Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tasting what's brewing at Toronto's Indie Ale House

Indie Ale House opened earlier this fall in the formerly dry Junction neighbourhood, and the microbrewery/restaurant should become a destination for Toronto beer lovers.

I arrived at 6 p.m. on Saturday to meet seven other friends and, although the restaurant doesn't take reservations, we secured a table before more people started pouring through the door a short time later.

I split an order of three tasty samosas and then moved on to my main course, the Three Little Pigs Pizza ($15). The name comes from the thin crust pie's main toppings: house-smoked pork, wild boar sausage and Berkshire pork belly. It's one of the best pizzas I've had in a while and it should fill a hungry person pretty easily.

But the main reason I wanted to spend a night here was the beer. It had 10 on tap and I tried them all in two separate flights of five four-ounce glasses. Here's what's brewing at the moment:

Instigator India Pale Ale
This auburn-coloured IPA has a citrus aroma and a robust flavour that's decently hopped and carries a hint of grapefruit. This was the first one I tried and was probably my favourite, so I ordered a full pint afterward.
$6.50 for 20 ounces, 6.5% alcohol content

Great Lakes Karma Citra
This gold-coloured beer was from the guest tap, this time featuring one of Great Lakes Brewing's small-batch brews. This IPA also had a citrus bouquet and grapefruit elements from the citra hop it uses, but I wasn't as impressed with it.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 6%

Barnyard Rye Pale Ale
This light amber-coloured ale definitely had a vague barnyard aroma and tasted a little grassy. It was okay, but I've never been a big fan of rye ales so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 6%

St. Crispin's Mild
This dark brown ale had little aroma and a malty biscuit flavour. It's made for session drinking, but I wasn't impressed and my sample was all that I wanted. It was also available from the cask, which I didn't try but perhaps should have.
$6.50 for 20 ounces, 3.5%

Broken Hipster Wit
This Belgian wit is straw gold and had little bouquet. It had a pleasant herbal flavour, but wasn't exceptional.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 5%

Dark Wheat Rises
The first beer in my second flight was also my favourite of that batch, prompting me to order a full glass later in the evening. It had a lovely combination of being faintly hoppy and fruity, primarily blueberry.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 7%

Breakfast Porter
This had a nice chocolate aspect from the dark roasted malt and was quite solid.
$6.50 for 16.5 ounces, 7.2%

Cock Puncher India Pale Ale
This dark orange ale had a decently hoppy aroma and was full-bodied and flavourful. It was certainly hoppy, but not overpowering. My cock didn't feel punched after drinking it, but my head might have if I'd kept ordering it. The high alcohol content didn't detract from its pleasantness to the palate.
$5.50 for 10 ounces, 11%

Spadina Monkey Belgian Sour
This pumpkin orange-coloured beer had a fruit bouquet and a lemon and grapefruit-based flavour that wasn't intensely sour.
$5.50 for 9 ounces, 5%

Jump The Shark
This American strong ale was brewed in collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery. It's black, tasty and worth jumping on.
$5.50 for 10 ounces, 9.5%

If you like anything well enough to take home with you, beers are also sold in 500-millilitre and 750-millilitre bottles and two-litre growlers. Kegs are available on special order. T-shirts, glasses and other souvenirs can also be purchased.

Indie Ale House is at 2876 Dundas St. W.

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo product recap

The annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo made its way to the Metro Convention Centre again this month and provided me with two days of enjoyable exploration -- even more than my inaugural visit last year.

I pretty much leave the food to the foodies at these events and focus on beers, liquors and primarily white and sparkling wines that I haven't tried before.

Much to my delight, there were a lot more beers at this year's expo than there was last year. Here's an overview:

Mill Street Doppel Pils
With a seven-per cent alcohol content, this is the strongest Czech-style pilsner in the Canadian market. It's gold in colour, reasonably crisp in taste and is quite decent.

Mill Street Paradise IPA
This one is even stronger at 7.2 per cent and has a floral aroma and a medium hoppiness that makes it quite drinkable.

Nickel Brook Le Paysan Saison
This has a nice bouquet and offers a hint of orange and pineapple mid-taste, a bit of spiciness afterward and a nice finish. It's 5.7 per cent and is a very good, almost elegant, brew made with Amarillo hops that add just the right amount of bite.

Nickel Brook Pumpkin Ale
This is a dark orange/amber-coloured beer, as you'd expect, but doesn't provide much pumpkin bouquet or flavour. The 5.7-per cent brew doesn't have any spiciness or cinnamon either and I found it lacking.

Nickel Brook Bertwell AT Shilling
I don't normally drink a lot of Scotch ales, but enjoyed this wet-hopped version that was made as a single batch experiment. There's a slight citrus element to it and a subtle sweetness that would make the dark amber, five-per cent brew a nice dessert beer. It's made from hops only available in Ontario, so it's recommended for locavores.

Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout
This black, 8.5-per cent, 65-IBU stout is aged in bourbon and pinot noir barrels and the roasted malt bears traces of chocolate and coffee flavours. I'd recommend this as a good bedtime beer.

Beau's And Boom Gose The Dynamite
This excellent unfiltered beer is brewed with sea salt and coriander that gives it an interesting sweet and sour appeal. There's a strong citrus bouquet and grapefruit taste in this straw-coloured, 4.6-per cent beer.

Beau's Dark Helmut
This 7.3-per cent German black lager has the definite roasted coffee and chocolate elements of a stout along with the crispness of a lager. It's a combination that works well.

Spearhead Moroccan Brown Ale
This has a mildly fruity bouquet and is brewed with dates, figs, raisins and cinnamon. It's unfiltered and offers a nice blend of hops and fruit. I'm usually not a big brown ale guy, but this six-per cent brew is really good.

Spearhead Belgian Stout
This unfiltered, six-per cent stout is brewed with Demerara sugar, orange curacao peel, coriander and Trappist ale yeast, and its flavour offers a mix of coffee and fruit.

Creemore Mad and Noisy
This is dark copper in colour and pours with a nice head. It's solidly hoppy and I like it.

Granville Island Hefeweizen
There's coriander in the ingredients and the flavour profile is banana and cloves. It has five-per cent alcohol and is one of my favourite Granville Island beers.

Granville Island Winter Ale
This dark amber, 5.5-per cent beer has a vanilla aroma and chocolate and vanilla flavours that complement each other well. It's very good.

Lake of Bays Crosswind Pale Ale
There's a bit of hoppiness in this ale, which has mild pear and apple elements. This five-per cent beer is solid but not exceptional.

Rickard's Oakhouse Winter Lager
This 5.5-per cent, oak-aged beer came out this month and will be available until the spring. The oak comes through and adds a hint of smokiness and vanilla, but I wasn't particularly impressed.

Railway City Black Coal Stout
This six-per cent offering pours black with a nice head and is on the bitter side of stouts, but is okay.

Railway City Honey Elixir
This St. Thomas, Ont. brewery (which is moving into a larger space) makes this 5.5-per cent lager with local honey, but it's not too sweet like I find some honey beers.

Wine was in the title of this show, so of course I had to enjoy my share. This isn't all of them, but a cross-section:

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2011
You can't drink a fresher white wine, as the process used to make it ensures that oxygen only gets into it once you uncap it. This extra dry white will appeal to Soave fans, and the well-bodied 12.7-per cent alcohol wine offers a vague pineapple bouquet. It sells for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Amalya Torrontes-Riesling
This extra dry, pale-coloured Argentinian riesling has peach and pear aromas, and the pear also comes through in the flavour of this nice 13.5-per cent product that retails for $10.95 at the LCBO.

Santa Margherita Prosecco
This sparkling wine is dry and not too sweet. It has 11.5 per cent alcohol and sells for $17.95 at the LCBO. It's okay, but nothing exceptional.

Cave Spring Riesling Dry
There's a slight sweetness to the finish of this very good VQA wine. It's pale yellow with hints of grapefruit and pineapple on the nose. It has 11.5-per cent alcohol and retails for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Open Sociable Sparkling VQA
There are apple and citrus aromas and a touch of sweetness to the flavour, which bears traces of apple and pear. It's refreshingly off-dry and has 12.7-per cent alcohol. This Ontario wine sells for $13.95 at the LCBO.

Muscedere 2011 Riesling
This is only available for $16 at the winery, near the southern tip of Canada just west of Leamington, Ont. It's a light-bodied, semi-dry white that wasn't particularly exciting.

Muscedere 2011 Rose
This light-bodied, off-dry wine is slightly sweeter than the Riesling and sells for $14 at the winery.

Dreissigacker Riesling
This 11.5-per cent wine comes from a Rheinhessen, Germany winery that doesn't have its products available in Canada yet, which is a shame because it has a full body and a citrus flavour with a nice finish.

Dreissigacker Bechtheimer Riesling
This is supposed to be a step up from the previous wine, and while it has 0.5-per cent more alcohol and a mellower character, I prefer the entry level version.

Yalumba Y Series Riesling
This pale straw-coloured, extra dry wine comes from Australia's oldest family-owned vineyard and is light-bodied with a grapefruit bouquet and flavour. It has a higher acidity and 11 per cent alcohol. It retails for $15.10 at the LCBO.

Hinterbrook Riesling
This medium-sweet product from an 18-month-old Niagara on the Lake, Ont. winery has a lemon aroma and a flavour that bears notes of apple, which adds a crispness to its finish. It sells for $18 at the winery.

Henry of Pelham Sauvignon Blanc VQA
This Niagara region winery makes my favourite Ontario riesling, which I prefer over this light, crisp and extra dry wine that has 12.5 per cent alcohol and retails for $14.95 at the LCBO.

Trumpour's Mill 2009 Semi-Dry Riesling
The name describes an aspect of this wine, which has a combination floral and citrus bouquet and some peach in its flavour before a clean finish. The LCBO sells it for $14.95.

Pelee Island Moscato
This fruity, medium dry Ontario wine is pale pink and medium-bodied with notes of melon and citrus. It has 12 per cent alcohol and retails for $9.95 at the LCBO.

Muskoka Lakes Georgian Bay Rose QC
This seasonal Ontario wine is made with apples and cranberries and is quite refeshing. It has 12.5 per cent alcohol and sells for $16.95 at the LCBO.

Muskoka Lakes Cranberry Blueberry Wine
This is a very good, 11-per cent alcohol, off-dry table wine that's nicely balanced with the two titular fruits. It also goes for $16.95 at the LCBO.

Aveleda Fonte Vinho Verde
This light and crisp wine is pale yellow with pear, apple and citrus aromas and flavours. It's easy on your head and your wallet with 8.5 per cent alcohol and an $8.95 price tag.

I also tried several liquors and liqueurs, including:

Tequila Tromba
This tequila has been in Canada for seven months and is made with 100-per cent agave that comes from the highest elevation of any tequila in the world. It's sweet and slightly citrus and is an easy-drinking, 36-per cent tequila that sells for $49.95 at the LCBO.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This bourbon is made from corn, rye and barley malt and is aged eight years in oak barrels. There's vanilla in the nose and it has a complex but pleasing flavour that includes vanilla and toffee.

Crazy Uncle Blood Orange Rosemary Maple Punch

This is new to the LCBO, where you can purchase a litre-sized jug for $17.95. It's all natural, 14-per cent alcohol and reminds me of a mulled wine.

Mathilde Pear Liqueur
I was told that this is a big favourite of Kim Kardashian. It has 18 per cent alcohol content, but smells stronger than that. Luckily, the taste is milder and on the sweet side. It's made from French pears with no additives or preservatives.

Xante Pear & Cognac Liqueur

There's a subtle hint of vanilla and oak in this more rich offering, which is 17 per cent alcohol and has a bright harvest yellow colour.

Tequila Rose
This is an interesting combination of strawberry cream liqueur and tequila that's sweet and tasty and would make a nice addition to desserts or sipped on its own over ice.

Tag No. 5 Vodka
This 40-per cent alcohol, gluten-free vodka is made with corn in Oakville, Ont. It's distilled four times and filtered five times to produce a smooth flavour that I enjoyed both on its own and mixed with pineapple juice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lydia Loveless deserves more Toronto love

photos by Jeff Ross

Bloodshot Records sent me Lydia Loveless' Indestructible Machine in the summer of 2011, but it wasn't until I heard online friends talking about it towards the end of the year that I got around to listening to it. I'm glad I did, as it was narrowly edged out of my top 10 list.

I caught a snippet of the this young whippersnapper on stage during the Bloodshot party at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March, but wanted to hear more. That chance came on Monday night when the singer, songwriter and guitarist brought her rock-solid three-piece band (which includes husband and stand-up bassist Ben Lamb) to Toronto's Drake Underground.

These Columbus, Ohio cats play gritty, rocking country music with hooks. They respect the genre's roots, but add their own punky flair to songs about drinking ("Back on the Bottle"), drinking ("Wine Lips"), "creepy old men" ("Steve Earle"), sex dreams ("Head") and more drinking ("Do Right").

Loveless is tiny but has a powerful voice and comes across like Neko Case's spunkier little sister -- and Neko can be pretty damn spunky.

Want evidence?

"I haven't got my period on this tour yet," Loveless told the audience of just 25 people, almost all of whom were sitting on benches that shouldn't have been placed in front of the stage.

The band had almost no energy to feed off from the crowd and, while the musicianship was sharp and the songs held your attention, I couldn't help but feel that more enthusiastic reactions to each number could have spurred the quartet on to a higher level.

The 50-minute set also included "More Like Them," "Chris Isaak," "Jesus Was a Wino," "Learn to Say No," "Crazy" and "Can't Change Me." I was essentially there to hear Indestructible Machine, but it was good to get a few other songs, too. A couple of choice covers might have been nice to stretch things to an hour. But all in all, it was a satisfying show.

Loveless has a bright future, but she'll have to be patient in building her following. Landing a well-placed opening slot on tour with a like-minded but more popular act would be a good step to enabling her to expand a Canadian audience that I'm sure will appreciate her once they get to know her.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rezillos weren't quite revved up in Toronto

Can't Stand The Rezillos was one of my most listened to albums at the dawn of the '80s when I was in my mid-teens, after the Scottish outfit had transformed into The Revillos and shortly before it disbanded.

I never thought I'd see The Rezillos, but it reformed in 2001 and I was lucky enough to catch it at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in 2005. My youthful enthusiasm for the group's exuberant mix of punk, new wave and '60s pop hadn't diminished and witnessing it for the first time was truly something special.

The Rezillos are still touring and finally made it to Toronto on Nov. 22, and it was a show I was really anticipating. But the band came on a bit late, was using the opening act's equipment and didn't seem at the top of its game. Most of the people in the decent-sized crowd -- composed largely of old punks (this was one of the rare shows when I was probably in the younger percentile) -- likely hadn't seen the group before but seemed to realize that, while entertaining, The Rezillos weren't meeting expectations.

Founding members and co-vocalists Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds still tried to look the part of their youth, with Fife wearing a latex-like green mini-skirt and Reynolds decked all in black -- including a leather jacket and sunglasses. Fife still go-go danced and shimmied and Reynolds occasionally picked up the guitar to augment the latest lineup, which also includes original drummer Angel Patterson, bassist Chris Agnew and guitarist Jim Brady, who was decked out in a Capt. Kirk Star Trek shirt.

The Rezillos opened with the solid new single "Out Of This World" before giving the crowd what it really wanted when it started cranking out old singles and Can't Stand The Rezillos gems, including "Flying Saucer Attack," "Getting Me Down" and "Cold Wars" before slipping in another more recent track, "Sorry About Tomorrow."

"Mystery Action" and "You're So Deep" took the 45-minute set to the halfway point before it continued with "It Gets Me," "Yesterday's Tormentor" and "Desination Venus." Momentum was gained down the home stretch when "Top of the Pops" deservedly got the biggest crowd response of the night to that point and "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures" effectively followed it. A cover of "River Deep, Mountain High" and then "I Can't Stand My Baby" finished things off.

The set was so brief that an encore was almost certain, and The Rezillos quickly returned with old nuggets "Bad Guy Reaction" and the evening's biggest crowd-pleaser, "Somebody's Gonng Get Their Heads Kicked In Tonight."

The show ended on a definite high note, but the concert would have been even better had it been stretched out slightly to include "No," "2000 A.D." and The Rezillos' outstanding covers of "Glad All Over" and "I Like It" -- and perhaps even a couple of Revillos cuts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Amy Gore and Her Valentines - In Love

I enjoyed singer/guitarist/songwriter Amy Gore's work with the Gore Gore Girls and was intrigued when I heard about her latest project, Amy Gore and Her Valentines.

After she played a one-off show backed by guitarist Jackson Smith (Patti Smith, Electric Six), bassist Leann Banks (The Von Bondies) and drummer Joe Leone, the Detroit musicians felt they had something special together and set about making an album. They worked with producer/engineer Al Sutton (Kid Rock, The Detroit Cobras) at Rustbelt Studios and invited guests including funk guitarist Dennis Coffey to assist in creating In Love, which was released last month through Space Lion Records.

Gore's garage rock roots are still very evident, but more power pop elements have been introduced -- particularly on "Diana" but pretty much throughout In Love's 12 tracks. There are 10 originals and covers of Shocking Blue's "Send Me a Postcard" and R. Wayne Davies' "You Won't Lead Me On."

"Drivin' Around" opens the album, was the first single and sets a rocking but melodic tone for what's to come. There's more emphasis on guitars on second single "Fine Without You," "Static" and "Baby In Your Arms." "I'm Addicted" features jangle and a big chorus, while the organ on "Static" and "Remember Me" adds more diversity.

Gore's sound comes across a little cleaner and safer than it did with Gore Gore Girls and may not reach quite as many high points as that band, but In Love is probably her most consistently high quality release yet.

Get caught in this Crossfire Hurricane

Rolling Stones 50th anniversary hoopla is in full swing, and director Brett Morgen's new Crossfire Hurricane documentary stands a good chance of being the most interesting part of it.

The band members agreed to be interviewed, but no cameras were allowed in the room, so Morgen and his team brilliantly used their words along with rare archival concert and behind-the-scenes footage as well as old interviews and news clips to piece together a film that chronicles many of the trials and tribulations of the Stones' first 20 years.

None of the group members were particularly erudite interview subjects, especially in the early days, but Jagger definitely comes across as the most charismatic of the bunch. 

We hear how they would take bets on how long early shows would last while watching scenes of fans storming the stage and mobbing the band or causing riots down in front.

Jagger and Richards talk about the afternoon acid trip they were on before returning to Richards' Redlands country mansion and being arrested for drug possession.

Things turn darker when the lads talk about guitarist Brian Jones' growing lack of involvement with the band because of his heavy drug use, which ended with his drowning death. That's followed by them recounting how fearful they were at the tragic Dec. 6, 1969 Altamont concert over harrowing images of whacked-out Hells Angels who provided brutish security and killed an audience member.

The film deals with guitarist Mick Taylor's entry into and departure from the Stones, which seemed to catch his bandmates off guard, but he explains that his growing involvement with drugs when the band was at its most hedonistic point in the early '70s scared him away. Not everyone has the constitution of Richards, who talks about his infamous Toronto heroin bust and quips, "I never had a problem with drugs, I had a problem with cops."

And guitarist Ron Wood was more than happy to take on the party boy mantle as Richards' musical and social foil.

Crossfire Hurricane ends in the early '80s, which was perfect for me because that's essentially when my interest in most of the Stones' music ended, but more recent performance footage is shown during the closing credits.

Crossfire Hurricane exceeded my expectations and provided an insightful and entertaining couple of hours. Americans with HBO can watch it at 9 p.m. on Nov. 15, while BBC Two will show it in the United Kingdom in two parts on Nov. 17 and 24. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the spring.

You can watch the trailer here.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath still make sweet music

I saw The Grapes of Wrath for the first time in more than 20 years when the reunited Kevin Kane and Tom Hooper played in front of a smallish audience at Toronto's El Mocambo as part of the pre-Juno Awards festivities in March 2011.

There was a considerably larger crowd on hand at Toronto's Mod Club on Tuesday night, when Kane and Hooper (with original drummer Chris Hooper back in the fold this time, along with another guitarist and keyboard player) took the stage on the 20th anniversary of the band's original break-up after a show at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom.

Julie Doiron got folks warmed up with an enjoyable 45-minute opening set, and CBC Radio 2 host Rich Terfry announced that the concert was being recorded for a later broadcast before he brought the Grapes to the stage.

The set began with "O Lucky Man" and guitarist Kane and bassist Hooper showed that the harmonies that helped make the Grapes so popular in the '80s haven't gone anywhere in the succeeding years. It was followed by "Stay," and then it was time for the first of the guests who'd been lined up to perform with the group.

I'd seen Ron Sexsmith do the same thing the night before with Blue Rodeo, but this evening he also brought Doiron on stage to help the Grapes with "Backward Town."

"Good to See You," one of two new songs on the Grapes' just-released Singles collection that's also the first single from a new studio album scheduled for a February release through Aporia Records, sounded as good as anything from the catalogue.

The Grapes had never performed with a banjo player until Great Lake Swimmers' Erik Arnesen and Tony Dekker joined them for "The Most." "A Fishing Tale" brought the rock, "A Dream (About You)" kept the momentum going and the band kept on a roll through "Misunderstanding" and "I Am Here."

The other band members left Kane and Hooper alone on stage with acoustic guitars for another new song, "Take On The Day."

Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who had also played with Blue Rodeo the night before, kept the gentle vibe alive when they joined the other Grapes members who'd returned to the stage for "All The Things I Wasn't." Hayden was up next for "What Was Going Through My Head" and helped it excel, while the Grapes handled "Do You Want to Tell Me" just fine on their own.

Sam Roberts was the final guest of the night and took a co-starring role with the organ on an excellent "You May Be Right." The 65-minute set ended with a butt-kicking "Peace of Mind" that left the crowd wanting more.

The Grapes returned for a very solid "A Very Special Day" before ending the night with a well-executed cover of The Beatles' "If I Needed Someone."

The Grapes of Wrath probably wouldn't have become the next Beatles even if the group had stayed together, but it produced some of the best and most commercially viable jangly pop-rock songs to come out of Canada in its prime. And judging by "Good to See You," it could do it again.