Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The best of the 2019 Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

The downsizing trend of last year’s Gourmet Food & Wine Expo seemed to continue in this 25th anniversary year of the event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Nov. 21 to 24.

However, even though it’s becoming more difficult to find new beverages — especially when it comes to beer — that I haven’t had before, there was enough to keep my palate satisfied and thirst quenched for three days.

I largely focused on one beverage type each day, with Friday dedicated to beer, ciders and coolers, Saturday to wine, and Sunday to spirits and cocktails.

Here are the highlights:


Indie Ale House Lemonade Stand includes lactose to add body and smooth out the bitterness of the Meyer lemons in this five-per cent alcohol beer to make it surprisingly mellow in bouquet and easy to drink. It’s probably more appropriate as a summertime brew than it is for  November, but I’d have no problems drinking this year-round.

Nickel Brook Zap! Sour IPA is made with four malts, Cascade, Centennial and City hops, and California Ale yeast. A fluffy white head sits on top of a cloudy pale gold base. There’s a strong citrus aroma and while the lemony sharpness of a sour beer is evident, there’s still enough hops and a pine finish for IPA fans in this ale that has a 5.5-per cent alcohol content and 28 international bettering units (IBUs).

Muskoka Hazed and Confused was originally part of the brewery’s experimental Moonlight Kettle series, but was so popular that it was introduced more widely. This 6.5-per cent alcohol, hazy gold IPA offers a  fruity hop aroma and a very juicy citrus flavour that pleases from start to finish.

Here are the other beers I sampled, listed in order of preference:

Muskoka Shinnicked Stout (with an apparently new recipe)
Nickel Brook Glory and Gold
Balderdash Brewing Sneaky Weasel Lager
New Standard Original Lager
Partake IPA (non-alcoholic beer)
Partake Stout (non-alcoholic beer)
Partake Ale (non-alcoholic beer)


Lonetree Dry Cider is a 5.5-per cent alcohol cider made with six different types of apples. It has a low sugar content but still has a degree of well-balanced sweetness to go with a crisp finish.

Muskoka Lakes Cliff Jump Cranberry Craft Cider is an off-dry, pinkish cider made in the Canadian cranberry capital of Bala, Ont. Apples and cranberries are well-blended in this 5.6-per cent alcohol cider that offers a tangy, crisp and refreshing taste experience.

Here are the other ciders I sampled, listed in order of preference:

Duxbury Back 50 Acres Cider Spritzer
Liberty Village Extra Dry Cider
Duxbury Back 50 Acres Scrumpy


Crafty Elk Mango and Honey Organic Hard Juice is a 4.5-per cent alcohol vodka beverage from London, Ont. The orange-coloured drink also includes water, cane sugar, carrot concentrate, prickly pear fruit extract, turmeric, goji juice powder, ginger, citric acid and natural flavours. It’s slightly sweet and a lot delicious.

Crafty Elk Cranberry, Blueberry and Acai Organic Hard Juice is made with no preservatives or artificial sweeteners and is very berry-forward. This also mixes very well with the Crafty Elk Mango and Honey Organic Hard Juice.

Founder’s Original Bourbon Sour isn’t particularly sour, but I wasn’t complaining with this well-balanced and quite citrusy five-per cent alcohol beverage made with bourbon, Seville orange bitters, orange and lemon juice, cane sugar and water.

Hey Y’all Southern Style Hard Iced Tea is brewed in Vancouver with black tea. It’s lightly sweetened, non-carbonated and pours dark gold with a five-per cent alcohol content.

Here are the other coolers I sampled, listed in order of preference:

Hey Y’all Georgia Peach Hard Iced Tea
Founder’s Original Tequila Paloma
Blue Lobster Lemon Lime Vodka Soda


Martin Berdugo Verdejo Rueda is a very fruit-forward, 13-per cent alcohol Spanish wine made with Verdejo grapes. It possesses a rich bouquet with citrus and peach notes and a finish that lingers nicely.

Pierre Sparr Grande Reserve Gewurztraminer is a 13.5-per cent alcohol, dry and semi-sweet wine from France’s Alsace region with a rose petal aroma and flavours of lychee, pineapple and grapefruit.

Famille Cattin Pinot Gris is a 13.5-per cent alcohol, dry and medium sweet wine from Alsace that’s pale straw in appearance and has apricots and honey in its nose.

Ironstone Obsession Symphony is very pale and, while I was warned about its sweetness, it certainly wasn’t cloying. I enjoyed its rich and fruity bouquet, and peach and melon emerged with the strongest flavour profiles in this 12-per cent alcohol wine from California’s Lodi region.

Here are the other wines I sampled, listed in order of preference:

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay
Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay
J. Lohr Chardonnay
Willm Reserve Riesling
Gentil Hugel
Baron De Ley White
Cannonball Chardonnay
Pelee Island Bella Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose
Vieni Riesling
Grand Cru Kessler Pinot Gris Domaines Schlumberger
Sterling Chardonnay
Josh Rose
Lolo Albarino
Sprucewood Shores Sweet Select Riesling
Vieni Bruce Trail White
Josh Sauvignon Blanc
In Situ Reserva Chardonnay
Josh Chardonnay
Lolo Chardonnay
Tom of Finland FREEstanding White
Beringer Chardonnay
Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 


35 Licor De Pastel De Nata is a 14.5-per cent alcohol Portuguese cream liqueur with a flavour that will remind many of the country’s famous custard tarts. I had it straight up with a dash of cinnamon sprinkled on top and very much enjoyed its sweet flavour that could make it a holiday season favourite.

Vodkow is a unique 40-per cent alcohol vodka from Almonte, Ont. made with lactose, which creates a clean and smooth flavour and a full-bodied mouth feel. It’s made without gluten. I preferred it straight up, as those earlier mentioned characteristics took away some of the ginger spiciness that I enjoy in a Moscow Mule.


The Watermelon Palmer is made with Stolichnaya Vodka, Double Dutch Watermelon Cucumber Tonic and Kiju Organic Lemonade. I’m a sucker for most things with a cucumber aroma and flavour, and this smooth-drinking combo was refreshing and excellent.

Winter Mule is made with Noxx and Dunn Rum, Kiju Organic Cherry Pomegranate Juice, Fever-Tree Ginger Beer and cara cara orange. It was sweeter than a Moscow Mule since the ginger beer plays a slightly lesser role, but I still found it refreshing and enjoyable.

The Cotton Candy Cosmo is made with Stolichnaya Vodka, Kiju Organic Raspberry Lemonade, cotton candy and lime. I’ve never been much of a cotton candy eater, and I was worried that its inclusion in this cocktail would make it sickeningly sweet. But the raspberry lemonade cut that aspect and it was fun to see a drink turn blue when the liquid was poured over the cotton candy of that colour that was stuffed into my glass.

Signal Hill Whisky and Fever-Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale impressed me with how well the orange and ginger flavours combined with each other.

Refresh is made with Nutrl Vodka, lemon juice, ginger cordial, pear rosewater kombucha and limonene terpene, and garnished with a dehydrated lemon. It was subtly gingery and mildly sweet.

Lemon Mojito is made with Noxx and Dunn Rum, Double Dutch Double Lemon lemonade, mint and key lime simple syrup, mint and lemon. It was semi-sweet and quite tasty.

The Autumn Sour is made with Willibald Gin, lime and cranberry juice and rosemary syrup. The 43-per cent alcohol gin is made in Ayr, Ont. with corn and aged in oak barrels, giving it a distinctive flavour in this sweet cocktail. 

Here are the other cocktails I sampled, listed in order of preference:

Margarita made with Tromba Reposado
Crystal Head Vodka and Mott’s Clamato Pickled Bean Caesar
Crystal Head Vodka and Mott’s Clamato Original Caesar
Cool As A Cucumber Margarita made with Tromba Blanco Tequila
Cucumber Basil Smash made with Stolichnaya Vodka
Bombay Sapphire Gin and Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic
Regenerate made with Bearface Whisky
Pink Gin Fizz made with Hyman’s Sloe Gin