Top 10 items to check out at Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival Edmonton

- October 24th, 2014

We’re mere hours away from the Edmonton edition of the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival, the two day extravaganza that features not just wine and food, but also the best in beer, whisky and spirits from around the world.

As Liz Horner, senior event co-ordinator, tells me, the sampling smorgasbord is really “a great place to try before you buy.”

“We have 187 booths, 152 wineries from 15 countries, 48 breweries and 28 different restaurants and food vendors,” she said.

Not to mention bourbon, vodka, liquers, scotch, and even moonshine.

New for this year, Horner says, is the “Great Big Taste Awards,” which is tied into the festival App.

“Anyone can take part by downloading the app and starring the products as they sample them,” she said.

At the end of the festival, the ratings will be tallied.

This is arguably the biggest event of its kind in Edmonton, and tickets are still available for all three sessions — Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. Tickets get you in the door, while sample tokens — which run 50 cents apiece — will get you food and beverage samples.

But with so much on offer, there’s no way you can sample everything.

My two pieces of advice would be to narrow your focus to one thing, red wine or craft beer for example, or just pledge to try only things you’ve never had before.

Or, you could run down and find my 10 picks for the festival:

1. Field Stone Fruit Wines: This Alberta-based fruit winery has been making delicious wines out of saskatoons, strawberries, cherries and more for years, and doing it really well.

2. Fallentimber Meadery: Another Alberta outfit, this was one of the first in the province to jump on this medieval favourite, and they’re making both dry and sweet offerings.

3. Stone Brewing Co.: This Southern California favourite was just released in Alberta and B.C. to much fanfare in the craft beer scene. Come check out what all the buzz is about.

4. Glenfarclas whisky: There are many great scotch whiskies on offer this year — including Balvenie, Macallan and Springbank to name a few — but Glenfarclas has a delicious, distinctive range of whiskies that are all worth trying.

5. Stoneleigh Vineyards: A great New Zealand winery. If they have any of the Latitudes line on offer, I’d recommend the Pinot Noir.

6. Craft Beer Market: You can’t drink all night without food, right? Craft is known for it’s tasty menu as well as its extensive beer selection.

7. Ribstone Creek Brewery: In addition to the Ribstone Lager, this rural Alberta craft beer maker will be pouring a pair of tasty offerings: The Lone Bison IPA and the Old Man Winter Porter. All three are worth a taste.

8. Woodford Reserve Bourbon: Great in a Manhattan, but equally delicious on its own, this is premium small batch Kentucky Bourbon.

9. Sortilege: According to its website, Sortilege is a blend of Canadian whisky and maple syrup. Need I say more?

10. Mission Hill Family Estates: Yes, they’re one of the biggest names out of the Okanagan, and for good reason. If you haven’t tried what Mission Hill is making in a while, take the opportunity while you can.

Happy sampling!

Glenmorangie Companta is friendship in a bottle

- October 24th, 2014
Companta

The Glenmorangie Companta, the fifth bottling in the Private Edition, is available in Alberta stores now.

While it may not be the healthiest thing to befriend your whisky, you’d be hard-pressed to find better companionship in a bottle than the latest Private Edition from Glenmorangie: Companta.

The fifth release in the Private Edition range, Glenmorangie Companta is now available in Alberta, and is destined to sell quickly, both due to its price point and overall quality.

The press materials for the Companta play up that the name means “friendship” in Gaelic. And, as far as beverages go, it has the feeling of a good friendship. It’s a pairing of whisky matured in two types of French wine casks: Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart and Rasteau fortified wine casks from the Rhone Valley.

“As a true wine aficionado, some of my most memorable visits have been to the vineyards of Burgundy, where the dedication and attention to detail that goes into their craft never ceases to amaze me,” Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling for Glenmorangie, says.

Glenmorangie has done good work in crafting a line of whiskies that includes several expressions finished in different wine casks: Quinta Ruban, in ruby port pipes; Nectar D’Or, in Sauternes casks; the 25 Years Old, which is matured in a range of casks, including French Burgundy. Previous Private Edition Artein was finished in ‘Super Tuscan’ wine barrels.

Also, two of the options in the Cask Masters process were Burgundy and Bordeaux.

This track record of using wine barrels to much success in maturing or finishing their whiskies should be an indication of Lumsden’s ability to use the characteristics of the barrels to produce a quality scotch. And, to be honest, I was kind of disappointed the Burgundy cask didn’t make it to market after the Cask Masters competition, so I’m pleased to see this expression.

Colour: Deep bronze, with a red tinge to it.

Nose: The tasting notes for Companta talks about ‘red berries and damp forest floors’, as well as woodsmoke and oak. I picked up on the berries and the wood, but not as much of the smoke. I also noticed a deep orange aroma.

Palate: The orange on the nose carried over to the palate. There’s blood orange and chocolate and brown sugar. It’s a lot of sweetness, but there’s a balancing svaoury qualities, including peppery spice, saltiness and oak. It is really complex, and with a few drops of water it brings out the orange, and some vanilla.

Finish: It has a lingering finish that coats your mouth with hints of cherries. Almost a jammy quality.

The verdict: All told, I think this is an amazingly complex whisky that verges on the sweet side without going overboard. It’s especially well-priced for the quality, retailing at about $120 a bottle. But if you’re looking for a place to try a wee dram before you head to the liquor store, The Bothy Wine & Whisky Bar in Edmonton has it on their menu.

In Googling the word companta, I found another apt definition for the word ‘companta’

It also means sociable.

Which is fitting, because this is the kind of whisky you want to share with your best mates.

Even if you want to keep all of its deliciousness to yourself.

New entry into Alberta beer market is set in Stone

- October 15th, 2014

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Despite the long-held misconception by many people more accustomed to Budweiser being representative of American beer, the craft beer scene south of the border is really far ahead of what’s going on in Canada.

We’re catching up, but there is lots to be envious about.

In a lot of ways, though, we don’t know what we’re missing, because there is so much that isn’t available here.

Case in point is San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. This award-winning brewery, the largest craft operation in southern California, is just now being released in Alberta and B.C.

Wholesaler Horizon Beers, which recently brought Colorado-brewed New Belgium beers to Alberta, has partnered with Stone Brewing to bring six year-round brews, plus seasonal releases to stores, bars and restaurants starting Monday, Oct, 20.

“It’s awesome to be able to bring Stone beer to many of our long-awaiting Canadian fans,” said Stone Vice President of Sales Todd Karnig.

“We chose Horizon Beers because they believe in providing craft beer fans with quality beers at the peak of freshness—something that is extremely important to Stone.

“Canadians are ready for Stone, and we feel privileged to contribute to the country’s prospering craft beer scene.”

In honour of the occasion, Stone, Horizon and Craft Beer Market in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver have teamed up for special launch parties next week, featuring up to 15 Stone beers on tap. They have been giving away tickets through their Twitter pages. Keep checking for your chance to win.

In addition, there will be events at other top beer spots in all three cities, including National in Calgary, MKT in Edmonton and Biercraft Bistro in Vancouver, plus several others.

For a full listing of events surrounding the Stone launch in Alberta and B.C., check the Stone Brewing Co. website.

Big Rock hopes your next party is a Barn Burner

- October 15th, 2014
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The Steel Cut Oatmeal Raisin Stout and the Thresher Wheat Lager are featured in Big Rock’s Barn Burner 12-pack.

Two things I like about Big Rock Beer doing a fall mix pack:

1. They include Scottish Heavy.

2. They do a fall mix pack.

Big Rock has many a good beer in their lineup, but, admittedly, I’m biased in favour of their darker offerings. As refreshing as Grasshopper can be, I’ll take Trad or McNally’s Extra any day.

Last fall, they unveiled an Oktoberfest Marzen and a Royal IPA in their fall pack.

This year, they take the party to the farm with the Barn Burner, which makes a nice alternative to all the pumpkin offerings you may see on the shelves.

It offers up Trad and Scottish Heavy (a favourite of mine, if you’re just joining the blog), plus new offerings Steel Cut Oatmeal Raisin Stout and Thresher Wheat Lager.

Both offer up a taste of the prairie harvest as we nestle in for a cold winter ahead.

The Thresher Wheat Lager reminded me of my first attempt at home brewing using a Brooklyn Brew Shop kit. The colour of the Thresher, as with my Brooklyn Summer Wheat Ale, is a nice copper colour, in this case from the caramelized wheat malt.

This delicately hopped lager has a nice malty flavour, with enough of a balance from the hops.

For added oomph, the Steel Cut Oatmeal Raisin Stout takes Brewmaster Paul Gautreau’s favourite cookie and turns it into a nicely drinkable stout. it has all the characteristics you’d expect, with roasted malt flavours and chocolate notes, but with a hint of the added raisin and other dark fruits.

The Barn Burner 12-pack is available in stores now.

Mill St. gets hip with 100th Meridian

- October 15th, 2014
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The latest release is the golden yellow 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager.

I am a fan of amber lagers.

I like them a lot better than lighter lagers, with their rich biscuity flavour and crisp hop finish.

Sam Adams Boston Lager, Creemore Springs and Barking Squirrel are a few I quite like, but I’m always interested in trying new ones.

So I was quite excited when I heard Mill St. Brewery was releasing its 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager in Alberta.

I’m a fan of a lot of what Mill St. has to offer, especially their Vanilla Porter and Stock Ale, as well as some of their seasonals.

The 100th Meridian (which, if you’re a fan of the Tragically Hip, you’ll know is where the Great Plain begins) is billed as an organic amber lager, made with ingredients from the heart of the country’s breadbasket.

While I don’t think it can be classified as a disappointment, it did fall a little short of expectations.

That’s not to say it’s a bad beer, mind you. It’s a nice, easy sipping lager that’s a good fit for a warm autumn evening, how ever many of those we still have left.

It falls somewhere between light yellow lager and a deeper copper tone that you may expect with your standard amber.

Staring into the glass after pouring it, it looks almost like amber in the literal sense, as in fossilized tree resin. It’s a golden yellow, deeper than your typical lager, with a nice white head.

Flavour-wise it tastes like a cross between a pale lager and a darker amber. It has light breadiness, but a lot of fruit and grass notes, with a crisp enough hop finish.

Does it fail for not being and amber I know and love? You could make the argument. But I think judging it on its appearance and taste, it is still a good Mill Street product.