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cocktails

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.

Spirits and Cocktails

Fun Summer Sipping Suggestions

July 13, 2016
Social Lite sugar-free vodka coolers

It’s hot in the city these days, so Shawn and I have been experimenting with some alternative options for patio and cottage sipping. We have to balance a lot of things—he prefers beer, I don’t like to drink anything super sugary and neither of us has the time to make anything super complicated.

This year, we’ve had the opportunity to sample a few options that we wanted to share with you for days when wine may not be at the top of your wishlist (I rarely have those days).

Ernest Cider from OntarioErnest Cider – I like to have the occasional cider as an alternative to beer or wine. It’s a great option at pubs or restaurants where the house wine sounds dodgy, and with so many great Ontario craft options, I usually have some interesting selections to choose from. Ernest Cider impressed me with its adorable packaging, but I was much more interested in what was in the can and that was quite good too. A little sweeter than the bone dry cider I usually prefer, this had a more natural sweetness from the addition of local honey and some cane sugar so it wasn’t a sugar bomb. Shawn and I both enjoyed this one, as the apple really comes through and the carbonation is nice and crisp. We’d both have this again on a patio.

Giffard 1885 Creme de Violette gin gimletSocial Lite Vodka Cocktails – I like a cocktail once in awhile too, but I don’t like having sugar-sweetened drinks if I can avoid them. Social Lite understands that not everyone wants something sweet, so this Toronto-based company developed their line of sugar-free cocktails to appeal to health-conscious sippers like Shawn and I, who want a convenient cooler without all the sugar. First things first, these are not sweet, so if you’re hoping to replace a sugary cooler, this will throw you off. For us, it took a minute to adjust to the flavour, as both the lime and ginger and the lemon cucumber mint flavours seemed a bit bitter on first sip. But once your palate adjusts, they are a really nice sipper. We both preferred the lime and ginger (I’m not a cucumber fan at all, so this is more about my preferences than the quality of the drink) and are thinking these will be our cottage coolers of choice moving forward.

Giffard Lichi-Li Martini is a fun pink sipperGiffard Liquers Crème de Violette and Lichi Li– So first I tell you I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and then I suggest syrups? Yep. Because with a liqueur you can get a pop of flavour without a huge amount of sugar and I like the ability to play around to make a slightly-sweet drink that will be fun and summer-ready. Shawn can’t handle lychee scent or flavour at all (he asks me to keep my lychee martinis on the other side of the table at restaurants), so I was on my own to try this one. And I liked it. I made a Lichi Martini with 1.5 oz vodka, ½ oz of Giffard Lichi-li and some fresh lime juice to taste. I found it a little strong, so I cut it with a bit of diet ginger ale. The drink was pink and fun, but not too sweet..

With the Crème do Violette, I made a Violet Gimlet with 2oz of dry gin, ½ oz of Giffard Crème de Violette and 1 oz of fresh lime juice (they suggest lime cordial, but I wanted something with less sugar). It was pretty good, but a bit strong, so we again cut this with a bit of diet ginger ale to taste. Shawn and I had fun making these easy-breezy cocktails and I look forward to playing around with these syrups even more over the summer!

Chateau des Charmes Cuvée d'Andrée 2014 RoséChateau des Charmes – 2014 Rosé Cuvée D’Andrée – I couldn’t resist adding in a wine to this list because my honest-to-goodness go-to summer sipper is usually rosé and this is a really good one. With strawberry, lemonade and oranges on the nose and lots of ripe fruit on the palate, this Pinot Noir rosé is bright pink and bursting with flavour. We have already gone through two bottles and the summer is only just starting. It’s perfect for a night out on our patio, pairs well with just about everything and is a fun option to bring to a barbecue—especially at a $16 price-point.

So what are you sipping this summer? Do you have a go-to cocktail without all the sugar? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social!

*We received these products as samples, but our opinions are all our own.

Book Reviews

Gin Glorious Gin

May 30, 2016
Gin Glorious Gin book

It’s hard not to be horrified by some of the history chronicled in Gin Glorious Gin—the story of gin in London through the ages—children drinking pints of straight gin, drunken revelers so sauced they have to crash in the helpful piles of straw bars provided in the 1700s, or gin cut with such lovely items as turpentine. But this book is far from dour, author Olivia Williams has written a rousing history that starts off with the first references to gin in London and moves through to modern times.

Gin Glorious Gin bookI found myself reading passages out loud to Shawn on a recent drive to Niagara—completely entranced by the little old ladies who, drunk on gin, were a constant source of frustration to London police in the 1800s. It seems that the spirit made their behaviour less than exemplary, but somewhat amusing when viewed through a modern lens.

There’s a cautionary tale here to be sure. While Britain managed to make it through history without prohibition, they learned the hard way that unlimited access to alcohol—gin for the most part—was a recipe for disaster. The drunken madness that reigned in the 1700s until almost the First World War left a dark legacy. But, like most of the developed world, England started to regulate and manage alcohol consumption and it levelled off to where it is today. People discovered vodka and wine, leaving gin to flounder in the post-1960s.

For me, that was where the magic of this book started to wane a bit. The history of gin in London was just so vibrant and horrifying in pre-WWI that the post-war calm and cocktail craze seems practically quaint. The history of producers is interesting, though, and the notes about famous gin drinkers like author Kingsley Amis made for great additions. It was also neat to learn about the cocktails created for Royal weddings and that time the Queen’s butler had to break the rules to bring her preferred gin to an event.

I also enjoyed the final chapter, where Williams sets out distilling methods, explains the botanicals most commonly used in production and outlines where to drink the best gin cocktails in London. There’s some great info in this section that I was able to reference in my recent Introduction to Spirits course.

For those who are interested in the history of spirits, this book will make a fabulous addition to your library. While focusing solely on London was a bold choice, it turns out there’s more than enough from the city to make for a substantial read. Just be prepared to cringe and recoil in horror while reading about the excess and awfulness of alcohol consumption in the London’s early years.

And if you’re craving a gin cocktail now, I can recommend a few from Dillon’s Distillery in Niagara, Ontario. Shawn and I are big fans of the strawberry gin and are looking forward to cracking our bottle soon. Strawberry gin is best drunk on its own to fully appreciate the delicate flavours, but Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a great base for cocktails, like the Blue Spruce or The Gin 22.

Do you have a favourite gin? Share it in the comments below or on social!