Browsing Tag

cocktails

Book Reviews

Famous Last Words Toronto

September 12, 2017
The cocktail menu at Famous Last Words in Toronto.

Joining a book club was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It gives me the opportunity to read fascinating books I might otherwise have missed out on, the women in my group are amazing and on top of that, I discovered Famous Last Words — a book-themed bar in Toronto.  Famous Last Words takes reading seriously — their cocktail list is novella-sized and each drink is named after a well-known novel, their bar is made of Scrabble tiles and the book theme carries through all their decor. But for book clubs the best part might just be the signature cocktail they make when you reserve a table for your group discussion.

On our first visit, we had two books to discuss — Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which is about the power of creativity, and Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People, which is a dark and nuanced literary novel — and the bartender did not disappoint. For Big Magic we had a fun yellow cocktail that changed colours when you added bitters and for The Best Kind of People we had a custom take on a dark and stormy, both perfectly paired with the books. For the record, I got a lot from Big Magic (not everyone agreed) and if you’re a writer or artist, it’s worth checking out. And The Best Kind of People was a brilliant, twisty read that everyone agreed was well-written and interesting.

Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat GirlFor our recent visit, we had read Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was a book I found extremely powerful. It’s a literary novel about one woman’s struggles with her weight and the way it infuses every part of her life. For this one, the bartender made us a vodka-based take on a cleanse with lemon and a hint of habanero. It was spicy and tart and a pretty good compliment to a complex and compelling read.

Not a drinker? Famous Last Words has that covered in style — they have an extensive YA menu, featuring mocktails based on Young Adult classics. Our group loved The Hunger Games and it’s nice to see so much craft and care going into all the drinks available. We felt totally comfortable that those who choose not to have a cocktail would still have a great experience with us.

A "Cleanse" themed cocktail at Famous Last WordsFamous Last Words is worth seeking out whether you want to take your book club out on the town or just want to have casual drinks in a relaxed and unique atmosphere. They host events throughout the year and be sure to call ahead if you’re bringing a group and hoping for a custom concoction!

Planning a visit? They’re at 392 Pacific Avenue in Toronto.

Thanks to the amazing Amy who suggested this post. She’s a book club regular, a dance class bestie and a FODMAP expert – be sure to check out her site, The FODMAP Formula if that’s a diet you need to follow.

And, for the record, this is not a sponsored post. I just really like this bar and think you will too.

 

Upkeep Updates

Upkeep Updates: Whisky, Vodka and Wine Edition

April 17, 2017
Collingwood whisky maple cocktail

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, as I’ve been actively training for my first 10K race (I completed the Spring Run Off 8K just last weekend), continuing my year-long yoga challenge (I’ve hit my mat every single day in 2017 so far), working on my novel and more. But while I have less time to update the blog these days, I’m still doing my best to make time for wine and spirits adventures. Below is a re-cap of a few of those that I wanted to share with you!

Collingwood whisky maple cocktailCollingwood Whisky

If I’m not drinking wine, I’m probably drinking whisky. I gravitate towards Irish whiskey, but there are some pretty great Canadian options too and Collingwood is one of those. I recently attended an event at the iYellow Wine Club to check out some Collingwood cocktails and food pairings and I was quite impressed. This Ontario whisky is smooth and drinkable on its own and it works very well in a cocktail. My personal favourite was the French Canadian, which highlights the maple flavours in this spirit. We also worked our way through a few interesting pairings—shortbread, almonds and maple syrup—all of which brought out different flavours in the whisky. In general, I don’t pair shortbread and whisky, but given how it improved upon that buttery goodness, I might just start.

Social Lite Vodka Pineapple Mango Vodka Soda drinkSocial Lite Pineapple Mango

Because I don’t enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages, vodka soda is my jam when I’m out at a bar with a bad wine list (a sadly frequent occurrence in this city where Barefoot and Yellow Tail are acceptable house wines). I’ve tried Social Lite’s product before and I like them – they’re a great option for cottage and patio sipping if you’re not wanting the sugar kick of a cooler. We got a sample of the new pineapple mango flavour and I enjoyed it. Shawn prefers their cucumber flavour and I have to admit I like their lime ginger a little better than this one (but lime is also my go-to in vodka soda), but this has a sweet kick that might be a little easier on those transitioning from traditionally sweetened coolers. Whatever your flavour preference, I love seeing a company making healthy cooler options easily available.

Ca'Momi MerlotThe California Wine Fair and Cali Wine Jam

For one week in April, the good folks of the California wine world descend on Toronto to promote their wines. For those in the wine trade, there are lots of different opportunities to taste and for the general public there are two very different and equally good events. The California Wine Fair at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel is a lovely evening that allows potential buyers to taste and try some of the best that California has to offer. For many, this is an opportunity to try high-end wines that might be out of their typical price range and to discover new favourites that are available only via agent. I was disappointed that Bonny Doon and Birichino were not at the event, as I’m always eager for opportunities to taste their wines, but other perennial favourites like Jordan Wines and Stags’ Leap made up for that. I also discovered new wines to love, like Pine Ridge’s excellent Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend, Vermention’s Seghesio and Malene’s 2015 rosé. Other finds? Hope Family Vineyards, one of the producers I most enjoy, is finally bringing their Treana line to Ontario, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting, and the Ca’Momi 2015 Merlot is just about the best Merlot I’ve had in ages. Shawn’s pick of the night? The Game of Thrones wine. Not because he liked it (he much preferred the Jordan 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon), but because he just loves everything GOT.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc and ViognierOn the other side of the spectrum, iYellow’s Cali Wine Jam is a fun and friendly afternoon of California wine that’s perfect for the entry-level buyer or wine newbie. This event was held in a sun-dappled venue with a DJ spinning dance-friendly beats. The wines are more easily available and easy-drinking, so this is the type of event for those who might feel intimidated by a typical tasting evening. I was happy to see Hope Family’s Troublemaker available here (please make this general list, LCBO!) along with their very good 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Troublemaker is a red blend that’s not overly sweet, but yet still wonderfully drinkable.  I also really enjoyed the Ravenswood 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel, which is a go-to in our house when I want a big, bold and not overly hot Zin.

So that’s just a quick update on a few of the fun wine and spirits adventures I’ve had over the last month or so. Let me know what you’ve been up to in the comment or on social!

*We were guests at the events where we tried these wines and the Social Lite was a sample. All opinions are my own.

Spirits and Cocktails

Wolfhead Distillery – A New Addition to the Windsor Spirits Scene

November 7, 2016
Wolfhead Distillery Coffee whisky is made with real cold brew espresso.

Driving into the parking lot of Wolfhead Distillery on our recent visit to Lake Erie North Shore, Shawn and I were surprised that it was attached to a lumber yard – not your traditional setting for a distillery. But as soon as we walked into this new building, all thoughts of lumber were quickly forgotten – the place was hopping. Only ten weeks after its opening and on a Wednesday night to boot, Wolfhead was packed with a dinnertime rush that was pretty darn impressive.

Wolfhead Distillery in Windsor/Essex, Ontario is one of the region's newest distilleries.And the excitement over this new business is not misplaced. They seated us at the bar for a tasting of their spirits – three whisky and three vodka – and was hard not to be impressed. The vodka is wheat-based and seven times distilled with limestone filtration to remove impurities and impart a bit of minerality and salt.

The plain vodka is very good and would make for an excellent martini, but it’s the grapefruit vodka that impresses me most and I’m not surprised to learn it’s a best-seller. The flavours on this one really pop and there’s not that confected sweetness some flavoured spirits have. It tastes a little bit like good quality ginger ale and would make an excellent cocktail or be fine to drink on its own. Wolfhead believes in using natural ingredients in their spirits and that shows through in the quality. The third vodka, the banana caramel, is more like a liqueur and a bit too sweet for my tastes, but I’m also not a big fan of banana flavours in general.

The whisky, which they had to purchase and then blend since their own will not be ready for several more years, is all Canadian and had more corn, making it closer to a bourbon. Surprisingly, the coffee whisky is a clear winner here. Made with cold brew espresso grounds it is not too sweet and has a nice bitterness from the use of real coffee. The apple caramel whisky is very approachable and would make a nice option for someone who wanted an alternative to American Honey.

A grapefruit vodka mojito at Wolfhead Distillery is a fun option at dinner.The Wolfhead team has invested a lot in their business, we take a tour of the distilling area and the equipment, imported from Italy, is high-quality and speaks to their seriousness. They are also very passionate about the water they use in their distilling process and there’s no expense spared in that part of the process. Right now the focus is on small blends and they are all hand-bottled and labeled. This is a craft operation, with a focus on making high-quality spirits that can be sipped alone or in a cocktail.

At the end of the tasting and tour, my favourites are the premium whisky (the plain) and the coffee whisky, as well as the grapefruit vodka and I purchase both flavoured spirits to experiment more with them at home.

Ahi tuna at Wolfhead Distillery's restuaraunt is a great dinner option.We’re seated for dinner shortly after the tasting and I order the drunken shrimp and scallops (made with Wolfhead vodka, of course) and Shawn has the ahi tuna. I also order one of the mojitos, made with Wolfhead’s grapefruit vodka. It’s a great cocktail and a lot of fun, but with no mint or rum, it’s not really a mojito – with that caveat, I highly recommend trying it.

The food is very good and the quality high, the flavours pop and each dish is vibrant and delicious. You can see why the restaurant is packed on a Wednesday night after only being open such a short time. And many patrons are moving from the dining room to the adjacent store after their meals, which is another good sign – sales of the spirits are brisk. This is a fun and friendly place for a meal or tasting.

Since our visit in August, Shawn is almost out of coffee whisky and I think we’re both hoping to see it appear on LCBO shelves soon for easier access.

*I was a guest of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my meal was complimentary, but my opinions are my own. And I bought two bottles of Wolfhead spirits, so I definitely really, really liked them.

Food & Wine

Summer Wine Adventures

September 19, 2016
Fresh Wines at the iYellow Wine Cave.

I can hardly believe how fast this summer flew by, but given the humidity and the oppressive heat in Toronto this year, I’m kind of OK with that. Shawn and I did have some pretty fabulous adventures this summer and I’ll continue to share posts from our trips to Germany and Lake Erie North Shore, but I wanted to mention a few others too.

There were way too many things happening this summer to do individual posts, but I didn’t want to miss mentioning these great events that Shawn and I were lucky enough to be invited to attend. As always, you can follow along with our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter. Each feed features different content, so I encourage you to check out both!

Cocktails at the Toronto Wine & Spirits Festival at Sugar Beach.

Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival – Sugar Beach

Oyster Boy Oysters at the Toronto Wine & Spirits Festival.Shawn and I declared the Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival the perfect date night a few years ago and this year’s event lived up to that billing. This June festival is always one of our favourites, we love the laidback vibe, the Sugar Beach location and the opportunity to try a wealth of different types of food and drink. The attendees at this event always seem more relaxed than at other drinks-based festivals. Maybe the beach just puts people in a really chill mood or it’s just super well-run (I think it’s a combo), but this is one where you can sip a cocktail while watching a band, eat oysters while enjoying a beautiful view of Lake Ontario or just wander from booth to booth deciding what to try next. Highlights for us this year? Mama Ratty’s meat donuts, Oyster Boy oysters, Berentzen apple liquor and Flora de Cana rum cocktails.

iYellow Summer Wine Jam

It may have been the night before our big trip to Germany, but Shawn and I couldn’t miss iYellow’s Summer Wine Jam this year, especially since it marked the tenth anniversary of this fabulous and fun wine club! Angela Aiello, founder of iYellow Wine Club, has always been a big supporter local bloggers (myself included) and a cheerleader for so many Ontario wineries – her positive attitude is really inspiring. Along with her amazing team of iYellow ‘wine angels’, she has helped make wine accessible to a whole new group of wine lovers and encouraged them to discover local wines and explore Ontario wine country.  It was so much fun to celebrate with this team and I can’t wait for the party to mark twenty years!

Fresh wines sparkling Riesling has a beautiful label.Fresh Wines Launch

Travel kept us away from many of the summer wine events in the city, so Shawn and I were happy to pop by the Fresh wines media event at the iYellow Wine Cave in late August. Fresh wines are made by Niagara’s Diamond Estates and they’re very much easy-drinking, patio or party wines. The packaging is pretty and colourful, featuring artistic renderings of modern women – the type of ladies this wine is clearly being marketed towards. Full disclosure, most of the wines in this line are on the sweet side and that’s not really my thing, but I’m trying super hard not to get all wine snobby about these patio wines because, hey, I drank Arbour Mist back in the day, and if sweet wines are your thing, you’ll really like these. The sparkling Riesling had my favourite label and it would be a good choice ice cold on a patio, as would the Moscato. I also enjoyed the Satin Red, which is a very drinkable, fruit-forward red wine blend.

Did you have any summer wine adventures? What were your favourites? Share them in the comments below or on social.

*We were guests at each of the events, but our opinions are our own. Especially my somewhat judgey ones about sweet wines. I said I was trying not be a wine snob, I didn’t say I was succeeding.