Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! The closure of all public liquor stores in Saskatchewan was a bit of a shock to me because of how quickly it happened once it was announced and also because the SLGA (Sask Liquor and Gaming Authority) was where I cut my teeth and started my personal and professional journey with wine. I must admit that even though I saw it coming for a long time and I am a supporter of public services, the closures saddened me. No matter what your feelings or opinions may be on this set of events, customers/consumers now have more selection to browse through, updated, modern retail spaces and among many other improvements, patrons of today’s liquor stores have the ability to walk into a store and ask for a small sample of selected liquors and beverages.

If you weren’t aware, some liquor stores in Prince Albert offer the customer an opportunity to sample wine, beer, whisky, rum, gin, tequila, vodka and liqueurs throughout the day. All one has to do is ask an employee for a quick taste and a variety of options will be available for sampling.

In the wine cooler/fridge where both red, white and fruit wines can be sampled, you will currently find some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon such as the Stave & Steel Bourbon Barrel Cab Sauv (mentioned in last week’s column), the Slow Press 2020 Cab Sauv from California (bright clean flavors with medium body, tight tannins and an emphasis on red fruit) and the Little Giant Coonawarra Cab Sauv from Australia (big and full with juicy dark fruits and gripping tannins). For fruit wines, you may want to check out a local producer: Prairie Bee which has several fruity wines to taste. For sparkling wine, the Segura Viudas Cava from Spain is crisp and clean with stone fruits and limestone mineral.

Moving onto beer, take a look at the growler station where you can purchase a bottle for convenient refills or bring your own jug/growler to fill. There are some great beers to taste and the awesome part is that they are always from local producers. Have a sip of the Nokomis Session IPA (Nokomis, SK), the Paddock Wood Pure Insanity (Saskatoon, SK), the High Key Lemon Mint Smash (a lemon/mint wheat beer from Saskatoon, SK), the Rebellion Mega Lazer Cat (a creamy, rich brew from Regina, SK), the Rebellion Banana Pudding beer (also from Regina, SK) and finally, the District Brewing Lemon Ginger Radler (a fresh, tangy beer from Regina, SK). Speaking of beer, I found a great deal on a 12-pack of Happy Lager ($20) which is smooth with a hint of both malt and bitterness. The beer drinks incredibly easily and is perfect with food. 

Maybe beer and wine aren’t your thing and you prefer something with a bit more kick. I’d recommend taking a look at the spirits sampling station where you can sample a variety of vodkas from Saskatchewan and the world including Deuce, Last Call, Zirkova, Provincial, Phantom Light (right outside Prince Albert), Stolichnaya and Lucky Bastard (which has a huge range of flavored products as well).

If neutral spirits aren’t in your wheelhouse, consider tasting one of the many brown liquors on offer like these rums: Baron Samedi Spiced, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (one of my favorites), Bacardi 10-Year or the Brugal Anejo. Whiskey/whisky may suit you best so check out these delicious options: Canadian Club Small Batch 12-Year, Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (where the whiskey is squeezed out of the wood of the barrels), Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, Bowmore Vault Edition Scotch, Kilbeggan Irish whiskey, Waterford Organic Irish, Glenmorangie 10-Year Scotch, Bear Face 7-Year, Mountain Pass, Angel’s Envy Bourbon and Old Grand-Dad Bourbon. Those with a taste for the finer things in life may find pleasure in a quick sample of the one available Cognac, De Luze which hints at caramel, spice and syrupy floral notes.

The spirits category might be a bit much for some so slow things down a bit with a taste of one of the many liqueurs like Frangelico (perfect for adding a nutty character to your coffee), Dr. McGillicuddy’s Butterscotch, Gilmor’s Root Beer Schnaps, Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey (great as a shot), Sortilege Blueberry (reminds me of a blueberry themed breakfast) and a variety of products from Sobreo Artisanal Infusions.

Jumping back to the clear spirits group, you can find many excellent gins to sink your tastebuds into. Try out the extremely popular Empress Gin, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla or Sip Smiths (a London Dry Gin with that classic juniper flavor). You can usually sample the Patron Silver Tequila as well but it must have been too tasty as the entire bottle is currently gone.

With so many options available for tasting, there’s no way you can try everything in one visit and in fact, staff will often limit you to two or three samples in total. This shows a bit of social responsibility which I’m glad to see and also encourages customers to only sample the liquors/beverages that they might consider buying. That being said, don’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy something as the staff are low on the sales pressure and are there to provide an enjoyable experience.

The word “experience” is key here as liquor stores (for the most part) have transformed into locations that sell food, gadgets/gizmos, shirts, hats, snacks and all kinds of additions for your at-home creations like bitters, cocktail kits and the glasses to serve them in. These liquor stores want you to come in and spend a bit of time looking around and believe me, there is a lot to look at! It’s a smart move that encourages patrons to check out all the cool stuff and make a few impulse buys. In fact, the stores are designed to lead your eyes and body in specific ways to grab your attention. There is always something new to see!

Cheers and thanks for reading!