Monthly Archives: April 2012

Chicago: One Hell of a Town

I have returned alive and well from the Windy City! C2E2 was a blast, seeing friends from both Chicago and all over the country was a thrill and walking all over that city was just perfect.

But you’re reading a beer blog. You don’t want to hear about a comic convention and walking around Lincoln Park with my boyfriend. You want to hear about the beer. And so I’ll talk about that.

What a freakin’ town.

Didn’t quite know what to think about it before I went. I kept hearing things like “the Chicago beer scene is just starting to come alive” but I think that’s a lot of hooey. It might be exploding a bit more, but this struck me as a town that’s been used to having craft beer in their lives for a while. Even in the crappiest of bars there was at least a few Belgian styles and a decent IPA.

But jeez, the fantastic beers. And the breweries in and around Chicago! The heavy metal inspired 3 Floyds Arctic Panzer, Revolution Brewing’s Working Woman Brown Ale (which will be part of my fond memories for a very long time) and of course the many amazing beers from Goose Island, which has been operating in Chicago for nearly 25 years and produced interesting drinks like Pepe Nero, made with Peppercorns and Bramble Rye Bourban County, the fantastic imperial stout with the unmistakeable and amazing taste of raspberries and blackberries (pictured above)? Yum. But my heart will always go to my first Goose Island beer, Matilda, a Belgian-style made with a special yeast strain that allows it to be aged for up to five years (if you can wait that long).

And of course, the places and the people are always going to be a factor. We had the pleasure of joining the company with Corben, our Man in Chicago, along with some friends from New York. We went to a FANTASTIC pub with a diverse beer menu called the Map Room where the owner gave me a free pint of Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (on CASK!) for free as a welcome to Chicago and a thank you for coming here (thanks for the suggestion again, Sam from Sawdust City Brewery!). It was there too that I think I fell in love with a little beer called Dragon’s Milk, by New Holland Brewing Company in Michigan. An incredible imperial stout with hints of oak, caramel and vanilla. This definitely became the favourite for me, and I had a few. Later we went to the Bad Apple, a place with a huge beer list and probably one of the best burgers I’ve eaten (and deep fried…cheese curds. Which were surprisingly delicious). I had an “El Chupacabra” burger, which apparently contained goat bits and a Dogfish Head Noble Rot, which was probably the closest to wine a beer has reached for me. Delicious.

Illustrator and comic creator Sarah Becan met up with us and we went to the AMAZING brewpub put on by Revolution Brewing, where I fell in love with the Working Woman Brown Ale. Seriously, please send me some of that stuff. Just perfectly balanced between the hops and malts making for one rough and yet comforting drink. Plus if you’re a woman you feel like a bit of a badass drinking it (Just sayin’).

And on our final night in Chicago Corben took us to Bangers & Lace and we had an amazing time! The guys working the bar were AMAZING and passionate about beer and we found a lot of beers we had put on a list of “beers we want but will most likely never drink”.

Like Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew. Seen on the first episode of Brew Masters and made specially for the rerelease of the famous Miles Davis album, I never thought I would have this fusion beer of an imperial stout combined with a beer made with honey and gesho. But boy, I had it and…MAN. Having Bitches Brew on my iPod while having my first few sips really completed my experience.

And Hitachino‘s 3 Days Beer from Japan, with THIS amazing story behind it:

“March 11, 2011 14:46, a huge earthquake struck Japan and with it our brewery. Some parts of the brewery house were damaged and the brewing tanks were left leaning at an angle. Completion of the typical mashing period had to be extended to three days until electricity to the brewery was restored. Natural fermentation had already started in the mash tank during these three days with lactic acid culture in our brewery. This “3 DAYS” beer is limited to only 8,000 bottles.”

8,000 bottles. And I was lucky enough to have one. Delicious. Strong taste of Pears which made it very refreshing.

But CHICAGO. Jeez. I can’t tell you just how much I loved that city. To all the people who led us around and gave good company, Melissa, Dowell, Nick, Amy, Sarah Becan, Mike Rooth and ESPECIALLY the amazing Corben, THANK YOU SO MUCH for showing this weird but enthusiastic Canadian gal a good time on her first visit to Chicago.

And now to figure out when I’m going back.

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The Windy City

The next couple of days will be taking up some time for me as I wrap up my affairs at work and start packing for Chicago. I’ll be attending C2E2 and taking a few days extra on a much-needed vacation with the fella. We’re both REALLY looking forward to trying some of the local beers there. Goose Island, Metropolitan Brewing and Revolution Brewing to name a few. And credit where credit is due, the fella along with a lot of local friends are helping us find stuff along with the excellent beer site Chitown on Tap.

I’m also imagining that it will be every bit like The Untouchables. I sure hope I can get myself a good ‘ol Chicago Typewriter to just shoot bullets in the air with.

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My First Beer Pairing Dinner

So March 25th marked a really interesting moment in my beer learning adventures. For the first time in my life I attended a beer pairing dinner.

The dinner, put on by Mirella Amato’s Barley’s Angels, a group dedicated to educating women about the wonderful world of beer and hosted by Guy McClelland of McClelland Premium Imports and “Beer Knight”. The venue was at one of my local places, the Town Crier, which has an AMAZING selection of European beers on tap. Plus I’ve been bugging the owner to get involved with Toronto’s beer geeks, so it was great to see the place involved.

On top of it being my first pairing dinner, it was also my first time going to a meet of the famous Barley’s Angels. It was so great to meet women of all different backgrounds coming together to learn something about a fabulous beverage.

So expectations were pretty high. Mirella is a giant in the Toronto beer scene and Guy has been responsible for bringing some top class Belgian and German beers to this godforsaken province.

So beer/food dishes included…

1. Beet salad with orange goat cheese & Belgian endives with Fruli and Radler dressing with Fruli beer (An interesting, refreshing and sweet start to a meal)

2. Smoked German sausage wrapped in Falian ham with braised green onion & German mustard with Erdinger Dunkel (Dear LORD, what a wonderful dish that was. Went well with the Dunkel, too!)

3. Belgian poutine with miso gravy and cheese curds with Delirium Tremens (The gravy was a bit watery and some of us found that pairing it with Palm Ale proved a better match)

4. Beer braised beef short ribs with Affligem Abbey Ale (This dish just melted in my mouth. And the pairing with the Affligem made for a wonderful experience. I STILL have dreams about this course)

And on top of that we had in-between beers such as Stiegl-Radler (Beer with grapefruit juice!), Stiegl Lager (refreshing!)  Erdinger Weiss (nice crisp taste) and Palm Ale (sweet with a nice bitter finish). And all of this went with an educational talk by Guy McClelland where we learned about “The Perfect Pour”, the importance of drinking your beer from a glass (and the right glass at that) and the effects of light on clear bottles (The beer goes skunky and foul after 30 seconds in the sun). Also learning about the sales statistics in Canada and getting a better idea of craft beer’s emerging role was incredibly useful information.

So what did I think of the experience? Well, I definitely had a good time and learned quite a bit more about beers in Germany, Belgium and their influence in Canada. While I must admit that I would have liked to have learned more about the art of pairing beer with food rather than just the beer, I still learned quite a lot and got some experience with my taste buds that I’ll be storing away for future consideration.

And I really have to give credit to Guy and Mirella for being amazing hosts at the event. It was great to meet them both. Guy clearly knew his stuff and had a great passion for it and Mirella was a pleasure to talk with.

I was really pleased with this night. I felt it lived up to my expectations and didn’t let me down.  I definitely would not say no to another oppurtunity to go to one again because if anything you’re learning more about how complex and wonderful beer is and turning the experience of drinking a beer in to the experience of having it be a part of a perfect meal. It’s a good thing to learn.

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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Three Beligian Beers

So Three Belgians walk in to a bar…

Found myself on a weekend having an all-Belgian cast and thought I’d write about these darlings.

Two I’ve had before, Delirium Tremens and Westmalle Tripel. The third though, Palm, has always been under my radar a bit. I’ve seen it around, but haven’t had a chance to pick it up.

Belgian beers hold a really special place in my heart. With the Belgian yeasts that give the beer a wonder fruity aroma and taste along with, in some cases, the Candi Sugar adding a fantastic depth to the taste, some mighty fine beers have been made by the good people of Belgium. It’s safe to say that Belgian-style is one of my top types of beer.

PALM ALE – 5.4%ABV

From Palm Brewery and known as “Belgium’s Amber Beer”. Palm is one of those beers that I’ve seen around the liquor store a lot, but never really got around to picking it up. After some research, it was interesting to know that the brewery had a pretty fun history and that Michael Jackson (no, not that one. This one is THE top beer journalist) had some wonderful praise for it. So I decided to give it a shot.

COLOUR: A nice amber-like honey colour.

AROMA: A bit subtle, but definitely hints of honey with some nice fruity notes.  Kind of an edginess to the aroma that I can’t quite pinpoint.

TASTE:  Kind of syrupy mouthfeel and pretty sweet! Citrus, dried fruit and honey taste make a good appearance and then everything is wrapped rather nicely with a light bitter finish.

VERDICT: I think this is a pretty good introduction beer to the Belgian style. It showcases what the style is capable off without going full hog and intimidating newer drinkers. To be honest, if I was putting on a party (or gathering, or box social) I would consider picking up this beer as the “help yourself” beer.

DELIRIUM TREMENS – 8.5%ABV

From Huyghe Brewery in Belgium. I’ve always been in love with this drink. From the dark humor of its name (Delirium Tremens is a pretty serious form of alcohol withdrawal) to the little pink elephants on their glasses (also going the dark humor route).

COLOUR:  Golden yellow with a beautiful white head. Carbonation works out especially good if had with a snifter glass (which is ADORABLE AND HAS PINK ELEPHANTS).

AROMA: Light citrus notes, cloves. A sliiiiight hint of Bananas and Peaches. Very plesasant.

TASTE: Still light citrus notes, but the sweetness from the sugars and belgian yeasts are kicking in. A nice, almost honey feel to it. Alcohol content is creating a bit of a tang. Pretty refreshing drink.

VERDICT: This beer is one that definitely becomes the star on the patio. Very refreshing. Just don’t have too many.

WESTMALLE TRIPEL – 9.5% ABV

I’ve mentioned this beer before in some detail on my post on Trappist beers, but thought I’d do something of a proper review, since the LCBO decided to stock this wonderful beer. From the Westmalle Brewery located in the Abbey of Westmalle. This beer did indeed make me weep with joy and even my mother, who enjoys just sipping the beers I have was suddenly turned into a convert of the “beer is wonderful and complex” way of thinking.

COLOUR: Cloudy straw yellow colour.

AROMA: Sweet. Lemon, orange and various spices. Very soothing

TASTE: You know, in the Trappist post I mentioned that the taste always left me dumbstruck because I just couldn’t describe it. Light mouthfeel with a LOT going on. Citrus, Bananas, spices, cloves…it’s all just hitting you at once. Working together like a choir. Just wonderful.

VERDICT: Sorry, I have something in my eye…

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And that’s it for now! Stay tuned this week and next since, due to sickness and travel preparations, I have a few backlogged posts on the way.

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