A tasting of three drinks I found particularly good recently.
Trafalgar Pumpkin Shine
This is a craft distillery product from Greater Toronto Area’s Trafalgar Distillery, an offshoot of Trafalgar Brewery. This makes excellent use of a white (unaged) barley malt distillate which comes off the still at a low proof, in the territory that is to make a fully-aged spirit except not aged. Moonshine, if you will. Since such drinks have a very pronounced taste, they were in the old days often flavoured with sweetening and spices or herbs. Drinks such as Drambuie, say, have their origins in this tradition. The Pumpkin Shine uses puree of pumpkin, ginger, brown sugar and other good things to modify and temper the feisty flavour of unaged whisky spirit.
The result is very successful, a drink that gains its character from precisely being all these things. If you blended vodka with the puree, sugar, etc., it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Although pictured with ice, I found it better neat; the rocks tend to over-stress the distillery, or young spirit, character. Taken neat the drink has a perfect equilibrium.
My Own Blend of Porter
Following ancient tradition, I continue to blend my own beers, especially porter and stout, to get an optimal taste. In this case, I used Wells Young Courage Russian Imperial Stout, 2013 vintage; Old School Stout from Tree Brewing in British Columbia; and Ste. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from Montreal. The Imperial Stout is a couple of years old and has a marked oxidative note. The other two were in good condition but the B.C. one had (IMO) a noticeable edge of roasted barley (unmalted) which lends a drying note in stout or porter, something I don’t favour unless very muted. The Ste. Ambrose is quite nice but a little light for my taste. Blending these together, I got what I think is a better result than each. Very little of the Wells Young Courage Imperial Stout was needed, 10% or less, as its pungent character informs the whole despite being added in small amount. Guinness used to add – I am not sure if it still does – a few percentage points of vatted, or aged, stout to the standard beer. I can see the logic, i.e., of not going overboard with the “stale” element (to use the old brewing term). Just a little is enough, as an 80’s pop song advises.
Cat Lady India Pale Ale from Bellwoods
Excellent, orange-scented IPA from Toronto’s classy brewpub, Bellwoods Brewery on Ossington Street. It’s a potent 7.4% ABV. The tangerine and orange notes come from Amarillo and other hops used, no actual fruit flavouring is added. This is, I’m sure, what fine pale ale was like in the heyday of the style. While American hops were used, the particular blend resulted in a rather English character, accentuated probably by the good clarity of the beer and clean but savoury malt background. It’s the kind of beer which imparts (seemingly) more a clarity and repose of spirit than a dizzy buzz: the great drinks of the world do that you know, but just have one.
This needs to be a regular offering at the pub.