National Tequila Day

When National Margarita Day passed through back in February, most of my focus was on the actual cocktail.

This time, I can delve a little deeper and expand on the origins of tequila.

If you travel northwest from Guadalajara for 65 km, you will reach the outskirts of the city of Tequila, originally founded by Franciscan monks in 1530.

Here, the native blue agave plant is grown. It is also grown throughout the state of Jalisco, including the highlands known as Los Altos, where apparently the final product is sweeter and fruitier than what the lowlands produce.

The red volcanic soil surrounding this area provides a wealth of nutrients for the agave.

300 million of these plants are harvested from here alone each year. Agave plants are not cactus, they are a succulent with long fronds resembling aloe vera. Once a plant is harvested, it has given up it’s life for our pure (possibly drunken) entertainment in the end.

The heart of the plant, el pina, is cut out which looks like a pineapple and weighs in anywhere from 60 pounds to a few hundred pounds.

The heart is the part that is steamed, crushed and fermented into liquor. This video shows you a traditional method of steaming agave.

To capture the full, more modern process, this 7 minute video covers all of the stages of production.

First made in the 16th Century near today’s city of Tequila, because Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy.

Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, began mass producing blue agave into tequila at the first factory near what is now Jalisco. Eight short years later, government found a way to tax his product. Back then it was called Tequila Extract.

The first license was issued to the Cuervo family.

Tequila’s first export to the United States occurred by Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila. He shortened the name of the distilled beverage to just Tequila.

Sauza’s grandson, Don Francisco Javier, made the effort to create a quality tequila and stipulated that “there cannot be tequila where there are no agaves!” His work involved creating the law of “real tequila can only come from the state of Jalisco.”

In the same way that Champagne is only Champagne if it is made in the Champagne region, Mexico this same rule for tequila. By 2003, Mexico had ruled that the tequila must be bottled in Mexico to be sure of its authenticity. Each bottle contains a serial number giving you the location of the distillery in which it was made.

There are over 900 brands of tequila in Mexico alone.

Tequila vs Mezcal

They really are the same because they come from agave plants. However, if you refer to a tequila as mezcal, you may be offending someone. Tequila comes from the blue agave plant, or agave tequilana, and mezcal comes from any other agave plant.

According to Mexican law, the production for tequila can only take place in Jalisco, a northern state of Mexico and in 4 other states: Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacán, and Guanajuato.

If you are distilling blue agave and you are outside of any of these places, you cannot call it tequila, you will only be able to call it mezcal, by law.

Most mezcals are made from espadin agave but can be blended with other agave plants to develop differing flavours. There are over 30 varieties of agave plants. Many factors affect taste including whether the agave is grown in the highlands or the lowlands where the final product has a more herbaceous taste.

As far as taste goes, mezcal has a smokier, sweeter, and sometimes richer flavour than tequila which is sharper and stronger.

To make things a little more complicated, tequila’s legal requirement stipulates it must be at least 51% blue agave. Some boast it is 100% but it is not mandatory to be called tequila. As long as it is minimum 51% blue agave and grown and produced in Jalisco, it can legally be labelled as tequila.

Jimadores are the people who manually extract the agave plant from the ground.

The remaining 41% might be sugarcane but it will have to be displayed on the label. Blended tequila such as this is referred to as mixto tequila.

Regulations also state that mezcal producers cannot produce tequila and vice versa.

LCBO carries a huge selection and keep in mind the allergies to the oak barrel if you enjoy red wine as well. You will be sensitive to the gold types: resposado, anejo. Try to stay with the white or silver

The Myth of The Worm

Maquey is the term for agave plants. Gusano de maguey are larvae that feed on agave but not the blue agave. That larvae, or caterpillar, would turn into a mariposa butterfly. If you bought yourself a bottle claiming to be tequila and find a worm in it, return it. It’s not tequila. And what distillery would allow a bug in your final product?

In Terms of Ageing

Abacado/White – 0 to 2 months – Bolder, harsh taste. These may be stored in stainless steel casks but does not age.

Joven/Mixto – 0 to 2 months – The same taste as Blanco; also does not age.

Reposado – 2 months to 1 year – Smoother and more complex. Aged in wooden oak barrels.

Anejo – 1 to 3 years – The same as Reposado. Aged in oak.

Extra Anejo – 3+ years. Also aged in oak.

Distillers purchase their barrels from whisky producers, the ones that will never be used again for certain types of scotch and bourbon, and tends to add a sweeter taste to the liquor than if they used other types of oak barrel such as French Oak or a brand new barrel.

Things To Do In Jalisco

National Festival of Tequila is held every year from November 3 to December 12. Enjoy parades, mariachi bands, cockfights, if you’re so inclined, mexican rodeos and fireworks.

You can follow the Tequila Trail or choose a distillery in or near where you are staying, take a few taste tests to explore the difference of flavours.

Don’t forget to book at least one distillery tour or take the Tequila Express.

Casa Sauza is located in Tequila.

La Rojena, founded in 1812, is still producing Jose Cuervo. It is the oldest distillery still in operation. You’ll notice that Casa Sauza is approximately a block from here as well. Visit both!

Tequila Herradura is a popular choice with its old charm hacienda.

Not too long ago, I visited the Dominican and purchased a bottle of tequila called Bear Hug from the duty free shop. I tried their sample and never looked back. Now, I have tried Patron and other basic tequilas and of course Jose Cuervo but, hands down, Bear Hug is the tastiest, easiest one you can drink alone. No lemon, no lime, no salt. Drop in an ice cube and sip.

Remember the name, Bear Hug. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I would have to go back to get more. It is not available in Canada. Yet. But I’m working on it.

The best thing to do is fly to Guadalajara and take the 2 hour bus ride or book a tour from Guadalajara. Choose carefully. They are not always what they claim to be. Check the reviews.

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 24, 2017



National Daiquiri Day

The Daiquiri is more than just a refreshing slushy summertime cocktail.

All I Need Is A Daiquiri In My Hand!

It is a beach in Santiago, Cuba…..

There is also an iron mine there….

Translated from Spanish to English, it simply means Beverage.

How do you pronounce Daiquiri? Dack-er-ree? I always did. I’ve been corrected. Properly, it is Dye-ker-ree.

Jennings Cox, an American engineer, labelled the mix of rum, lime juice and sugar The Dacquiri around the year 1900 but the mixture itself has been used long before.

It is a Taino Indian word believed to reference this drink made up of rum, lime juice and sugar. The Taino people made up the indigenous communities of the Caribbean.

There were different variations using different rums but the Carta Blanca, a Cuban aged and filtered rum, transformed the flavour of the cocktail and became the preferential choice.

Ernest Hemingway, living in Cuba beginning in 1940, enjoyed his Daiquiris with 4 ounces of rum. The Cubans labelled them as Papa Doble. His record in one sitting: 16 Papa Dobles.

The variations of a daiquiri are endless: Banana, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry. Choose any frozen fruit, toss in the rum, ice and lemon juice and call it a daiquiri but remember to follow the format of the classic.

When the blender is “broken”, this is what you get.

When ordering a daiquiri out on the town, choose your establishment well. Not every bar has a blender. Even the ones that do, you may hear it’s “broken”.

Take it from a former waitress and bartender, some servers would rather not put the extra work in to make those slushie drinks so you’ll get the “Our Blender’s Broken” story. So opt for places that specialize in fancier drinks or they contain slushie type drinks on their menu.

Regardless, you can still get a daiquiri by asking for it shaken. Same ingredients, different blending method.

If you plan to be in Santiago, perhaps you prefer to stay at an AirBnb, if you’re not the all-inclusive resort type, where you can get the true flavour of the region.

In addition to things to do in Santiago de Cuba, I thought I would provide a list of things NOT to do in Cuba.

Don’t wear expensive bling – you’ll be a target to pickpockets.

Don’t take pictures of the police, military or airport personnel -it’s illegal.

Don’t blow your nose in public – it’s  very rude – go somewhere private.

Don’t spit in public – for the same reason.

Do I need to mention the water?

Don’t bother bringing your American Express card – it may not be accepted.

Don’t use unlicensed taxis – they’re illegal, so find the licensed ones.

Did you know Canadians can bring back 20 Cuban cigars without documentation?

Don’t get hustled – whether it’s for directions, restaurant ideas or story-telling, you may get asked for payment.

Don’t order a papaya daiquiri – papaya means a ladies ‘private part’ and is considered quite vulgar. Order a fruta bomba.

Don’t forget to tip your hotel staff – money is always good but practical gifts are great too. Bring extra toiletries: toothbrushes and paste, shampoo and conditioner, mouthwash even pantyhose.

Don’t watch the clock – everyone is on Island Time.

Any tips or warning from your experiences you would like to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Enjoy your day with your favorite flavour in a Daiquiri. Cheers!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 19, 2017

National Grand Marnier Day


Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle began his distillery in 1827 in Neauphle-le-chateau in France where he produced a liqueur using a variety of fruit.

Along came Louis Alexandre Marnier, from a family of wine-makers in the Sancerre region of France. Louis married Monsieur Lapostolle’s granddaughter in 1876. I like to think he stole her heart but maybe he persuaded her with the delicious liqueur her grandfather made.

The Lapostolle and Marnier went into business together and put the name Curacao Marnier to their new orange flavoured liqueur.

Marnier insisted on importing the finest oranges from the Caribbean.

Interestingly, there is an island in the Caribbean, off the northern coast of Venezuela, named Curacao. It makes up the ABC Islands: Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. Very much under the radar, give it a try.

Curacao actually means a liqueur flavored with the peel from bitter oranges.

Meanwhile, back in 1880, Marnier’s friend, hotel owner, Cesar Ritz, yes THE Ritz, tried the liqueur and declared it should be called Grand due to its grand taste and to disregard the trend of everything being ‘petit’ all over France. Petit Café, Petit Chateau, etc.

Thus, we now know it as Grand Marnier.

Compliments of the home of Christine Hamel

Great in so many drinks: B-52’s, Margaritas or The Batiste which is made with 1 oz gold rum, 1 1/2 oz GM in a chilled glass.

Or try it simply with ginger ale.

To enjoy it in a dessert, try a Grand Marnier Souffle! See the recipe for a Chocolate GM Sauce, too.

To celebrate the famous liqueur, find yourself a cozy French restaurant anywhere in the world, perhaps a ‘Petit Cafe’ to enjoy a Grand Marnier.

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 14, 2017




It’s Time For a Pina Colada!

It’s been so long since I found the actual person who invented a specific cocktail! I thought I found the one person who invented it.

Then I read elsewhere that there are a few possibilities. Figures.

Spanish bartender, Ramon Portas Mingot who worked at the Barrachina in Puerto Rico in 1963, tossed pineapple juice, milk and rum together in a blender which soon became known as the Pina Colada.

The Barrachina, the ‘king of Paella”, is located in the beautiful and vibrant Old San Juan.

Personally, I had to look up the location of Puerto Rico. I thought it was near Mexico. High School Geography was a long time ago. For those who don’t know, it is a small island off the eastern tip of Dominican Republic.

That’s one.

Within the Caribe Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico is The Beachcombers Bar where Ramon “Monchito” Marrero tended bar in 1954. Management asked him to create a signature drink for the bar which offered the flavours of the island.

Apparently, it took him 3 months to find the perfect cocktail made up of rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice.

That’s two.

Still at the Caribe Hilton in the same year, Ricardo Garcia claims to have invented the drink. According to him, there was a coconut cutters strike going on at that time. He had been making rum and cream of coconut, served with the actual coconut. Due to the strike, he started using hollowed out pineapple.

The juice from the insides of the pineapple added flavour to the drink. It became so popular, he added a little pineapple juice to the actual drink.

And so, we have the Pina Colada which, according to some, translates into “strained pineapple”. Google didn’t fully agree. But we all know what google does with words.

Homemade Pina Colada with coconut rum and coconut water.

The common thread? The Pina Colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico.

Not every city will serve this cocktail in the traditional pineapple but it can be done at home quite easily. In this video, she makes it look so easy. It is IF you have a pineapple corer.

These series of photos are done from home using a corer. Instead of using cream of coconut, I used coconut water. Very light and refreshing! And oh so delicious, some of the pineapple juice pooled inside at the bottom. Added flavour!

With all the bad news coverage, it is no surprise that United Airlines has the lowest last minute fares to Puerto Rico. Round trip is approximately $800. Personally, I would still fly United. I always have and never had any problems. Of course, depending on what time of year you go, the price will change. For example, in September you’re looking at about $600 and later in November, they’re up to about $900.

Old San Juan, founded 1509, is an old fort town which went through its share of attacks from the British, Dutch and even the States. There are plenty of historical forts to visit.

A slushy Pina Colada at Burrito Borracho in downtown Ottawa.

When you do get to San Juan, make sure you indulge in a Pina Colada. If you are elsewhere in the world today for National Pina Colada Day, I hope you will enjoy one anyway.


Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 10, 2017


National Anisette Day – July 2

Did you know, the anise plant is within the same family as parsley?

Much like absinthe, the licorice-flavoured Anisette is sweeter due to the higher sugar content but has a lower alcohol level.

If you recall, the licorice flavour comes from the distillation of the seeds of the anise plant, specifically from the oil within the seed. This plant used to grow wild in the Mediterrenean and is one of the oldest spice plants. It dates as far back as 1500 BC Egypt.

It was believed to ward off the Evil Eye, to increase milk flow in nursing mothers; and to cure epilepsy. Ancient people used it as a remedy to snake bites and scorpion stings. It was also considered an aphrodisiac.

In Native American cultures, it is still used as a laxative.

According to WebMD, “Anise is used for upset stomach, intestinal gas, runny nose, and as an expectorant to increase productive cough, as a diuretic to increase urine flow, and as an appetite stimulant. Women use anise to increase milk flow when nursing, start menstruation, treat menstrual discomfort or pain, ease childbirth, and increase sex drive.

Other uses include treatment of seizures, nicotine dependence, trouble sleeping (insomnia), asthma, and constipation.”

Anise Tea

Steep anise for 20 minutes then add cinnamon and honey for extra flavour. But where can you get anise? If you live in Canada, Bulk Barn carries whole anise seed. Ladies, the next time, try one and see if it eases that annoying pain. In the States, Trader Vic’s or Whole Foods are recommended but not guaranteed.

Produced in but not restricted to, the Bordeaux region of France, Anisette is made by grinding numerous types of seeds, anise, of course, and in some cases, fennel and coriander, into a neutral spirit. It is combined with a syrup then distilled together.

Anise Flavoured Liqueur

In Rome, anise was added to sweet cake and given out at the end of banquets to help with digestion. No doubt, the Italian tradition of putting a drop of anisette in your after dinner coffee originated from this idea.

Or, if you want to mix it, drop a shot of anisette into a glass of water, don’t pour it. It will turn milky color on contact.

If you thought Sambuca was the only licorice flavoured liqueur, try these on.

Pastis is made from star anise which originates from Asia. Pastis came along due tot he ban of anise in France.

Like Absinthe, Anisette comes from green anise in Europe.

However, Anisette is considered the oldest anise flavoured liquor.

“The Romans are said to have eaten spiced cake with anise to avoid indigestion after a large meal. Pythagoras said it would absolutely guarantee an absence of seizures. In England, in 1305, anise was so popular that King James I taxed it as a commodity, because he needed money to repair the London Bridge.”

Women, take female entrepreneur, Marie Brizard as an example of a powerful woman. She began her company of creating liqueur in a time when women HAD no power. They weren’t even allowed to sign company documents. To get around this law, Marie married a family friend who sign the documents while she created anisette.

Founded in Bordeaux, France in 1755, her family still owns the company, and have managed to keep the ingredients top secret. They now produce over 60 products. Not only liquor but essential oils as well.

Anise spritzed cocktail

Marie would be proud to know her company has won over 50 medals in the last 6 years for liqueur competitions.

Anisette can be a little harder to find in your local bars but there’s a trend of spritzing drinks with flavoured liqueurs. This one has anise flavour spritzed over a gin, cointreau and lemon mix at Ace Mercado in Ottawa.

Submitted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 2, 2017



National Orange Blossom Day!

So simple to create, even easier to drink, but don’t let the Orange Blossom fool you. Delicious but deadly….


During Prohibition era, Virginia Rappe, famed for being on the cover of the sheet music for You Can Call Me Sweetheart, met her demise on the night she downed way too many Orange Blossom Gin Cocktails. Bootleg gin was used in making the cocktail at Hotel St. Francis in San Francisco at that time. But that’s not what killed the poor girl. The wild and infamous Labour Day party of 1921 ended on a sour note. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, perhaps having had too many drinks himself, allegedly crushed Virginia beneath him.

What was she doing underneath him, you ask? Must I explain?

According to another party-goer, Maude Delmont, “They were in the room a quarter of an hour when we heard a terrific scream.” Miss Delmont found her on the bed. She claims Virginia cried out, “I’m dying. He did it, Maude.”

Five days later, she passed away due to an infection in her ruptured bladder.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After Fatty Arbuckle’s trial, a letter, written by Miss Delmont, came into being. It read, “We have Roscoe Arbuckle in a hole here. Chance to make some money out of him.”

In the end, he was acquitted but ruined as an actor.


Wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald and fellow drinker, Helen Buck, wandered, lost and singing, through a golf course in New York. They had polished off a full pitcher of Orange Blossom at lunchtime then proceeded to the golf course with a full thermos of more before being found by Ring Lardner who drove them home.


Right around the time of Fatty Arbuckle’s trials, Silent Film Director, William Desmond Taylor and his friend, Mabel Normand, enjoyed an evening of Orange Blossoms together. Hours later, he was found dead. His murder remains unsolved.

The Leftovers of Some Orange Blossoms
The Leftovers of Some Orange Blossoms

One loose theory puts Mabel, herself, in the spotlight. Miss Normand, allegedly went to his home to retrieve love letters that she had written to him. Ones, she thought, might be misinterpreted. A little on the wild side, Mabel would spend about $2,000 per month (in the 1920’s!) on drugs. Mr. Taylor had arranged for her to stay at a rehab facility. Would she have arranged to eliminate him so she wouldn’t have to go? Her chauffeur is witness to her getting into her car after the party, leaving Taylor behind. But hitmen existed then too.

Another possibility could be from a drug ring directly. Mr. Taylor fought against drug use at the studios and was Chairman of the Board of an organization to eliminate them. Could the drug dealers off the man that threatened their lucrative business?

The crime scene at Mr. Taylor’s home itself was heavily compromised. The studio executives had stepped in before the police and cleaned up the scene. With botched evidence, the only answer might be in those letters from Mabel Normand.

Mary Miles Minter, another writer of love letters to Mr. Taylor, was in the spotlight for a short time. Mary’s letters were the only ones made public since they were the only ones found. Passed off as schoolgirl crush jargon, they were proven invalid. She was, after all, only 20 years old, 29 years his junior.

Fresh OJ, vermouth and gin
Freshly squeezed OJ makes a wonderful difference!

Read the full, fascinating story here.


Charlie Chaplin and Louise Brooks, plastered on Orange Blossoms, spent a wild night in their hotel suite, chasing each other, and no doubt disturbing the peace and damaging property. Thankfully, though, on this occasion, no one died.


Esquire magazine names the Orange Blossom one of the worst drinks of the decade. Personally, I enjoyed it. The juice does a good job of masking the harsh taste of gin which is what it was intended to do.


“The reason there were so many hasty marriages during Prohibition.”                                                                             – Authentic and Hilarious Bar Guide by Ted Shane

The Original:

1 oz gin

4 oz of freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 oz grenadine. But any flavour of simple syrup will do.

“This was invented at the old Waldorf to honor a visiting Irish poet. He never got to his dinner.”                                      – An excerpt from Irvin S. Cobb’s Own Recipe Book.

See The Bartender Guides on the side menu for his full vintage book for page turning fun.

An Orange Blossom with Vermouth
Delightfully refreshing! The Gin and Vermouth cut down the sweetness.

The Waldorf-Astoria’s version:

3/4 oz gin

3/4 oz vermouth

3/4 oz fresh orange juice

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I much prefer this version. The vermouth cuts the bitterness of the gin and the sweetness of the orange juice.

If you’re planning a visit to New York in the near future, scratch The Waldorf off your list. It is currently closed due to major renovations. They are restoring historical parts and creating condos and luxurious guest rooms. It is set to re-open in a couple of years.

Walk three blocks down 50th Ave., you will pass the St Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Centre and the infamous Radio City Music Hall.

I remember going to Radio City Music Hall as a child with my parents. Back in those days, there were more live shows and they presented movies on a huge screen. The biggest I’d ever seen! It was Cybil Shepherd and Burt Reynolds. Now I have to google the darn thing. Ah, that’s it, At Long Last Love.  Burt Reynolds fans, if you like the idea of him singing, check out the musical number, Well, Did You Evah.

During Prohibition, the Orange Blossom became popular due to the lower quality of bootleg gin being produced. Orange juice was a good choice to mix with gin to cover up the poor taste.

For now, let’s stick with New York as the locale for this cocktail since Prohibition was such a big deal here.

Who invented the drink remains to be determined. If you have any knowledge of where or who originally made this cocktail, please leave me a comment.

But make sure to have an Orange Blossom or share a pitcher of it today in honour of those who suffered at the hands of this cocktail.

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 27, 2017.


The Classy Martini

Shaken, Not Stirred

This is the most popular way to request a Martini. But is it better this way?

Shaken Stirred
Cloudier  Appears clearer
Dissolves the vermouth, less oily + lighter, refreshing Velvety smooth texture – the oils are left behind.
Becomes very cold, very fast – shake for only 10-15 seconds Becomes chilled slower – stir for 60 seconds for best results.
Aerates – creates small bubbles Lack of bubbles leaves a different taste

Try swapping methods the next time you put together this or any other drink. If it’s meant to be shaken, stir it and see how different it tastes.

A Traveller’s View Of Florence

Who is Alessandro Martini?

Born in 1834 in Florence, Italy, Alessandro Martini became one of the founding fathers of the Martini & Rossi company.

The owners of a vermouth making company, Michel Agnel Re and Baudino, hired Alessandro Martini and Teofilo Sola, an accountant, in 1851. When these founding fathers had all passed away, Martini and Sola created Martini, Sola and Cia in 1863.

Enter Rossi     

Luigi Rossi was born in the small village, Val della Torre in Italy, but moved, later in life, to Turin to begin his studies of winemaking and herbology. He soon opened his own in Via Dora Grossa, now Via Garibaldi.

His brilliant work of blending herbs caught the attention of Martini and Sola. In 1863, they invited him to join the team. We can thank Rossi for the actual flavoring of their vermouth. Martini was the marketer.

Only in 1879 did the company become Martini & Rossi. Sola passed away that year. The company flourished along with the fashion houses and Italian car industry and Puccini who was composing the opera, La Boheme.

In 1884, they opened branches in Buenes Aires, Geneva, Barcelona and a steam distillery in Montechiaro d’Asti.

Rossi passed away in 1892. Alessandro Martini passed away in 1905 and by then the company had been distributing to 70 countries. In 192, the company name changed to simply, Martini.

World War II caused some losses. The German plant was destroyed and the Turin, Italy plant was evacuated. The company maintained their workforce during the war but has since re-built it into a huge success.

To note, Juventus Stadium is located in Turin. An Italian football game would be an exciting addition to your Italian trip. Catch their next game on August 13, 2017!

The Varieties Are Endless

A Martini is made up of 2 parts gin and 1 part vermouth.

Marty Will Have a Wonderful Martini For You At Ace Mercado!

Dry Martini uses dry, white vermouth.

Splash a little olive juice in it and it’s called a Dirty Martini.

Perfect Martini uses equal amounts of sweet and dry vermouth.

Garnishes are an optional olive or lemon peel twist.

Look online for a martini that strikes your fancy. Here are few refreshing ideas.

Another option is bitters, such as orange bitters. Some versions call for this ingredient. Bitters are made from alcohol, or glycerin, with barks, fruit peels, roots, seeds, spices, herbs, flowers or other botanicals.

Bitters can get expensive. They range from $25 and up for an average sized 750 mL bottle at the LCBO. Not to mention all the additives, so here is a recipe with plenty of ideas if you would like to try making your own.

The Big Experiment of 2017

After scratching around my own kitchen, I started my own botany corner. The mixes I used are listed on the side. My next step is to buy the dropper bottles and begin mixing flavours. I think they’re ready because they smell delicious!

Ace Mercado in Ottawa has a selection of bitters in tiny bottles that they keep handy on their counter. If Marty is on shift, he will fix you something absolutely wonderful with them.

Alot of times, if you’re mixing up a new drink and find the taste lacking something, drop in a few dashes of any bitters. The taste will likely have a beneficial effect. This theory will be tested soon and I will post the results.

There are other stories from San Francisco where patrons believed the drink originated at the Occidental Hotel in the 1860’s. Or the other story that that the people of Martinez believe it originated in their town.

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy your Martini, today, the way YOU like it!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 19, 2017


National Bourbon Day

Bourbon Flight: Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace

With my new love for bourbon (I can still taste my Mint Julep), I dove in to taste testing. On a Monday night, some bars remain closed, no doubt to recuperate from a crazy weekend.

I managed to find one southern establishment in Ottawa open to satisfy my curiosity for bourbon. Fat Boys Smokehouse. Food so authentic, a gentleman who shall remain nameless, from the south, swears it tasted like home. True story.

Unique to Fat Boy’s is their homemade bourbon, called Bacon Bourbon. It’s made with Jim Beam Black and their own concoction of bacon and other spices. So, if you LOVE bacon, all I have to say is 34 Murray Street. Tonight.

Unique Brand to Fat Boys Smokehouse

The bartender, Cat, is still learning the extensive ins and outs of bourbon but was able to offer plenty of information.

Collectively, through her and poking around in other places, here is what I’ve learned.

With its close relation to whiskey, bourbon is identified by law for its content. Yes, there are laws for how bourbon is made.

Rule #1

The mash (the grains used to distill) must contain at least 51% corn. The rest can be any combination of barley, rye, rice, oats or wheat.

Rule #2

For it to be called Bourbon, the mash has to be distilled at a maximum of 80% alcohol by volume (ABV) and transferred to a barrel when it has reached no more than 62.5% ABV. When it is bottled, it has to be at least 40% ABV.

The percentages drop due to evaporation. Alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees and water at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If more water evaporates, you’ll have a higher proof. If more alcohol evaporates, the proof will be less. Think juice concentrate.

Rule #3

The real good news? No additives are allowed in Bourbon. Whatever naturally occurs, such as the tannins, is allowed.

Rule #4

Only a brand new charred oak barrel can be used for aging. Otherwise, it’s not bourbon. These barrels are moved to other distilleries, such as Scotland, for the aging of Scotch, or elsewhere in the US, to age whiskey.

Guarding the Aulde Dubliner

This law originates from tradition. Centuries ago, Kentucky distillers filled oak barrels with the spirit, sent it upriver on the Mississippi to the East Coast. By the time it arrived, it had aged sufficiently.

Since Kentucky had so many oak trees, it was more cost effective to just make new barrels instead of having the original ones returned.

Plus, as the Scots say, It has lost it’s virtue. The compounds, tannins, lactones, vanillin, and hemicellulose, are all released from the wood into the bourbon so the flavoring decreases for the next round.

Check out this fascinating video of how barrels are made in a modern day factory. Not a drop of glue is used! Non-factory versions of making oak barrels, also very interesting, can be seen in this video.

Bourbon can be made anywhere, and be called such, as long as these rules are followed.

It makes a lot of sense that Kentucky is a central region for the production of this liquor since one of its major leading field crops is corn. The Bluegrass State produces 95% of the world’s supply of bourbon! Other leading crops are tobacco, wheat and soybeans.

Single Barrel

When a batch of bourbon is specifically chosen to be bottled from one barrel, each batch will have a slightly different taste from the other. Whereas with Small Batch, the contents from many different barrels are blended together so the taste is more unified.

You get a better quality, in my opinion. I taste tested 3: Buffalo Trace, Four Roses Single Barrel and Wild Turkey. Four Roses had the smoother taste.

Drink it straight up and you get that firey tingle in your mouth. A few drops of water changes the taste instantly, smoothes it out. Thank you for the wonderful advice, Cat! (Fat Boys Bartender).

Straight Bourbon

This version is aged at least 2 years in the barrel. If it’s aged 4 years or less, the distillery is required to label the amount of time it spent in the barrel. Over 4 years, this requirement is not necessary. That’s why you won’t always see the age of the bourbon.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon can only be made in Kentucky, for obvious reasons but there are bourbon distilleries all over the world. Most of them are in the States and a select few elsewhere such as Ireland, Scotland, the UK and even one here in Ontario.

Distillery Founded 1795

According to Jim Beam‘s Fred “Booker” Noe, The Kentucky Hug happens when you get your first sip of bourbon. Your mouth comes alive and your esophagus heats up as it courses down your throat. He came up with this phrase and the Kentucky Chew. Which is basically how to taste test bourbon.

If your prefer off the beaten path places while you’re in Kentucky state, I’ve provided a few sweet ideas here.

Sour or Sweet Mash

If already distilled mash is put back into the fermentation, it is considered sour mash. Only fresh water and grains are used in the fermentation process of sweet mash.


Bourbon County was established in 1785 and was named after the French Royal Family. See the House of Bourbon family tree.

Distillery Founded in 1789

Contrary to popular belief, Elijah Craig was not the first producer of bourbon. The Baptist minister of The Blue Run Church, in 1771, does takes credit for the first to use oak barrels in the aging process.

It is hard to determine one single inventor of the liquor.

As with most liquor, beer and wine, the original producers date back longer than we realize. The method of distilling bourbon was likely brought from Scotland in the late 1700’s and has since morphed into what we know bourbon as today, thanks to Elijah Craig and many others.

So, get out there and get your Kentucky Hug today!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 14, 2017


National Gin Day

Gin is well known as a British product, we see Beefeater all over the place. It is, after all, London’s national drink and many famous gins are produced here.

However, the first known date for the production of gin was in 17th Century Holland.

It was sold in chemist shops to treat stomach issues, gout and gallstones. The first known mention of it is in 1269 in a Dutch publication.

It was also known for treating urinary tract infections, heart failure and gonorrhea. Today, however, it is believed it may affect your blood pressure and possibly irritate your stomach and intestines. Another concern is for diabetics with its possibility of your blood sugar dropping too low. Usual medication lowers it but so does the juniper so it’s a double whammy. Keep in mind, these are all possibles so speak with your doctor.

Interestingly, pregnant women should not consume juniper berries as it could cause a miscarriage. If you’re trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid it as well. Large amounts for anyone is not recommended either. The volatile oils in the berries could cause mild toxicity symptoms such as diarrhea, kidney damage, convulsions and DNA damage.

Traditional dosage was between 2 and 10 grams of berries or 20 to 100 milligrams of essential oil. If you’re making a tea, limit yourself to 1 to 2 cups per day of steeped berries or twigs from the juniper plant. Take a break from it after 2 weeks. Again, talk to your doctor especially if you currently take any medication.

History, Continued

The English discovered gin during the 30 years war in the 17th Century while fighting in Holland. The Dutch soldiers were drinking Jenever to boost morale before a battle. Hence, the term Dutch Courage.

150 years later, the English produced their own version and have grown since to become a huge gin producer. To browse the many varieties, visit the Gin Guild.

The Royal Navy mixed it with lime to combat scurvy and they mixed it with the tonic water for its benefits of quinine which battlled malaria. See previous Gin and Tonic post for a refresher.

Aside from the grain that is distilled to produce gin, such as barley, juniper berries is a main ingredient.

Other common ingredients are coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, cucumber, rose, lavender, lemonograms,  black pepper, almond, or licorice. Any variations of these can be blended with the distilled grain to produce gin.

There are versions with as little as 3 ingredients and a Scottish version, The Botanist Islay Gin, with 31! The Citadelle let runs a close second with 19.

60 million cases  of Gin are sold worldwide every year. About 45% of that is consumed in the Philippines.

You’ll easily find a London gin at the liquor store but if you are looking for the Dutch version, keep an eye out for Genever which is basically the same. LCBO carries Bols Genever.

As a reminder, try Jack’s Tonique which is available in Ontario and Quebec. Visit their site for all retailers and establishments that use it for mixing their drinks.

How Else To Enjoy Gin

Earl Grey tea with Gin and tonic.

Chamomile tea with honey and lemon, oh, and gin.

Lavender syrup, if you can find it, with elder flower liqueur and gin. Add some lemon to cut the sweetness. Elder flower is an awesome mix and will compliment any home liquor supply.

Try a refreshing gin and sparkling wine or champagne.

Shake gin with mint and cucumber for a fresh summer drink, top with club soda.

Drop into your favorite local bar and your server will surely come up with some delicious for you.

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 10, 2017


National Moonshine Day


Where Did It All Start?

In the 1700’s, the United States struggled from financing the American Revolution so the government placed a federal tax on liquor and spirits.

Not taking too kindly to this tax, Americans continued to make their own whiskey without paying the tax. The war that just ended was supposed to free them of the British taxes. Why would they be happy about a new one?

For those making their own whiskey, it was their livelihood, not a hobby or a way to cushion meager incomes. This was their income. If farmers had a bad year for crops, they used the corn to make whiskey. The sales from their moonshine made it possible to survive and feed their family. If they paid the required tax, they couldn’t eat.

They even fought off the federal agents who came knocking, going so far as to tar and feather some of them.

The American People established a Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 and stormed Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George Washington’s army dispersed the mob and captured the leaders, putting an end to the rebellion.

They were not deterred. The production of moonshine continued across the United States, especially in Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas.

Nor was the government deterred from upholding the taxes on alcohol which led to legendary gun fights.

The government needed more money to fund the Civil War when it broke out. Their battles with the delinquent taxpayers increased. Moonshiners and Ku Klux Klansmen joined forces and stepped up their methods of intimidation. They attacked IRS officials and their families and anyone who might reveal the location of the hidden whiskey stills.

The early 1900’s saw the beginning of the laws that banned alcohol sales and consumption. Once 1920 hit, Prohibition swept the nation. You couldn’t get your hands on any legal alcohol.

The demand for moonshine went through the roof. Production went into high gear. To keep up with demand, distillers did whatever they could to increase profits. They added sugar and watered down their moonshine.

Speakeasies and organized crime touched every city, every state in back rooms and basements. Some were built on a pier for easy access of shipments through the floor. They crafted secret rooms, rotating shelves, trap doors, fake walls, secret passages, camouflaged doors, and emergency disposal shafts.

Club 21 in New York, fashioned collapsing walls and revolving bars so the doorman could alert them of an oncoming raid. All of the liquor would be hidden from sight. Their secret passages led to the basement of No. 19. Authorities never found alcohol on their premises! Club 21 is still in operation at 21 West 52nd Street, New York.

Why was it called a Speakeasy? From the phrase, Speak Easy, Man which means lower your voice. Or it could have been from the ‘speakeasy’ in the door, to announce yourself.

In 1933, Prohibition was repealed and the demand for moonshine dwindled. The production of moonshine continued but on a much smaller scale even into the 60’s and 70’s. Today, you don’t hear too many stories of it.

If you ever come across a lil brown jug with 3 X’s on it, it was likely used for moonshine. One X for each time the liquid was distilled.

American Prohibition Not The First?

Long before the American Prohibition, England had its own run-in with government bans on alcohol in the 16th Century. The term Moonshine is said to have come about from the late night excursions to avoid the law. The product: Moonshine. The Movers (bootleggers): Moonrakers.

Speaking of terms, it’s also called hooch, mountain dew, white lightning. Other unusual names are corn in a jar, blue john, bush whiskey, donkey punch and popskull.

Where Did The Term Bootlegger Start?

During prohibition, people could walk across the border from Maine into Canada with a couple of bottles hidden inside their boot.

Where Is Prohibition Still In Effect?

According to wikipedia, there are a number of countries enforcing prohibition. Afghanistan, Bangledesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, some states in India, Libya, Kuwait, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somolia, to name a few.

United States 1920-1933

Canada 1918-1920. But not Quebec. Apparently, Canadians liked their liquor too much, it only lasted 2 years!

Faroe Islands 1907-1992

Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1914-1923

Iceland 1915-1935

Norway 1916-1927

Finland 1919-1932

And the award for the shortest prohibition period goes to……..

Hungarian Soviet Republic March 21 to August 1, 1919

Visit any local spirit distillery and chances are they will have an unoaked whiskey/whisky aka moonshine sitting on their shelf.

Where To Get It, Legally!

North of 7, in Ottawa, produces White Dog and packs a good punch. You want to be careful with that stuff! Yet, strangely, kind of tasty. At least now it’s off my bucket list.

North of 7 In-Store Products

Dillon’s, in the Niagara region, produces a white rye among other flavoured liquors.

Distilleries are not hard to find near your city or town, they are everywhere nowadays.

Just make sure you get your Hooch from a reputable source. Impurities, such as methanol alcohol, gather at the top of the batch so the first cup should be tossed by the distillers. You may want to stay away from the backwoods distilleries just in case they don’t perform this task.

Happy Moonshine Day!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 1, 2017