An artistic composition

A couple of years ago, on our first visit to the Niagara wine region, we added ourselves to the mailing list at what would eventually become one of our favourite wineries — Thirty Bench. What we didn’t know is that doing so would add us to the mailing list of something called the Small Winemakers Collection. I ignored the emails they sent at first, because we were really still learning about wine.

Of course, we’re still learning, but now know our favourites well enough that we’re interested in branching out to what we may not have tried yet. And so, a couple of weeks ago Nellie and I finally took them up on one of their offers. They held a tasting at their offices featuring 14 producers from around the world, and we signed ourselves up.

We got there a little early, so the place was quite empty at first, but soon filled to bursting. We made our way around the tables ahead of the bulk of the crowd, sampling Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and finally Shiraz from multiple countries. Around the time that we hit the Shiraz, a gentleman stepped up to us and said, “Here, try my wine.” He introduced himself as Norm Doole, co-owner of Dowie Doole winery in Australia’s McLaren Vale region. We chatted about what took him to McLaren Vale (he’s from Canada), about our recent adventures in Australia, and so on. As it turns out, his Shiraz might have been the best wine we tried all night, so we ordered a case (and a case of Appleby Lane Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand) and set out to find some dinner.

As it turns out, the tasting took place a stone’s throw from Ruby WatchCo, which we’ve been meaning to try for ages. We walked in sans reservations; sadly they had no free table, but did offer us space at the bar —  rapidly becoming our preferred perch anyway. The fun of Ruby WatchCo is that you don’t have much choice about the menu…they set out a prix fixe each week and you eat what they give you. What I noticed right away is that they had a great selection of Ontario wine, and by the glass to boot, so we started there. The starter was a HUGE shared salad with shredded duck; the main was a large plate of slow-roasted lamb (Nellie’s comment: “It tastes…cute!”) that almost made me weep. I don’t exactly remember dessert. I do remember a large portion of cheese showing up, which we nibbled at but mostly took home. I also remember meeting and chatting with the couple sitting next to us at the bar; apparently it’s easier for introverts to make friends while drinking wine and breaking bread on bar stools. I should have started at age 12.

Anyway, that started me/us on a streak of trying new places for the next week or so. Last Wednesday I had a work dinner at Opus in Yorkville, a place I’d walked past (and hung out near) for years but not tried. I’m not entirely sure I’d go back without it being on a vendor’s dime either…the food was excellent and the service impeccable, but the wine list was both prodigious and pricey, and I’m not sure I could go back without ordering a bottle at least as good as the two 2007 Cakebread Cab Sauvs we cracked that night. Lots of old Forest Hill money at that place, so I felt a tidge out of place, but the staff wasn’t at all uppity, which made it nice. Anyway, good ‘event’ spot to keep in mind.

Then, on Friday, we decided to visit the reincarnation of an old friend. Smokeless Joe had been one of our favourite beer joints for years, but it closed back in June and moved up to College street, and we weren’t sure how this new version would stack up to the original. The physical space is certainly different — above ground, room to move, no optical-illusion-sloped-wall-with-marble — but some of the staff have made the move, the tap list has grown significantly (about 16, I think — I had a Black Oak Nutcracker, a Unibroue Maudite and a Hockley Valley Dark) and a lot of the food is the same. Even if I never order the peanut soup, I like to smell it while sitting at the bar. And yes, we sat at the bar again, just like we did at old Joe’s; there we met a guy named Owen who was clearly a regular and knew our friend Kaylea (who we met whilst tending the Joe bar) and with whom I have more than a few Twitter friends in common. Small world. Anyway, we don’t get up to College much, but at least if we do we know there’s a place where we can get a decent pint.

Oh yeah: last night we hung out with CBGB and took them their wine (we split our Small Winemakers’ haul with them) and ordered Thai from a place we’ve never tried before, but I don’t think that counts.

Say it ain't so, Joe

Last Wednesday I flew to Atlanta for a conference. I sailed through customs and security at Pearson and thought I was en route to the most effortless flight of all time, but then the Air Canada workers strike bit back…the ground crew forgot to file some paperwork to get us across the border, so we sat on the tarmac for an extra half an hour. That delay allowed a huge thunderstorm to roll into Atlanta ahead of us, and that storm shut down the airport, so we circled for almost an hour. By the time we got on the ground we were two hours late. It then took me (I’m not kidding here) twenty minutes to get out of the airport; no one warned me that the terminal is so long you have to take a train from one end to the other. Anyway. I checked in to the Westin Peachtree (avoid if you’re in Atlanta — it has great views, but is old and shabby once you get past the lobby), headed to the bar and watched the end of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. I never actually left the hotel for the next 24 hours, heading straight to the airport for my return flight…pity, I’d found a few decent-looking beer places in the city and was hoping to try one or two of them on for size.


Back to that game 7 for a minute. In the official order of my preference for who wins the cup, it goes Montreal first (obviously), then any of 26 other teams, then Philly, then Boston, then Toronto. So it really does pain me to say that Boston deserved to win the series. They played like the better hockey team, even if they weren’t. It also pains me that the likes of Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand get to hold a cup, but that pain is somewhat offset by my happiness for Tim Thomas winning his first cup, and for Mark Recchi ending his career with yet another championship. As I watched the final game end and the Bruins start to celebrate, I thought that what would sting the most was that Montreal came so damnably close to knocking the Bruins out in the first round — losing only in overtime of game seven. But, of course, what would sting the most the next morning was the insanity of the rioting in downtown Vancouver, an embarrassment felt by the whole country. Surely, with Canadian teams having lost in the finals five straight times since 1994, you’d think we would be used to it now.


After the traveling and frantic catch-up at work, I was hoping for a quiet weekend of doing as little as possible. That almost happened. Friday we just had a simple dinner out and drank some wine. Saturday we did some errands and generally enjoyed the gorgeous weather and then I actually had a nap. Seriously, a nap. I never have naps. I usually can’t sleep during the day no matter how hard I try. But yesterday, since I was on twelve hours sleep over the previous three nights, I curled up on the bed and went to sleep for a couple of hours. Until an emergency came up.

We found out Smokeless Joe, one of our favourite beer joints, would be closing in two weeks. And that night was the last time our friend Kaylea would be working there.

A dire situation indeed.

We sprung into action, throwing some food down our necks and arriving to find two plum spots waiting for us at the bar. We got the scoop, and sat down with the intention of having three each. Which, of course, ended up being five each. Or possibly six, if you count the vanilla ice cream and Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner float that Steph made for me. We drank and laughed and listened to blues and were especially happy to see Colin and Eddie, our favourite bartenders before Kaylea began working there, show up later in the evening. We said (and hugged) our goodbyes, not knowing if or when we’d see them all again, and left the place that’s been one of Toronto’s best beer bars and our unofficial living room for the past…I don’t know, eight years?

Hopefully it’ll come back in some incarnation, but it’ll just never be the same.

Steph, Kaylea, Eddie and Colin

I am surprisingly a) not sunburned, and b) not hung over

Yet another great weekend in ever-so-slowly-warming-up Toronto. After another long week at the office (hark: no weekend work! well, a couple of conference calls, but that was it…) we decided to celebrate our friend CBJ’s return to Toronto with a few brews at Smokeless Joe. Somehow that devolved into drinking a Tripel out of a football-sized glass, and from there it decayed further into hot wings and seeing an Asian kid puke outside of a Pizza Pizza. But overall, quite a good night.

Saturday morning we got up early in the hopes of scoring a table, sans lineup, at Lady Marmalade over in Leslieville. We succeeded, and just barely, since we got the very last table (at 9AM!) before the lineups began. And lining up would have sucked since it was pouring rain outside. Anyway, we were here because T-Bone wanted to try it, and because one of our co-workers said it was good. And it was: my brunch/breakfast was quite tasty (apple chai french toast + sausage) and everyone else seemed to enjoy theirs, though Nellie’s left something to be desired. And by that I mean that her plate looked like more an accidental spill site than breakfast. However.

The rest of Saturday was quite lazy indeed — Nellie had a nap while I shot XBox Nazis. We could do little else as the thunderstorm outside kept us hemmed in. Eventually we snuck out for groceries in order to supplement the goodies Nellie had obtained super-early that morning, in preparation for a meal that night to continue the celebration of the return of the CBJness. We had lemon/asparagus/shrimp pasta with a bottle of NOVA7 (which didn’t really work…we just really wanted to try the NOVA7) and then grilled sausages along with a bottle of 2008 Ravine Cab Franc, followed by a bottle of 2006 Little Yering Cab/Shiraz to go with some salted chocolate. Nom. Nom hard.

Fortunately the weather was significantly better on Sunday, because we had plans for a 3-hour cruise around Toronto harbour with friends. We did something similar last year…same guy, same boat, roughly same group of friends. We laid our asses down in the sun and drank beer and enjoyed the alternate view of Toronto and chatted happily in perfect early summer weather. No one wanted to get off at the end of the three hours.

Of course, this view — taken from our balcony when we got home — isn’t so bad either.


This past weekend was a rare treat: a brother visit. Brother #2 arrived Friday night and left Monday morning. In between we had dinner at Duggan’s and breakfast at Hank’s, visited St. Lawrence Market, enjoyed the lone spring-like day so far this year by visiting the Distillery district, watched some funny movies, had a long and sumptuous dinner at Fieramosca followed by ill-advised Trappist ales at Smokeless Joe, played a little Call of Duty: Black Ops and were generally lazy the rest of the time.

Happily this won’t be the only brother visit of the year. We’re visiting my family’s farm in July since brother #1 will be visiting from Australia, and then in the fall we’ll be visiting Australia for three weeks ourselves. Beaucoup de familial bonding, as they say.

St-Ambroise Pale Ale

Last night, after dinner at REDS, we popped over to Smokeless Joe for a beer. Or four. Happily I was able to knock off another Project FiftyBrew entry: McAuslan Brewing’s St-Ambroise Pale Ale. I was hoping to do more than that, but they were all out of Hockley Valley Dark, Mill Street Coffee Porter and Scotch Irish Sgt Major’s IPA.

No matter. Kaylea suggested a Traquair Jacobite Ale (which happens to be rated #10 among UK/Irish beers) and it was so good I had a second bottle. I circled back to Canada for my final drink, a Unibroue Fin du Monde. Which is on the list, but lord knows I’ve had it before.

Time to speed this up. I think brunch at Beerbistro is in order.

Project FiftyBrew

About a month ago Troy Burtch — author of the Great Canadian Beer Blog — reposted a speech by Steve Beauchesne, the co-founder of Beau’s Brewery entitled “What If Ontario Had A Beer Revolution?“.

What if Ontario had a beer revolution?

What do I mean by a beer revolution? Well revolutions usually involve overthrowing tyrants, and instituting a new form of governance, but my revolution is maybe a little less violent than that, although by no means is it less radical.

Right now in Ontario, 1 out of every 20 beers drank came from an independent, Ontario brewery. By beer revolution, I mean, what would happen if Ontarians chose to drink an Ontario-made independent beer 1 out of every 2 times they drank beer?

Mr. Beauchesne goes on to make an economic argument for Ontario craft beer which doesn’t actually work all that well, but no matter: there are benefits to supporting local — if not necessarily independently owned — brewers. Besides, no living human should be made to drink the likes of MolsonCoors CanadianLight or its ilk. I felt, after reading the transcript of his speech, that I should try to drink primarily local beers. But it was the summer, and it was boiling hot, and goddammit I love me some German weissbier.

Then, this past Thursday, Nellie and I ducked into Smokeless Joe on our way home from the TIFF box office. There we met the charming and gracious Kaylea from WineNotOntario who recommended the Dieu du Ciel foursome on feature. I was no stranger to DdC, having enjoyed their Rosée D’hibiscus and struggled through their Péché Mortel (seriously, man…it tasted like a peach fucking ashtray) but I wouldn’t have noticed them all tucked away down there on Joe’s chalkboard had she not pointed them out. So I tried. I liked. And I decided: I should do with beer what we’ve been trying to do with wine: drink Canadian whenever possible. Uh, this October trip to SanFran/Napa/Sonoma notwithstanding…vacations don’t count. Aaaaaaaaanyloophole, I needed a plan. It wouldn’t do to swear off all non-Canadian beer, that’s just too drastic. But I figured I should make an effort to at least try the best local stuff, especially those I might not normally try. Hence: Project FiftyBrew.

Here’s the project plan:

  1. Go to and download the list of what, according to their users, constitute the top 50 Canadian beers (DONE!);
  2. Mark off the ones I’ve already tried (DONE!);
  3. Vow to try the remaining 33 (subject to availability) over the next…oh, I don’t know. Whenever. No rush, right?

I’m looking forward to scouring the LCBO, Volo, Smokeless Joe, Beerbistro and C’est What for the unconquered bottles. I’m sure we’ll also plan a trip to Quebec ’cause, uh, they’re nearly all from there…Unibroue, Dieu du Ciel and McAuslan alone make  up more than half the list.

Also, by the time I finish these fifty I’m sure the list will have changed, but I look forward to trying the new entrants too. I may be coming at this from a somewhat different angle than Mr. Beauchesne, but I do hope one of his bottles of Beau’s climbs into the top tier.

Wish me luck.


Today is St. Patrick’s Day. I do not care about this so much since I’m about as Irish as pineapple, and my tolerance for drinking cheap draft in crowded bars is pretty much down to nil. However, a shocking number of people (many of whom I know for a fact are not Irish in any way, shape or form) are wearing green today, so maybe this is a bigger deal than I thought. Having grown up in a place named New Scotland, in a non-drinking family, the importance of March 17 may have been lost on me.

Today I am 89% of the way through my MBA. I have 157 days left. If the entire program were put on the timeline of a single day, it would be about 9:22 PM. I am officially phoning it in at this point.

Today my brother is in town again. He was here just last weekend; I guess he really missed the place. Anyway, we had a bite and a couple of pints at Smokeless Joe last night (I believe we have now taken pretty much everyone we know there) and he’s off to meetings today and tomorrow. Soon he’ll know the city better than we do.

Today’s it’s cold again, which is deflating after the semi-warm day we had on Saturday. Supposed to be above freezing & rainy tomorrow and Wednesday, which bodes well for removing some snow.

Today I’d like to be working for VanCity, like my friend* William Azaroff.  He got to meet Muhummad Yunus and he does some cool stuff at work.

Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you. By now you should’ve somehow realized what you gotta do. I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.

* It feels odd to call him that, since I’ve never met him in person, but rather have communicated only a few times over email and phone. Still, blogs & Facebook & Twitter give a strange sense of familiarity. Hmmmm…there’s a whole other blog post simmering there…

[tags]st. patrick’s day, mba, smokeless joe, toronto weather, william azaroff, vancity, muhummad yunus, oasis, wonderwall[/tags]

"The blues is when you love someone don't love you"


Last night was a great Toronto night…lots of snow, a (relatively) quiet downtown and some comfort food after a trying week. We took Nellie’s mom to Smokeless Joe which, despite the fairly empty streets, was packed to the ceiling. We finally got three seats together and put down some pasta and some beer before hitting the wall. We’d all had a long day so we just came home and watched some TV (The Wire…so good!!) before crashing.

I have to say, after a week of corporate finance, it did me some good to sit in cozy little Joe’s with my wife, drink a good beer, have some good food, chat with the excellent staff and listen to Leadbelly on the stereo. My recharging has continued today; with the snow now stopped we had some breakfast at Over Easy and I now have the place to myself as Nellie and NellieMom have gone to see Dirty Dancing. Me, I’ll be staying home and watching the Canadiens game on TV…oh, right about now.


United 93 has been playing on TMN lately, and I’ve watched bits and pieces of it over the past couple of weeks. I thought the film was unsettling and brilliant when I saw it, and thought it was one of the best of 2006, but I simply cannot watch it again. It’s too hard on me. Every time I watch it, even just a few scenes, my guts twist into a knot. It’s probably the most physical reaction I’ve ever had to a film, and it happens every time I see it. I want to watch it — Paul Greengrass is a master at that sort of emotional recreation — but I get apprehensive just thinking about it.

I guess I’ll just have to lot it from a distance.

[tags]berczy park, smokeless joe, leadbelly, united 93[/tags]

"I left my thimbles and socialist reading material at home."


Wow, three days without blogging. That’s probably a record. I can explain: busy Friday, busy Saturday and today I feel like ass.

Friday I was at work until about 7:30, and by the time I got home all I really had the energy to do was eat and watch Friday Night Lights and The Wire.

Yesterday we intended to see There Will Be Blood but when we got to the theatre we found that the new Eye Weekly film listings had lied to us. No wonder Torontoist hates them. No other showtimes worked so we had one last meal at the Biryani House in Roy’s Square. It’s closing in two weeks (moving just around the corner onto Hayden Street) to make room for 1Bloor. Mmmmm…samosas and pakoras and shrimp masala…tasty. After lunch we walked back down Church street, cleaned up a little and waited for CBGB to arrive. They joined us for dinner and a couple of tasty drinks at Smokeless Joe (hence the picture above), then back at ours for a bit.

All was going well until I woke up this morning stuffed up, with a sore throat and a pounding sinus headache. Last night I had nothing; by this morning I was deep in the throes of a cold. Shitty. I feel very unpleasant right now. As such we did next to nothing all day; I have no energy. My day has been limited to lots of basketball, football and movies.


The first movie we watched today was Stranger Than Fiction (imdb | rotten tomatoes) which, based on the ads, I’d all but dismissed as typical Will Ferrell clowning. It was, in fact, very funny, clever and sweet. Ferrell is so good at the subtle humour he showed here and in Winter Passing that it kills me to see the ads for crap like Semi-Pro. A few times in this movie I laughed out loud, and I rarely laugh at Will Ferrell movies.

We also watched Marie Antoinette (imdb | rotten tomatoes) this evening. The first half was interesting, but it completely lost steam in the second half. It was like watching a dessert cart being paraded around…it looks lovely and inspired at first, but after you stare at the same sweets for two hours it loses something. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it that much to begin with; Sofia Coppola had me in the first half, but lost me again in the second.

I forgot to blog last week about Italianetz (imdb | rotten tomatoes), yet another foreign entry at a past film festival that I wanted to see. The story was about a Russian boy set to be adopted from an orphanage by an Italian couple (hence the title) but who worries that he has a mother somewhere that, should he go to live with another couple, he’ll never see again. The plot takes him on his search for her, but the real star was Russia itself: a dirty, drunken, stormy, barren, corrupt plain of despair…that one little boy refuses to give up on. Worth watching, if you can tolerate the dodgy subtitle translations.

[tags]friday night lights, the wire, there will be blood, eye weekly, torontoist, biryani house, 1bloor, smokeless joe, stranger than fiction, marie antoinette, italianetz[/tags]

At least I still have the empty can

As I write this I’m trapped in the den, as Nellie’s wrapping gifts in the living room. Luckily I have a TV in here and there’s a Canadiens game on, but I think I might’ve had a little too much Diet Pepsi, so it could get messy in here.


Last Friday night at Smokeless Joe was so enjoyable we returned again last night, looking for more Great Lakes Winter Ale. Unfortunately they were out, but we had some very tasty alternatives (Hacker-Pschorr Dunkle Weiss for me and some kind of Belgian Tripel for Nellie which she loved). No fear about not getting another taste of the winter ale, though: we bought a few bottles today at the LCBO.

We also got some treats for ourselves (Nellie got some Tedeschi Amarone at the LCBO, and I picked up some truffles at JS Bonbons) and for the cats (especially Sonny; his favourite toy is a little red ball that his Auntie Jenny got him years ago, and we’ve had trouble finding more of…until today and we bought five. Oh, and catnip, so they’ve been trying to crawl into their stocking all day).


I’ve never been in Toronto this close to Christmas before; it’s interesting. We went to St. Lawrence Market today to pick up a few things, and it was about six different kinds of crazy in there. It wasn’t even 10:00 yet and the crowds were so thick you’d think you were at a concert. I can’t wait to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

It’ll be really weird going to work on the 24th.

[tags]smokeless joe, great lakes winter ale, dunkle weiss, tripel, st. lawrence market, toronto[/tags]