Category Archives: music

Victory, Empire and Franz Ferdinand


I spent a couple of hours on Thursday evening at The Victory Cafe, a pub that I don’t get to as often as I should. They’ve got one of the best tap line-ups in the city, a couple of cask engines, good pub grub and reasonable prices, making it a nice local for those who live closer to it than I do. Those such as Nick Pashley, for instance, who I happened to run into when I arrived.

I was mainly there to chat with the owners for an article going up on Taste T.O. this coming week, but I also wanted to check out the launch of Compass Empire Ale, their new house beer bring brewed at Nickel Brook based on a recipe by Victory co-owner Blake Smith and his father, a veteran homebrewer. All who tried it, including Blake, found that had some promise, with a nice hop notes, but the body and maltiness left something to be desired. Ends up that they hadn’t filtered the pilot versions, and the filtration of the commercial batch took more out of the beer than they expected. I’m sure some recipe tweaking will take care of that, and they should end up with the excellent British Pale Ale that they intended, to be followed by a couple of other Compass brews.

tonight_coverMy other reason for being there was to grab dinner and beers with a couple of friends before heading over to Lee’s Palace to see Franz Ferdinand. Lee’s was a regular haunt for me back in my younger days when I spent a lot of time in dark rooms having my eardrums blasted by loud music of various sorts. As I rarely do such things any more, it had been a year or two since I’d been there, but the novelty of seeing a band that I really like in a venue much smaller than those they usually play at was enough to draw me out.

(That, and the fact that it was an early show, so my old, tired ass would be out of there and home by 11:30 or so…)

I’m glad I went, as it was a solid gig, very energetic and lots of fun. It was their second in a short tour of small-venue shows in advance of their new upcoming album, Tonight, and it took them a couple of songs to really get into gear. But after a so-so new track and a kinda limp version of “Do You Want To“, they got into a groove and kept it going right up to the ripping version of “This Fire” that closed the encore. Aside from the opening number, all of the new songs were great, and got the audience just as revved up as the older hits. And since my days of music reviewing are long behind me, I’m drawing a blank on anything else I could write about the show – try reading this for a more detailed review.

Getting back to beer, though – I was impressed to see that the selection at Lee’s has improved greatly since I was last there. They’ve still got the usual mainstream suds, but they’ve added three from Mill Street, a couple from Wellington, Steam Whistle, and perhaps one or two other crafty things. Nowhere near as beer-geeky as the Victory, but for a dingy rock bar (and I mean that in the best way possible), not bad at all.

The Session #9: Beer and Music

session-logo-med.jpgYou’d think that someone who writes a blog that is (at least ostensibly) dedicated to beer, music and food would have to problem coming up with something to write for this month’s instalment of The Session. The topic of Beer & Music as chosen by brewer and blogger Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port & The Lost Abbey) should be a perfect fit for the Beer and Beats parts of Beer, Beats & Bites.

Strangely, though, I’ve been having a really tough time coming up with something to fill today’s post. I mean, I’ve been a music fan for even longer than I’ve been a beer fan, and I spent many years writing about music, hosting a radio show, DJing at various events and parties, and accumulating a fairly large and wide ranging music collection. But despite the countless evenings I spent in loud clubs listening to pounding tunes while pounding back a few, I just haven’t been able to come up with a specific event or aspect from my own life that has enough of a beer/music connection going on to be interesting enough for a blog post. (Which, considering how uninteresting most blog posts are, is pretty pathetic.)

The best I’ve been able to come up with is the time about 15 years ago when a friend and I were at some show or other at The Rivoli, a club on Queen Street West here in Toronto where I spent a lot of time in my wayward youth. Back then, while I drank slightly better than average beer (usually local micro-lagers like Red Baron, Formosa Springs or Upper Canada), I wasn’t really up to snuff on more esoteric brews. Ontario’s craft beer scene was still in it’s infancy, and interesting imports were few and far between, so it wasn’t like I had much of an opportunity to try new things.

This night, however, after downing a few of whatever I was normally drinking at that time, I noticed a beer I’d never seen before on the top row of the beer fridge behind the bar, alongside the usual imports. The bottle was oddly shaped, like the old stubbies that Canadian beer used to come in, but with a weird ripple on the neck. The plain white label with slightly Teutonic red lettering stood out next to the garishly coloured, over-designed labels that most of the macros had at the time. And the name – Duvel – just seemed, well, a bit scary. Which was mighty appealing to a couple of black-leather-jacket-wearing, spiky-brushcut-sporting, industrial-music-listening guys as ourselves.

Plus, when we asked to have a look at a bottle, we saw it was 8.5%! Fuckin’ right!!

(Did I mention that I was young when this happened?)

So, we ordered a couple, inwardly gasped a little when we found out that they were 7 bucks each (that’s, like, almost two regular beers!), and then wandered back into the crowd, glad to have found a different, unique and slightly evil-looking beer to match what we thought to be our different, unique and slightly evil-looking appearance.

(Except that we were in a room with about 100 other people who looked pretty much the same as we did, but again – young!)

Of course, not knowing any better, we drank them straight out of the bottle, taking no care to avoid the yeast, and frankly, not even noticing much about the flavour aside from it being a bit stronger than our usual stuff. But it was one of many steps towards my current beer obsession. One that I might not have taken if I wasn’t out catching some live music.

Yeah, OK, it’s a tenuous link at best. Like I said, I had a tough time with this one. Hopefully, next month will find me a little more inspired. Until then, why don’t you go and read the rest of this month’s entries which should be compiled and catalogued soon at Tomme’s blog, Brewer’s Log.

Two Greats Are Gone

I’ve had a busy couple of days, so I’m a bit late to the game on both of these, but I still wanted to pay a brief tribute to two important men who have recently left us.

jackson.jpgThe first is Michael “Beer Hunter” Jackson, a man who was quite possibly the most read and respected beer writer the world has ever known. I must admit that I haven’t personally read a lot of his work (my beer book library is somewhat lacking), but I do own his Great Beer Guide and Ultimate Beer, as well as his Malt Whisky Companion from my brief time as a self-styled Scotch aficionado, and I enjoyed many of his columns in various beer publications over the years.

But aside from what I’ve read and what I haven’t, the fact is that if not for Jackson, today’s craft beer scene would likely be much less interesting and vibrant than it is, and for that alone he deserves thanks and remembrance. If you check today’s posts (and probably tomorrow’s as well) at RSBS, you’ll see that he’s been getting a lot of both from beer bloggers around the world. Cheers, Michael.

kristal.jpgA bit before I heard about Jackson’s passing, I read that Hilly Kristal had died on Tuesday from lung cancer. If your response to this is “who?”, then you’re not alone, as Mr. Kristal’s name was much less famous than the name of the New York City nightclub that he opened in 1973: CBGB. Officially named CBGB & OMFUG (“Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”), the club moved away from its roots music origins quite soon after opening and was essentially the birthplace of punk and new wave, with artists like The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and Patti Smith making their earliest appearances on the club’s stage.

Kristal stuck with the club through good times and bad, continuing to support underground music right up until a dispute with the building’s landlord forced the club to close in October, 2006. Even after that, Kristal kept going, and was developing plans to open new CBGB clubs in other cities. Like Jackson, he kept his passion for what he loved with him until the end. I can only hope that people will be able to say the same about me when I’m gone.

Anthony Wilson R.I.P.

This post has nothing to do with beer. It’s vaguely related to the usually ignored “Beats” portion of this blog’s name. But mainly, it’s just my small tribute to a man who changed my life, even though I never met him.

His name was Anthony Wilson, he co-founded Factory Records, and he died today.

During it’s relatively short and infamously volatile existence, Factory was the home of a number of artists whose work I enjoy – Section 25, A Certain Ratio, Happy Mondays, Durutti Column, OMD – but most importantly, there was Joy Division and, following the death of singer Ian Curtis, New Order.

Very few bands had as much of an influence on my musical tastes as they did, and if the stories are to be believed (and if you’ve seen 24 Hour Party People, you’ll know that often they are not…), it was Wilson’s encouragement that kept Joy Division together in the first place.

So for that, and all the great music and ideas that he presented to the world via Factory and his other undertakings, I simply say: “Thanks, Tony.”

Scissor Sisters – "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'"

Those familiar with my past music-related activities might be surprised to see the Scissor Sisters as my first music recommendation on this blog, but they’ve actually been a a guilty pleasure of mine ever since I first heard their wonderfully over-the-top cover of “Comfortably Numb”.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting their upcoming second album, Ta Dah, and I recently stumbled across a leak of the first single, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'”. Like much of the first album, this track is an unabashed throwback to the heyday of disco when it crossed into the mainstream and cross-bred with rock and pop. Elton John participates on this track in some way, and his influence definitely shows – imagine a late 70s collaboration between John and the Bee Gees, and you’ll have some idea what this sounds like. It’s campy, cheesy, and catchy as hell, and I’m loving it!

The big question, though, is what beer goes best with the Scissor Sisters? Well, you’ll probably want something fruity and fun, but with a bit of a bite to it as well. From stuff I’ve tasted recently, I’d have to suggest St. Louis Premium Kriek, which has the candy and cough drop notes that you’d expect from a sweetened cherry lambic, but with a mild & pleasant tart funkiness in the finish. Sweet and funky – a perfect match!