Hanging out at the British Beverage Showcase

British Beverage Showcase signs

Yep, this is definitely the right place!

So on Thursday Brits in Toronto was invited to attend the British Beverage Showcase, pitched thus:

“British Consul General Kevin McGurgan, OBE invites you to an exclusive trade tasting event featuring exciting newly released UK beverages and mixers. Guests are invited to discover a selection of UK products recently launched or coming soon to the LCBO and the Beer Store, as well as a range of non-alcoholic mixers. This showcase will feature over twenty British and Northern Irish beverage products, including gins, vodkas, whiskies, beers, ciders, coolers, mixers and English sparkling wine.”

Right? Done deal. Half-day vacation from work booked immediately.

Two funny coincidences to get the afternoon started right: my Uber driver was a bloke from Manchester who moved to Toronto in 1972, so we compared notes on Brits living in the city and not one — but TWO — Aston Martins passed us on the road. And you don’t see that every day. Brits everywhere!

The British Beverage Showcase was held at the very nice Wychwood Barns venue, and had all the vendors lined up either side. There were at least 26, so I was very glad I wasn’t driving.

Being the caring hosts they were, there was a nice food table to help soak up some of the booze featuring cheeses, fruit, scones and real, authentic CLOTTED CREAM no less. Not the spray can crap, but the real thick stuff. Delish. Good start.

British Beverage Showcase food

Yes. Real clotted cream. And some grapes

My guest and I started at one end of the aisle and zig-zagged our way down, trying a little of everything. Here’s some of the standouts that I can recommend:

Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka and Black Cow Cheddar (one of the best cheeses I’ve had, actually, so good)
anCnoc Highland Single Malt Whisky
Bloom London Dry Gin (I don’t even like gin but this was bloody lovely)
Penderyn Dragon Series (I can confirm WELSH whisky is definitely worth a tipple)
Thunder Toffee & Vodka Spirit Drink (sweet and good for a shot)
Franklin & Sons Ltd. Natural Indian Tonic Water
Hobgoblin Gold (not a fan of the original but the Gold is, well, gold)
Benromach (15-year-old whisky)

Once I had my happy face on I wandered around looking for some familiar Brits. I spotted the owner of The Caledonian, had a chat with Scottish Chef John Higgins (who pulled a face when I mentioned the Welsh whisky for some reason) and also met the legend himself, British Consul General Kevin McGurgan.

This was an excellent example of how to really show off the best British imports into Canada and Brits in Toronto was extremely grateful to have been a part of it.

Here’s the hosts:

British Beverage Showcase program

These hosts know how to throw a free booze and cheese party, let me tell ya

UK’s Department for International Trade

Visit Britain

Scottish Development International

Visit Scotland

A big Brits in Toronto link love to them and here’s to a really enjoyable afternoon!

Hello, I’m British Bloke

John ink

Hello, I’m British Bloke

Hello everyone, my name is John, AKA “British Bloke” and I created Brits in Toronto almost four years ago. How time flies and what a brilliant experience it’s been.

I started this website with the aim of helping Brits discover Toronto, find out the best places to buy the products they missed from home, interview interesting people and get their views and basically have some fun and educate people on all that Toronto has to offer, from a British ex-pat perspective.

Since then, the support has been astounding and I’m extremely grateful for all the e-mails, tweets, enthusiasm and interest that has been shown in this very niche area.

Anonymity has been fine until now … but I can’t take Brits in Toronto to the next level this way.

Then an e-mail came recently: “British Consul General Kevin McGurgan, OBE invites you to an exclusive trade tasting event featuring exciting newly released UK beverages and mixers.”

My finger hovered over the regular “Thanks, but can’t make it” response … until something clicked, and I realized that Brits in Toronto needed to be at these events, needed to start getting a little more serious and see where I can take this passionate side project of mine.

I went and had an amazing time.

But, on the flip side, I’ve turned down the chance to comment on British happenings in The Toronto Star, CBC Radio’s Metro Morning and the Metro newspaper because I wanted to stay under the radar.

The invite by the British Consulate-General Toronto got me thinking that now is the time to take Brits in Toronto onto its next stage, be able to cover more events, interview people openly and just make this a stronger community for British people in this city.

Everything stated thus far has been true: I did move to Toronto in 2000 … I am British … and real people have been featured in Successful Brits in Toronto and trying to help real people find work and real products and places have been reviewed by me.

But there is no Brits in Toronto “crew.” No office, interns, British admins or cohorts. It’s just me, sometimes talking to myself with two Twitter accounts or being very careful not to tweet the same thing twice. Think I have slipped up a few times and maybe people noticed … maybe not. Those days are over.

So, I’ve tested the concept, people seem to like it and with continued support from the British ex-pat community, let’s take Brits in Toronto onto bigger and better things!

John AKA “British Bloke”

Totally biased product review by me — Walmart Our Finest Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

“Finest” eh? We shall see. Oh yes … we shall see …

We must have walked past this product a million times in our local Walmart, but often been tempted by a Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak or ready-made ham sandwich instead.

“Sod it,” we mused. “Let’s give it a go. How bad can it be? What does ‘finest’ actually mean?” We grabbed a box and headed off. It only had one pepper of heat rating on the box, but at $2.97 it was worth a punt.

Prep was extremely easy. Just grabbed a fork and made some holes in the cellophane top; the rice was on one side and curry chicken the other. Threw it in the microwave for about four minutes and — Bob’s your uncle — lunch is served. (Too small a portion for dinner.)

Obviously the heat was lacking. One pepper really does equal Trying A Curry For The First Time To See If You Like It level.

But … the taste and flavour was really quite good. The sauce was nice and thick and the chunks of chicken were actually good-sized mouthfuls. We were impressed.

Throw in your own hot sauce and this is a pretty decent curry for lunch. Would buy it again and give it a Brits in Toronto 3/5 stars.

Penny Ashton is back in Toronto with Olive Copperbottom

Penny Ashton

Oh my! What the DICKENS is going on ‘ere then?

We featured Penny Ashton last year when she brought Promise and Promiscuity to Toronto … and she’s back at the Al Green Theatre from July 6-15 with Olive Copperbottom.

“Howdy British Bloke,” she squealed. “I am back in Toronto mainlining another literary superstar Charles Dickens. It’d be lovely if you had the time to do another post about this show too. I am still married to a Britisher too, which is lucky. Not sure how you’re swinging, but good luck in the election!”

Cheers Penny, swinging great thanks! And here’s the plug:

“Following the delicate sold out successes of Promise and Promiscuity, Penny Ashton swaps Austen for Dickens and brings orphaned hero Olive, and a squalid gaggle of Victorian characters to pox-ridden London life. Will Olive find a family amongst the brothels, toffs and gruel? Or will Mrs Sourtart break her heart as well as her teeth? A rollicking one-woman musical journey that will fulfil your greatest expectations and be the best of times and well … the best of times.”

We have to admit it does sound like a rip-roaring good time, so please contact Penny via her website for details.

Where were you when the Huddersfield Choral Society came to town?

Huddersfield Choral Society

Two world-class choirs will come together in a splendid concert that you really shouldn’t miss

One day in the future your grandchildren will look up to you and ask, “Where were you when the Huddersfield Choral Society came to town?”

You’ll look away … unable to meet their gaze … no story to tell. Don’t be that person.

Anne contacted Brits in Toronto to say …

“The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is presenting a concert that I thought some of your members might be interested in.

“The TMC is thrilled to be welcoming the Huddersfield Choral Society from the UK in June to perform a joint concert of choral classics, featuring many of the greats of English Cathedral music. Enjoy works by Parry, Stainer, Harris, Tavener, Vaughan-Williams, Holst and more. Two world-class choirs, two venerable institutions, one grand symphonic sound!

“The concert takes place Sunday, June 4 at 4:00 p.m. at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church (Yonge and St. Clair). Tickets are only $35, $20 VoxTix for patrons 30 and under. More details here.

“I’d appreciate it if you would let your followers know about this concert.”

Done! And here’s a taste of what to expect:

Toronto Irish FC are looking for goalkeepers

Toronto Irish Football Club

Want to be a goalie for TIFC?

We featured Ahmed El-Etriby as a Successful Brit in Toronto back in March 2015 and he reached out to us to see if anyone out there is interested in playing as a goalkeeper for Toronto Irish FC.

The team consists of players from all corners of Ireland, and from countries as far afield as Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England, Chile and Canada.

If you think you’re pretty good between two jumpers and can stop the ball hitting the back of the onion bag, please contact them via their website or Facebook page and say Brits in Toronto sent you, cheers.

Successful Brits in Toronto: Andy Wright

Andy Wright

“You know what’s a total pain in the nuts? Read on and find out!”

We have to give a big shout out to Claire D. for introducing us to the latest Successful Brit in Toronto, Andy Wright. She connected us, didn’t ask for any commission and thus, here he is.

What made you decide to choose Toronto as a city of choice? Did you plan a permanent move, or wanted to “try it for a while and see how it goes” and it turned out to be longer than planned?

I originally relocated to Canada from the old country in 2001 with my wife and two daughters. We were based in Kitchener/Waterloo (where they still live) while we found our feet and made our mark in this wonderful country.

Moving to Toronto was a decision that came at the end of a difficult change in life and circumstance for me. Suffice to say that I knew my photographic career, and my personal life development, had a much more interesting future ahead of it here than anywhere else in Canada.

What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any way?

The “Canadian experience” thing was a total pain in the nuts when we first moved here. Back then I was still working in the corporate IT world and despite having a CV full of experience as long as your arm … nobody would give me that first break. Especially difficult when you start job hunting in the same month as 9/11 happening and suddenly finding that no one would employ anyone from anywhere else for ages!!

It reached a point where we had consumed most of our savings for our start here and I was considering heading back to London to do some contract work, when I finally landed a job here.

I lost a few jobs because I was unaware of the cultural differences — I was used to interviews where you spent the last 15 minutes discussing the package and benefits and such — totally normal expectations for any job interview in London, but over here you’d think I had dropped my trousers and peed on the desk for the reaction I received when I asked about the salary and compensations of a management position.

I ended up attending several government-run workshops that explained how the Canadian marketplace worked (which was very different) before fully appreciating the etiquette of getting employment here.

Now as a visual artist running a visual media studio in Toronto, I find that people love the accent, and it certainly helps to start conversations.

The funniest thing I find is when shooting live concerts for British bands, and the venue will automatically assume that you are part of the road crew for the band because you sound like the others. Something that I have been able to take advantage of now and again to find a better angle to get “the shot” through using my cheeky charm.

What’s the best/worst aspects of living in Toronto?

Best aspects: It’s a beautiful city with lots of green space, and some wonderful views, and a fantastic vibe. Plus as a visual artist I am always finding something new to pique my creative interest as I wander around. I also love the fact that they just “get on with it” when there is snow here and the whole place does not shut down when it reaches zero degrees or we have a quarter inch of snow on the ground.

Worst aspects: The London Underground network of a hundred years ago covers more areas, included more stations and successfully ran more lines than modern day Toronto can manage. We have only just added a rail link to the airport, and it takes as long to drive to another city as it does to use a mainline train. Considering the amount of people here it’s quite shameful at how inadequate the transport infrastructure is.

Do you make an effort to connect with other Brits in the city, or just meet them when chance allows it? Any recommended pubs/eateries/other places for homesick Brits to meet each other and network?

Until now I have not consciously been out there searching for people with whom I can share a joke and not have to explain the punchline, or finding people that get that sarcasm and black humour are normal and inoffensive. I have close friends who are Brits living here too, and they help to keep me from missing it too much. It’s more chance encounters than anything that bring me across paths with other Brits currently.

I’d happily raid a Firkin pub and steal some of the fixtures and fittings and décor, but they certainly don’t feel like a slice of home. It has been a struggle to find something near to a good local that I would feel at home in to sup on a good pint etc.

And trust me — if I ever find a café or restaurant that actually serves a mug of tea instead of a cup of hot water and a tea bag I will be shouting it from the rafters to get others to go there!!!!

The one gem I would share is the BGW (British Grocer Wholesale) at 2905 Argentia Road in Mississauga. Fantastic foods from home at a really good price. Well worth the trip.

Open question/comment: feel free to write anything here/advice/tips on a Brit living in, or moving to, Toronto.

If you have just got here …

1) Stop mentally converting prices in your head. It gives you a great sense of value and bargain when you first get here, but really is a false sense of fluffy that you need to get beyond.
2) Get a good supply chain in place with people back home to bring in huge supplies of Marmite or good cheese whenever possible.

If you are moving here …

3) Be prepared to get lost in some of the processes here that have an inherent sense of “we know how its done — so should you” which can often be frustrating when trying to get settled as an outsider.
4) You won’t die when winter hits and the world does not end. Some day you will find yourself thinking that a sunny minus eight degrees day is really warm and might not even close your jacket or put a hat on when you head outside!!!

Some great insight and tips there, Andy — cheers mate. Check out Dead Fly Media too if you get a chance.