribe the flavour in just one word:


I wish I could say this stuff was better than it was. It is completely horrible (as you can probably tell by my reaction to it). First of all, I don't know how they arrived at "black cherry". It tastes like a mix of berry-flavoured kool aid, grain spirits and a bottle of Robitussin for good measure. Then you have the chemical aftertaste, which is probably from the cancer-causing dyes used to give it such an appealing colour. The one arena where Cisco excelled in was getting you drunk. One mug of this stuff and I was buzzed. We went outside for a much needed smoke and continued with the bottle of MD 20/20.

Mad Dog 20/20 Red Grape Wine: B -

MD 20/20 (or as it is affectionately known on the street, Mad Dog 20/20) was actually the biggest surprise of the lot. Commonly found in gas stations, grocery and liquor stores all over the U.S., it is probably one of the best know bumwines. Recently, the 20/20 wine company scaled back the alcohol content to 13% from the tastebud numbing 18% it was infamous for. However, it was not a bad wine at all. Brian, who freely admits to detesting red wine, commented that this was the least offensive of the products we sampled. There was no discernable odour from this hooch, and the colour was consistent with any other red wine I have drank. It tasted like a cheap red wine, slightly dry and with no aftertaste. I imagine that this would be the one that has the greatest appeal outside the ghetto (and probably responsible for more than one teenage pregnancy). Overall, not a bad buzz for a couple bucks.

After another beer break, Brian produced the pride of his collection. The American Classic: Thunderbird!

Thunderbird: The American Classic: D +

This was not my first run in with this train wreck. In my youth once at one of Brian's parties, Mad Dog Johnny and I ran out of beer. Brian jokingly pulled out a bottle of Thunderbird (in what is apparently a rare bottle which is now considered a collector's item) and said, "you can drink this..." Like idiots, Johnny and I chugged the bottle down and killed it. Michelle had watched us half-amused and remarked "I can't believe they are drinking that!" Like I told her last week, I'll never learn.

I was buzzing pretty good by the time I got to Thunderbird, so I can't comment on the smell. What I do remember is the taste. Thunderbird hits your tongue like a 9 volt battery and caused involuntary tremors down my spine, like I had just taken a mouthful of homemade corn whiskey. It then proceeds to burn your throat all the way down to your stomach, leaving you with a surprisingly pleasant apple-like aftertaste. You can easily see how fond I am of the taste from the picture.

After another smoke break, we had another beer and dove headfirst into the grande finale: Cisco Strawberry (did I mention we are both gluttons for punishment?).

Cisco Strawberry: D -

The picture says it all. I had seriously thought Brian was going to vomit right there, but like a soldier he finished this vile brew. I picked up this gem at Malabar Liquors (formerly Malabar Discount Liquors) in Palm Bay, Florida. The name may have changed but the clientele have not. Now I know why the clerk laughed at me when I asked him for it. It smells nasty and tastes worse. While Cisco Black Cherry tasted like industrial cleaner, Strawberry Cisco tasted like someone was covering up the fact this was industrial cleaner with the taste of putrid strawberries long past their prime. I am honestly starting to think that Cisco just may be the result of some quasi-government conspiracy to get rid of the homeless. I can only hazard to guess about the long-term effects of drinking this swill. Take warning and avoid this stuff like the plague, unless you really are a homeless bum.

The Hangover

This evaluation would not be complete without posting what the hangover is like. Due to the fact we tried so many of these vile concoctions, I couldn't pin the hangover on one particular brand. However, I woke up feeling OK, drank a couple bottles of water and ate some meat pies. Within two hours, I felt like I wanted to crawl back into bed and forgot I woke up in the first place. Palitoy had a similar experience, and said that he will feel like "cold shit" until he goes to bed tonight. I guess when you dance with the Devil, you pay the price. Next time, I think I'll stick to beer.

Read Brian's assessment of these not-so-fine products by clicking the picture below:

Originally posted in morbidpig.com on 14 March 2007.