So I’m spending this Monday recovering from a mild hangover after spending six gloriously boozy hours at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo yesterday afternoon at the Metro Convention Centre here in Toronto. The event was a belated birthday present from my brother Kurt (who performs in a four-piece a capella group called Cadence - yes, it’s his full-time job and yes we are all infinitely jealous of him.) Kurt and I hadn’t seen each other in a while (he’s been on tour in Europe; I’ve been finishing the second draft of the new novel) so it was great to stagger around the Convention Centre together and get ourselves acquainted with - oh let’s been honest, make friends or possibly built life-long relationships with – a vast array of beers, wines and spirits that we hadn’t tried before.
After a perfunctory stroll around the floor to check out the various booths and kiosks, we settled in for some serious drinking. Since it was still relatively close to the breakfast hour at that point, we decided to start with an oatmeal stout from Montreal’s St. Ambroise brewing company. This was a fantastic beer and great way to kick off the afternoon. It had the same look and consistency of a Guinness but its favour was far more complex, melting its oatmeal base to the slight hints of chocolate and coffee. A solid breakfast beer if I’ve ever tasted one.
We moved along to wines and made some incredible finds. After deliberately avoiding the Ontario vineyard area and being underwhelmed by a couple of Spanish and Argentinean products, we stumbled upon something I’ve never tried before – a New Zealand pinot noir. It was called Stoneleigh and was, quite simply, the best pinot noir I’ve had in a long time – probably since living in Australia. Stoneleigh is incredibly well-crafted and impressed me with its subtlety and exquisitely fine finish. A perfect wine for, say, impressing the in-laws or serving with a meal you slaved all Saturday afternoon over. Kurt had their sister product Villa Maria and was equally impressed.
After taking a meal break (yes, very important to eat during these excursions – fried rice and a mango salad, both good for soaking up alcohol and reinvigorating the body), we switched back to beer. We tried a very tasty microbrew from eastern Ontario’s farming area called Beau’s All Natural. The guy working the booth was passionate about his product and justifiably so: the beer had a refreshing, clean taste from start to finish, a beautifully crafted beer.
We moved along, avoiding the Alexander Keith’s booth (because we’re no longer undergrads) and the Sam Adams area (because American beer is, well, American beer). It was at this point that we found the drink that absolutely stole the entire afternoon for us, that floored us with its brilliance and made us come back two more times for refills. This was a beer from Scotland called Innes & Gunn. Oh. My. God. Where has this beer been all my life? I mean serious! Discovering this beer was like discovering Atlantis, like finding a pot of gold in your living room, like meeting the girl of your dreams at a literary reading series. It was THAT GOOD. I&G makes its beers by using casks left over from other alcohol – scotch, Kentucky bourbon, etc. – and the flavours were like nothing I had ever had before. There’s no doubt that this beer, no matter what the cost (and it IS on the pricey side) will find its way into regular rotation at my house.
We took another food break (floor was beginning to wobble at this point) and then moved along to other booths and kiosks. We enjoyed a very lovely fruit wine called Muskoka Lakes made entirely of cranberry and blueberry. This would be a perfect wine for serving at dessert or to show a girl how sensitive and progressive you are. We did find a couple of duds over the course of the afternoon: there was a brandy from the former Soviet republic of Georgia that grew less potable with every sip (we should have known better), as well as a Japanese whisky that was passable at best.
Overall, the afternoon was a success and I left feeling like I had just made a ton of new friends. Kurt and I (and possibly other like-minded drinkers) will definitely be back next year.
Addendum: Advice for the hungover
Not that I was this bad off this morning, but here is a word of wisdom to those of you who suffer from the occasional drink-related malady. This is my iron-clad guarantee for recovery: Gatorade! I kid you not. Try drinking a bottle of it before you start boozing, another bottle just before you pass out for the night, and a third bottle after you rouse in the morning. If you have access to a sauna (in your gym, say, or your apartment complex), I recommend spending some time in it after you’ve regain consciousness with that third bottle of Gatorade. The combined process of sweating out toxins and drinking in vital electrolytes from the Gatorade will restore you to perfect health within minutes. Note: It must be Gatorade. None of this will work if you cheap out and use one of its many knock-offs.