My (Very Visual) Beer Tour

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Now that I am back in starving student mode I have found myself having to be a wee bit more discerning when it comes to my craft beer hobby. Gone are the days of bringing home whatever random beer catches my eye …first world problem indeed. Nonetheless like any good student I also know when to throw caution to the wind, chuck the books and spend a day going on a beerventure with a couple of enthusiastic comrades.

 

Our beer road-trip began early one Saturday morning with a stop at the recently opened Brock Street Brewing Company, located on “the most refreshing street in Canada” aka Brock Street in Whitby, Ontario. We were so keen to get things started that we actually arrived before they were legally allowed to serve alcohol so we had to be satisfied with a quick tour, some great swag and bottles to go, of course.

 

After our first stop we literally went up the street landing at 5 Paddles Brewing Company, which thankfully by this time, was both open AND able to turn on the taps. Here we were able to sample the line-up from tiny table-sized canoes whilst sitting atop old kegs converted into barstools replete with cushions up-cycled from grain bags. A really neat space inside if somewhat unassuming from the parking lot.

 

Next on the itinerary the Old Flame Brewing Company in Port Perry, Ontario. Truly a standout in terms of location, this brewery is housed in a historical local building, the former Carriage Works, and the re-purposed space makes amazing use of the architecture, which mixes old and new materials. Also, I was very impressed with the whole layout of this brewery and tasting room not to mention the fact they had Bluegrass drop-in jam happening on the Saturday we visited.

 

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie, Ontario was next up and, to be honest, this was the one that the whole trip was built around for me. I love this brewery’s quirky, fun take on craft beer not to mention their killer marketing strategy “normal is weird”. This brewery is putting a ton of beer out of a relatively small space and as such, there is not much in the way of a tasting area though staff informed me that a new (and larger) pub is opening very soon. Flying Monkeys was resplendent with swag and generous with tasters. They even offer regularly scheduled tours of the operation behind the scenes.

 

Last but not least was Barnstormer Brewing Company and Pizzeria (yay carbs to soak up the beer) also in Barrie, Ontario. A microbrewery tucked in the back of a very busy pizzeria and pub. While we did not get to tour the brewing facilities they do have tables looking into the brewery portion so you can get a sense of how the magic is made. A much smaller operation than Flying Monkeys but they are producing some interesting unfiltered craft beers.

 

Overall a very good day and as for the beer highlights? Well, I don’t like doing reviews based solely on taster flights but if I had to name a favourite stop of the day I would have to say Old Flame Brewing Company in Port Perry, Ontario for overall impressions and 5 Paddles Brewing Company for some unique craft beers though I still have a few take home bottles to sample so we’ll put a pin in it for now…


Beer by Campfire Light

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I know I have been a little off the radar as of late but I like to think I have good excuses for not getting around to writing my blog posts. It is really not for lack of ideas, I am quite adept at that part, it is just the actual sitting down at my computer and typing part that trips me up.

I blame it on the fact I have worked too many years as a Princess Leia like slave to my desk – yup, in my mind I am literally chained to my desk, which I picture as a slovenly beast from a distant galaxy and I must type up endless reports and documents for it’s amusement while I wait for someone to come rescue me or at least afford me the opportunity to strangle something and free myself.

But lets put a pin in that while I get back to the topic at hand, why does beer taste so much better around a campfire?

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Seriously, has anyone done any scientific studies on this? If not, I volunteer.

Labour Day weekend found me and a couple of friends car-camping with our trusty red plastic coolers, gas station bought bags of ice, enough firewood to keep burning man in business, and, of course, several (dozen) summer worthy beers like Muskoka Detour, Beau’s American I.P.A., Naughty Nellie, Waupoos Cider, Daura Damm (gluten free for the hubby), Smithworks Kellerbeer, a few types of Radlers all made better by the warm nights, mosquitoes, lakeside smells and smores.

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I really do not have much in the way of beer reviews to impart but I do have a few observations; summer and IPA are meant to go together like summer and baseball, everything tastes better when you are sitting in a camping chair in front of fire and wearing a glow stick, beer always has been and always will be a communal experience, and take the time to enjoy your last few sips of summer before the pumpkin beers start emerging from the patch!

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Blogging and Drinking and Drinking and Blogging

Well it has been a ridiculously long time since my last post. Always ready with a myriad of excuses on why I do not have enough hours in the day to sit down and blog (a problem exclusive to me I believe) I have decided to crack a beer and blog while I drink it …no excuses!

TGIF, and TGIF it is a warm and sunny Friday. Ottawa has taught me (beaten into me) the need to seize every sun-filled moment and wring every last minute out of it because Mother Nature will soon take back what she has brought forth. So in honour of the sunshine I am drinking, literally right now as I type or at least between typing sentences.

Always a sucker for trying an odd beer flavour and basically ambivalent about Disco, Disco Soliel India Pale Ale brewed with kumquats, was an easy choice.

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Disco Soleil, from the always fabulous Quebec Brasserie Dieu du Ciel, pours a cloudy, sediment filled, effervescent dark orange gold with airy white head. There is a big tropical fruit nose with floral hop notes as well. First few sips are full-bodied, strong with a bitterness that reminds me of citrus rind or grapefruit, and lots of hop.

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As I continue drinking this beer becomes a bit more balanced; the malt character emerges from behind the initial bitterness and the hops are more subtle. The head settles down into some nice lacing around the glass and the nose pretty much dissipates. The strength of this beer imparts a nice warming feeling.

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Final thoughts. I like this beer. To elaborate a bit, the citrus forward IPA’s are a favourite of mine given I am not the most hop happy beer geek at the pub there is something about the bold bitter fruit flavours that I really enjoy. Bolder IPA’s really seem benefit from a bigger ABV as well as some time to sit and breathe bringing the complexity of tastes to their full potential. Disco Soleil leaves me with a lingering bitter taste with just a bit of sweet toffee malt.

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I doubt this brewery could make a bad beer if they tried…


A Pint fit for a Vulcan



I am sure by now everyone has heard of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. A relatively recent Trek convert, I actually saw Mr. Nimoy speak at a convention before I had even watched the original Star Trek series. I was impressed with his humour, warmth and obvious love for his fans. Stories of his cast mates hiding his bicycle during show tapings highlighted Mr. Nimoy’s good nature, and hearing him speak fondly of his friendship with William Shatner made him seem genuine and down-to-earth (no pun intended). Seeing Mr. Nimoy’s self-deferential cameos on Futurama and The Simpsons showed he could playfully poke fun at that blurry line between the man and the character he made famous. I’ll have to admit I was becoming a Spock fan.

After I returned home I embarked, with my ever-so-nerdy hubby, on my own little “trek” to figure out just why people loved the show so much. Much to my surprise I found it campy and fun with the Spock and Kirk bromance imparting a sense of heart. So in the end I joined the legions before me who have enjoyed the final frontier. 

When me husband shared the news with me that Mr. Nimoy had died he and I both felt someone unique was gone. That evening he and I shared our own form of remembrance. The hubby put on some Leonard Nimoy vinyl and I finally got around to opening my can of Vulcan Ale so I could raise a pint to his memory.

Vulcan Ale, brewed by Harvest Moon Brewing in honour of the 2013 centennial celebration of Vulcan Alberta, is an Irish red ale that pours a nice dark reddish chestnut colour with a light cream coloured head and a slightly sweet nose. Right out of the fridge this beer is pretty good though when you have to add the caveat ‘drink cold’ it does not really bode well. Pretty standard in flavour profile, malt forward, a bit of caramel sweetness and a slight toasted character. As it warmed this one seemed a little off to me but in fairness this beer may have been lingering in my fridge a little too long. Overall it was an okay beer, not bad per se but nothing I would add to my regular rotation more of a silly one-off appealing to my inner nerd.

In the end the man was far more memorable than the Vulcan Ale raised to his memory. 

Boldly go Mr. Nimoy, you are missed…










Winter Brew Fest in Ottawa

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For some indiscernible reason people here in Ottawa actually celebrate winter with a two week long festival called Winterlude. Perhaps more believably they bookend this fete with beer festivals, which in my humble opinion is the only sensible way to “celebrate” -30 weather i.e. stay indoors and drink craft beer.

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Winter Brew Fest was held on the final weekend of the City’s Winterlude festivities at the Horticulture Centre in Landsdowne Park. Here people could step out of the cold, even straight out of their skates if they so chose, and into a heated building with a coat check for your parka and a mason jar for your beer.

The festival ran three sessions, one on Friday night. One midday Saturday and one on Saturday night. The organizers bravely kept the event going until 1am and put the coat check up a couple of flights of stairs and gave everyone glass jars for samples so fingers crossed all went well on that front.

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The Horticulture building is a large open concept room and for the brew fest it showcased twenty or so breweries in various booths as well as a food station offering up some well-paired options like poutine and fish tacos. Burlap, wood and vintage Edison light bulbs added just enough hipster touches that you new you were at a craft beer festival. This is also the first beer festival I have been to that was kid friendly, or at least babes in arms friendly, which I guess why not because who needs a drink more than new parents!

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One unique element was the self-serve beer station where you could (under close guard) pull your own sample. The far end of the room had a row of casked offerings though only two were on-deck when I arrived. Another booth offered samples where the monies raised went to a local hospital.

Twenty dollars got you entrance and tickets were sold in sheets of twenty for ten dollars and while initially I was impressed with the price point for samples I became less so when I saw the beers cost a minimum of four tickets all the way up to eight tickets. Granted math is not my first choice of beer fest topics but paying out two to four dollars for a four oz pour was a bit of a thorn in my side especially when many of the offerings were not exactly rarities.

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Putting that issue in the beer fridge, I decided to be somewhat discerning in my picks aiming to try things I knew I could not readily obtain from the local LCBO. At the same time, being new to the area, I am still pretty unfamiliar with the smaller microbreweries in and around the city so there were lots of new-to-me options. Perth Brewery, Thornbury, Nickelbrook and a wine and spirits bar ensured that my gluten adverse hubby could begrudgingly tag long (though I don’t think he was thrilled with his options).

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Three beers that stood out for me for varying reasons were Earl Grey Marmalade Saison from Dominion City, a cask version of Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (oh yes that is what I wrote) Imperial Stout from Sawdust City and Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat Ale from Beyond the Pale.

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Of these three I think the Pink Fuzz was my favourite, a refreshing palate cleanser that brought just the right amount of bitter citrus to complement the wheat characteristics of the beer. The saison with tea was interesting though I found it a bit thinner than a typical saison, like it was slightly lacking in that barnyard funk. The imperial stout was big and malty but not very liquory for a casked stout. I also felt like this stout needed more balance because the roasted malt flavour just took this stout completely over. To be fair, it is nearly impossible to judge a beer based on such a small pour so I am intrigued enough I will try to follow-up with grown-up sized pours from these breweries.

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Overall an interesting festival, very different in scale to those on the West Coast. Here you had room to move around, tables to put your beer down and a reasonable chance to sample something from each participant without needing to be carried out. Though I do wish they had a beer list, a map and tasting notes so you could make informed choices and track what you liked but then again I am no rookie at these festivals so perhaps I have become a bit too experienced …lol.

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Shhh, there is a Beer Gem in Carp

Do you know what lay behind that infamous smile of the Cheshire Cat? Well I do, he found a fantastic little spot brimming with craft beer and creative pub fare in Carp.

Oh yes, I said Carp as in Carp, Ontario. Never heard of it? Well, no surprise there as Carp is a tiny rural community west of Ottawa that boasts many unique amenities like a post office and a convenience store oh, and as I alluded to, a little grey stone church with a giant smiling cat a perch a sign indicating you have found The Cheshire Cat.

Full disclosure here, when our landlord recommended The Cheshire Cat as a ‘great little spot for beer’ my inner (and possibly outer) beer snob scoffed at the notion that out here in rural Ontario any sort of beer menu resembling greatness could be found.

Well, shut my mouth because this unassuming little church boasts a quality bottle and tap selection, accommodating servers who offer up samples to help you make up your mind, an informed bartender who can help with a pairing as well as an interesting food menu with gluten free options to keep my hubby content no less.

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I sampled the cask options on tap finally settling on a huge malt bomb from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. that paired nicely with my British style pub fare while my hubby tried out the Mongozo Pilsner with a gluten-free pot pie.

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Clearly the locals are already well aware of this hidden gem in their midst since every night on my commute home the parking lot for The Cheshire Cat is literally packed with cars spilling out to line the road in front of the pub. While my Dad was visiting for the weekend we made reservations for a Monday night just to be sure we got a table.

Despite their general busyness we never felt rushed and it did not feel crowded inside, more like a cozy living room full of good company and good beer. On the weekends you can even enjoy live music. Can you really ask for more?

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Happy New Beers!

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Happy 2015 to all you beer aficionados out there. It promises to be another great year in the ever-expanding world of craft beer, cider and spirits and I am looking forward to seeing (and tasting) things to come.

As I begin 2015 there are many beer-related happenings I anticipate such as, continuing to discover new-to-me beers and breweries in Ontario and Quebec, following along with my hubby in his quest for the best gluten-free options for a former hardcore stout lover, heading stateside to explore what the Eastern US has to offer (hello other Portland you have a lot to live up too!), blogging the highs and lows of the years beer trends (let’s get some sour beer and cider happening here), getting to know a whole new community of beer geeks in the Ottawa area and continuing to write, drink, photograph, drink and drink some amazing beer.

To kick off my New Year’s I delved into my best of box from the now very local Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. I sampled the Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter and the St. Luke’s Verse Lavender Gruit two very disparate but two very good beers from a veritable Ontario institution.

Burnt Rock is a light-bodied British style porter, think cold-coffee with just a hint of vanilla bean. The beer pours deep black brown with lots of mocha coloured head. A straight-forward porter; easy to drink at the low 5.6% ABV with no sickeningly sweet vanilla taste that some (no names) winter beers abundantly include. Thin and dry with roasted malt at the forefront giving way to subtle sweetness and a bittered finish. I liked this porter, while personally I prefer Baltic style porters, I can see why this is a fan favourite for the brewery.

St. Luke’s Verse is an entirely different animal. This beer is a Gruit, which is a herbal beer. Beau’s chose lavender giving it a challenging but ultimately pleasant flavour. Light gold in colour with airy white head a BIG floral nose and a slight effervescence. Nice served quite cold in a flute. Fairly light in body and, well, herbal tasting. That is too say there is a sweet, grassy kind of flavour. Finishes very clean. This beer really impressed me. I’ll admit at first I was skeptical about the inclusion of lavender but I am a convert.

Two more ‘best of’ beers to sample so stay tuned…

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Malt Heads and Liquid Bread

Now I know for many the changing seasons are marked by the arrival of pumpkin beer, which are now as ubiquitous as pumpkin spice lattes but for me it is not  the beer with pie spices that signals ‘winter is coming’ rather it is beer that unabashedly showcases malt front-and-centre or to put it another way liquid bread.

There are those who live for hops year-round and in the warmer months I do love me a West Coast style IPA as much as the next beer geek but once I see my first snowflake I am a full on convert to the malt head camp.

And really what’s not to like about liquid bread? It is cold and crisp outside, the sun sets before the work day ends and rises after it begins, so what if we console ourselves with a meal in glass?

My recent relocation to Ottawa aka the coldest city in Canada (well not technically but for a BC girl it pretty much feels like a truth) has only deepened my love for rich, caramel, roasty brews and as luck would have it I have recently tried a couple of great examples.

Cameron's Dopplebock

Cameron’s Oak Aged Dopplebock (Ontario) pours a deep dark brown with dense mocha coloured head that clings to the sides of your glass. The nose is sweet and oh so very malty. Not really roasted malt on the nose but caramel rich malt that reminds me of toffee. First few sips are much like the nose belies sweet at the front, bready and even a bit earthy in the middle and just a little roasted bitterness on the finish. This beer is deceptively light bodied but strong and warming at 8.6%. You really kind of ease into this beer as it improves with some warming and exposure in the glass. Overall a very impressive Dopplebock from Cameron’s.

Simple Malt Wee Heavy

Brasseurs Illimités Simple Malt Wee Heavy (Quebec) pours dark reddish brown with just a light skin of beige head. BIG sweet scotch nose that has a nice alcoholiness. First few sips are thin but rich and caramel flavoured giving way to a nice roasted grain character. As you drink this is a warming beer that really benefits from both warming up and breathing in the glass. It remains a slightly sweet beer but it does not veer into cloying. The big alcohol content kind of keeps everything in check. The finish has a slight harshness that I enjoy, makes you feel like you are having a grown-up beer. I am eager to try some more from the Simple Malt line-up after this Wee Heavy.

 


New Brew Friday Southern Tier Imperial Compass

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It is a warm and sunny September afternoon here in middle Canada. The mosquitos are mostly gone, the leaves are a myriad of beautiful colours and that makes it a perfect Friday for sipping some beers on the patio.

A recent trip to the LCBO was quite fruitful as I found not one but two Southern Tier brews nestled amongst the regular beer line-up. One was even new to me, which is the best case scenario for any true beer geek.

This new brew Friday is showcasing my find of the year, Southern Tier Imperial Compass a bottle conditioned sparkling ale brewed with rose hips and citrusy hops. As the description suggests this beer pours a bubbly deep gold with some bright white head and a big citrus hoppy nose. First few sips are sweet and hoppy with some yeast character and the slightest floral note. A big warming beer at 9% this one reminds me of a Belgian crossed with an IPA. Not too much to dislike about this beer, well balanced and easy to drink. As you continue drinking the flavours remain consistent and the head has impressive staying power. The finish leaves a nice lingering hop aftertaste.

I have yet to be disappointed by Southern Tier so no big surprise that I am a fan of this beer. If there is any critique it is some Southern Tier beers can be over the top, think Creme Brûlée, but Imperial Compass hits all the right points (bad pun Friday indeed). Have a great weekend!


Why Blog?

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There have been many changes in my life as of late. I have been dealing with the prospect of finding a new career, a recent cross-country move, not to mention my hubby’s struggle with his new diet and the general level of uneasiness that accompanies any such large changes in ones life.

During this period I have found myself less and less enthusiastic about writing my blog so when I got an email from WordPress congratulating me on three years of The Parting Glass I got to wondering just why bloggers do it.

 

Obviously when someone chooses to start a blog they do it out of passion for the topic they are writing on. It takes a level of self-confidence (or self-delusion) to just put your thoughts out there for anyone to read.

It is exciting drafting those first posts, crafting your image and receiving those first comments. As you gain followers, you strive to differentiate yourself by finding that niche you are knowledgable about and exploring with your readers.

Time passes and you push the boundaries of the familiar trying new formats, changing up post styles, adding more of yourself, intentionally raising hackles and really thinking about what you can offer your readers. The longer you blog the more comfortable it becomes but the longer you blog the more you feel a certain pressure to keep at it, to maintain the quality and quantity of your postings.

 

It is this expectation (real or imagined) that became somewhat paralyzingly for me as ‘real world’ problems made my blog seem superficial. As I sat down at my computer to write I felt a sense that there are better things I could be doing with my time. It was disconcerting to see the fun begin to fall to the wayside.

 

For some blogging is a means to an end. Some writers monetize their blogs or use their blog to grow a business or blog as self-promotion to catch the eye of someone in the industry. But for those that write simply to add your voice to the chorus why keep at it?

 

To be honest I am not sure I have a good answer to this. Maybe all blogs have an expiration date and like a great television show they need to make an exit before they jump the proverbial shark. I wrote another blog that, while I loved the topic. I somehow could not get behind it and keep it going in any sort of meaningful way. Perhaps the inability to stick it out is symptomatic of the instant culture of social media where ideas are tossed into and out of the milieu at an alarming rate.

 

The Parting Glass felt different from my other failed attempt at blogging. When it came to craft beer, I got excited about the next post, I stockpiled reviews and I sought out topics in anticipation of what I would write next. I did this because I wanted to do a better post than my last, to take a better photograph, to craft a wittier paragraph, to unearth some fact that people did not know, to find an undiscovered beer etc. There was a new romance feel about the whole endeavour that lasted longer than most crushes.

Perhaps the next phase of my blogging career will be an acceptance of allowing The Parting Glass to become more organic. It will ebb and flow as I grow and change as a person. The pace of writing can change and so can the depth of content and maybe that is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling beholden to my blog can have no benefit so I think I will just know when it feels right to get back at it. Or maybe I just need to pull my gaze away from navel and stop over-thinking the whole thing…

Did I mention I picked up a great looking beer from Southern Tier at the LCBO today?

 

*Cartoon from http://www.businessesgrow.com/2011/03/31/3-steps-to-a-breakthrough-corporate-blog


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