Archive for May, 2012

CHARCUT and Mission Hill: A match made in foodie heaven

- May 31st, 2012

MissionHill
(Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is bringing its executive chef, and high-end vino to Calgary, but could they also bring the view and the weather? CANADA NEWSWIRE PHOTO/Mission Hill Family Estate)

Mission Hill Family Estate is among the finest Western Canada wineries. CHARCUT Roast House is at the forefront of Calgary’s dining scene.

Seems a pretty natural pairing for an evening of fine wine and fine dining.

The popular eatery, located in Calgary’s Hotel Le Germain at Centre St. and 9 Ave. S., is bringing Mission Hill’s executive chef Matt Batey to join CHARCUT’s John Jackson and Connie DeSousa in the kitchen for a collaborative five-course dinner June 6.

“CHARCUT and Mission Hill Family Estate share a love for big ideas and for gently tinkering with simple ingredients to bring out our professional best in the kitchen and the inherent best in flavourful food,” Jackson said in a release.

“Welcoming Matt to our kitchen — especially after he recently hosted us in his — presents an honour for us and our guests. Not only is he a talented chef, he has a team of incredible wine professionals at his back keen to showcase their best. We look forward to co-hosting a perfectly paired meal to remember for our guests.”

Jackson and DeSousa spent time at the winery last month collaborating with Batey, and the pair have worked with other elite chefs in their kitchen and those of others.

I had the pleasure of attending the Visa Infinite dinner at CHARCUT featuring Rouge’s Paul Rogalski and Montreal chef and TV host Chuck Hughes for a multicourse dinner that ranks as one of the best meals I’ve had.

I imagine the Mission Hill collab will please as well, with a menu that features items such as Rabbit Porchetta with Summer Truffle Sausage and Confit of Duckling cannelloni, paired with Mission Hill Select Lot Collection Syrah and Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir, respectively.

The full menu can be viewed here, but just be warned. It will leave you hungry.

Tickets are still available for the event, and they’ll run you $195. But for five courses prepared by three great chefs, plus six tantalizing wines, it’s a pretty good buy.

Full details available at CHARCUT’s website.

That’s Mister Beer, to you, pal

- May 30th, 2012

A while back, I tried my hand at a pretty simple home brew kit, Mister Beer Bottle Brew.

Toss a yeast pill in a bottle of fresh beer mix and in a couple of weeks, you have yourself some delicious suds.

Except, it didn’t go as well as hoped. Kind of flat; not very flavourful.

But after some backlash from fans of the product and some positive PR from the company president, I gave Mister Beer another try.

The results? Mixed, but much better.

Mister Beer sent a selection of all of their beers, Red, Blonde, Cerveza, Pilsner, and Brown. Fellow Scoundrel Shawn Logan gave the Brown Ale a try, while honorary Scoundrel and Beer lover Dave Naylor, a fan of red and copper beers, was giving the Red Lager a try.

I took home the Blonde, the Cerveza and the Pilsner. And I liked them in that order as well.

Knowing that 14 days in my cooler-temperature townhouse wasn’t enough, I let all of them sit four full weeks fermenting. It may have been overkill, but I didn’t want results similar to my previous attempt.

In addition to the yeast pill, the Pilsner came with a “hop flavouring” capsule. Thinking “I love hoppy beer,” I opted to give it a try.

When it was finished, the beer had a clean, crisp taste, and a decent bitter note on the finish, but left almost a metallic aftertaste that, after sampling the other two varieties, I can only assume is from the hop pill. Were I to buy this one again, I would opt against the additive if I tried it again.

The Cerveza was serviceable, a decent drinking beer, with a frothy head, light amber in colour and a crisp finish. Not my favourite of the bunch, but it was OK.

The Blonde, meanwhile, was the standout. More flavourful than I expected for such a light-coloured beer, with lemon notes, even a little apple, the right amount of sweetness and a crisp finish. I’m glad I opted against the lime flavouring pill that came with this one too, given how the hop pill turned out for me. Even if it didn’t detract from how the Blonde presented itself, I don’t think this one needs any help. This would be my recommendation, and one I’d buy in the future.

But I still think the directions could be a little more clear, to indicate, that if you want your beer done in the two weeks, it needs to be kept at 25-28C and if you keep your house at 18-20C, as do a lot of people, it could take upwards of four weeks.

Summer sippin’ (UPDATED)

- May 30th, 2012

pineapple ginger margarita
The delicious Pineapple Ginger Margarita. Photo courtesy Earls

Now that we’re finally approaching summer (and here’s hoping Calgary avoids the usual June monsoon), we can start thinking patio.

I know for many of you, patio means pitchers of beer. But a man cannot live on beer alone.

As I learned in my youth, spending many a hot afternoon on the rooftop patio at Edmonton’s Black Dog Freehouse sipping Bombay gin and tonic, there’s nothing more refreshing than fine spirits and crisp flavours, over ice.

I know a good cocktail can be a pain. Getting quality ingredients, and preparing them in the proper fashion is work. Muddling, mixing, sugaring, stirring, shaking. It’s a chore. But there is quite the art to making a great mojito or margarita from scratch, and it’s way better than the lime-ish slush you get at a lot of restaurants.

But that fresh, from-scratch approach is cropping up on patios this summer.

Cameron Bogue, beverage director for Earl’s Restaurants, told me he wanted to bring a “simple and fresh” approach to the company’s cocktail program.

“The prime reason for me to work for Earl’s was a fresh-made drinks program,” he said.

The company already promotes the same philosophy in their kitchens, so he “knew he’d be able to execute and in-house bar program as well.”

While the bartenders may not have enjoyed the new workload, with syrups made in-house and lemons and limes juiced daily, Bogue said they were on board with his philosophy of what makes a great cocktail: “good base spirit, something sweet, something sour and something unique.”

And it’s hard to argue when you taste what’s on offer, like the pineapple and ginger margarita. It’s a combination you wouldn’t expect, El Jimador tequila, lime, ginger simple syrup and muddled fresh pineapple, and it comes with a kick in the form of a sugar/salt/cayenne-rimmed glass. I had a chance to make a home version of the drink, pictured above, and while it was more work than I’d like to take on regularly, I’d happily order it while enjoying a sun-baked Calgary afternoon. It is all the things Bogue wants in a good cocktail. And it tastes great.

Bogue said he’s pleased with the creative concoctions, including the Honey Badger, the Earls take on a whiskey sour made with Jack Daniels, house made honey syrup, apple juice and fresh squeezed lemon juice; and the Plan B, a gin-based cocktail based on an entry in a chain-wide staff contest, which features Bombay Sapphire gin, blueberry puree, fresh basil, house made simple syrup and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

A full list of delicious bevvies can be found on Earls’ website, or at a location near you.

Meanwhile, over at Cactus Club Cafe, they launched their 98 Days of Summer with a trio of seasonal specialty drinks. From May 27 to Sept. 3, the chain is running a list of 17 different weekly drink specials, but it’s the trio of summer-only libations that catches the attention.

There’s the Watermelon Margarita, made with Cuervo Gold tequila, fresh squeezed watermelon juice and lemon. The Sunset Soda, a vodka and soda topped with a splash of peach bellini. But tops on my “want to try” list is their spin on a Gin N’ Juice (for all you Snoop Dogg fans out there) — a gin and tonic with a splash of grapefruit juice.

If that doesn’t whet your whistle, I’m not sure what would.

Cheers, and try not to get a sunburn.

Alberta Beer Week

- May 6th, 2012

For those of you out there who didn’t get your fill at BeerFest over the weekend, and I’m sure there are a few of you out there, fear not.

You can ease yourselves back into the swing of things in Alberta Beer Week.

BeerFest has partnered with Yelp Calgary and a handful of local pubs to present the best of Alberta beer, through Yelp’s Passport to: Alberta Beer.

Things kicked off Sunday, but there’s plenty of time, but there’s still time for a sudsy journey through Alberta’s finest.

Until May 13, seven Calgary bars are offering a selection of Alberta beer for just $5 between 4-8 p.m.

Participating bars and beers include:
Pig & Duke — Village Blacksmith India Black Ale

Below Deck — Big Rock Grasshopper, Traditional

CRAFT Beer Market — Big Rock Grasshopper, IPA, Traditional, Scottish Heavy, Dunkleweizen; Wild Rose Velvet Fog, IPA, Alberta Crude Oatmeal Stout, Wraspberry; Village Blonde, Blacksmith India Black Ale; Alley Kat Full Moon Pale Ale, Charlie Flint’s Organic Lager, Aprikat; Amber’s Zombie Apocalypse, Sap Vampire Maple Lager, Chocolate Stout; Grizzly Paw Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat, Rutting Elk Red, Big Head Nut Brown Ale; Brew Brothers Black Pilsner

Jack Astor’s — Big Rock Traditional, Grasshopper, Honey Brown

Bottlescrew Bill’s — Big Rock Grasshopper, Traditional; Wild Rose Velvet Fog, Buzzard Breath Ale (House beer); Alley Kat Apricot Ale, Full Moon Pale Ale, Seasonal; Amber’s Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Lager, Sap Vampire Maple Lager

Rhino Smokehouse — Big Rock Traditional, Grasshopper; all Brew Brothers beer

Voodoo Lounge — Big Rock Grasshopper

Any program that promotes local beer is all right in my books. After all, if we’re not drinking it, they won’t be making it. And they’re making some good stuff.

More info on the program and the pubs can be found at the link above, or, for your convenience, right here.

BeerFest 2012

- May 5th, 2012

If I had one bad thing to say about BeerFest is that there’s more than one person can handle, unless he wants to be carted out in a wheelbarrow. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Even avoiding beers I’d tried before, save for the delicious Blacksmith IBA from Village Brewery, because it’s so good, I feel I barely made a dent.

Which is the same with any of these shows, I guess. Though this is the first one where I WANTED to try them all. When I go to a wine show, the whites and sparkling wines are usually a second choice for me, but there’s not really a type of beer I don’t want a taste of.

The people who put on events like BeerFest, Winefest or the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival generally know how to put a really good show. A variety of products, a variety of food and not too crowded, at least until the end of the evening, when people start showing up pre-bar.

The crowd is definitely a mix of people who are out to explore beer and people out to get loaded. Which is fine, I suppose, considering no one seemed unruly, nor did police/security on- hand seem to have to deal with anyone out of hand.

Highlights
Okanagan Spring Summer Weizen: peach is unmistakable on this unfiltered wheat offering out of Vernon that I wrote about in my recent post about spring releases.

Village Brewery Witbier: This new release from the makers of the above-mentioned Blacksmith tastes as if its from a neighbouring orchard as the Okanagan Spring. Not as fruit-forward as the Weizen, more like slight hints of apricot, which I imagine would be beneficial if you were eyeing enjoying multiple beer on a hot day, or pouring a whole growler to yourself.

Scuttlebutt Hefeweizen, brewed for Hudson’s Tap House by Big Rock: This was one of two hefeweizens I tried, the other being the Granville Island Robston St. Both were very good, but I’m giving the edge to the version on tap at Hudson’s, for being a little less sweet, with enough spice notes to balance out the banana. Yes, banana.

Big Rock Rye & Ginger Ale: It was nice to get reacquainted with this Big Rock offering, after trying it 6 months ago at the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival. I’m torn on whether this makes a great patio beer, but the hint of ginger in the rye-based ale is really tasty, and would go well with Asian-inspired barbecue items.

Pleasant surprises
Ribstone Creek: This is Alberta’s newest brewery, based way out in Edgerton, near the Saskatchewan border. Right now they’re just producing a lager, which isn’t yet available in cans, just kegs. But it is a decent entry to the market, and anytime Albertans want to enter the beer industry, it benefits everyone. Hopefully we’ll have more on them in this space soon.

Sea Cider Rumrunner: Yes, it’s not all beer at BeerFest, and this cider was a nice palate cleanser from all the suds. Fermented with Champagne yeast and aged in rum barrels made this dark and sweet, but not cloying.

Coors Light Iced T: While I stand by what I wrote when Molson-Coors announced this flavoured light beer – that I was curious to try it – I really wanted to dislike it. I do like flavoured beer, but previous light offerings didn’t really grab me. And I don’t tend to drink light beer anyway. So I was pleasantly surprised that the Coors entry on the market was a) not too sweet and b) still tasted like beer. Many of my beer-loving friends have suggested I try the Mill St. Lemon Tea beer, but it’s really not a great comparison. On it’s merits, the Mill St. is a good beer. But if I was picking between the two, I would probably lean toward Coors. I just found the tea finish on the Mill St., while more authentically “tea” than the coors, more bitter. And before any beer snobs turn up their noses, this is coming from a Mill St. fan.

Minhas Craft Brewery Mystical Jack Traditional Ale and Imperial Jack Double IPA: I have used this space to detail how I’m not a huge fan of the Uptown Girl Light Beer. And when I tried the brewery’s Chocolate Bunny Stout last fall, I found it a touch too sweet for my tastes. Admittedly, both the Traditional and the Double IPA are on the sweeter end of things, but in both cases I think it works. The Double IPA is had notes of caramel and molasses, but with a hoppy finish, and the Traditional had dark coffee characteristics. Moving forward, as the company launches its Calgary brewery and pizza restaurant in the northeast, I’m curious to see what else they may roll out, but I’d be happier seeing more like this and less girly drinks. But, as I’ve previously stated, those products are definitely not aimed at me.

Misses
Rogue Ales Dead Guy Ale: I know that they are popular among craft brew fans, but I still have yet to try some of the more fun selections, like the Voodoo Maple Bacon Ale. When I approached the Rogue counter and saw the phrase “Dead Guy”, it jumped out at me. The beer’s aroma jumped out at me for all the wrong reasons. A little too reminiscent of what it was named after. The beer itself tasted better than the smell, but the aroma of it while trying to drink it didn’t make for a good combination.

The Big Rock Brewmaster’s Series Trial Brew: I’m a big booster of the Big Rock Brewmaster’s Series. Breweries that focus on trying new recipes and giving customers new tastes to try get big props from the likes of me. That said, not everything is a hit. The “Trial Brew” on offer at BeerFest may have been a first crack at a new idea or a work in progress, but while light and fizzy, it didn’t have the flavourful oomph of the Rye & Ginger, Dunkleweizen, or Scottish Heavy, all new favourites of mine.

Amber’s Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Lager: I should have gone with the Zombie Apocalypse or the Chai Stout. But, being a fan of Edmonton-based Amber’s Maple lager, I thought I would give their Pepper Berry lager a try. After all, it won best domestic lager at Calgary BeerFest two years ago. With the nice scent of berries on the nose and the peppery finish, this was a tasty beer. My only beef with it, and why it gets a miss, is I like my lagers a little more crisp, and definitely more effervescent. Not saying I won’t give it a try again, but I may explore the Amber’s lineup a little more before returning to this one.