Category Archives: Field Trips

Three Notable Breweries of the Wasteland

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This post is sort of my way to put to use one of my favourite writing exercises. At the start of each creative writing class in school, our teacher would put some music on and allow us to do some freeform writing for 15 minutes or so. This would allow us to get the worries, thoughts, and memorization techniques of our other classes out of our systems and shake up the creative juices in our heads, which would better prepare us for thinking outside the box.

After a couple of years of writing beer columns and, now, two beer guides, I’ve kind of been feeling a little creatively stagnant. I’m still enjoying a lot of what I’ve been writing, but everything has been too steeped in the serious, and I like to think this blog is a mix of both serious and fun. So with that in mind, and in an effort to shake up my brain a bit, here is a fictional article for a fictional newspaper that features a few of my favourite breweries in the far distant post-apocalyptic future, where civilization has been destroyed and is currently in the process of being rebuilt.

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Originally printed in Wasteland Adventurer Magazine, Issue 35, 2242

It’s not a secret that the world is a dangerous place to travel. From the human threats of bandits, pirates, and cannibals, to the non-human ones of super storms, large insects, and of course creepers, one has to tread carefully when seeking out adventure or even simply visiting friends and family. But as readers of this magazine are no doubt aware, the ancient saying “travel broadens the mind” quite often rings true and makes such threats a reasonable price to pay. The world is out there and with it a wealth of experiences. Different people, different customs, different food…

And of course, different beer.

With the seemingly infinite number of settlements, towns, and cities out there it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the breweries contained within them, making small batches of beer using local ingredients and techniques, and brewing exclusively for their local communities. While a complete record of the world’s breweries hasn’t been created yet, word does travel fast on a few individual ones that have captured the imagination and excitement of travellers. So with that, here are three breweries that are worth seeking out in the wastes.

Nepho Brewing
Barker Square, Tuskin Cloud City
If you happen to be a sky sailor, on the hunt for Glow Mist or *cough* less legal rewards, sky-citystop by the Tuskin Cloud City at 56.156259, -40.517578 to refuel your ship, exchange your goods, have a nice rest, and most recently, try some new beer. Nepho Brewing, located in Barker Square of the city, is the result of two former pirates who became better known for their brews than their bounty acquisition. Of the cloud cities out there, the duo decided that Tuskin was the best, as they’re more known there and the city’s placement above the near constant flow of Superstorm Clouds make it perfect for harvesting cloud water with minimal tax from the city. The brewery’s flagship offering, Perfect Storm Mild, is dark in colour with sweet toffee notes and an earthy, roasted character that adds balance before moving towards a dry finish. It’s also fairly low in alcohol, which is better suited to the clientele of sailors looking to lighten their wallets and ease their worries while on a week’s shore leave.

Bushwick Base Brewing
Jefferson Street Station (L Line), Brooklyn, New York
While the majority of the once great city of New York is in ruins and infested with Creepers and a varied number of mutated monsters, the city is still bustling, although primarily underground in the former MTA tunnels. If you’re looking for a great place to rest easy for a beer, walk down the L line to Jefferson Street Station, where Bushwick Base Brewing’s taproom is serving up some quality beverages that are sure to keep you warm at night. Working off-site out of the former Kings County Brewers Collective building, the 20-person team of former (and current) mercenaries risk their lives to go above ground, power up the generators, harvest from their rooftop farms, and brew for the masses. Because of the risk involved and infrequency of the releases, the price on a pint is pretty high, but the creativity and wide selection found in the candlelit taproom makes the cost worthwhile. As for the beers themselves, they’re all named after military slang terms, reflecting the brewer’s backgrounds. Expectant IPA is the most often consumed of the beers, and for good reason. It features a fairly light mouthfeel with an explosion of tropical fruits so bright, you could swear it could light up the MTA tunnels. However, if you have some coin and you’re lucky enough to be in the city when it’s released, the seasonal imperial stout 40 Mike-Mike is worth getting. Sold in handmade canteens, a few sips of this 18% beer will warm you right through while providing, if you’re lucky enough to have them, fond memories of chocolate and coffee.

Loup Garou Labyè
Bayou Pigeon District, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
Located in a long-abandoned oil rig deep in the Bayou Pigeon district, Loup Garou Labyè has proven to be a popular brewing spot for settlers to the Atchafalaya Basin. The amazing thing about this brewery is that the entire community in the district are running it, enabling brewing operations to go on 24/7 and making it one of the most frequently consumed beers in the South Louisiana region. Making use of purified swamp water and local greenery, the beers are nothing if not unique. Of note, the Voler Porter, for instance, is made using locally harvested graine à voler (otherwise known as ‘Cajun Peanuts’ or American Lotus seeds), which are toasted and thrown in the boil, adding for a subtle peanut butter character.

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Goose Island and the Return to Chicago

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I have a lot of fond memories of Chicago.

Longtime readers may remember that I was there back in 2012, where I went to C2E2 with my partner at the time, hung out with a few of my friends (some from Chicago, others from NYC), and tried a LOT of fantastic beers. 3 Floyd’s Arctic Panzer Wolf, the many amazing selections Revolution Brewing had and still has, and, of course, Goose Island beers. In fact, Matilda was the very first beer I had in Chicago, and was the first beer with Brettanomyces in it that I had. While it wasn’t the best Goose Island beer of the trip (That title goes to the FANTASTIC bottle of Bourbon County Bramble Rye I had), it still has a special place in my heart. Hell, I still think I have one of the bottles from that trip stashed away in the cellar.

IMG_20151113_144843-01What I didn’t quite realize at the time was that there was a very heated debate going on in the beer circles. In 2011 Goose Island announced that they would be selling their stake of the brewery to Anheuser-Busch InBev, with the remaining shares also being sold to AB InBev. Social media went, as it always does with news like this, absolutely nuts. A year after the announcement when things were starting to roll out, the web was filled with conspiracy theories and scenarios of the quality of beer taking a severe nosedive. Three years later, Goose Island has made more of a push in to the Canadian market, with the latest offering, Goose IPA, being a favourite among many.

So when Goose Island invited me on trip to Chicago in September to tour their facilities and check out the much anticipated 312 Block Party, I jumped at the chance for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve heard a lot about the block party. My local friend from Chicago, Corben, said a lot of good things about it, as well as many beer nerd friends. Secondly, I wanted to try some of the more different offerings from the brewery. So far we only have Matilda, Sophie, Pepe Nero, Honkers, and Goose IPA. All staples and mainstays. I wanted some one-offs. And finally, I wanted to see the differences found four years after a small brewery has been bought by one of the big guys.

And folks, some of you might not like hearing this, others, like me, might have known this for years, but…

They’re doing really good work in the name of better beer and the buyout has done little more than given them the tools to play around more and bring forth offerings typically found in a few bars in a single city to places all over the country. Aside from the very normal problem all breweries regardless of size have in terms of some batches not doing as well as others, there has been very little drop in terms of quality (frankly there’s been a rise) and the rate of consistency of said quality is outstanding. 

IMG_20151113_143627With no other beer is this more true than with Bourbon County Stout. Originally served as a special milestone “batch 1000” beer at their Clybourne brewpub in 1992, the beer now has a cult following among beer nerds. The Bourbon County off-shoots have an arguably even more rabid following, with crowds at the 312 Block Party running as fast as they could in the rain to get in line for a small sample of the selected limited release batches. And to be honest, after tasting the Proprietor’s Bourbon County at the event, with the gorgeous notes of Cassia and coconut water and a slightly warming creamy texture…hell, I’d run through a fire for that beer. Several fires, even.

As far as what’s changed at Goose Island since I was last there, it seems to be one of those “good kinds of problems” that I’ve been seeing a lot with breweries who are either bought or are just naturally growing. Similar to the Sam Adams brewery in Boston, Goose Island’s Fulton brewery, where the beers were mostly made, seems to be slowly transforming in to an art space for beer, allowing brewers to experiment with ideas on new brews that range from alteration on classic styles, to . The other part of the brewery is devoted to one of their best sellers, Matilda. The tanks holding Matilda are freakin’ huge, with several vertical tanks on the roof being maintained temperature-wise because head brewer Jared Jankowski and his team found that Matilda tastes better when it’s brewed in the winter.

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The real big change though, and by far one of the most impressive, is Goose Island’s Barrel House. A 133,000 square foot facility filled with full barrels in numbers so large I don’t honestly think I can accurately guess and they’re already talking about expanding the damned thing. The facility is filled with beer aging in pretty much all types of barrels you can think of (different bourbons, different wines, different tequilas…), all in varying degrees of time length and temperature. It’s a monstrous facility that really brings home the primary drive of Goose Island’s success: their ability to make rare beers combined with the actual talent it takes to make them well.

So as I’m standing in the barrel house sipping on a 2013 Gillian, a mindblowing farmhouse ale with strawberry notes and a hint of wildflowers and honey with a delicate dry finish, a world class beer to be sure…I can’t help but think “why would I ever be against a brewery, or a company that purchases a brewery, that wants to make this facility and beers like this a reality?”

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And that’s where, in the name of good beer, I have to side with Goose Island. I understand that a lot of people hate big breweries and feel that they take jobs and revenue away from smaller breweries, but this trip gave me the impression that Goose Island isn’t trying to do that as much as people suspect. While they have many quality beers as part of their regular rotation (Again, my love for Goose IPA is deep) and those are found around more and more, it’s the rare beers like Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout or the 2013 Gillian, that are very clearly the focus and frankly, there are very few breweries that are making rare beers like they are on that large of a scale. Regular beers get lost in the shuffle and there’s a lot of concern about oversaturation. Hell, go in to any liquor store (Like Chicago’s Binny’s) to see the reality of that. White Whale Beers however, the kind of beers the people line up for 5+ hours for or run at breakneck speeds through the rain for a SAMPLE…those are growing, but are less abundant. And it’s there that I think Goose Island is most comfortable.

IMG_20151113_142904The 312 Block Party was a testament to that final point, I feel. While the first night was rainy, the second night had clearer weather and was just jam-packed with folks enjoying themselves and clamouring for the beers on offer. Many didn’t care about the politics of the brewery, they were there for several reasons. The rare beers, the seasonal beers and collaborations (including the incredible Coffee Ale, brewed with Intelligentsia Coffee beans), the music, and because the block party has quite simply embedded itself in to the city. Of course there are many breweries within the city, and when you think of Chicago several come up, but one of them certainly is Goose Island and I know very few locals who aren’t excited when the Block Party comes around each year.

I’m really glad I went on this trip. Aside from getting to see my friend Corben, getting introduced to some fabulous places like the Eleven City Diner and the delightful dive the Ten Cat Tavern, and getting some serious shopping in at The Spice House (my favourite spice shop ever), it was good to see the status of a brewery that I initially had fond memories of and to see that their quality hasn’t dropped over time, but that they have been putting more focus in to higher quality beers and embracing the concept of rarity.

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The Montréal Notes

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Recently Sawdust City sent some beers my way, some of their current fantastic offerings. But there is one in particular that I didn’t read the can of until now, and that’s of the “There’s No Way of Knowing” Can-Conditioned Saison. It reads like this:

As ‘Ol Man Winter begrudgingly releases us from his icy grip, Sweet Lady Spring swoops in and softly serenades us with her song. The snow slowly recedes, the days grow longer and we once again head outside to feel the warmth of the new vibrant season. What does the new season bring us? What does the future hold? Really, there’s no way of knowing. With the bright effervescence of a spring day and flowery aromas of fresh citrus, There’s No Way of Knowing Saison brings us all we love about this season. Light and breezy, it’s the perfect accompaniment to new beginnings.

1512299_905676996160008_7806778772935007977_nAnd I gotta say, this is the first time the copy on a beer can has distinctly given me the feels. The main reason being that I’m currently going through a new beginning myself at the moment. You see, I’ve left Toronto to stay in Montréal for two months. Not for any beer-related reason, it was just one of those times where I was looking at my surroundings, my outlook on things, and my level of contentment and decided that I really, really needed a change of scenery. So I found some places on AirBnB, packed up my things, and hopped on a train. As for work, I’m fortunate enough to be able to fit all of my careers in to a single messenger bag (thank the gods for tiny external 1TB drives, dropbox), so I can work pretty much from anywhere. I’m currently typing this post from my April home, a wonderful 1930s three floor walk-up in Westmount, a pretty English-speaking neighbourhood with more parks than I can count and with no shortage of markets, bakeries, and cheese shops. Some 1920s jazz is playing on my little Bose speaker, the sun is shining brightly through the windows, and after two weeks I’m starting to think that this sort of new beginning was a fantastic decision. All that is to say that, while unpacking the luggage in my home for the next two months, reading this can kind of hit me in a spot that had me feeling a bit emotional.

But anyways, back to the beer stuff. Because of COURSE I’m going to do some beer exploring while I’m here.

So far my first impression of the beer scene here in Montréal has been incredible. There are many breweries here doing some amazing things and many of them, as well as the local drinkers, seemed to have fully embraced the concept of “simple DSC_0700_1done well” while also having a deep appreciation for the experimental and out there. Here the concept of going to a bar with a book to unwind is very strong and as a result, I’ve been happy to find that some of the more trendy beer spots have been incredibly spacious, many of which still have tables available on a busy night. The combination of not being claustrophobic and not having my thoughts drowned out by too-loud music or people yelling was refreshing to say the least.

I haven’t been to too many spots, but the ones I’ve been to have been winners. Dieu du Ciel, often on the top of the list of places to visit when in the city, was understandably packed and filled with many of their incredible beers on tap, including a one year-old version of their famous Imperial Stout Péché Mortel, a selection of refreshing and complex wheat beers, and Gospel, which may be one of the best nitro Stouts I’ve ever had, featuring a creamy mouthfeel that is expected with nitro stouts, but a very dry finish that just makes me want more.

Second up was Vices & Versa, which so far has become my favourite pub to visit. A startling 35 taps on rotation featuring some of the best beers and ciders that the province has to offer. With two huge rooms and a backyard patio that locals flocked to once the weather went above 0°, I have never had a problem finding a table to sit at, and the ability to order a half pint has made for a really nice budget-conscious evening of experimentation. Some highlighted beers I’ve ordered from that have been the Dunham Saison Rustique, a beautiful saison with a taste that matches the aroma of citrus, flowers, and pepper, and the Transylvania Pale Ale by Kruhnen, a unique IPA blended with spices that was so well put together I ended up having a few pints of it.

The other three places I didn’t spend much time in, but Broue Pub Brouhaha, which will be a ten minute walk from my place in May, has an incredible selection, constant events going on, wonderful ambiance (Think David Lynch’s America designed by Punk Hellbillies), and every Tuesday has a “Randall Night”, where a selected beer is mixed with different ingredients for a whole new beer experience and left to go on for a week. Now it’s on to the places of note I went to with local beer writer David Atman and visiting Manitoba blogger Cody LobreauIsle de Garde has an ambiance that I would normally expect in Toronto bars. Dimly lit, clean, minimal furnishings, jam-packed with people (Apparently there is often people waiting at the door for a spot to open up), but once in there, you’re in for a relaxing time and the house’s own Bitter is mind-blowing. And finally, Le Cheval Blanc is a fantastic microbrewery that I’ll be visiting again soon for a full flight of heir selections. I ended up having the Framboise when I was there and it was wonderfully subtle and refreshing.

So that’s all I have so far, but stay tuned to the site, folks. There will be a LOT more activity on here than there has been recently. I’m exploring new things in a province that I’ve never spent more than a weekend in before, so I’ll have a lot to report back on and a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of fantastic beers to sample.

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Vegas, Baby, Vegas: Las Vegas Breweries and Beer Beyond The Strip

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“Good people drink good beer.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

With the Saveur thing over and done with, I had an incredibly late flight the next night. An intentional move on my part, as I wanted to explore the city for a while and see what there was in ways of beer. Unfortunately, planned brewery visits had to be cancelled because cabs are ridiculously expensive in Vegas. A 20 minute cab ride is roughly $58, so unless you have a friend with a car or know your way around the public transportation system in Vegas (That was a big no on both for me), I decided to walk around to a few locations and gather some information. A big part of this involved walking around the city all day, which I won’t recommend without sunscreen and liquids, but is still worth doing for, among other reasons, the beautiful silence of the area compared to the chaos of The Strip.

The Strip is an incredibly cheesy, horrible place. I mean, I appreciate it and get why many people would love it, but at the same time it combines three things that I can’t say I’m fond of: crowds of people, encouragement of rabid consumerism, and encouragement of binge drinking. Only on the Strip is it perfectly legal to walk around with yard-high margaritas or bottles of beer. Why? One reason is that it was happening so frequently that it was thought that police could be put to better use, but another thought suggests that since The Strip brings in those sweet tourism dollars, it’s in the city’s interest to look the other way for that one area at least. The result is a street full of incredibly drunk frat boys and girls screaming, hanging out of the windows of their stretch SUVs, collapsing and vomiting on the sidewalk…you get the picture. I kind of wish I was exaggerating on that, but that just seems to be a regular weeknight on The Strip.

The rest of Vegas, though, and I don’t mean Old Vegas, I mean the places where people actually live…can be a pretty magical place, with a thriving music scene and an incredible craft beer scene with it’s own unique breweries.

– Bit of a disclaimer here, one day clearly wasn’t enough to give a full-on guide or any real impression on Vegas Proper. While I did sample beers from a handful of the breweries, there was still a lot of ground that wasn’t covered. Oddly, despite my glowing review of the Strip, I will be returning to Vegas. These experiences are my own and really, if you folks have any suggestions of breweries and brews, please feel free to comment. –  

For whatever reason you can’t leave the Strip at all, there still are places to find the beer there. Sin City Brewing Co. has a few locations within the Strip and about four regular beers with a seasonal, but personally I wasn’t impressed at all with what I had by them and found the advertising featuring busty gals in hot pants nauseating. For the odd reasonably priced bottle or 6-pack, the convenience stores and pharmacies have some hidden gems among them. Even the stores within the hotels have a few interesting bottles but remain, ironically, a crap shoot.

The best pub I found on the Strip was…well…THE PUB found in the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino. It features an extensive menu of about 130 drinks on tap including a few ciders, though it should be said they are a bit on the pricy side. My biggest suggestion would be to purchase flights, as you can cover more ground that way without getting wrecked. The Pub is run by some good beer geeks who believe in having a strong local option, so several Las Vegas beers are stocked there along with many international and American beers. The environment is sports bar, so nights get kind of rowdy with things like Karaoke and sports-ball games , but for something in the mid-afternoon it’s the perfect setting.

Beyond the Strip there is the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas, a German Beer Hall and one of the weirdest locations I’ve been to. After 30-40 minutes of walking in the unforgiving desert heat, I figured a good Hofbrau Weisse break was in order. Upon entering I was greeted by a number of things. Firstly the music, which was The Chicken Dance. My sight was taken up by various cheesy German-themed posters and souvenirs with phrases like “It’s a real sausage fest in here!” painted on them, and a large screen television showing FOX’s hit show COPS was playing by the bar. As I sat there, drinking in the nourishing weisse, listening to music only Lawrence Welk would love and watching a 300lb drunk topless man surrender to the police on TV before attacking them again, I couldn’t help but feel I was still outside walking and that this was all a heat stroke-induced hallucination.  The beer was good, but I think my only reason for going back there would be for the completely surreal experience I had just sitting there.

After that I found my way to The Freakin’ Frog on the advice of my friend, talented journalist Joshua Ellis, who lived around the corner from there for years. The Freakin’ Frog is pretty incredible, a 5-10 minute drive from The Strip and a short walk from the University of Las Vegas campus, it has 12 regularly rotating taps, over 1,100 bottles, and a the largest selection of Whiskies I have ever seen held in their “Whiskey Attic”. What is on tap are some incredible national and international beer talent, but the bottles are the best reason to go there. Instead of giving you a list to choose from, they escort you in to their sizeable beer fridge and let you pick out what you want (while also offering suggestions in case you get overwhelmed) with a strict “you break it you bought it” policy . Once you’ve chosen what you want, they ring it up for you and it’s all yours. I took my time in the fridge to pick something that was a bit more suitable of a celebration beer than what I had the night before with Saveur and went with the Rueuze Gueuze brewed by reknowned Bruery from Placentia, CA. It lovingly danced the line between acidic and dry, with notes of lemon and apricots. Incredibly tasty.

I should mention as well, that near the Freakin’ Frog are two pretty fun non-beer things. First up is Alternate Reality Comics, by far one of the best comic shops I’ve been to with a great selection of indie titles. Run by a really nice guy named Ralph Mathieu, who is both incredibly knowledgeable and kind. Second is more if you’re a fan of Fallout: New Vegas. The National Atomic Testing Museum contains many amazing pieces and stands as the home to one of the most comprehensive collections of atomic history that shows that war never changes.

While I didn’t get a chance to head out there, as it was on the opposite side of the city and I had a limited amount of time, nearly every person I asked said that Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits was the place to go for my Craft Beer needs. It’s a dedicated and well stocked bottle shop with about 9 rotating taps and the option to open what bottle your purchase right there or take it home with you. A lot of the beer geeks I talked to had credited that place, open since 2004, as the place that got them in to craft beer. When I return to Vegas, it will be to check that place out for sure.

IMG_8427Now, as for Vegas Breweries, the two the struck me the most were Tenaya Creek and Joseph James. Joseph James has a Double IPA called “Hop Box” which had lovely notes of marmalade and pine, with a sweet finish, making it quite refreshing. Tenaya Creek seems to have adapted to the desert and is producing some damn fine beers that also double as much-needed heat busters. Their Hefeweizen was a bit light on the body, but did a good job of cooling me off. Plus I have to admit that the beer would be a good gateway beer to tourists of the city who may not know about craft beer. Their Calico Brown was also a good drink to match the weather, especially as there was no syrupy mouthfeel as it warmed up. Nice roasted notes with a creamy caramel taste at the back.

And that was, for the most part, my Vegas experience on my one day off. There’s still a bunch of breweries I would have liked to have checked out, (Award-winning Big Dog Brews, and Chicago Brewing Company) along with a few non-beer related things, but all in all it was pretty damn fun.

– Nuka Beer image by Italiener – 

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Vegas, Baby, Vegas: The Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Experience

 

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Well, I’m back from the desert city of Las Vegas, where I was treated by the folks at Saveur Magazine and Bellagio to come by, sample some fantastic culinary delights, and collect my award for Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Wine & Beer. I came to Vegas on the back of a trip to England, and so coming back to my own time zone on Saturday was…well, I’m still incredibly jetlagged, but not enough to give a small recap of my time with the folks at Saveur and the other fine bloggers who either won or were finalists. I have some thoughts on the actual beer scene in Las Vegas as well as some suggested places to go on and off the Strip, but I’ll be posting that separately in a couple of days for length purposes. You understand.

So Saveur.

IMG_8119It was definitely one of the more interesting and extravagant times of my life. To check in at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel & Casino, with a beautiful view of their famous fountain, and have the whole damned thing complimentary…it was something I never thought would happen to me. The days leading up to arriving in Vegas my impostor syndrome was playing up, wondering when I was going to be quietly taken aside and told that there was some kind of mixup. But it didn’t happen and when I received a delivery to my room of a bag full of wonderful delights, a bottle of Highland Park 12 year-old Scotch, Kettle Chips, Salted Caramel Chocolate, a small bottle of Zonin Prosecco Italian sparkling wine…I realized there had been no mistake and began to look on this whole thing with a bit more honour.

IMG_8152The Welcoming Reception was a tad awkward for me at first, but featured some lovely food samples based on some of the winning food blogs and good quality wines, all with the backdrop of the prestigious Bellagio Fine Art Gallery that currently has a “Painting Women” exhibition going on, primarily featuring works by female painters. As the evening was drawing to a close, I sought out some of my fellow Canadians and we all went out for pizza next door, sipping on our drinks and talking about our reactions, process during a post, and lives. It was the perfect end to the opening evening.

dimsumThe next day was more packed, with two “behind the scenes” tours, where we walked in the underground city that is the Bellagio Hotel staff area and met up with Executive Chef Patrick Lee of the Bellagio restaurant Noodles. where we sampled some quality Dim Sum under the backdrop of the gorgeous Jasmine. Then it was on to a favourite, a talk with Bellagio Master Patisserie Chef Jean Philippe, where we sampled some absolutely orgasmic chocolates, including whiskey chocolate truffles made with Highland Park.

IMG_8275We then went to the Culinary Classroom, where we sampled some Highland Park Scotch Whisky. This actually proved to be really educational for me. Sampling the 12, 15, and 18 year-old varieties side by side gave me the ability to look at the distinct flavours and notes of each and I ended up developing a new appreciation for Scotch. Afterwards we went to the Tuscany Test Kitchen where, with the help of Highland Park, Bellagio’s Chef Edmund Wong, and Le Creuset we made special cocktails and signature meatballs with a divine marinara sauce and buffalo mozzarella.

Finally in the evening we went to the lush Sensi, where we convened to be presented with our awards, an engraved Le Creuset frying pan. Also the first ever “Blog of the Year” winner was announced to the well-deserved i am a food blog. We then sat down for an exclusive peek at Sensi’s new menu prepared by Executive Chef Royden Ellamar.

IMG_8331My only criticism of the couple of days was the very notable exclusion of beer throughout these events. My blogging colleagues and I all noticed that, while fine wines, whiskies, and cocktails were consistently presented at the two main events of the Welcoming Reception and the Awards Dinner, beer just…wasn’t considered. It was disappointing to be there winning an award for writing about beer and being told that beer wasn’t on the menu. In the end I had to stand my ground a bit and ask for a beer to celebrate my award with, which to the credit of Sensi staff, they delivered (their only craft option was New Belgium Fat Tire). It was just a bit of a bummer to learn that perhaps beer still has some ways to go to be considered more than just the lower option at higher end places. But that’s a rant for another time and I’d like to note that the Fat Tire went incredibly well with the Ribeye Steak that was served with dinner. I even passed my glass around for comparison and other writers were astonished at a pairing they had not considered before. I should say that I really don’t intend on criticizing my wonderful hosts for an incredibly lovely experience, but considering what I write about I just couldn’t overlook this.

However, despite that, the entire two days was a whirlwind of new friends, dazzling conversation, and some personal feelings of validation on my part. It really was an unforgettable experience and I must thank my hosts at Saveur and Bellagio for making this Canadian feel like a star. I really appreciate it.

IMG_8350Afterwards, I ended up going on the hunt and discovered a wonderful bar on the strip called The Pub, in the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino, sporting over 130 beers on tap. Manager Lisa King set us up right with some custom flights (including their own brand), some excellent conversation, and more than enough recommendations and insight on the beer landscape in Vegas and who to talk to within it.

I made so many friends with amazing blogs, (some shout outs to Maureen Abood, Chinese Grandma, Bit By a Fox, Culinary Bro-Down, and FEAST: An Edible Roadtrip among SO many others) but I’m going to suggest following everyone in the winner page including the very talented finalists.

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And there’s my recap folks. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! As I said up there, I had some beer adventures and that’s a post on it’s own. Stay tuned in the next couple of days for that one.

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These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty – Pretzel & Beer Workshop

Ah, the Pretzel. So soft, so salty, so delicious. Aside from a cheese and cured meat platter, it’s one of my favourite companions with beer.

So it was a thrill to be invited to Kitchen Canada and attend a workshop on how to properly make an authentic, German pretzel, with suggested beer pairings by the folks at Great Lakes Brewery here in Ontario.

Said to be originally created around 610 AD by an Italian monk who used them as rewards for children who learned their prayers, the Germans, like cars, went with the original idea and perfected it. Of course though, there are many varieties of Pretzel out there from all different parts of the world.

Some fun Pretzel facts:

–      Spelled and pronounced “Brezel” in Germany.

–      Pretzels were a very common Easter gift. They would be hidden along with Eggs.

–       The famous shape of pretzels are believed by some to be the shape of hands in prayer.

–       The Pretzel was the symbol for South Germany’s Baker’s Guild. I like to imagine they were a kind of illuminati, but with more cupcakes and pretzels.

–       The “skin” of soft pretzels is made by dipping the unbaked pretzel in a solution of water and lye (yes, the stuff from Fight Club). A substitute of baking soda can be worked with as well.

–       Thanks to its heavy German population, Pennsylvania is the pretzel capital of the US. And here I was thinking the state was just the birthplace of the Crayola Crayon.

–       You can put anything on pretzels. Chocolate, cheese, chili flakes, pudding. The only limit is your imagination.

–       Famous former children’s entertainer Buggy Ding Dong likes his pretzels heavily salted.

The workshop, put on by Kitchen Canada at their lovely event space in Etobicoke, was taught by resident Bakers Marc Richter and Franz Dimplemier with Renee Navarro from Great Lakes Brewery providing beer samples. We learned about the ingredients that go in to making a pretzel dough, the importance of the lye or baking soda dip, and most importantly, how to properly roll and twist a pretzel (which the ever-patient Richter and Dimplemier retaught us several times when we attempted it). But more than that, as a group, we had fun. Figuring out the proper roll, teaching each other on how to knot the pretzels, talking about what other ingredients we wanted to stuff in to our dough for pretzel buns…these were fun things that made the workshop something worth going to. There were also a nice supply of mustards available for dipping and purchase (I may have bought a couple of bottles to add to my ever-growing mustard collection).

The beers were mostly a showcase of Great Lakes’ flagship beers (Red Leaf Smooth Red Lager, Crazy Canuck West Coast Pale Ale, and Devil’s Pale Ale), which was perfect for the crowd, many of whom had never even heard of craft beer. Like all events like that, it was fun hearing people discuss which ones were their favourite and asking questions to Renee, who was only too happy to answer. It should be said that a real crowd-pleaser were the cans of Harry Porter at the end. Although a version that includes Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans will be coming out to LCBOs next month, this version was the very tasty regular batch that I think turned a lot of people on to the idea of a dark beer beyond Guinness.

By the end of the evening I left the kitchen with two boxes of my own pretzels and stuffed pretzel buns, two bottles of mustard, and a full stomach. I have to say that it once again reminded me to go to these workshops/classes more often for myself. Although sometimes the recipe could be an easy one, the hands on experience, along with the fun social interaction with your fellow students, makes them a lot of fun to do with a friend or solo. That alone is often worth the price.

If you’re in the Toronto/Etobicoke area, The Kitchen Canada have another one of these Pretzel and beer workshops coming up in March. Apparently tickets go fast.

And because I don’t want to stop at just an event review, I’m going to include a recipe from David Ort’s Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, which I wrote about last year. No, this isn’t his fantastic no-knead pretzel recipe, but instead it is my favourite condiment to have with pretzels: mustard. IPA Mustard, in fact. It goes without saying that this can be used in things that are decidedly not-pretzel and it is strongly encouraged to mess around with the different beers and variety of mustard seed. Either way, after first reading this recipe I now keep a mason jar filled with my homemade mustard in the fridge at all times. Here it is:

IPA MUSTARD

Recommended beer:
American-style India pale ale
Boneshaker India Pale Ale, Amsterdam Brewery (Ontario)
India Pale Ale, Southern Tier Brewing (United States)

makes 1 cup (250 mL)

preparation time 10 minutes, plus at least 4 hours to soak

scant ½ cup (125 mL) mustard seeds

½ cup (125 mL) India pale ale

4 tsp (20 mL) vinegar (your own beer vinegar is best, but cider or white vinegars are fine substitutes)

1 Tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar

½ tsp (2.5 mL) kosher salt

¼ tsp (1 mL) nutmeg

1. Soak the mustard seeds in the ipa for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Reserve a quarter of the soaked mustard seeds. In a mini food processor or blender, combine the other three-quarters of the soaked mustard seeds with the vinegar, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Blend for 1 minute or until most of the seeds have lost their individual texture.

3. Fold the reserved seeds into the mustard.

4. Pack into a scrupulously clean Mason jar, seal tightly and store in the refrigerator.

The mustard is ready to use right away, but will only get better with a few days to rest, and should last for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

 

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“The Cider Geeks Are Excited” – Canadian Beer News & The Rhino’s Fall Beer & Cider Fest

Last year I went to a Winter Beer festival that I considered one of the most refreshing festivals I’ve attended. It was pretty low-key and casual, but featured an incredible selection of new and interesting beers. It was in a wonderful space as well, which allowed people to sit down or walk around talking to each other. It was relaxing, eclectic and appealed to hardcore beer geek and interested newcomer alike.

And on Sunday Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News and the folks at The Rhino Bar & Grill did it all again for Fall and decided to include a wonderful feature of Ontario ciders on top of it.

With a total of 58 beers and 11 Ontario ciders listed, this proved to be a fun event and a nice sampling of what Ontario’s alternatives are to the syrupy apple juice one usually finds in liquor stores.

The clear highlight of the day for me was the West Avenue Cider Company, run by Husband-and-wife team Chris Haworth and Amy Robson. The Cidery is only in their first year, but has been making a big splash with one-off ciders, this event in particular featuring Barrett Fuller’s Secret Bourbon-Barrel Aged Cider, with a rich bourbon aroma and lovely vanilla taste notes and the Smash Me Up Butternut Cask-Conditioned Pumpkin Cider, which tasted like a  homemade mulled cider I would expect from a beloved Somerset family member with an age-old secret recipe.

And with plans to increase their production by 300% and make ciders with more select, quality ingredients, West Avenue is a Cidery I’ll be keeping my eye on.

A tip of the hat and a rising of the glass goes to Greg Clow and The Rhino for pulling off another wonderful event that I’ll always be looking forward to.

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