Category Archives: Site Business

At Year’s End: So Long, 2015

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I’m up at the family cottage for the holidays. Currently I’m sipping on some decent coffee, have Big Trouble in Little China playing in the background, and looking through my notes from the book reflecting on the past year.

And what a freakin’ year it’s been. One that truly has underlined the blessing and curse of the saying “may you live in interesting times”.

Professionally, this was probably one of the best years for The Thirsty Wench and me as a beer writer. Some notable highlights included finally getting my own column in Torontoist. The punny Inherent Weisse has been chugging along every two weeks and it’s…actually been pretty nice. For the first time in a good long while I’ve been forced to look at my local beer scene and it’s been an interesting and often frustrating dance making my focus go smaller.

And oh yeah, the book haha.

IMG_20151210_113643Since the announcement of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Jordan St. John and I have sampled beers from all of the province’s breweries (with a cutoff of two weeks before the manuscript was due) and we’ve learned a few things from it. Firstly, despite how it may sound, drinking every beer in the province is not fun. Mainly because you’re not drinking for pleasure, you’re drinking for work, and have to maintain a strong focus and sharp senses from your first few beer samples all the way to your 50th. Because of this, you really start to develop a deep appreciation for small samples. That said, the both of us found a LOT of surprises in the unlikeliest of breweries and found that a lot of much-hyped breweries were, surprise surprise, not as great as many would believe.

Secondly, it was great to see the changing landscape of beer in Ontario. I’ve been happy to see that “simple done well” has been on the rise in terms of beers, with some wonderfully complex and understated offerings. Additionally, I’m really fond of how breweries, mostly outside of the cities, have really gone out of their way to be active members of their local communities and it turns out that said communities have always wanted a good quality local beer available to them and that the fierce loyalty to Molson or Coors is a bit more bullshit than I would have originally thought.

And finally, I learned about the whole book writing process, which was a tough and stress-filled lesson. For this edition I found myself awake at 3am, knocking back energy drinks like they were water, writing frantically, and listening to Death in Vegas. So basically it was like I was in college again and at my ancient age of 31, that wore me the hell out. By the time we submitted the manuscript I was practically feral, with plates, glasses, and cans scattered around my desk like monuments, and a foul smell that comes from forgetting to abide by the basic rules of personal hygiene. Ah, the glamour of writing!

Anyways, the year is over now. Well, almost.

Because I write about beer, I often get asked on what to drink for New Year’s, but I often disappoint when I answer because they’re really asking what to drink at a New Year’s party and hahahaha I don’t party. Most times I either go to a Buddhist temple to reflect on the lessons of the year or I spend it quietly with my family doing very much the same. All I can really say is…drink whatever makes you happy and make sure you’re where you want to be. It could be out with friends or alone at home. As long as you’re comfortable, that’s all the matters.

Me, I’m going to probably open up a bottle of Rochefort 8 from my cellar. Originally brewed in 1955 as a beer specially for New Year’s Eve before becoming year-round in 1960 and containing beautiful notes of caramel and dried fruit, I’m looking forward to cracking it open. After that…we’ll see where it goes.

2016 is going to be fun. Have some travel planned, the book will be launching, and I’m planning some really interesting posts for the site. Way more than there was in 2015 for sure! So stay tuned.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2016 bring joy and wonder to you and yours.

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International Women’s Day

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So today is International Women’s Day. Although it’s something we should be doing all year-round anyways, this day in particular allows us to look at and honour all of the females that are extremely important to us and have been, in their own amazing ways, making a hell of a dent in things.

For the beer world…there’s still some work to do. But we know that. We’re getting better. We’re getting so significantly, amazingly better, but we still have some work to do. And not just on women. People of colour, LGBT folk…quite a lot of groups that are feeling pretty marginalized. These are all pretty damn key demographics. I recognize that there’s no outright way to advertise to each of these groups without coming off as a MASSIVE generalizing asshat, but in the meantime little things, sponsoring marches, pouring beer at events held by a female game developer groups (tip of the hat to Liberty Village Brewing Company, who I just discovered is doing this​), and just being there with the welcome sign and refusing to support the people on the wrong side of history…these seemingly small differences matter.

For women in beer, I feel that we seem to pull out the usual historical facts. Beer brewing was women’s work. It was primarily a woman’s job (part of cooking). The Sumerians worshipped a GODDESS of beer, Ninkasi, with which a prayer to her is the first recorded recipe in human civilization. This history is amazing to note. It’s a wonderful look back on how much of a dent women made in the world’s existence.

But just like any other industry or interest group, we don’t need to justify our love of something, or our very presence, with historical tidbits. Never did. We love it, and that’s that. A woman wanting to get involved in anything she loves should be celebrated as someone following their dreams and making it work, not be made big news with headlines of confusion because only men love this thing. The latter is absolute nonsense and the sooner we’re away from that line of thinking the better.

So I for one am going to raise a glass to all of the important women in my life. All the brewers, reps, writers, game devs, game players, comic creators, office workers, chefs, racers, fighters…all of you, who are perfectly comfortable with standing up and saying “I don’t care what you think, I like it”.

Cheers.

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Beer Nog, Holiday Message, and Good Tidings

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Well, it’s that time of year again, where a bearded fat man, in celebration of Jesus, breaks in to your house in the middle of the night, eats your food, and leaves a few things before moving on to the next house. For others who don’t recognize this bizarre annual disturbance, it is also the holidays and a good bit of time off work.

There are many ways (and reasons) to enjoy beer over the holidays and the variety is, as it has always been, limitless (though in the cold winter months I’ve noticed many folks tend to go with the dark and/or boozy beers like Imperial Stouts, Belgian Tripels, or Dark IPAs). While of course nothing quite beats enjoying them in a glass on their own to either wrap up a day of gift wrapping or in an attempt to shut out the family arguments, there is a way to combine your beer with the OTHER favourite drink of the holidays. I refer, of course, to the ‘Nog.

Yep, you can indeed mix eggnog with your beer, though picking the right beer isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can’t be too bitter or too dry, so something creamy and a touch on the sweet side would do marvelously. Beers I would suggest to use are Mill Street‘s Vanilla Porter, New Holland Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout, or North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Though thinking on it, a nice coffee stout might also go pretty wonderfully. If any of you folks have other suggestions, please please PLEASE put them in the comments.

Now that a beer is picked you have two ways of going about it. You can either do a mix with store bought eggnog or you can make your own. If you’re going with the first method, I’d suggest 3 parts of nog to about 2 parts of beer. Possibly throw in a bit of milk and nutmeg/cinnamon.

For the make-it-your-own method, the author of The Craft of Stone Brewing Co. and The Sriracha Cookbook Randy Clemens made a damned good recipe way back in 2009. Here it is…

Beer Nog Recipe

6 eggs*, separated
1/2 c sugar, plus 2 Tbsp
2 1/2 c whole milk
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 fl oz of beer (Clemens suggests Port Brewing Old Viscosity or other dark, strong ale)
2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Whisk 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer for several minutes, until the yolks lighten in color and double in volume. Lower speed of mixer and add milk, cream, vanilla, beer, and nutmeg, stirring until combined. Reserve yolk mixture. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment thoroughly (any traces of dairy or egg yolk left on equipment will keep the egg whites from whipping properly).

Whisk 6 egg whites in cleaned stand mixer on high. Gradually add in remaining 2 Tbsp sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into yolk mixture. Chill and serve, topping each glass with additional grated nutmeg if desired. Serves 8.

And with that, I just wanted to say Happy Holidays from me and mine to you and yours. I’ll go in to a bit more detail on my new year’s post, but 2014 was a hell of a year for this little site and its humble but pretty tall author and none of it would have happened without viewers like you. Thanks for reading, thanks for talking, and I hope your holidays, however you spend them, are as relaxing as they can be.

 

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The Beer Experience Toronto Beer Week Giveaway Extravaganza!

 

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Hey you!

Yeah, you!

Do you like beer? Do you like beer events? Do you like said beer events taking place in churches built in 1871 that have been renovated in to a rather spacious, lovely event space? Do you like all of that to take place in Toronto before everything gets underway with a more-than-week-long local beer event?

Well, apart from that being a very specific set of criteria for your enjoyment, you’re in luck! As part of the kick-off to Toronto Beer WeekThe Beer Experience will be once again setting up shop at Berkley Church and Field House on September 11, 2014 from 6-11pm.

17 breweries confirmed! Beers that were either made specifically for this event or are unavailable on shelves! Tasty treats! CAN YOU EVEN HANDLE THIS EXCITEMENT? Seriously, can you? I mean, I’d like you to, but if you’re unable I understand.

Tickets will run you about $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Beer sample vouchers are $1 each.

But you know, paying for tickets to events are for chumps. As luck would have it, I have two (count ’em TWO) tickets to give away to one (un, 1, uno) lucky person. You want ’em? Well here’s what you have to do.

Leave a comment on this post telling me what person throughout history you’d like to have a beer with and why.

Don’t forget to include your e-mail address in the comment. You have until…oh….let’s say September 5th to leave a comment. I’ll pick the winner and will get in touch with them.

 

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Beer Blogging, Being a Woman In Beer, & Having Fun: What I Should Have Said At Queens of Craft

 

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A couple of weeks ago I was at a round table discussion in Guelph put on by Wellington Brewery called Queens of Craft, with proceeds of the event going to Women in Crisis Guelph. Basically it was a lot of Ontario’s most respected women in the beer industry and me talking about a subject of our choosing to an audience of women. It was a thrill to even be asked to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, I think I blew it a bit. At the last minute we were told that the 20 minutes we were each getting to talk would be cut down to 10, with a bell hitting the eight minute mark indicating that we better start wrapping up and talk about a beer we had selected for a tasting. I had things I wanted to talk about, but the cut time, the bell, my jet lag from a recent trip to England, and my inexperience with public speaking left me a bit of a rambling, nervous mess. I’m pretty sure I came off as a looney.

I was disappointed, because I had some things I wanted to say, but time constraints and social anxiety ruined it. So after sitting on it for a bit due to preparation of travel and the travel, here is what I wanted to say.

I started this site as a way to chronicle my own discoveries about beer in a way that my close friends could read up on if they wanted. I’m still a bit perplexed on how it got as far as it has and a bit weirded out by the whole Saveur Award thing. When I started I didn’t know what I was doing, my palate was not even close to what it is now, and I was regurgitating information that, I thought, was pretty common knowledge. But I was learning new things, chronicling my educational journey, and having fun, which I think are the best reasons ever to start a blog.

I’m reluctant to give advice on how to run a beer blog (or any blog, really) to a semi or even fully successful level. Despite what marketing books and other bloggers tell you, there is no One Right Way to run a blog. It’s a natural progression that involves getting comfortable with the medium and cultivating the voice you’re going to use for it. I will say though, that unlike published writers, you have the incredibly unique gift of being your own editor, with no restraints of word count or tone. Use that gift to weave fantastic tales, get lost in a tangent, or just explain something. You don’t HAVE to be any voice that you aren’t comfortable with doing. I’m best comfortable using a tone that’s both informative and entertaining. Like I’m saying it in a pub over my second beer, for instance. Look in earlier posts and you’ll see that I’ve come a long way in figuring that tone out.

Only other pieces of advice I can offer in terms of starting out are to learn to use twitter as a great method of networking, go out to events frequently so you can put a face to the twitter handles, learn to take pictures to go with your words, and do not be afraid to go against the popular opinions of the community. If you don’t like something that others like, no one is at fault and anyone who tells you otherwise is a jackass.

Ah. And the final piece of advice I could probably give is to remember that beer is only HALF the fun of it. It’s what surrounds the beer, the people, the history, the lore, the places, the events, the moments…that make it so amazing. If you remember that you’ll save yourself some premature burnout later and it will keep you going in times when you begin to question the point of continuing. Beer is fun, and should remain so.

Now, on being a woman.

Every female in the beer industry gets asked the same question to a nauseating degree on what it’s like being a woman working in beer and why we’re in it and I’m always left bewildered because the tone suggests a kind of “What are you even DOING here?” element that I find offensive. As if it’s so outlandish that women are individuals with their own minds and interests that should take them anywhere they damn well please, including something that’s apparently regarded as a boy’s club despite there being no sign on the door that says any such thing.

brewstersPlus, history is filled with women in beer. Before men took the reigns of beer through Industrialization, we had commercial female brewers (named Brewsters) in the middle ages, and brewing was primarily women’s work, being part of kitchen duties. Hell, the oldest recipe in the world is a Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian GODDESS of Beer. While I feel that beer is something enjoyed by both sexes and I hate having to list the historical tidbits of women in beer as if to provide some sort of proof that women belong there (argh), I do like keeping this history in mind when certain people criticize women for enjoying or being a part of beer. Of course we do.

Modern day, I’m going to freely admit that there are problems, but it’s not as prevalent as one might think. There are offensive jokes, jerks who say jerkish things, and an outsider media that needs to run a “WOAH! WOMEN ENJOYING SOMETHING!” article every six months or so, but there are also engaging conversations, nerding out over a drink with complete strangers who end up becoming friends, and being part of a community that loves to educate and share its passion, which transcends genders and is the reason why I love the community so much.

Beer is a beautiful thing. As I said in an interview once, Beer has been the beverage of choice for royalty, slaves, peasants, gods, hard workers, executives, low class, middle class, upper class, and many other groups I can’t think of right now. It has helped end disputes (as well as cause some), has been a peace offering, and a way to break the ice to start lasting friendships. To me beer is a common factor for us all, a drink that humanity can sit down together and laugh over. To top all that off, despite all the years it’s been around, we’re still finding ways to make it differently.

Beer, one of the many testaments to the human race’s ingenuity, makes me want to raise a glass, view the beautiful colour of my beer, smile, and say “look at you”.

And that’s what I wanted to say.

8b19903u

 

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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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So I’m a SAVEUR Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Winner

 

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Well. Uh. Wow.

So as you recall, I recently got nominated for the Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Beer & Wine. I was up against some very talented writers and was…

Ah the hell with this, I WON! I won. Reader’s Choice. I feel weird saying it. I’m still in a bit of shock. My phone has been having a stroke with the flood of texts, e-mails, and notifications of people suddenly following this little site.

SAVEUR is flying me in to Vegas and putting me up at the Bellagio. I’ll be there for two days sampling some of the finest foods and will be presented with a customized award. I’m going to try and make it in to a few choice craft beer bars while I’m there as well. Anyone who has any suggestions, please put them in the comments. Freakin’ Frog is the only one I know.

So wow. I’ll have more to say on this later, but as it stands I’m still expecting this to be a part of a really crappy episode of the Twilight Zone.

To Longtime Readers: You did this. Thank you all so much for reading. Like I said in my birthday post, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have stopped this long ago.

For New Readers: Hi there. My name is Robin LeBlanc. I live in Toronto and write about beer. Here are a few posts that give a good feel for who I am and how I write:

 

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