Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2016

As in previous years, I’ll just smash all these lists together for simplicity’s sake. All lists are in alphabetical order, unless otherwise noted.

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My favourite albums of 2016

I haven’t yet listened to the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest, Honeyblood, Kaytranada, Leonard Cohen, or Modern Baseball, but this is what I’ve liked so far this year. I’ll probably change my mind entirely by the spring.

My Woman by Angel Olsen

So much more mature and evolved than her last album, adding some fuzzy rock and punk to all that country torch, with the result feeling so much more plaintive and driven. Like Julien Baker last year, Angel Olsen sounds so much more beaten down by the world than you might expect.

IV by Black Mountain

Big, space-agey rock. It shares a number and name with Led Zeppelin’s biggest legacy album, and while it might not carry the weight to make it a similar classic, it was a largely overlooked powerhouse for 2016.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser w/ Rostam

While there’s a bit too much sameness as the album goes along, standouts like “A 1000 Times”, “The Morning Stars”, and “In A Black Out” are strong enough to outclimb most of the rest of the year’s offerings. I think I still prefer The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend as whole parts, but this is an interesting side/combo project.

iiidrops by Joey Purp

Usually taking a back seat to Chance The Rapper (who has the best guest spot on the album, name-dropping Ta-Nahisi Coates and lamenting dead iPhone batteries) but here using a killer combination of catchy melody, solid flow, soul samples, and thoughtful lyrics, Joey Purp had maybe the biggest surprise album of the year.

Thought Rock Fish Scale by Nap Eyes

These guys don’t sound like they’re from Halifax, really. They sound like they’re the reincarnation of Velvet Underground, if VU never got into the hard drugs and stayed a little more upbeat. And were from, you know, Halifax. I listened to this, and their previous album Whine Of The Mystic, heavily all year.

Skeleton Trees by Nick Cave

Sometimes raw emotion pours itself out into an album, and this is that. Written after (about? for?) the death of his son, the trademark Cave darkness takes on a new depth here. Still manages to be catchy/punchy though.

Positive Thinking by The Pack A.D.

I like that there are no surprises in a Pack A.D. album. You know what you’re getting. You still feel pummeled by it though. “Yes, I Know” is the standout here, but top to bottom it’s an enjoyable, solid album.

Cardinal by Pinegrove

Another surprise, this time swinging much more to the folk-ish side of things. Catchy, and the kind of thing you can listen to at home with your hipster friends (done) or in the car with your mother (also done). Side note: this is another one featuring pretty sharp lyrics…not a few minutes into the album the singer’s already referred to his “solipsistic moods.”

Ugly Cherries by PWR BTTM

Power-pop-punk played by a band who label themselves “aggressively queer” — this was the best straight (so to speak) up rock and roll album of the year. There are lots of great songs here, but “West Texas” has a special place in my heart. It makes me wish there’d been a gay storyline on Friday Night Lights.

Testarossa by Yoni & Geti

Maybe the most complex album on this list. It’s so thoughtful and earnest, but also feels slippery and hidden. I have a distinct memory of listening to it start to finish in the KLM lounge at Schipol airport in Amsterdam while waiting for a connection, and feeling more excited and at peace. Not many albums pull me back to a place like that.

Honourable mentions to the new ones from Danny BrownBlonde Redhead, Joe Budden, Regina Spektor, and The Men.

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My favourite songs of 2016

  1. Adam Torres . “Juniper Arms”
  2. Alejandro Escovedo . “Horizontal”
  3. Black Mountain . “Space To Bakersfield”
  4. Dandy Warhols . “Doves”
  5. DTCV . “Histoire Seule”
  6. Frightened Rabbit . “A Lick Of Paint”
  7. Hamilton Leithauser . “In A Black Out”
  8. Joe Budden . “Uncle Joe”
  9. Joey Purp . “Girls@”
  10. Kendrick Lamar . “Untitled 02”
  11. Lucius . “Born Again Teen”
  12. Mitski . “Your Best American Girl”
  13. My Father’s Son . “Dying”
  14. Nap Eyes . “Lion In Chains”
  15. Pack AD . “Yes, I Know”
  16. Parquet Courts . “Dust”
  17. Pinegrove . “Old Friends”
  18. PWR BTTM . “West Texas”
  19. Radiohead . “True Love Waits”
  20. Rogue Wave . “Memento Mori”
  21. Schoolboy . “Ride Out”
  22. Seratones . “Choking On Your Spit”
  23. Tindersticks . “Hey Lucinda”
  24. Wye Oak . “Better (For Esther)”
  25. Yoni & Geti . “Allegheny”

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My favourite movies of 2016

This has been my least-busy movie year in some time, so I still haven’t seen Hell or High Water, Moonlight, Don’t Think Twice, Manchester by the Sea, The Nice Guys, Doctor Strange, Tower, The Witch, La La Land, The Fits, Green Room, 13th, Gimme Danger, Queen of Katwe, Paterson, Lo and Behold – Reveries of the Connected World, Hail, Caesar!, Loving, Midnight Special, Jackie, or The Witness. I can’t even make it a top ten list — these five are the only really good films I saw this year. Expect this list to be heavily altered by the spring.

The Arrival

So nice to have thoughtful, challenging sci-fi in theatres: an interesting look at language and memory, with overtones of militarism and geopolitics, all wrapped up in an alien story. Terrific performance from Amy Adams too.

Birth Of A Nation

Not without its flaws, not the least of which was the director’s past spilling out onto newspaper pages just before the film opened TIFF, but still a significant, important, fairly gripping epic story. Kind of like Braveheart set in the American south.

Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel universe keeps hitting semi-regular home runs with the Captain America and Avengers installments. This third Cap was no exception — essentially another Avengers film, with all the same quick dialogue and fun action, these are smarter than an action movie has a right to be.

Prevenge

My favourite from this year’s TIFF, this was the story of a woman whose fetus instructed her to murder people. Darkly funny, with brief moments of savage and disgusting violence…somehow this wasn’t part of the Midnight Madness program.

Rogue One

A worthy addition to the Star Wars set, Rogue One had great visuals, excellent action, funny droid dialogue, and enough tie-ins to episode IV to satisfy any Star Wars nerd. I’m glad they can continue telling this story in decent films.

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My favourite TV shows of 2016

I hereby acknowledge that I haven’t yet watched any of Westworld, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Better Things, BoJack Horseman, Luke Cage, Documentary Now!, Rectify, or the latest season of The Fall but this is what I did watch and like:

Billions

Any chance to have Paul Giamatti, Damien Lewis, and Maggie Siff all in the same place is fine with me. Sometimes the drama gets wound a little too tight, and sometimes not enough actually happens in an episode, but it’s still enjoyable for all the masterful scenery-chewing.

Black Mirror

So amazing. So unsettling and captivating and cool and disturbing and thrilling and insightful. There’s a reason why TIFF screened a few new episodes of it at this year’s festival — it’s operating at the level of top cinema.

Game Of Thrones

Still my only must-see show. Still the one I get excited about weeks in advance. It’s the only show for which I watch the after-show. I have Game Of Thrones beer from Ommegang aging in my wine fridge right now. I get panicky at the idea that there are only a handful of episodes left. Please, please, please don’t go. Please. Arya forever.

Last Week Tonight

Just as Jon Stewart left us, John Oliver arrived. But he could curse, and suffers no commercials. Hallelujah. These long-form rants are funny, pointed, and so necessary in a Trump-ish world. Sorry Trevor Noah, but this is The Daily Show now.

Masters of Sex

Still somehow compelling despite its soapiness — I give credit to Lizzy Caplan. I keep getting sucked back into this time and again. Even sideline characters who should mean nothing to me at this point are interesting, and the set design makes me miss Mad Men.

Mr. Robot

Season 2 was kind of a mess after the bad-ass arc of season 1, but it was still excellent. The whole show behaves like a buggy, maybe-hacked piece of software. I’ll take a sub-par Mr. Robot over just about any other season of TV.

Stranger Things

Seriously, I hate the 80s. Like, so much. But I loved this show. The kids, the music, the ridiculousness of it all, the D&D…it was more fun than is reasonable to pack into eight episodes. Bravo, Netflix. More like this!

The Night Manager

I know I’m cheating here a bit with a miniseries, but suck it, it’s my list. This contained more action, intrigue, character development, and twists than most series twice the length. Tom Hiddleston was great, but so too the rest of the cast — especially Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, and Tom Hollander.

The Night Of

So much terrific substance here: John Turturro’s feet, the cat, Bill Camp’s Detective Box, and all of the Riz Ahmed. Seriously, get this guy in/on more stuff. But even outside of him, it was terrific stuff. I just wish James Gandolfini had lived to see it through.

Silicon Valley

Still the funniest show on TV. The RIGBY “dictionary patch” from episode one this year was brilliant, the kind of thing that just enters the zeitgeist. So many terrific comedic actors, and a seemingly endless supply of valley bullshit to draw from.

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The best books I read in 2016

Okay, so I only read three books this year — but that’s still three more than last year.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Read in a single morning whilst lying in a hammock on a beach in Costa Rica. Surf, sand, and outrage at the unfairness of the financial system. Just the way vacations should be. I’ve already started his newest one.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

I bought this within minutes of finishing the movie Everest, and read 2/3 of it that night, into the very wee hours. I wish I’d read it years ago when my dad first bought it. Gut-wrenching.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This was given to me partially as a joke, but I like Junger’s stuff so I didn’t mind. Wasn’t exactly memorable though. I read the whole thing on the flight to Kigali and gave it back to the original owner when I returned to Toronto.

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The best meals I ate in 2016

A bit more geographic variety in this year’s list. Listed in chronological order.

Alo, Toronto 

My second visit after a wine-tasting dinner, this was a full tasting menu affair, and confirmed for me that Alo is currently the best restaurant in Toronto. How something as simple as a bread course could be mind-blowing just shows the level at which they’re operating.

Breakfast at Kura, Costa Rica

It wasn’t fancy. It was just amazing. Fresh fruit, banana muffins, homemade bread with fresh jam, and coffee filtered through something that looked like a sock, old-school. That it was next to the most beautiful pool view I’d ever seen didn’t hurt.

Modern SteakCalgary

Sitting by myself, at the bar, at this restaurant in a part of Calgary I’d never seen before (or since) while all the other conference attendees were at some rodeo, I had a tremendous bacon starter and an exceptional steak, and a hell of a quiet, good time.

Eigensinn FarmSinghampton

It was transcendent the first time. It was even better the second time. Not enough words.

Heaven, Kigali

Truth be told, the food here — while slightly exotic — was only better-than-average (that said, my kuku paka was pretty damned tasty). But eating it overlooking the hills and lights of Kigali put it on this list.

Bocata, Montreal

Kind of a panicky, last-minute decision after flailing desperately for options over the course of an hour, this was a lucky stumble-in down in old Montreal. The kind of place where you occupy a teeny corner of a drafty old room, read the menu off a chalkboard, and then fall into course after delicious course and count your blessings as you rub your belly.

Buca Yorkville, Toronto

It’s been on everyone’s Toronto top-ten list for ages, but I’d just never made it there. And Christ, was I missing out. Definitely one of the best, and most adventurous, meals I’ve ever had in Toronto. Add to that the stunning room and ace service, and this has to be right up there with Alo for destination meals in the city.

Maison Publique, Montreal

Trip #2 to Montreal this year saw visit #1 to Maison Publique, a wonderfully cozy, friendly room with uber-French food and an uber-Canadian wine list. It’s since become a regular visit when in Montreal, and feels like my living room. God, I love it.

Carisma, Toronto

I’ve been here half a dozen times, but the last time might have been the best. The burrata and calamari (frequent orders) were somehow better, the pasta was tops, and the Sangiovese my guy recommended was mind-blowing. Sometimes the perfect comfort dinner makes the list, y’know?

Hawksworth, Vancouver

I stopped for lunch on my way to a meeting, sat at the bar, and ate a killer goddamn burger and fries with a glass of Freemark Abbey cab sauv and put the whole thing squarely in my lunch hall of fame.

Honourable mention: the garam masala duck breast at Pukka; the 1946 Don PX at Cava; the octopus starter from Charcut in Calgary; the bombas at Patria; the pork buns from some random dim sum food truck in Montreal while I’ll probably never find again.

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The best beer I drank in 2016

This is why I pay for an Untappd supporter membership: to be able to download my full beer consumption list. For the ones I remember to log, anyway.

Mackeson XXX Stout Milk Stout

No charming story, just a bottle I picked up at the LCBO and tried at home. Fantastic stuff though.

Trou du Diable L’Ours (#10) Sour Ale

One of a number of bottles (mostly sours) downed in an evening at Boxcar Social, which has become one of the more reliable bottled beer venues in Toronto.

Burdock BUMO Saison Farmhouse

A very special treat, Burdock’s first collaboration with Pearl Morissette winery, a saison/rosé hybrid brought over by friends before the latest Session beer festival.

Sawdust City 1606 Barrel-Aged Raspberry Stout

The best beer at this year’s Session festival, it was strong but well-balanced and well-integrated. Sawdust City killed it at Session.

Brauerei Fahr Fahr Away Hefeweizen

My favourite of the many beers I sampled in the warm sun on The National’s 8th Ave rooftop patio in Calgary: an out-freaking-standing hefeweizen.

Folly Flemish Cap Farmhouse Ale

My first visit to the new(ish) Bar Hop introduced me to an outstanding Folly flemish sour. I don’t know how Folly pulled this off…I wouldn’t have expected to find one of the best examples of this style I’ve ever encountered on Peter Street in Toronto.

Birrificio Del Ducato Mikkie = Cattivella Creme Brulee Stout

I had this during a quick stop at an old Amsterdam favourite, BeerTemple. As big and heavy and sweet as it sounds. As delicious too.

Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Barista Belgian Chocolate Quad

Put down at the Café Gollem in Amsterdam whilst sharing the bar with a cat who lives there and drinks his water out of a Westmalle glass. It should have been overwhelmingly sweet, but it wasn’t.

Birrificio Del Ducato Chrysopolis Lambic

Yet another amazing beer sampled in Amsterdam, this time at Craft & Draft, and the second from this Italian brewery. It was one of the best sours I’ve ever tried. Incredibly strong and sour, but so so good.

Le Saint Bock Harvest Ghosts American Brown Ale w/ Bhut Jolokia Pepper

The second beer I’ve ever had with ghost pepper in it, and this one was almost as good. Such a well-balanced brown, and with all that heat in the back of the throat, just makes it a special combination. Granted, I tend not to log all the beers I drink when in Quebec, so this will have to represent la belle province on my list.

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My favourite moments of 2016

It feels a little weird to write this given a major event this year, which I’ll talk about in my next post, but here goes:

  1. The time in, on, and around the pool at Kura Design Villas in Costa Rica
  2. Spending an entire morning in the hammock on the beach at Latitude 10, also in Costa Rica
  3. Ziplining through the Costa Rican jungle canopy
  4. Sabering open my first bottle of sparkling at Bat Lake
  5. Cheering throughout the Raptors’ best-ever playoff run
  6. As is often the case, standing in the Session beer festival in the middle of Yonge/Dundas square with a killer beer and good friends
  7. Dodging the sun on the rooftop patio at the new(ish) Bar Hop with Andrew & Denise
  8. Visit #2 to Eigensinn Farm
  9. Coming face to face with two families of gorillas in Rwanda
  10. Watching the resident cat drink from a Westmalle beer goblet at Café Gollem in Amsterdam
  11. Seeing the brushwork in the Vermeers up-close at the Rijksmuseum
  12. Alex, the bartender at the impressive Craft & Draft in Amsterdam
  13. Watching The Hip’s final concert in our friends’ back yard
  14. Sitting on the Patria patio with my brother Tim in a t-shirt, even in early October
  15. The Jays sweeping the Rangers
  16. Finally returning to the Dieu Du Ciel brewpub
  17. Sitting in the tiny garage-like tasting room at Blood Brothers after hitting a bunch of art galleries
  18. Talking Canadian wine with the staff at Maison Publique in Montreal
  19. Stumbling upon both kinds of Gueuze Tilquin at Pub Pit Caribou
  20. Freezing my way through the MLS Cup final, even though Toronto FC lost

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2015

As with last year, rather than write a bunch of separate posts I’m putting all these lists together. All are in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted.

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MY FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2015

I haven’t listened to the new ones from Dead Weather, Unwound, Waxahatchee, or Wolf Alice yet, but as of right now this is my top ten. Be forewarned: I will almost certainly edit this list by April.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

It took me a while to really warm up to this one — it carries more funk and soul than its predecessor. After a while I came around, and realized that Alabama Shakes might be investing a new little niche here.

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker

No. No album by a 19-year-old should sound this broken, this world-weary, this real. This good. Just…no.

Depression Cherry by Beach House

Like all their albums, I couldn’t tell you the name of any one song, but the thing as a whole is like a beautiful (slightly) abstract painting. Also: amazing to listen to if you need to concentrate and zen out.

Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I listen to a lot of post-rock, but no one can touch GY!BE as king of the operatic, bombastic, crunching instrumental soundtrack of our impending doom and/or nirvana.

Art Angels by Grimes

I should not like this album as much as I do. The pitched-up vocals and Taiwanese rapping and drum machines and general dance-iness should drive me nuts. And yet I keep on listening to it, over and over and over and over and over.

Momentary Masters by Albert Hammond Jr

I never cared for The Strokes, nor most of the members’ solo projects, but this one is catchy from start to finish. Even the misbegotten Dylan cover somehow appeals.

How The Spark Loves The Tinder by Monk Parker

Stark. Tremulous. And…old-timey, I guess? I mean, c’mon…there’s more than one song featuring a musical saw. I feel like I’m in the Ozarks when I listen to this.

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

I know everyone was all about Kendrick Lamar this year, but I listened to both albums back-to-back and Summertime ’06 just felt so much more vital to me. I get that To Pimp A Butterfly is a good album, but in my mind it suffered for being directly compared to this underdog, and not showing well.

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Beautiful, and thoroughly haunting, especially when you realize he’s singing about — and to — a dead parent.

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

A rock opera crossed with an epic Hobbit-esque journey. This is almost too much of a slog, given the length and the raggedness of Titus’ music, but moments of brilliance and raw emotion save it.

Honorable mention: Painted Shut by Hop Along, Into The Air by Cold BeatTo Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, High by Royal HeadacheNo Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney.

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MY FAVOURITE SONGS OF 2015

Offered without comment.

  1. Alabama Shakes . “Miss You”
  2. Albert Hammond Jr . “Side Boob”
  3. Beach House . “PPP”
  4. Dr Dre . “One Shot One Kill (feat. Snoop)”
  5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’”
  6. Grimes . “Scream”
  7. Heartless Bastards . “Tristessa”
  8. Julien Baker . “Rejoice”
  9. Kendrick Lamar . “How Much A Dollar Cost”
  10. Monk Parker . “Sadly Yes”
  11. Partner . “Hot Knives”
  12. Royal Headache . “My Own Fantasy”
  13. Sleater-Kinney . “No Cities To Love”
  14. Sufjan Stevens . “Fourth Of July”
  15. Titus Andronicus . “More Perfect Union”
  16. U.S. Girls . “Sororal Feelings”
  17. Vacation . “I Wish I Could Be Someone Else”
  18. Waxahatchee . “Breathless”
  19. Winter Passing . “Fruits Of Gloom”
  20. Wolf Alice . “Bros”

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MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2015

As usual, we use the last few days of the year, and first few weeks of next year, to catch up on all the best movies. Blame Hollywood — they release everything critically-acclaimed after August. That means we haven’t yet watched ’71, 99 Homes, A Most Violent Year, Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, Creed, Dope, The Gift, Going Clear, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, Mississippi Grind, Mommy, Phoenix, The Revenant, Room, Slow West, Spotlight, Spy, Steve Jobs, What We Do In The Shadows, or While We’re Young, so this list is woefully incomplete. That said, here’s the top ten as of right now:

Ant-Man

Marvel made a movie to match its hero: smaller, subtler. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas were unlikely primary players in a superhero movie, but that just added to the off-kilterness of the movie. Plus: Michael Peña.

Ex Machina

A worthy addition to the robot-ethics, what-is-consciousness-anyway? pantheon of films. The interior of the set is so stark, so claustrophobic as to make the actual robots seem warm and soulful. And Oscar Isaac is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors.

It Follows

A clever, original horror movie which is also an allegory for promiscuity. But mainly a very creepy horror movie. Nellie couldn’t sleep for a few nights after this one, and looked very warily at anyone who appeared to be following her.

Mad Max: Fury Road

You wouldn’t think a Mad Max film would make this list, but wow…what a movie. Relentless action, a bold return to practical effects (with CGI supplements), welcome feminist themes throughout…a thinking person’s bad-ass action movie.

The Martian

Formulaic, sure, but it’s just done so well. Gripping, funny, engaging, charming, and a great escape for what’s a surprisingly long running time.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Again — not one I would’ve expected on the year-end top-ten list. There’s no secret weapon here; it’s a standard-issue M:I movie…which is to say, highly entertaining. At some point Cruise will have to stop making these, but for now: carry on, Mr. Hunt.

Sicario

The best of our TIFF selections this year. The back third suffers a little, but the first two acts are among the best I’d seen all year. The shootout scene at the border crossing was immaculately executed, Emily Blunt was outstanding, and the political undercurrents give it more depth than a standard procedural.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Getting over the bar set by the prequels wasn’t hard. This probably isn’t even a great movie, but it’s a great Star Wars movie, and Star Wars means a lot to me, so here it is on the list. Judging by the critical reviews, I don’t think I’m alone in my reasoning here. 38 years ago Episode IV sent Hollywood down a bad path by creating an over-reliance on special effects, which drifted too far into CGI at the cost of its own soul. Hopefully Episode VII manages to change how studios make big sweeping stories, and make them feel human again.

Trainwreck

Suffers a little from the Judd Apatow disease (that is: it runs about 20 minutes longer than it needs to) but Amy Schumer’s charisma and Bill Hader’s charm keep you right in this one. So does LeBron James, surprisingly.

Where To Invade Next

Not exactly great filmmaking — not Moore’s best, even — but so hopeful that I just had to like it. Plus, seeing a rough cut with the director (and several of the stars) in the crowd gave this one some added weight which might not carry into other venues, but it was one of the few highlights of our TIFF this year.

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MY FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2015

Apparently we should be watching Better Call Saul, Bojack Horseman, Fargo, Master Of None, Nathan For You, Show Me A Hero, Transparent, and UnREAL, but we aren’t yet. And I just started on Sense8 so I haven’t formed an opinion quite yet. I did, however, form an opinion about season 2 of True Detective: that it sucked. It sucked even more in retrospect than it did in the moment. Here’s what I did like this year though:

Daredevil (Netflix)

This series, like the Affleck film, had all kinds of potential to go wrong. It didn’t. It found the dark edge it needed, it cast Matt Murdock perfectly, and the surrounding characters (especially Fisk) are all excellent.

Game Of Thrones (HBO)

Still the series I get more psyched about weeks in advance, and this year they strode ahead of the books into unfamiliar territory, which only makes me look forward to it that much more.

Hannibal (NBC)

Unlike last year my top ten list includes a show from a major American network. We came to Hannibal late, else it would have been on my list every year it aired: both leads were stellar, and it’s so visually stunning. Though how a show this violent could be shown on American network TV I’ll never understand.

Homeland (Showtime)

Season 5 got them back to the spy craft basics: subterfuge, politics, ambition, patriotism, leak morality, distrust, cold war echoes, and so on. It was all over the place, but expected us to keep up, and for the most part it was fun — not bludgeoning — to do so.

House Of Cards (Netflix)

The weakest of the three seasons, but still gripping and binge-worthy. I still clear a weekend for this show.

Jessica Jones (Netflix)

This one came out of nowhere. I like how Marvel, as with Daredevil, gives us characters more powerful than humans, but not near-god Avenger types. Jessica is so flawed and so vulnerable that her struggles seem more relate-able than, say, Iron Man’s.

Mad Men (AMC)

I know the final season dragged in parts, but that ending made it worth it. Funnily enough, though, the enduring final image of the series for me was of Peggy, strutting down the hall with a box of her stuff, pornographic octopus painting under her arm, sunglasses on, cigarette dangling from her mouth, with a fuck-you grin.

Making A Murderer (Netflix)

I’m barely a few episodes into this and I’m hooked. Don’t tell me what happens.

Mr. Robot (USA)

Another one that came out of nowhere. I had no idea what to expect, but the first five minutes of the series had me completely hooked. Strained the Mr. Robot plot device for too long, and got a little too out-there at times, but good twists and an excellent lead can take you a long way.

Walking Dead (AMC)

I’m certainly feeling less interested in this show each season, and they almost lost me a couple of times this year, but they still manage to pull me back in. Realistically, as long as Nellie’s obsessed with this show, I don’t think I could stop watching it if I tried.

Honorable mention: Narcos, Orange Is The New Black, Silicon Valley.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2015

None. Not one. Isn’t that sad?

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THE BEST MEALS I ATE IN 2015

As with last year I haven’t bothered including anything home-cooked, even by friends who can cook the shit out of a meal. These are in chronological order.

Café Amelie, New Orleans

We ate very well on our trip to New Orleans (how could you not?) but my favourite meal was probably in this quiet courtyard, covered by trees, surrounded by happy Mardi Gras crowds, and featuring an absolutely outstanding shrimp, corn, and cajun spice penne.

Rose & Sons, Toronto

This had been on my to-try list forever, and it didn’t disappoint. Just high-concept comfort food: fried chicken, mac & cheese, onion rings, cornbread, and good wine.

Markthalle Neun, Berlin

Yeah, sure, while in Berlin we also ate at FACIL, which has two Michelin stars, but my most memorable meal was when we inadvertently stumbled into Markthalle Neun, which is kind of like St. Lawrence Market, in search of a small brewery. We found it, drank their tap list, and gathered food from around the market for our lunch. I bought something called Berlin Balls and ate them with Heidenpeters’ pale ale, and it was just the best.

Our friend Matt @ Maison Relaxio, St-Joseph-de-Sorel

I know I said I was leaving home-cooked meals off this list, but our friend Matt made this one, centered around burgers made of pork and beef and stuffed with motherfucking goose confit, at a big cottage north of Montreal. Paired with all the stellar wine and beer we had acquired in the previous 24 hours, it was a memorable meal in a birthday trip full of them.

Salle À Manger, Montreal

Speaking of that birthday trip, this meal was the following night. Our numbers had swelled from 10 to 16, and Nellie had arranged dinner at this cool spot in the Plateau. We ate family-style, and I lost track of the courses, though I do remember — and will never forget — the entire roasted suckling pig. I ate a lot of it, paired with an outstanding Loire cab franc our friend Kaylea had picked out. We destroyed some people that night, and our friend J-P ate the pig’s face. Epic.

The Chase, Toronto

I’m not really much of one for seafood, but this place does it right. I ate there on someone else’s dime, thank goodness, and was more than impressed with the octopus/chorizo appetizer and the halibut for two, not to mention the wine selection and the service.

Every Time I… pop-up, Toronto

Our friend Adam jointly held a pop-up dinner (he was the chef) on Dundas West back in August, with the pairing centered around cider. Cider’s not exactly my thing, but the food was good, and one course — the smoked perch croquette — was one of the very best things I ate all year, and was strong enough to make this list on its own.

Rasa, Toronto

Any time T-Bone and I get together for dinner, it’s going to be someplace good. She picked this one on Harbord, and every single dish was top-notch. I think I would have enjoyed it even more if they’d air-conditioned the place and I hadn’t sweat to death.

Alo, Toronto

I’d read good things about Alo, but hadn’t managed to get in until Pearl Morissette invited people to a tasting of their new California wines. The wines were, in fact, terrific, but so was the food. So much so that we’ve already made plans to go back in January.

NAO, Toronto

For years Jacobs & Co. has been the king of the steakhouse in Toronto, but after two visits to NAO we now see them as 1 and 1a. Our second time there, when we could try more variety in the menu and the sommelier (who remembered us) offered up three outstanding off-menu bottles for us to try, NAO was solidified as a new favourite in the city.

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THE BEST BEERS I DRANK IN 2015

Using Untappd makes it easy for me to look back and find the best (new) beers I try each year. I need a similar app for wine. And whisky. And maybe coffee. Anyway, these are the ten best, in the order I drank them:

Heidenpeters Pale Ale

In Heidenpeters’ little stall in the back corner of Berlin’s Markthalle Neun, I found my favourite pale of the year. Hopfenreich, which we visited later that day, was a cooler place with far more beer, but this was just such an unexpected surprise.

Oast House Coffee Milk Stout

I had this at C’est What right after we got off the plane from Berlin (it seems to be our go-to place, post-flight) and probably needed the coffee as much as I needed a beer. Coffee stouts and milk stouts are two of my favourite styles; Oast House pulled off the combo.

Black Oak Cinnamon, Rum Soaked Raisin Vanilla Nut Brown Ale

I drank this one sitting at Bar Volo, with Nellie and brother #2, watching the rain pour down around us. It sounds more like a cake than a beer, but Black Oak makes one of the more reliable nut browns out there, so layering in a few treats just put it over the top.

Sawdust City Until Tomorrow Ingrid

One of my two favourites at this year’s Session festival, this was a sour barrel-aged cranberry Saison. Better than it had any right to be. Pale red tint, hence the rather rude acronym. Added bonus: the Sawdust City guys there were hammered, and decided to sing “O Canada” on stage.

Side Launch Syrah Vice

My other favourite at Session, this was a hefeweizen aged in Tawse Syrah barrels. So Side Launch’s wheat (which I love) aged in barrels from Tawse (which I love)…pretty sure this one was destined to be on my year-end list.

Vanderghinste Oud Bruin

I honestly don’t even remember what brought me to Beerbistro on a Friday night — normally it would be too packed in there at 6pm. Looks like we were taking down some Belgians though, and this was one of the best sours (or, Flanders red, to be specific) I’d ever tried.

Oast House Biere De Mars

A bottle we’d brought home from Oast the weekend before, and a stellar farmhouse. Oast, by the way, is the only brewery to make my list twice this year.

Stone City Devil And the Deep

My favourite from this year’s Cask Days 2015. I ended up drinking a lot of sours (all the stouts and porters seemed to be sold out) but this was the best of the lot. Stone City has really impressed me so far.

Viven Smoked Porter

A random grab from the LCBO’s winter release, this one was a classic example of a porter. Very lightly smoked, despite the name.

Tatamagouche Dreadnot (Rum Barrel-Aged)

Shared this with both brothers at brother #2’s house last week. We tried a lot from Tatamagouche, one of the newer Nova Scotia craft breweries, but this imperial black IPA was the best of the bunch. I wish I’d had time to pick another one up to bring back to Toronto. It would age nicely, I imagine.

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MY FAVOURITE MOMENTS OF 2015

Obviously I can’t remember them all, but this is my best guess at my twenty favourite (non-work) moments from 2015, in chronological order.

  1. Standing on the frozen Bat Lake during a New Year’s Day snowstorm
  2. The gold medal game at the World Juniors
  3. Watching Lundi Gras parades from the Avenue Pub balcony
  4. Singing along with the Treme Brass Band at d.b.a. on Mardi Gras
  5. Watching The Hip play Fully Completely in its entirety at the ACC
  6. Sitting on the Bier Markt patio the day the no-smoking law took effect
  7. A black-tie dinner at the historic Tempelhof airport in Berlin
  8. Looking at Istanbul from a boat on the Bosphorus
  9. Discovering what kokorec is after I’d already eaten two of them
  10. Finally seeing Rush in concert, and especially seeing them play “Losing It” live for the first and only time
  11. Drinking a beer on my buddy Joe’s boat in the middle of a lake
  12. Watching Jon Stewart end his Daily Show show run, dancing with his crew to “Born To Run”
  13. One night at Maison Relaxio
  14. Going to church in Montreal (aka Dieu Du Ciel brewery on Sunday morning)
  15. Drinking craft beer on a tall ship in Toronto harbour
  16. Playing bocce by headlight
  17. Seeing the Rheostatics reunite to honor the Group Of Seven
  18. Jose Bautista’s homer and subsequent bat flip
  19. Drinking half a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Rye whiskey with my brothers sitting around brother #2’s kitchen
  20. New year’s eve. Hasn’t even happened yet, but I’m calling it.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Early Novels Database, used under Creative Commons license

A sequel to the best of everything from 2014

Back in December I engaged my entirely healthy tendency to quantify, list, and rank everything, though I did admit that I was in no way caught up on 2014’s best music or movies. Since I’ve made some progress on that front in the last 66 days, here’s where my head’s at now.

MY FAVOURITE MUSIC OF 2014

  • Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything by A Silver Mt. Zion
  • Morning Phase by Beck
  • The Halls Of Wickwire by Cousins
  • Lazaretto by Jack White
  • Wine Dark Sea by Jolie Holland
  • Rave Tapes by Mogwai
  • Bring Down The Sky by Northumbria
  • St. Vincent by St. Vincent
  • RTJ2 by Run The Jewels
  • Seeds by TV On The Radio

I’ll consider IX by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of DeadAge by The Hidden CamerasDo Not Engage by The Pack A.D.PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Pharoahe Monch, and Mended With Gold by The Rural Alberta Advantage to be the honourable mention list.

MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2014

  • 2 Days, 1 Night
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • Boyhood
  • The Drop
  • Fury
  • Guardians Of The Galaxy
  • Selma
  • Starred Up
  • Whiplash
  • X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Honourable mentions: The BabadookCaptain America: The Winter SoldierGone GirlLive Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow, and Ned Rifle.

Of course, I still haven’t seen Life Itself, Citizenfour, Nightcrawler, Birdman, Force Majeure, Frank, Wild, Grand Budapest Hotel, Omar, Top Five, Locke, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant, Foxcatcher, Under the Skin, Cold in July, Listen Up Philip, Night Moves, or Interstellar. Gimme a break.

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Cover photo by Early Novels Database, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2014

Rather than write a bunch of separate posts I’m smashing everything together into one gigantic lump. All lists are in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted.

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MY FAVOURITE MUSIC OF 2014

I am so massively behind my music-listening for 2014 that this is probably missing something…I haven’t had a chance to listen to the new albums from Allo Darlin’, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Fear Of Men, Jolie Holland, Mogwai, or Owen Pallet yet, and there’s a decent chance one of those would bump their way onto this list. But for now, these are my favourites.

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything by A Silver Mt. Zion

Year after year, album after album, the various permutations of this band (and their Godspeed You! Black Emperor parent) turn out the kind of deep, dark, contemplative, explosive music that al other post-rock bands emulate.

Morning Phase by Beck

It’s Sea Change redux, and I am super-okay with that.

Glass Boys by Fucked Up

One of the few bands (along with Cloud Nothings) still carrying the torch for melodic hard rock.

The Halls Of Wickwire by Cousins

The only album all year that got binge-listens out of me. “Body” and “Mess” both ended up on my best-songs-of-2014 playlist, and a couple more probably could have too. Weird side note: I’m, like, 30% convinced I once took a creative writing course at Ryerson with the drummer Leigh.

Age by The Hidden Cameras

Featuring an excellent first half, and a second half that goes way off the disco rails until recovering at the final song. Mid-album hiccups or not, the five good songs continue the Cameras’ trend of making the best power-pop on the go.

Lazaretto by Jack White

Not as good as Blunderbuss, but still good enough to land on this list. The best song — “High Ball Stepper” — doesn’t even have words…just whoops.

Do Not Engage by The Pack A.D.

Raw, messy, stripped-down garage rock has been done many times, but there’s something about The Pack A.D.’s method of it that still feels vital. It’s not ground-breaking or innovative. It’s just smash-mouth guitar and drums.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Pharoahe Monch

Well, this is unexpected. Rap ended up on my radar this year, and Pharoahe’s concept album was recommended. It’s ambitious and catchy and spastic and troubling and a cri de coeur all at once. In that way it’s not unlike any of the Godspeed or Silver Mt. Zion stuff I’ve been listening to for a decade.

RTJ2 by Run The Jewels

Part of the reason rap (good rap) finally resonated with me is that I tuned into the fact that it’s the new punk music. With the political climate in the US this year, the anger and resentment in rap sounds not unlike angry working-class British kids in the 70s and 80s.

Seeds by TV On The Radio

These guys keep picking up rock and roll by the throat and dragging it up the evolutionary ladder. The whole album felt completely new and yet totally familiar from start to end.

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MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2014

I can’t really declare this as the list. Not yet. We’re just so far behind on our movie-watching this year that we haven’t yet seen Boyhood, Starred Up, The Babadook, Life Itself, Citizenfour, Blue Ruin, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer, Birdman, Force Majeure, Frank, Wild, Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Wanted Man, Omar, Top Five, Locke, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant, Foxcatcher, Under the Skin, Cold in July, John Wick, Listen Up Philip, Night Moves, or Interstellar, so my list will be updated like crazy in the coming months.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Drop
  3. Gone Girl
  4. Guardians Of The Galaxy
  5. Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow
  6. Ned Rifle
  7. Selma
  8. The Skeleton Twins
  9. Willow Creek
  10. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

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MY FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2014

No shocks here. I feel like we’re pretty much right down the middle of the critical lists so I’ll just list them alphabetically. I don’t think I’m alone in putting together a list without a single show from a big US or Canadian network. I also don’t think I’m alone in being hugely disappointed by the final seasons of The Newsroom and Sons Of Anarchy.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

An outstanding final act to one of the best TV series of all time.

Game Of Thrones (HBO)

Year after year, I find myself excited for every single episode, even though I’ve already read the books.

Homeland (Showtime)

This year recovered nicely from the mess of last season, though it turned almost too action-y for an episode or two there. Still, their once-best character had become a weight around their necks, and the series looks to have found new life.

House Of Cards (Netflix)

This show didn’t introduce us to binge-watching, but it may have perfected the process. Kevin Spacey’s time doing Shakespeare at the Old Vic has come in handy.

Mad Men (AMC)

There is no more textured, styled, and crafted show on TV. To keep watching these people, and one man especially, on the verge of self-destruction for so long is a quiet thrill.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

The show focused less on Piper’s love life this season and more on prison politics this year, which was a welcome shift. The best part of each episode is the infusion of backstory to help color a character’s current, or even past, actions. Morello’s backstory episode was one of the most heartbreaking things I watched all year.

Sherlock (BBC)

The format takes some getting used to — it’s easier to treat it as 9 30-minute episodes rather than 3 90-minute episodes, I find — but the performances are just so on: Cumberbatch as the manic, Freeman as the depressive, all else as the comic relief and dramatic tension.

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Who’d have thunk it: HBO made the best half-hour comedy of the year (though New Girl was close). It was a funny series all along, nicely excoriating the valley mentality, until it peaked (see what I did there?) in episode 8. That finale, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency”, was simultaneously the crudest and cleverest joke on TV all year.

True Detective (HBO)

This show has been discussed, dissected, and interrogated a thousand times already. I have nothing to add, except that I’m excited for season 2. I love the concept of moving from story to story with new characters but similar formats. I just don’t know if they can recreate the alchemy. They have an incredibly high bar to get over.

Walking Dead (AMC)

The gory deaths and shambling piles of disgusting are just window-dressing. This is a show about humans under incredible pressure, not so much from walkers — as the show explained, pretty much everyone left alive is a badass now — but from each other.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2014

Which is to say, the only books I read in 2014.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Brutal, beautiful, poetic. Not unlike the country we live in, the country it’s about. There are images drawn in this book that I’ll never forget.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I admit to being biased — I am deeply in love with the author — but this is an impressive story of how to succeed by working your ass off and scaring yourself.

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

I bought this right after watching the (surprisingly good) film. In truth, what Marcus Luttrell went through was even more brutal than the film portrayed. The most gripping part for me, though, was the account of his Navy Seal training. It provides context for how he survives his post-combat ordeal, but it was also a fascinating look inside how they separate elite warriors from great ones. The anti-liberal tirades get a little boring after a while, but the guy’s earned the right to vent at whoever he wants to.

Curse Of The Narrows by Laura MacDonald

I started reading this on December 6th of last year, the anniversary of the Halifax explosion. I picked it up and put it down into the new year, finally finishing it in January. I’ve read many accounts of the disaster but this was the most expertly conceived, and detailed in explanation of the aftermath.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Recommended to me by my writing instructor several years ago, this sat on my shelf for the longest time. I wish it hadn’t. It was brilliant. Almost like a much softer, more grounded Slaughterhouse Five.

Anchorboy by Jay Onrait

I read this on the flights to and from Halifax. It’s really just a collection of funny anecdotes from Onrait’s career as a sports anchor, but it was damned funny.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

I remember this book sitting on my dad’s bookshelf years ago, but never read it. The latest Ebola outbreak spurred conversation between CBJ and myself, and he mentioned that he read this — and that it scared the crap out of him. I bought it the next day, and read it in a weekend. And now I am sufficiently crapless as well.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Astounding. The best sci-fi writers couldn’t have made this story up. I would have preferred a little less focus on the family and a little more focus on the science & circumstances, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

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THE BEST MEALS I ATE IN 2014

I’ve never tried a list like this before. It’s by nature incomplete since I couldn’t possibly remember all the great meals Nellie made just for us this year, and have therefore chosen to only include out-of-home meals. Even then, I’m sure I’m missing a few outings, but here are the ones that stick in my mind. In chronological order:

Jacobs & Co.Toronto

I’ll say it again: this is the best steakhouse in Toronto. Way back in January I went with a former vendor (so, sans Nellie, which I paid for) who didn’t believe my hype. They proved him wrong.

CarismaToronto

This has become a neighbourhood regular for us, but one meal stands out: celebrating Nellie’s job promotion, we asked for a special bottle to go with my lamb and Nellie’s steak. Our server pulled one of his favourites, the 1997 Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bricco De Neueis Riserva. Since that night he’s always recognized us, and I’ve always trusted his recommendations implicitly. That wine, the food, the service…everything came together as it so often does there: simple, perfectly executed Italian.

CarnevinoLas Vegas

This was probably the most expensive meal we’ve ever eaten. But it was also one of the best steaks, and one of the best meals, we’ve ever eaten. And what’s Vegas for, if not to spend money? Plus, bonus points for great music.

CampagnoloToronto

We attended a couple of wine-related events at restaurants this year, and usually the food at such things is mediocre at best. But this event, put on by Tawse for their wine club members to introduce their new Redstone wines, was outstanding. Not just “good for an event like this”, but some of the tastiest food we ate all year. What makes it all the more impressive is that the kitchen was serving the same thing to a room of ~60 people at the same time.

BazaarMiami

Certainly the most adventurous meal I ate all year, this was an event put on by a vendor at a Miami conference at which I’d spoken the day before. My friend T-Bone and I had to explain what we were eating to the couple sitting next to us — their midwestern diet consisted mostly of various forms of bratwurst and cheese, so things like salmon roe, dragon fruit ceviche, bone marrow, churrasco, jamón ibérico, etc. really confused them. Terrific cocktails too.

Pretty much every mealBat Lake

Grilled ribeyes, seafood feasts, chardonnay verticals, smoked pork shoulders, charcuterie, vintage sparkling…every visit to our friends’ cottage is an extravagant affair where we try to one-up the previous visit with food and drink.

EDNAHalifax

In a rapid-fire weekend of eating and drinking with friends back on the east coast, our brunch at EDNA after an epic night of beer sampling not only saved us, but stood out as the most memorable meal. It was also one of the coolest places we’ve ever tried in Halifax. I see it becoming a mainstay for future visits.

RauDZKelowna

We ate well all up and down the Okanagan on our trip there this past fall, but RauDZ hurdled the bar on our very last night there. There was nothing particularly fancy about the meal — they just cooked everything perfectly is all. The saffron risotto was the ideal introduction. My duck was among the best I’ve ever eaten. The sides, simple local vegetables, were shockingly flavourful. The wine pairing, a Pinot from a winery we’d visited just hours before, was a perfect match. I declared it the best meal I’d eaten all year. I still stand by that, but had I known what I’d be eating for dinner 24 hours later I’d have at least paused for thought.

HawksworthVancouver

Hawksworth may have cost twice what RauDZ did, but that’s probably to be expected at the #1 restaurant in Vancouver. The food was both adventurous and precise, especially our starters. And when there’s a rack of lamb special, you share that shit. Worth every penny.

PatriaToronto

We’d never really jumped into the big Spanish restaurant trend (quickly followed by the lo-fi, then hi-fi, Mexican trend) in Toronto, but a work event at Patria had me wanting to return. When I took Nellie we simply placed ourselves in the capable hands of the staff: chef chose our meal, and our server chose the pairings. It worked out incredibly well, especially considering there wasn’t a “traditional” table wine pairing to be had.

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THE BEST BEERS I DRANK IN 2014

The great thing about an app like Untappd is that I can (and do) record every beer I drink. To the best of my recollection, these are the best beers I tried for the first time in 2014…I didn’t include perennial favourites. Sadly, I don’t have an Untappd-equivalent app for wine the way I do with beer, and so don’t have a similar list.

Ballast Point Victory At Sea (with ghost peppers)

The stand out for me from this year’s Cask Days. This is a perfect porter which happened to be infused with the world’s hottest pepper, resulting in a kind of burn I’ve never felt before. I don’t mean that it was the hottest burn I’ve ever felt, but rather that it burned in a pleasant way that didn’t affect the flavour. All the heat was in the back of my throat and not on my tongue. I couldn’t really describe it. But it was tremendous.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

I had this in Las Vegas, while Nellie and I sat on the patio at the Todd English P.U.B., keeping dry under the overhang of a Daniel Libeskind crystal structure. We had many beers that day; this oatmeal stout was my favourite.

Founders Porter

In New York for work, I grabbed a quiet hour or two at The Ginger Man, one of the top beer spots in Manhattan. I used two flights to cover every porter and stout on their (rather considerable) list, and this classic porter was my favourite. The New Holland Dragon’s Milk Stout was a close second.

Gueuzerie Tilquin Oude Gueuze Tilquin (quetsche)

Knowing my fondness for Gueuze Tilquin, our friends Steph & Jeff brought two bottles of it back for me from a road trip. We shared the larger bottle, with Quetsche (plum), on my birthday. It was outstanding. What amazing friends.

Indie Ale House Fallen Idol

Sampled during a visit from one of the Murphy Girls, she and I both fell for this sour whilst devouring some of Indie’s fried chicken.

Nickel Brook Cuvée 2013 Reserve

At the very end of our second night — and second consecutive visit to Brother’s Beer Bistro in Ottawa — our server had to go deep into the beer list to find something which would catch my fancy, and he found it with this spicy, bourbon-y, almost gruit-y reserve. I could still taste it (mostly in a good way) when I woke up five hours later.

Sawdust City X Bar Hop Blood Of Cthulhu

Another Cask Days debut. Not quite as stellar as the Ballast Point fireball, but pretty badass nonetheless. And bonus points for the Lovecraft reference. It was hilarious to listen people try to figure out how to order it.

Silversmith Knuckles of ‘Frisco

Sometimes, when you’re in wine country, you need a beer. Such was the case after a long morning of sampling wines through the Niagara peninsula, when we stopped in at Silversmith to buy some brews. Without sampling I took a bottle of their latest nut brown ale; we tried it later that night and I immediately regretted not buying more. It tasted as good as Black Oak’s nut brown, my favourite of the style.

Trou Du Diable Volo 25th Anniversary Ale

Just after Cask Days we retreated to Wvrst for some food, wherein Adam and I felt compelled to keep drinking great beer. We began pulling bottles from their collection, including this beautiful sour ale. Felt special. Certainly cost special.

Wellington Chocolate Milk Stout

My favourite at this year’s Session Toronto beer festival. Granted, I’ve fallen hard for milk stouts of late — last year Tom Green’s milk stout collaboration with Beau’s was my favourite at Session — but this one had extra complexity. There’s a bottle of it ageing in my wine fridge right now.

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MY FAVOURITE MOMENTS OF 2014

It’s totally arbitrary and almost certainly incomplete, but these are the moments I’ll likely remember from 2014.

  1. Nellie drinking bubbly right from the bottle on her birthday
  2. Watching Canada win another gold medal in men’s and women’s hockey
  3. Setting down inside the Grand Canyon in a helicopter
  4. Le Rêve at the Wynn Theatre in Las Vegas
  5. Watching Montreal beat Boston in game 7, at our friend Steph’s place, while drinking Gueuze Tilquin
  6. Meeting my new nephew
  7. Not one, but two extraordinary sunsets at Bat Lake
  8. The view from the rooftop bar at the Viceroy Hotel in Manhattan
  9. The Okanagan Valley
  10. While on vacation in BC, seeing a big male killer whale swim toward our boat and dive right underneath us
  11. My first experience at Cask Days
  12. Breathing a sigh of relief when we knew there’d be no more mayor Ford
  13. Watching Bob Dylan play “Lovesick”, with my dad
  14. Surprising our friend Carolyn in line for brunch in Ottawa
  15. My family’s farm, every single time
  16. Last-minute (literally) addition: New Year’s Eve at Bat Lake.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license