Thursday, September 19, 2013

Beautiful Burlington VT

The end of August held two big milestones for me: my thirtieth birthday and my first trip to the U.S. of A for a craft beer run.

It was decided that we should take a road trip for some great craft beer in celebration of my latest milestone. Initially we decided that Dogfish Head would be the place to go, but we didn't realize that brewery tours fill up a couple of months in advance. So, with Dogfish Head out (for now), we decided that the next best spot would be Burlington, Vermont. Vermont is a nice, short drive, and after checking out the Vermont Brewers' Association, I saw that there were four breweries in the area. So, we packed up the car and headed south (and east)!

First of all, the drive is beautiful. We drove through Quebec near Montreal, and there was a pretty short lineup to get over the border. From there, we had only an hour and a half to drive until we hit the beautiful town of Burlington. Right on the shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a small town rich in military history and craft breweries.

We started out at a small spot called The Scuffers for breakfast. It was not quite 11:00am, so I wasn’t sure if they would be serving beer yet. I asked our server (named Steven, very helpful dude) when they start serving and was pleasantly shocked to learn that they serve beer from 6:00am until 2:00am! What a great concept! I started out with a Switchback Ale, by Switchback Brewing Co., while my travel partner had a Mountain Ale by The Shed Brewery. Breakfast was OK, but not great. The beer, however, was. Switchback Ale was a decent brew, a pretty straight-forward malty beer. It was a good breakfast beer, for sure. I love - and may be in love with – The Shed’s Mountain Ale, though. It is a beautiful dark ale, with great malt and dried stone fruit flavours. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the brewery, but there is always next time!

After breakfast, we just bummed around the town for a bit while waiting for check-in time at our hotel. There are a lot of cool little shops and kiosks in the Church Street Marketplace; a small area of the town reminiscent of Sparks Street in Ottawa.

At lunch time we hit up the Farmhouse Tap & Grill for some beer and cheese. I would be overjoyed if I could tell you that I was able to get a taste of of The Alchemist's Heady Topper, but it's not going to happen. That brew is released on Thursdays, and is generally gone before Saturday is over. Unfortunately, we got to Burlington August 25, which is a Sunday. I ended up having a Hill Farmstead Edward Pale Ale. It was amazing. Super floral on the nose with pine and citrus flavour. We also tried some delicious Vermont cow and goat cheese. The Farmhouse Taproom wasn't open, so I didn't get into much beer tasting.

Hi-Hat Clutch: Great Bottle
Opener in a Fix!

After check-in, we took a bit of rest and decided to head out and find a Co-Op that our friend Steven had told us about at breakfast. Apparently there is a great beer selection at said Co-Op. Located at the intersection of Bank and South Winooski, this Co-Op had a pretty cool natural food selection, and buried deep in the centre, there was a glorious beer and wine section. The wine section was actually significantly bigger than the beer section, but that's okay. I picked up a few good brews. Sierra Nevada's Tumbler Autumn Ale, Dogfish Head Brewing Midas Touch, The Shed Mountain Ale, Stone Brewing Ruination, and a Northshire Brewery Chocolate Stout were what I brought home. I haven't tried them all yet, but I know that the first three listed are delicious. I sampled the Dogfish, Sierra Nevada and Shed beers whilst watching Bad Ink, and had a nap. Driving is a tiresome job. As a sidenote, I left my keys in the car, with my bottle opener. Being lazy, I searched through my bag for a potential opener. It turns out that the clutch from a hi-hat, if adjusted properly, is a great bottle opener. You're welcome.

We got up and at 'em around 6:30, just in time for dinner. We went to the Vermont Pub & Brewery for dinner, where we had an assortment of spud skins and calamari to start, and I had a delicious pulled pork pie as a main. We grabbed a flight of beers to sample, and the Burly Irish Ale was my favourite, and Beetlejuice was a delicious wheat ale. From there I had a pint of cask Burly ale, and then a Dogbite bitter, their ESB. We spent most of the night drinking at the Vermont Pub & Brewery, were lucky enough to witness a young-love domestic dispute, and then went back to our room to continue the Bad Ink marathon.

I woke up the next morning as a fresh young 30 year-old, and we had breakfast at an amazing little spot called The Skinny Pancake. I had a Noah's Ark special, which consists of two eggs, two slices of bacon, and two crepes (get it? Two of everything, like Noah's Ark!). I also added two sausage into the mix. It was a very tasty breakfast.

After getting fueled up, we decided to check out a few more of the shops at the Church Street Market. We walked around for a half-hour or so, and decided we were thirsty again. This time, we headed to Zero Gravity Brewing, where we sat at the bar and sampled some of their wares. They brew a delicious black IPA, and a stout (which I had on tap and cask), among plenty of other beers. I took a picture of their tap list, but that was the only picture that didn't turn out. Fail. When they get their new site up, or I get back to sample more of their beer, I will ensure that I record the tap names!

Another stop we made was to Guild Fine Meats on St. Paul Street. We picked up a couple of local ciders, and a Sour Stout by The Bruery named Tart of Darkness. I haven't tried it yet, but I am very excited for it!
Well, it was almost time to go home, and we had one last stop to make: Magic Hat Brewery. I have to say, the experience wasn't fantastic. I'm not sure if it was just a Monday and people were feeling grumpy, or if they just didn't want to talk about their beers. The samples were poured without a word, nobody asked if we liked the beer or not, and the bartenders seemed impatient if we took a moment to decide what we wanted to drink. The beer itself is good, and I picked up a couple of bottles and a fridge magnet for good measure. I just wish that the people had lived up to the atmosphere. Inside the main entrance, I was reminded of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Byward Market (Ottawa), but without the super energetic vibe.

We did a walkthrough on our own, as there were no brewery tours for a couple of hours. The brewery is pretty cool, from the rusty old lookout tower at the front to the displays throughout the walkthrough. Would I go back again? Yes. I think that now that I know the brewery tour hours, I would go when there is a scheduled tour and see if the people are different. Everybody gets one.

Overall, I think that Burlington is a beautiful place. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a beautiful getaway spot that is super close to home. I look forward to returning for a longer stay, so that I might be able to spend more time in the pubs and tap houses in the area. I would also be pretty stoked to go out on the lake for a quick cruise to see if I could see Champ!

Until next time...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Beer Glassware Part 2: Serving Up Big Beer

Good evening,

It’s snowing, damp, and kind of cold outside. In other words, it’s a beautiful night for a big beer!

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that a big beer is another term for a strong beer. I don’t mean a “big name” beer from one of the big industrial breweries. Now that that's covered...

My treat for the night is a Nostradamus Belgian Extra-Strong Brown Ale by Brasserie Caracole in Belgium. The vessel from which I will be enjoying this beer is a stemmed tulip glass. When drinking a big Belgian beer, a stemmed tulip is most appropriate for several reasons:

Nostradamus Belgian Strong Brown Ale,
Pictured here served in a stemmed tulip glass.
1. Having a stem on your glass not only helps you keep a better grip on the glass, it prevents heat transfer from your hand to your beer. In the case of strong beers, you generally drink them a bit warmer (10-13°C). If you have a semi-warm beer and add some good old-fashioned hand heat, you end up with overly warm beer, which is no treat.

2. Having a glass that tapers in on the way up helps keep the aroma concentrated, so I get all of the biscuity, spicy, chocolatey, boozy, beautiful aromas right smack dab in the nose. Were I to stick my nose in a chilled shaker pint glass, I would maybe get the most predominant aromas in a toned-down form, but for the most part they would dissipate and mix in with all of the other aromas in the room.

3. The outward lip at the very top of the glass helps with foam retention, while the inward taper helps concentrate the foam.

So you see, by using this glass with a Belgian strong ale - which contains a lot of aroma, flavour and head - I get the maximum sensory output from my 330mL bottle. Fantastic!

There are several other strong beers that have recommended glassware. Imperial Stout is well represented in a snifter glass, as it does not present a lot of foam, so no lip is required to hold it in. The slight inward taper (as mentioned above) helps to concentrate aromas such as dark chocolate, tobacco and molasses. Trappist Ales (not all Trappist Ales are Belgian, so I do not group them in with Belgian strong ales) have their chalice, which generally has a longer stem and shallower bowl than a snifter, but still provides access to the alluring spices that exist on the nose. For beer that is generally served colder (in Canada, anyway), such as a double IPA or a Bock, I like the biconical pint glass, as my generally warm hands help enhance the flavour and aroma. If I am lucky enough to get my hands on a Weizenbock, I stick to the Weissbierglas I mentioned in my first post on beer glassware.

Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate
Cranberry Stout served in a snifter. Delicious.
(Enjoyed at Sir John A. in Ottawa)
Now that you have an idea of what type of glassware to use for your big beers, we should cover another aspect of serving beer: how to pour a beer into your fancy new glassware.

Have you ever finished drinking a freshly poured beer, only to start feeling a bit bloated and gassy? Did you assume that this was just part of drinking a carbonated beverage? That’s what I used to think, until I read Randy Mosher’s book “Tasting Beer”. This handy little tome has taught me quite a bit about the proper enjoyment of beer, as well as how to properly serve the nectar of the gods.

Pouring a beer down the side of a tilted glass helps keep the foam down on a beer, this is true. But what else does it do? It helps keep the beer super carbonated, which is not such a good thing. Mr. Mosher tells us that we should keep our beer glass upright, and just pour the beer right down the middle. The supposed drawback of this method is that it takes longer to pour the beer. Once you have poured a few beers using this technique and reaped the benefits (the ability to drink multiple beers without feeling ultra-full and gross, maintaining the head and with it the aroma of the beer), you will learn to be patient with your beer and wait a couple minutes if need be.
Biconical Pint Glass

I hope that the second installment of my beer glassware education series was helpful, and I’m hoping you tune in next time for brewery specific glassware, where I’ll be covering the Samuel Adams custom Boston Lager glass, and the Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada/Spiegelau collaborative creation made to enhance the flavour and aroma of IPAs. I’ll also go over a weird Belgian glassware custom, among other topics.



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's In A Glass? How Glassware Can Affect Your Beer Experience

Good Evening,

A grand Idea!
I’ve been out to a few pubs lately, and I’ve noticed that sometimes a fantastic brew is served in a less-than-perfect glass. Some people may think I’m crazy if my beer tastes better or worse based on the vessel in which it is served. Others will think I’m a beer-snob, and yet more will not care. Hopefully some will agree that glassware affects beer experience. I’m going to dedicate my next three posts to glassware, so let me state my case, and decide for yourself whether or not the glass makes the beer!

Case 1: Weizenbierglas (Wheat Beer Glass)
Have you ever been to a pub that serves Erdinger Weissbrau? If not, you should give it a try. It’s delicious, and it is a prime example of mission-critical glassware. Generally Erdinger is served in a tall, slender glass with a bulbous head. This is called a “Weizenbierglas” or, when translated from German to English, a wheat beer glass. It’s made for wheat beers. Obviously, you can pour any kind of beer you’d like into this glass, but for best results, use a wheat beer. Weissbier (which means white beer, the Bavarian term for wheat beers, or Weizenbier outside of Bavaria) is very foamy, due to Weissbier yeast strains and proteins from the wheat itself. When you pour a Weissbier properly, you will get a fairly high collar of foam. The Weizenbierglas’s narrow waist helps concentrate the foam, and the large flare at the top cradles the foam, permitting a substantial “peak” of foam to rest above the rim of the glass. Doesn't that sound great?

Case 2: Shaker Tumbler Glasses
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the “shaker” pint glass. It is best used for serving Cesars. Pouring a beer into a shaker is a near-crime. If you have ever had a very aromatic beer (let’s say a Belgian Dubbel) served to you in a shaker, you probably think that the glass is not hindering the beer’s aromas. Well, there is no tapering, so the aroma doesn’t really stick with the beer as much. This is just a wide open glass that is great for cocktails, but lends nothing to a beer drinking experience. If you were to pour the same beer into a stemmed tulip glass, you would notice a huge difference. There is an inward taper to hold in the aroma, and the flare at the top helps the glass fit the mouth well and also supports the beer’s head. A great example of great glassware would be Ottawa’s own Big Rig, and their Old Man Winter seasonal brew. This ale was a Belgian-style Strong Ale (sometimes known as a Quadruppel), and it was served in a stemmed tulip glass. The aromas presented by this glass were fantastic. The trick was to warm the glass in your hand before drinking it, which brings me to my next point.
The Shaker:
Great for Cocktails...

Case 3: Temperature
Drinking a commercial lager out of a frosted beer glass may be all well and good, but when you are drinking a craft brew, it mutes the aroma and flavor of the beer. For example, I went to a pub in Niagara Falls that had some pretty nice craft brew, and it was served in appropriate glassware. The problem was that the glass was so cold that the beer actually slushed up. I had a porter and a wheat beer that night, and the aromas were nearly nil on both pints until I was half-finished. The pint I had at Big Rig wasn’t so extremely cold. I could just hold the glass in my hand for a minute or so and the aromas were unleashed. And man, that beer was good.

Aroma comes from all of the good stuff in the beer, so it stands to reason that if the beer is too cold, none of it can evaporate and create wonderful aromas for beer enthusiasts to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, if the beer is too warm… well, we all know how warm beer tastes. Serving temperature for beer should be roughly 3º to 13º Celsius (38º to 55º Farenheit). Darker beer or stronger beer should be served warmer, while lighter and weaker (let’s say “less strong”) beer should be served at colder temperatures. Rules to live by.

I hope that my first entry about beer glassware was educational and entertaining. Stay tuned for my next two posts about glassware, where I will go over some glasses best fitted to strong beer, and we'll also take a look at the Samuel Adams Boston Lager glass. That’s right, Boston Brewery’s Jim Koch has actually created a glass for his flagship lager. Not that it's new or anything, but it is pretty awesome!

Until next time…


Monday, January 7, 2013

Niagara Falls and The Art of Cheese Making

Well, this is my first post of 2013, and here's the kicker: It's not really about beer!

If there's one thing I love to eat while imbibing the nectar of the gods, it's cheese. There are so many different cheeses out there that pairing cheese with beer is rarely boring (and sometimes catastrophic!)  I have spent countless hours pairing different cheeses with beer or wine at home, so I thought I would take my interest one step further and learn how to make some of my own cheese to pair with my favourite brews.

Doreen and Peter Sullivan: Owners of Making Cheese At Home,
Artisan Cheese Makers Extraordinaire
On June 2, 2012, I visited the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario and met up with a couple who has taken their love for artisan cheese making to another level. Introducing Peter and Doreen Sullivan.

Peter and Doreen run artisan cheese making workshops through their company: Making Cheese At Home. For just over 12 years Peter and Doreen have been making cheese in their kitchen, and doing a mighty fine job of it! Their knowledge of and love for cheese making is second to none. It was this dynamic duo that lured us six hours away from home to Niagara Falls to learn to make Camembert- and Roquefort-style cheese on the fifth of January, 2013.

Upon arriving I was invited to sit while everybody showed up. Coffee, tea, water, and juice were provided to all guests, and there was a significant library of cheese-related books for our browsing pleasure.
This workshop was very informal, taking place around Doreen and Peter's kitchen table. It seemed more like a gathering of friends than an instructional session, which was great. I really enjoyed the camaraderie that was brought forth by the setup. The Sullivans both have teaching backgrounds, so their presentation and teaching skills are very well honed, which just makes them that much more effective at their craft.

Doreen and Peter taught cheese making from A-to-Z: everything from sanitation (very important! Much like brewing beer - think of cheese bacteria cultures as brewer's yeast: You definitely do not want any sort of contamination!) to how to correctly package our finished product. We went through an inventory of tools that are required to make cheese at home, and Peter, the resourceful fellow that he is, showcased a few of the tools that he made or modified on his own. We learned that rennet is light-sensitive, so it is generally sold in a brown bottle (sound familiar?) We learned about different molds (and moulds) and their uses. We also learned some of the history of the cheese that we made, and we were provided with precise instructions on how to care for our cheese once we get it home.

Many workshops explain the "how" in each of the tasks that you perform, but very few provide a "why" behind your actions. This workshop did not fall into that list. We learned how to perform each of the steps through practical use, but we were also given the reasoning for each step. When I make our next batch of Roquefort, I will know exactly why I'm stirring our curd for 15 minutes, instead of just arbitrarily sloshing the ingredients around, grumbling all the while.

As an added bonus, an information package was provided to each participant of the workshop. The package is comprised of the Workshop Agenda, the lunch menu (more on that later!), recipes for several different types of cheese, sanitation instructions, a list of suppliers, a cheese diversity information sheet, several cheese making journals, information pamphlets, and a custom-made cheese poking needle for making blue cheeses. It was really quite impressive.

Lunch at the workshop: Be jealous.
About half-way through our day we had lunch. Boy, did we have lunch. Chicken breast stuffed with roasted red peppers, cheese and pesto, marinated shrimp kabobs with mozzarella cheese and a grape tomato, two types of salmon, home made sauces galore (lemon and garlic mayonnaise, kalamata olive tapenade, wasabi guacamole, just to name a few), and a wonderful salad topped with dressing made by Peter himself. This was a serious feast. After lunch we had a dessert consisting of roughly 10 cheeses and some fresh grapes. Doreen's triple cream cheese is the best I have ever tasted. They had two variations on the original as well: one wheel was rolled in herbes de provence, and the other was rolled in a spice mixture containing ground green pepper corns and paprika. Doreen's triple cream cheese recipe was included in the information package, so I'm really looking forward to making some of that in the near future!

The price of this workshop is only $150, and to get a full starter kit to bring to life any of the cheese recipes in the information package is only $143 for the required equipment and ingredients.  Check out for details. I picked up the full package, and I am really looking forward to putting it to good use! As for the drive... I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Overall, January 5, 2013 was an amazing day. I learned something new, I met 7 amazing people, we feasted on some seriously delicious food, and I have started a tasty new hobby that I can actually pull off in our apartment (the "tasty" part is pending for 5-8 weeks, when our first cheese is ready)! Many thanks go out to Peter and Doreen Sullivan at Making Cheese At Home for providing us with such a great experience. Hopefully I'll be seeing you in the summer, I'll bring the beer.

Until next time...

Mikkeller Bar San Francisco: A Mecca of Sorts

I am writing to you from 36,000 feet in the air, on the long road home from San Francisco to Ottawa, with a brief layover in Toronto. Dur...