Holiday Cheers

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You never know what to expect at the Grande Dégustation de Montréal, aka the wine and spirits exhibition. Last year featured South American Syrah and Shiraz wines; the previous year was rife with great Scotch whisky – to both our delight and horror.

This year, fine Champagne was the way to part people from their allowance. A bubbly that tickles your throat is worth diverting a dollar or, more likely, a couple of C notes from your pocket. It all depends on why you are doing so. Champagne is not something to drink to excess. The next morning will resemble spending some time in Satan’s hometown. Instead, it is meant for celebrating a moment with someone you love, or at a special occasion.

The first Champagne I sampled was Taittinger at a reasonable price of $59.75. It is dry with only the barest hint of sweetness with a floral and fruity scent while the bubbles are long-lasting. On a personal note, it was the first Champagne I ever sabered and then savoured. Sabering Champagne bottles goes back to France’s Musketeers. They would use their cavalry sabers to open the bottles by sliding the blade on the neck. When it would reach the raised lip the cork would go flying with a glass ring around part of it. The break would be clean, but this only happens with Champagne in thick bottles. In keeping with Indigenous roots I have even used a tomahawk to do this.

An interesting development is Moet and Chandon’s Imperial Ice coming in at $81. They said they noticed people putting ice into Champagne to keep it cold. You are not supposed to do this so they developed sweet and fruity white Champagne that allows for ice cubes.

A nice rosé Champagne was Ayala, coming in at $65.50. It was dry but the bubbles had no staying power. It was refreshing on the tongue though with a nice mellow bouquet that pleased the nose. It makes a nice Italian Kiss cocktail if you can find all the ingredients.

One of the interesting moments was finding Jacquart Brut Mosiaque. This Champagne is the result of 1,800 winegrowers coming together to create a unique taste. A mosaic of many different growers to make a fresh, never-seen-before full-bodied and bubbly offering for your consideration at $47.25 a bottle. This Champagne must be ordered, as it is a private import. So get to your SAQ early and request it in time for the holidays.

That’s enough about the Champagnes, which aren’t for everyone. It is always interesting to see the difference in what you order in a bar and what you can actually enjoy. Grappa in a bar often tastes like alcohol mixed with gasoline. Castagner Grand Cru Grappa will change your mind as it is smooth and tasty. It can only be ordered through private importer

Another misconception deals with tequila. Bar choices are usually limited to Tequila Bang Bang, which is raw and harsh going down the throat. To get the real taste try Jose Cuervo Especial at a mere $35 a pop. A peppery tasting drink that is a joy to drink shows you there is something true about a tequila made from the blue Agave cactus leaves. The 1800 series costs $38.25 and is comparable to Patron Tequila which costs around $80 in Quebec. New to Quebec is the 1800 Coconut Tequila. While tasty by itself add some pineapple juice and you have a Coconut Crusher. A refreshing drink that will please anyone. We can see this being a great summer thirst quencher.

Visiting the Jack Daniels booth was a duty. Besides the regular stock they presented a new product Jack Daniels Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey. Same smell as the regular Jack but a smoother taste. They were the only ones with two slushy machine with lemonade and strawberry lemonade flavours. Doing a half-and-half on the slush then adding regular Jack and Tennessee Fire Jack was amazing. It will be a summer drink you’ll never forget. The Tennessee Fire added to dark-chocolate cocoa is the thing to do for those cold winter nights.

More than a few Cree know the name Yanick Hebert, a Cree Construction employee working for the ADC subsidiary. He’s gone into the private importation business for wines and spirits, a growing market in Quebec.  One of the wines he imports is from Switzerland, not a place many would think of as a wine region. Tasting the white wine Hebert promotes will change your mind. It’s a great addition to any meal with fish. I’d recommend as a side dish, green string beans pan fried in olive oil, garlic and slivered almonds.  You can contact Hebert at La Petite Dégustation. Call 514-833-4949 for more information, you’ll find the price is easily affordable. Private importers often charge less than the SAQ for quality wines making them a place to go to buy quantity while getting quality for the holiday company get-togethers.


New distilleries offer distinct tastes for whiskies and gin

by Lyle Stewart

Apart from the multinational giant Seagram, there is surprisingly little history of whisky distillers in Quebec. As this year’s Grande Dégustation demonstrated, however, that is changing, and fast.

Micro-distillers are multiplying throughout the province. The Nation visited three of them at wine and spirits exhibition.

Maison Sivo


Janos Sivo lives in Franklin, Quebec, south of Montreal near the US border. He emigrated here from Hungary three decades ago, bringing with him his family’s knowledge of distilling fruit brandies. The Sivo name is known throughout Hungary for their quality brandy.

But Sivo always wondered why Quebec never produced single malt or rye whisky. So, four years ago he set out to correct that by founding Maison Sivo.

“I learned in Hungary about fruit distilling,” he explained. “But the rye is new to me. I thought that there was no good reason for Quebec not to have an excellent whisky. Because you have the seed grains, the air is good and the water is excellent!”

The Sivo rye is distinctive, clean and crisp with a lingering and familiar taste that doesn’t quite make sense. Like many discoveries, this original rye came about by accident.

“North American ryes are made with a kind of grandfatherly approach,” Sivo observed. “With my rye, the number one difference is the yeast. For this I use a tequila yeast, which happened by accident but brings out flavours and spices that other yeasts do not.”

At $26, it is very affordable. “My agency told me I made a mistake pricing it so low!”

Sivo also produces Shámán, a bitter herbal liqueur with origins in Bavarian monasteries. Served cold and straight as a shooter, Shámán has a powerful, bitter and floral taste. Watch out for the kick though.

Les Subversifs

Les Subversifs is the first spirits micro-distillery in Quebec. Based in Saint-Alexandre – near Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu – for the past 10 years, they produce the Piger Henricus gin and a distinctive liqueur that are both now sold at the SAQ. They also have a white whisky sold only by private order from the SAQ.

Juliette Balthazard is the daughter of the distillery’s founder, Fernando Balthazard, and is evidently proud of her father’s work.

Asked what makes their products “subversive,” she said, “We are trying to invent products that take other drinks that have a poor image, like crème de menthe, and use them to make a different product.”

Their flagship gin, Piger Henricus, is made of traditional dry gin botanicals, such as juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel and cardamom. An extra ingredient also goes into the recipe – parsnip, which gives it a slightly bitter taste and a subtle floral aroma.

I also tried the Réduit Piger Henricus, a lower alcohol gin (23%) flavoured with maple syrup. It’s subtly sweet, and Juliette says it can be consumed hot as well as over ice. It makes a good sipping drink that packs less of a punch. I’d like to try it poured over vanilla ice cream.

1769 Distillery

The first distillery in Canada was established in Quebec City in 1769, when shipping duties made it too costly for French settlers in New France to continue buying rum from the West Indies. They began to distil rum from molasses brought back on British ships from the islands.

That’s why Andrew Mikus named his still in the southwest Montreal borough of Verdun the “1769 Distillery” when it was founded in 2014. His career was spent in television and film production, but now what may have been a hobby has become his life’s passion: distilling classic spirits.

Certified as a Master Distiller, Mikus specializes in gin – 1769 features a “Breakfast Gin,” which retails for $40. Mikus says it is so called because it is a traditional Madison Park gin infused with bergamot from English gunpowder teas such as Earl Grey, among other ingredients.

But does he actually recommend it for breakfast? “Oh yeah,” Mikus smirked. “Every morning!”

Mikus also makes a Lady Grey martini – one ounce of bergamot gin, half an ounce of lemon juice, elderflower syrup, a vegan foamer instead of egg whites, along with bitters and ice. It goes down smooth with an invigorating kick.

It’s among the cocktails the distillery makes for certain Montreal restaurants by mixing them up in 20-litre barrels. Look for the wooden barrels stamped with “1769” sitting on the bar at Les Enfants Terribles and at the new Nacarat bar at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.


Have a happy and safe holiday from all of us at the Nation!


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