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And I’m Back!

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Well, that’s the manuscript for the second edition of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, done and dusted.

Between working on that for the past 5-6 months while also working on the promotion for the last book and juggling my columns and day job, and spending most of my waking hours doing some amazing things both  in the name of this book and for beer in general, this site seems to have been unintentionally put on the backburner.

So with that, I can promise you folks that in the coming weeks there will be a lot more on here. In particular, the long-planned “Book Diaries”, where I’ll be talking about some of the specific scenes in Ontario regions.

I’ll also be going back to some of the more fun posts. Because gods knows, having something of a living giving straight up concise bios and tasting notes can get a little samey. I miss the creativity found in short story reviews, label art appreciation, individual stories, and even a few conceptual pairings.

So all that to say “I’m not dead” and to stay tuned.

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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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Reading with The Wench: The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer Review

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Imagine my face when I saw, several months after I had set up this site, that there was a Beer Wench in America?

To say that Ashley Routson (aka The Beer Wench) is a social media savvy beer educator is almost a disservice. She’s one of the original beer bloggers and probably the most savvy personal brand in beer around, with over 33,000 twitter followers clocked and constantly posting on most platforms. She has contributed to the Brewer’s Association’s site CraftBeer.com, is the founder of the social media holiday #IPADay, and has been featured in DRAFT Magazine, BeerAdvocate and Time.com.

So when news spread that she was authoring a beer guide, titled “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide in Craft Beer”, the main response from those following her career with interest was “about damn time”.

One of the things I kind of like about Ashley is just how much of a polarizing effect she has on people. I’ve known very few people in the middle of the love/hate sections when it comes to her. Her article on Thrillst titled “6 DIRTY LIES MEN SPREAD ABOUT WOMEN AND BEER” brought forth a MASSIVE wave of reactions. Long, thought-out articles have been devoted to tearing apart or lifting up her opinions. Hell, there are long articles and discussions devoted to her relevance, which in turn makes her relevant. It is with all this and more in mind that, with some trepidation, I go ahead with a review of her book.

A lot of beer guides for the uninitiated (and there ARE a lot of them) tend to follow a pretty standard formula. Basics of beer (ingredients, how to brew), beer style descriptions, beer tips (how to pour, how to cellar, glassware guide, how to taste), pairing beer with food, recipes to make with beer, and sometimes beer cocktail recipes. It’s standard, and something that is found in nearly all beer guide books, but they really are the foundations to understanding things. At least to start with. What makes the books unique from one another is the way this knowledge is written. Some fantastic notable examples for me are Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune’s Naked Pint, and most recently Mirella Amato’s Beerology. Each author brings in their own unique style and experiences to their book and, to me anyways, I like having more than one guide around because I can consult the book that I feel has a particular strength in the specific subject that I’m looking up.

514347qrvyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_For me the most notable strengths in The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is clearly the food recipe and beer cocktail recipe sections. Food recipes have oftentimes been a bit of an afterthought, but Routson has used selected recipes of her own, from breweries, and from friends which look tantalizing. Notably there are recipes for tacos, cerveza carnitas, and beer mole, which suggest a bit more of an upped game from the standard recipes on offer in other guides.

Where Routson’s creativity really shines through though, is the cocktail sections. With most of the recipes formulated by herself, we see such cocktails made with bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, vodka…and all with beer as an ingredient. While cocktails personally aren’t my bag, some of these look and sound quite delicious and have me looking at my cocktail shaker with a bit of longing.

When we get more into the guts of the BEER section of this beer book, things start to feel a bit disjointed. The glass section has no pictures of the four types of  glasses it’s describing, which can be confusing to a newcomer. Additionally her beer style guide, while good for someone unfamiliar with the styles, doesn’t quite stand up well when stacked up against Mosher, Amato, and Perozzi/Beaune’s books.

In the end I think the biggest problem with this book is one of tone and pace. Routson does her damndest to use all these incredible raw facts about beer and work them in to her own unique tone, but the end result is something that ventures into way too internet-focused casual territory, seems slightly jammed in to make it fit, and is more rushed than leisurely in pace. For much of this book I think the knowledge would have clicked with me more if Routson and I were in a bar together and she was talking about this stuff in person, but that voice being separated from it’s source and into a book makes it somewhat jarring. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hardships of writing a book of this type. Making it all fit, working it out in a way that makes it easy to read and understand, while also setting itself apart as an individual among many books touching on the same topic. While there are several moments in this book where Routson succeeds admirably in this, there are other points where those challenges become more evident.

One of the things I admire about Routson is her ability to put herself out there, and say to hell with the haters (they are just gonna hate, after all). The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is very much an extension of her being and so intrinsically HER that you almost have to respect it for unapologetically being there.

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Dark Lord Day, Big Freedia, and Giving the Finger to LGBT Discrimination

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As many readers who have been following this site for a while have known, LGBT representation in the craft beer world is something that is on my mind quite a bit. I adore the conversation that is currently happening surrounding women in the craft beer scene, but one of the least talked about topics has been making the sign welcoming LGBT folks a bit bigger. A select few people who read last year’s post (mainly, surprise surprise, straight white dudes) not only saw no issue with how things currently were, they didn’t seem to get that when talking about an interest group, there’s still social obstacles to get through (So the argument of “it’s just beer” is invalid. I’m not talking about the beer, I’m talking about the group of people that drink and enjoy it). An example I gave on what would be great to see more of are the amazing gestures of inclusivity by breweries that not only show acceptance, but also support for LGBT folks. Two examples that sprung to mind in the post were Sam Adams backing out of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade after the parade announced the exclusion of LGBT marchers, and BrewDog creating a special beer to protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.

Well, I’m happy to find that I can now put Munster, Indiana brewery 3 Floyds on that list of breweries who are Doing It Right.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dark Lord Day, it is arguably one of the biggest brewery events in the U.S. An entire festival, with music, beer, and fantastic food that is the only day you can acquire 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Tickets sell out almost instantly and for weeks until the event they are regarded by some as a kind of currency. Despite how good the beer is, it’s safe to say Dark Lord Day is a pretty big deal. Additionally, if you follow the news, you’ll know that 3 Floyds’ home state of Indiana is currently under some controversy with the recently put in Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act which, among many things, will allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT folks on the grounds that it would be against their faith (I know, I know).

So with that in mind, 3 Floyds, who adore the many wonderful people in their home state and hate seeing what is essentially a bullshit law tarnish the state in the eyes of the world, decided to give the finger to Indiana politics in the only way that made sense to them.

They called up the infamous and openly gay New Orleans “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia to be a special musical guest for Dark Lord Day.

When news of the Fuse television star’s performance being part of Dark Lord Day’s protest against Indiana’s discrimination laws got out, the response from the beer community was overwhelmingly positive. “It’s been awesome!” Big Freedia says to me in a phone interview. Lots of energy, lots of love, and lots of supporters.” Not surprising, as the idea of the event becoming a sort of protest came about through 3 Floyds’ many fans, who wanted the brewery to make a stand.

Along with the performance at tomorrow’s event (accompanied by Freedia’s Divas), the folks at 3 Floyds worked to craft Big Freedia Ale, a Pink Daiquiri Belgian Ale. “They called me and wanted to know a few things like what flavour I wanted, and I think I picked Strawberry.” Freedia said. “Its just exciting to be on the beer and have something named after you. I’m excited to try it!”

This kind of gesture on 3 Floyds’ part is pretty amazing. In the small picture, it will show the many visitors that come by for Dark Lord Day that not all of Indiana’s fine citizens are for Gov. Mike Pence bringing in this “religious freedom” law. In the bigger picture, the publicity and overwhelmingly overt public advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community may inspire other breweries (and companies) to lift up their welcome sign a bit higher as well.

“Everything has a reason and a purpose.” Big Freedia says. “And I think that it definitely will help open some doors in different ways. I definitely think good will come out of it all.

Big Freedia’s show “Queen of Bounce” can be seen on the Fuse channel Wednesdays at 11/10 Central. Her memoirs, titled “God Save the Queen Diva” will hit shelves on July 15th and is available for pre-order. While a new album is slated for release in the Fall, Big Freedia has recently collaborated with LA-based Lazerdisk on a remix of “‘Ol Lady”.

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The Blood of Cthulhu – A Lovecraftian Beer Review

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So before I go in to it here, I should offer some explanation. I was offered to sample a beer for consideration of a review and, based on the name and label design, I immediately said yes. The beer is called The Blood of Cthulhu. It’s put out by Sawdust City Brewing Co. from Gravenhurst, Ontario and is in collaboration with Bar Hop from right here in Toronto. It’s a 9.5% ABV Imperial Stout with raspberries, cranberries, and tart cherries. It will officially be launching at Sawdust City’s brewery location (with limited availability in bottles) and at Bar Hop’s annual Black & Orange Halloween celebration on October 31st at 5pm. Should be said too that Bar Hop’s Black & Orange will have a series of multiple collaborations with other breweries and it’ll be a hellishly good time.

IMG_0456So as for this beer specifically…you know, when I approach this time of year I find I start reading a good bit of horror fiction. Of course one can’t really go in to that genre without catching references to the famous H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos among other incredible stories that leave the imagination reeling. Upon hearing of this beer, I thought it would be a fitting tribute (not to mention fun as hell) to write a review in the style of a short H.P. Lovecraft story. I should note as well that while much of this story is original, I did in some cases directly pull from Lovecraft’s famous story The Call of Cthulhu.

Here it is.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I have just been notified by Samuel Corbeil, noted brewer of Sawdust City Brewing Company and former Professor of Brewmaster and Brewery Relations at the Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology in Niagara, Ontario that there is a certain item he wishes me to appraise. A dark liquid of strange and dark origins encased in a receptacle with sharp engravings that surpasses the knowledge of noted historians and archeologists of his acquaintance. Normally in cases with such profound mystery as this, Prof. Corbeil would not hesitate to defer to his associate, head brewer and creative liaison Aaron Spinney whose experiences in his search for the more esoteric pleasures of the world have, despite his reputation in polite society, required him to associate with the strange and arcane. However, recent events have found Mr. Spinney to be missing without a trace, the last Corbeil seeing him being before he departed on an expedition to the South Pacific some six months ago. There was, however, a recent correspondence in the form of a telegram, which was delivered to Corbeil in September. It has been speculated that this strange item may have been indeed sent by Mr. Spinney, though Prof. Corbeil is unsure of how it came to be in his study or who in fact delivered it.

On seeing my old friend nearing the end of his wits, I have agreed to appraise the item and have arranged for it to be sent to me at my home address. Included with it will be Mr. Spinney’s final communication and notes that precluded his mysterious disappearance, which I hope will provide some insight in to the location of his whereabouts.

I look forward to discovering what secrets this strange item may hold and will, of course, be writing my findings with the intent to publish.

October 29, 2014
After a rather tiring day of running errands throughout the city, I arrived at home to find the parcel from Prof. Corbeil along with the accompanying notes of the missing Aaron Spinney as well as his letters of correspondence. The item which has been the source of mystery for my colleagues is a strange, dark, receptacle. While obviously a bottle of dark glass, the etchings all around it seem to be that of a language with the cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writings. Equally curious is a figure in the glass that can only be described as a monster or symbol only a diseased fancy could conceive. At a cursory glance, this appears to be a container for a divine drink used for particular rituals. But as for what god this is in reference to, I can not even speculate at this moment.

The accompanying notes included comments on secret societies and hidden cults, accounts of queer dreams, and cuttings alluding to outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 2013. They also tell the tale of a Mr. Robert Pingitore, A man of known genius but great eccentricity and the owner of the now-famous Bar Hop on King Street West. He arrived at the office of Mr. Spinney one night troubled and requesting insight from his trusted friend. Mr. Spinney’s response was curt, as he was deep in to his research on a current project. Pingitore’s rejoinder, though, impressed him enough to record their fantastical conversation. It transpired that the night before there had been a slight earth tremor and Pingitore’s imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with ooze as red as cranberries and sinister with latent horror under a sky that was as black as the darkest of chocolates. Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

Photo 2014-10-29, 6 12 10 PMIt is in this moment that I pause to note the striking coincidence in the jumble of letters that Mr. Pingitore dreamed of that Mr. Spinney recalls in his last telegram. It reads: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. These words only appear one other time throughout his notes, alongside an image not unlike the bizarre creature etched in the mysterious bottle. Underneath this crude sketch are what I can only conclude is the translation of the words. “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”.

With this new information, I turned once more to the mysterious bottle, now seeming to be the center of this particular chain of events. I decided to take a chance by opening the bottle so that I may study its contents.

what poured out was a liquid as dark and black as obsidian. Despite the dark colour leading to the expectancy of a rather potent, syrupy smell, all that is on the aroma of the liquid is rather light, with hints of raspberries and an ever slight presence of chocolate. What possessed me, I know not, but I took a sip of this libation and found that the expectations that the aroma presented me with were not only met, but exceeded upon. My senses came alive with the swirling chaos of flavours. The prominent essence of raspberry, followed by the mild bitterness of cranberries, and the subtle note of tart cherries, all bound together by the warm, calming notes of high quality cocoa and the overall texture of rich cream.

As I snapped out of this transcendental state of flavour and pleasure, I noticed that I had lost several hours and that the contents of the bottle were diminished to mere drops. With a light head and the memories of the pleasant gratification of the senses, I will retire to my chambers for the night.

October 30, 2014
Whether it was a result of my imagination being affected by my findings the day before or some other cause, upon retiring last night I was constantly in a state of unrest due to the most bizarre dreams that haunt me still in my waking hours.

I was aboard the Intrepid, the ship that Mr. Spinney and his expedition sailed on with intentions of heading towards the South Pacific. The sky was a deep blood red and the wind harsh. As I looked around, the ship appeared to be in a state of long abandon, with mould, barnacles, and rust prominently covering the area. What can be described as a rushing sound came from beyond the hull and I made my way towards the area to investigate the cause of such a noise. I found that something was arising from the depths of the ocean and there was very little water separating it from the world above. What rose were structures of weed and ooze-covered Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror. The construct that Spinney’s scripture alluded to in his notes and what I now know to be the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

And through the depths of that poison city it arose. The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. Once again the stars were right and the dreaded high priest, the monstrous creature governed by laws that are not of this earth and whose description defies sanity, Cthulhu, was on the loose once more!

I awoke screaming, and it took a not insignificant amount of time to console myself that what I saw was the result of an overactive imagination and not a vision of the horrors to come brought on by the divine elixir, what I now refer to as the Blood of Cthulhu, which was used in practices relating to this horrific being. I must confess though, a hesitancy to accept this comforting thought.

I have been left shaken and, satisfied that I have solved some portion of the mystery of the object that has confounded Prof. Corbeil, return the items he provided me with. With them shall go this record of mine – this test of my own sanity, wherein is pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.

I must conclude that it was a harsh storm that overtook The Intrepid and with it Mr. Spinney, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. But who knows the end? Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise again.

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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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Ü Two Should Meet – Chocolate & Beer Pairings

It was my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary recently. As a celebration, a family friend sent over a box of chocolates that were, to put it mildly, a decadent experience that transported us all to Cloud 9. Rich, smooth, creamy, and bursting with flavour, we vowed never to get celebration chocolates from the grocery store again. The chocolates were made by Ü Chocolate for the World a local business run by Mother & Son team Lydia and Andy Yue. Lydia, a longtime veteran chocolate maker, originally rose to confectionary stardom with her business Chocolateur, which had two storefronts in London, Ontario’s Masonville Place and Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Now, after an absence of more than twenty years, Lydia has returned and making confectionaries with high quality ingredients and incredibly rich and creamy swiss chocolate.

If you’re in Toronto, Ü Chocolate for the World has a temporary storefront at Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street West) for the 13th and 14th only. If you miss those dates or live elsewhere in North America, you’re in luck! They’re primarily an online shop, and can provide boxes of their wonderful truffles, chocolate coated fruits, and custom gift novelties.

So anyways…after being sent to heaven with these chocolates, I thought that it was about time I did a post on chocolate and beer pairing. And what better way to level the quality playing field than by pairing excellent beers with excellent chocolates? After all, a bar of generic, waxy, milk chocolate bought in a grocery store is going to provide a different experience than a well-crafted chocolate made with quality ingredients. It pays to have good quality on both sides of the pairing to get the best overall experience.

So chocolate primarily seems to go well with the darker beers such as stouts, porters and brown ales, with the occasional nod going to Barley Wines or a nice Pilsner. But like all pairings, it all depends on your personal preference to taste as well as the quality of what you’re pairing.

Now, for the selection of some of these, I went with what seemed to me like a fairly logical pairing based on what I knew about the beers. Sometimes they worked out, sometimes they didn’t and I had to figure out something else. As a result, I not only went with a dark and milk chocolate truffle pairing, but also went for two of the flavoured ones as well (I mean hey, you get a box of chocolates and it’s not just straight up milk and dark, right?). I have to say in, ahem, researching for this post, I was quite surprised by the tastes that went with the beers selected.

So here we go.

Dark Chocolate – Mort Subite Kriek Sour Cherry Lambic

Mort Subite Kriek is usually a beer I break out when I learn that a person doesn’t drink beer because of the bitter taste. It’s a good introduction to the versatility of beer and is a lovely occasional treat to pick up at the LCBO. While this particular one, brewed in Belgium’s Brouwerij Mort Subite, is made with cherries, the brewery does have a Raspberry variation as well. I find that one a bit too sweet though, and appreciate the wonderful sour cherries used in the Kriek.

I always love matching rich, bitter, dark chocolate with the taste of cherries and the choice of pairing the dark chocolate truffle with the cherry lambic was a wise one. The tartness was brought out more with the chocolate and provided a breif, wonderful explosion of cherry and cocoa, almost as if I was eating a cherry flavoured truffle. As the flavours died down, the sour notes of the lambic continued to swirl around my tongue while the chocolate provided and nice, creamy finish.

Mango – Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue Cap) Dark Belgian Ale

Admittedly this one threw me for a bit of a loop. The Mango certainley wasn’t my first choice for the pairing, but as an experiment I decided to try it out and…well, it worked. Marvelously in fact. Definitely helps that the chocolate was of extremely high quality, with the Mango flavours less overt and medicinal and more natural and subtle. The dried fruit and malty notes of the Chimay blended nicely with the subtle Mango note at the back. The alcohol burn I normally find in this Dark Belgian ale was all but diminished, making for a creamy, slightly dessert-like experience.

Milk Chocolate – Black Oak Nut Brown Ale

Again, I had a bit of a trial and error with this one. Unfortunately, dark chocolates paired with this beer just didn’t do either of them justice. But there was the Milk Chocolate truffle and I thought “Why not? Two longtime, solid favourites coming together. Let’s see how it goes.” and sure enough, it went well. The sweet creaminess of the milk chocolate matched the dark, slightly bitter malty notes and distinctive hop characteristics perfectly.

Irish Cream – Wellington Russian Imperial Stout

You can’t go wrong with Irish Cream Coffee, and the Wellington Russian Imperial Stout, with it’s strong cocoa and coffee flavours, was the perfect pairing for the milk chocolate Irish Cream chocolate and made for a wonderful final pairing on par with a nice cup of coffee with dessert.

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