The pre-apocalypse gin shoot-out!

I can’t remember where I found this poll. Oops.

If I thought my friend Scarybear was in the minority for thinking that we’re nearing the End of Days, well, perhaps I was right, but it’s not a small majority. This freaks me out a little. I’ve been reassuring myself with the thought that Scary’s an idiot, but he’s got solid backup in this poll and others like it.

When he mentioned the sun had just ejected a massive coronal flare, now speeding toward our little planet, with the potential to duplicate the Carrington Super Flare of 1859, I got really worried and started trying to distract myself with various projects, some of which ended badly.

Scary seemed to be enjoying the idea of all our electronics getting fried despite his reliance on the TV to bring him shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad. His contemplation of disaster seemed even more enjoyable because it freaked me out, my fellow inebriates. I even forgot about my DTs for a while.

And then the brilliant Christine showed up with her canvas bag and effectively banished all thoughts of Armageddon. There was no one in the world I would rather have seen at that moment, and what’s more, Scary vamoosed (being afraid of women), taking with him all notions of solar ejecta and electromagnetic havoc.

Which left us free to do the LBHQ Gin Shoot-Out in peace.

Although Christine had brought Scotch, cask-aged beer, red wine, and a honey hefeweizen, she was perfectly game to get into the gin first. We decided to be scientific and sample the different brands two ways:

  • straight up
  • in identically prepared G&Ts

I’d been envisioning a tableful of gin—seven varieties, perhaps, especially because it was my dad’s birthday—but encroaching old age hadn’t helped my dad find his gin-drinking inner child; nor had the attainment of 47 years triggered the sort of midlife crisis makes a man rush out and blow his whole paycheque on gin. So I had to settle for three brands:

  • GILBEY’S LONDON DRY GIN ($11.88/375mL)
  • GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN ($12.69/375mL)


This is a Canadian product my parents told me I couldn’t review unless I managed to get a free sample. But at $11.88 per 375mL, it represents the bottom shelf, and the Canadian bottom shelf at that, so they relented for the sake of contrast. For this, our first Gin Shoot-Out, we wanted three distinct tiers, and something needed to be at the bottom. Our other choice would have been a big jug of POTTER’S, also Canadian, but my parents didn’t want to pony up $36 for 1.14 litres. They said we wouldn’t want that much. Hellloooo???

Straight up

No two ways about it, GILBEY’S is rough. Jagged and pointy, front-end palate abuse with no backnote to speak of, the taste lacks not just subtlety but almost the entire array of flavors that make gin so famously nuanced. It’s a little like being shivved in the tongue, drinking this ragged stuff. Perhaps it would appeal to drinkers of cheap vodka with its lack of complexity and harsh edge. You couldn’t possibly get down a martini made with GILBEY’S, not unless you were very committed to drinking that martini. I would do it, of course, but only if I didn’t have GORDON’S and BOMBAY SAPPHIRE winking at me from across the table.

Gin & Tonic

GILBEY’S is much more tolerable with tonic and a big squeeze of lime. But it’s still edgy—sort of like chewing tinfoil or being yelled at. I thought it was okay, and I would do it again.


We’re already fans of GORDON’S at LBHQ; it won us over just last week. The best-selling gin in the world and James Bond’s gin of choice, GORDON’S is a solid, traditional gin.

Straight up

Back to back against GILBEY’S, a straight sip of GORDON’S provides a flood of juniper-infused relief. On the tongue it expands with complexity, although citrus and juniper jump to the foreground. Highly sippable, GORDON’S would make an admirable martini.

Gin & Tonic

Ahhhhhh! Yes! This is what GORDON’S was made to do. With its firm citrus backbone and juniper chorus, GORDON’S owns the gin & tonic. Its personality punches through the tonic nicely and coordinates well with a lime twist. Maybe we’re all primed to delight in a GORDON’S G&T because so many bars mix with GORDON’S by default, but none of us were disappointed by its generously layered flavors. What Christine said about gin in general, “It tastes like more,” couldn’t have been more true with a gin like GORDON’S.


We haven’t had this at LBHQ for many years. My mum grew up with BEEFEATER, practically the antithesis of BOMBAY SAPPHIRE and famous for clobbering the drinker with not unwelcome lashings of juniper. BOMBAY SAPPHIRE strives to be more delicate: a premium but still affordable gin with a more floral profile. As such we expected it to win the martini category but possibly not the G&T category, because its subtle notes might get lost in a mixer.

Straight up

Ahhhhhh! Yes, indeed, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE tinkles across the tongue with delightful botanical essences, none outstripping the others. Of the three gins, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE is the lightest and most playful sipper. With just a whisper of vermouth it would make a perfect martini.

Gin & Tonic

Here we found ourselves divided. My mum thought her BOMBAY G&T was divine; Christine liked hers but preferred GORDON’S; and my dad departed from all reason, describing his BOMBAY G&T as “dusty.” What he meant by that I couldn’t pry out of him. I live in a house full of synaesthetes who don’t know how to describe flavors except in terms of sounds/colors/textures, and I guessed, when my dad said “dusty,” that he was applying some sort of metaphor—that perhaps a G&T made with BOMBAY SAPPHIRE felt venerable somehow; perhaps it threw him back to a past life in which he was a British colonial pounding tonic for its anti-malarial quinine and getting pissed on gin as a side effect. But he said he meant it literally—that it tasted like dust. So I guess we have to take my dad to the doctor.

Results of the Shoot-Out

Here’s the breakdown (lowest being best):

  1. most favorite
  2. second favorite
  3. least favorite

Resoundingly, the bottom-tier gin got waxed in the Shoot-Out. But the whole exercise illustrates the law of diminishing returns. Once you get past the bottom shelf (which, with a mickey, it costs about a dollar to do), you enter a realm of highly competitive products, the best of which often comes down to subjective tastes. For the 375mL size, the three products we reviewed were about a dollar apart. At $11.88 GILBEY’S got trounced. At 76 cents more, GORDON’S represented a whole other echelon. But adding $1.30 for BOMBAY SAPPHIRE didn’t make a significant difference; it was almost a toss-up, with GORDON’S emerging the winner by one point.

Whether this will play out with three other gins, we just can’t know. We can’t know until we do it. But there’s a Shoot-Out Part Deux in the future. If Scarybear’s ideas about global annihilation are wrong and there is a future.

Photo: Reuters/NASA

BROCKTON IPA—Sometimes you need a kick in the head

My judgment is feeble at best, my fellow inebriates, so when Scientific American emails me about a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Venus transit  the Sun, appearing as a small black disk in front of our blazing star, I’m not sure if SCIAM is advising me to look at it.

All my instincts are telling me it’s not okay to stare at the sun, but I’m thinking maybe I can get away with it just once. Venus won’t do this again until 2117. Astronomers are excited by it because it illustrates the way they find exoplanets orbiting distant stars—by the planets’ silhouettes.

I asked my friend Scarybear whether I should look at the sun* to see the Venusian disc. He said I definitely should**, for long enough to adjust my eyes to the glare and then a bit longer to make out the small dark spot. He said it would be “the coolest thing ever.” When I asked him if we need to put a special filter on the telescope, he shrugged and said that my eyes would “probably heal pretty fast.”

And the winner is…the lager.

Sounds like a plan. After all, a solar filter for our telescope would probably cost more than a few cases of beer. Between a filter and another GRANVILLE ISLAND BREWING Mingler pack, I’ll take the beer.

And while I wouldn’t gravitate toward an entire case of BROCKTON IPA, I don’t mind finding three of them in the Mingler. Sometimes an India Pale Ale provides just the bracing, hoppy kick in the head that a bear needs.

Deep golden with white foam, BROCKTON IPA gives off a strong, earthy aroma—hoppy, bready, and slightly astringent. The taste is more bracing than the smell, with pine notes and hops front-and-forward but some malty caramel notes balancing it somewhat. With moderate carbonation and substantial weight in the mouth, BROCKTON IPA finishes with a lingering, satisfying bitterness.

IPA isn’t a style we seek out too often at LBHQ; it always seems off-kilter with its emphasis on hops at the expense of milder front-palate-pleasing flavors. And BROCKTON IPA is an example of a beer in which hops pretty much beat the shit out of the other taste sensations, not to mention the drinker. But sometimes you need a beer that kicks your ass, and when you do, one like this is great.

We could buy four cases for the cost of a solar filter! I mentioned this to my mum, who had no idea why I would posit the comparison until I told her I was following Scary’s advice to watch an unfiltered Venusian solar transit*** while pounding cases of IPA.

For someone who doesn’t like using the word “retarded,” she sure unleashes it on me a lot.

* Do not do this.

** Do not do this.

*** Do not do this.

Can we really trust the sun not to cook us?

My Fellow Inebriates,

The whole family went out last night. My parents had been in a funk all day; the kids were glued to Netflix and needed to be torn away somehow; and my dad had a restaurant gift card—so off they went without so much as considering letting me ride along in a purse.

When you’re left home alone with bears like Scary and Fluffy, apocalyptic thoughts are unavoidable, especially when you’re already feeling left out of an adventure. Scary doesn’t ever really stop thinking about the End of Days, and with a catatonic golem like Fluffy constantly beside him creeping everybody out, his weird-ass theories gain a little more purchase than they should.

Why Scary thought of solar flares when it was pouring outside I don’t know. He usually gets anxious about the sun in hot weather, when he’s cooking inside his fur. With his great ass in front of the turbo fan, he blasts us all with his filthy funk and his insights about Armageddon, which, when the mercury’s over 95°, tend to involve the sun.

Not that Scary’s insights are conventional. Ask him about global warming and he’s likely to shrug. Ask him about rising sea levels and he might yawn. Insufficiently dramatic for Scary, these ordinary perils fail to pique his interest. And despite the apparent stability of our sun, midway through its life with a good 4 billion years left in the tank, Scary wonders if it plans to start behaving erratically in 2012.

Photo: Casey Reed/NASA

There is some galactic precedent. In 1999 astronomers discovered explosive superflares had erupted from nine stars “disturbingly similar to our own sun,” all at least 100 light years away. Unlike regular solar flares, from which our atmosphere and magnetic field largely protect us, superflares are millions of times more powerful, brightening their stars by at least 20%, stripping planetary atmospheres (if any) and frying any inhabitants.

Bradley Schaefer, one of the scientists on the team, emphasized that “our sun does not do this, as far as we can tell.”

Scary scoffed at this reassurance, saying “It only needs to do it once. And then we wouldn’t be here to say it doesn’t do it.” He said the flares (“death flares”) could flash-fry distant Pluto, never mind us.

Throughout this Fluffy remained expressionless, a silent twin to Scary as he freaked me out, people. I thought I’d better contact someone with better credentials than Scary—maybe Bradley Schaefer.

Not one scientist or politician has ever responded to my emails. Truly, the only “official” person who gives me the time of day is Julia Gale of BROKER’S GIN. Just this week she sent a very slick newsletter full of pictures of the BROKER’S GIN tour of North America, which I do hope culminates in the reinstatement of that breathtaking elixir to our shelves. It’s just dreadful to think that if one of Scary’s death flares shot out from the sun all the gin would be instantly evaporated (along with our eyeballs).

I have to believe (and who knows, maybe Julia will agree with me; I emailed her about it too) that our sun will behave itself, although, being middle-aged like my parents, it conceivably will do something erratic. According to Sallie Baliunas at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stars like our sun often dim down by 1% or so for a “quiescent” spell. Baliunas says 17 of Earth’s last 19 major cold episodes involved solar activity, so maybe Scarybear should think about that.

Maybe if we had an ice age Scary wouldn’t plunk his hairy butt in front of the fan and pollute the house with his funk.