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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Otherwise Occupied

Yes, I've been a negligent blogger lately. Or rather, I've been neglecting this blog in particular while devoting a lot of time to Taste TO, the new group-blog that my wife and I are running.

Aside from running the technical side of things, I've been doing a lot of writing over there, including:

Taste TO will likely continue to be a bit of a time-suck as we try and get some momentum going, so my posts here will probably continue to be less frequent over the next couple of weeks, but things should get back to normal soon.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Five From Half Pints

Last fall, I got word of a new brewery starting up out in Winnipeg called Half Pints Brewing. Initially, I didn't pay much attention to the announcement. I mean, it's always good to hear about a new micro starting up, especially in Canada. But since the odds of ever seeing Half Pints beers available in Ontario are next to none, my reaction was basically "oh, that's nice, maybe I'll try some of their stuff if I ever make it out to Winnipeg".

But then I learned that the president and brewmaster of Half Pints was David Rudge, a man who is semi-legendary amongst Canadian craft brew fans. Mind you, most of us had never actually tried any of his beers, but we'd heard fantastic things about the stuff he did at Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina, Saskatchewan from those who were lucky enough to visit the pub. So I knew that I needed to get my hands on some bottles of his Half Pints offerings.

Luckily, I was able to find someone from Winnipeg on RateBeer who was willing to do a trade, and back in December, I got a nice big box packed with a bomber each of five Half Pints beers along with a few other goodies. I've made a point of sharing them at several different tastings and get-togethers over the last couple of months, and now that I've finally tried 'em all, here's what I thought:

Bulldog Amber Ale
Orange-amber colour with a small white head. The aroma holds some very nice woody hops, well balanced by some slightly grainy malt. Body is a bit light, but OK for the style. Once in the mouth, it proves to be a nice, simple, clean, balanced UK style ale with a well-hopped finish. A fantastic session ale - if the LCBO carried this (hint, hint!), it would be a regular in my fridge.

Little Scrapper IPA
Maybe all of the Double IPAs I've drunk have caused me to build up some hop resistance, 'cause I didn't find this nearly as hoppy as the description on the label promised. Oh, no doubt that there was a healthy amount in there - some great notes of orange rind and pine resin in both the aroma and flavour proved that - but I actually found it to be quite well balanced. Another one that I could drink a lot of if given the chance.

Oktoberfest Lager
I've generally found Oktoberfest beers to be pretty boring, but after having this, I think it's because most of the ones I've tried have just been mediocre beers, regardless of the style. It has a slightly hazy copper-amber colour with a medium head, and a quite malty aroma with sweet caramel and some interesting earthy/leafy notes. The flavour starts quite sweet, develops some bready notes in the middle, and finishes fairly dry with a hint of cocoa.

Stir Stick Stout
A coffee stout made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe?!? Dude, I am SO there! Very dark brown colour with ruby hints and a couple of fingers of off-white foam. Nice aroma - very roasty with a good hit of coffee, some light woodiness and a bit of chocolate. This body is thin, which is the beer’s one main weakness. Thankfully, the flavour makes up for it - good roasted malt and coffee notes off the top, sweet in the middle, and a well bittered finish. With a bit more body, this would be a fantastic stout. As it stands, it’s just a very good one.

Sweet Nikki Brown
Brown ales are a much maligned style - somewhat deservedly, as most of them are boring as hell. But when they're done well, they're a real treat. This particular example pours a dark ruby-brown with a good sized mocha head. The aroma is great, with lots of sweet roasted malt, cereal (specifically, Honeycomb cereal), and herbal hops, all well-balanced. The flavour is roasty and nutty off the top, with a slightly watery middle, but a nice bitterness in the finish that makes up for it.

So, a big thumbs up on this first quintet from Half Pints. I have a standing order in with my new trading buddy for any of
David's future releases, and there are already four more waiting to be shipped - a winter seasonal Burly Wine, and the "Holy Trinity" series of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit - plus a couple more planned for the next few months. I expect you'll see another Half Pints post here soon enough.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sick in Seattle 2: The Nausea Continues

As previously reported, I was struck down by a bug of some sort during my trip to Seattle. It started on Saturday morning, when I woke up with what I thought was a mild hangover from my Friday night outing. It seemed unlikely since I really didn't have that much to drink, but combined with a bit of jet lag, it was a possibility.

After some ibuprofen, coffee and a light breakfast, things weren't getting any better, so I decided to get out to see if some air would help. It was grey, damp and cool outside, but the fresh air still helped somewhat, so I hopped on a bus downtown to do some exploring.

My destination was Pike Place Market, a massive complex of food stalls, shops and restaurants that makes Toronto's St. Lawrence Market look like a corner store in comparison. I spent more than 2 hours wandering around, and I'm sure that I didn't see everything. I saw them throw some fish around at the Pike Place Fish Market, took a good whiff at Beecher's Handmade Cheese, had a tasty snack at Piroshky Piroshky, and avoided the bad hippy buskers in front of the original Starbucks.

Feeling a bit better after my morning constitutional, I decided that I was up for lunch at The Pike Pub & Brewery, a spacious brewpub located a block or so from the Market. I ordered up a sampler flight of a half-dozen beers, and found them all to be pretty solid examples of their respective styles. Well, except for the Weisse - it was kinda bland. But I particularly liked the XXXXX Stout, which had a lot of great coffee and chicory character, and hints of molasses and smoke.

Unfortunately, halfway through my lunch, things started rumbling around again, and I decided that it might be a good idea to head back to my hotel room and take a bit of a break before heading uptown to check out a couple more beer spots. But when things didn't get any better in the gastro-intestinal department, plans for further outings were scrapped in favour of - well, just laying around feeling generally shitty, really.

So, that was my trip to Seattle. Half great, half lousy. Meh.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bryson Blogs

Lots of pro beer/drink writers have been blogging for a while - my regular reads include blogs from the likes of Rick Lyke, Stan Hieronymus, Jay Brooks, Stephen Beaumont and, uh, Stephen Beaumont.

One hold-out, however, has been Lew Bryson. I've always enjoyed his articles in Ale Street News and elsewhere, and while I would occasionally remember to check out his website, I was hoping that he'd join the blogging fray and do some more immediate, easy-to-access writing.

Well, he's finally done so. His new blog, Seen Through a Glass, was launched just over a week ago, and he's hit the ground running with 20 posts in 10 days. And he's also come up with a unique theme many of his posts: The Session Beer Project, which will see him sharing his thoughts on the lighter, balanced brews that are often ignored by beer geeks in favour of uber-hoppy Double IPAs, massive Imperial Stouts, and other "extreme" beers. It's a great idea, I think - I'm looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Oh, yeah - in case you're wondering, I remained sick for the rest of my stay in Seattle, and didn't fully recover until a couple of days after I got home. But as mentioned previously, I did make it out for a few hours on Saturday morning, and I've got a bit to write about that when I can find a few spare minutes. This weekend, hopefully.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sick in Seattle

My body often doesn't take well to travelling, especially when it involves different time zones. Adapting to a different eating and sleeping cycle, even when it's only 2 or 3 hours difference, does a bit of a number on me, with the main symptom being, uh, "gastro-intestinal distress" (to put it politely). Normally, popping a few Pepto tablets keeps things in check, but this time it seems to be hitting me even harder than usual, and has expanded to include headaches and a generally feeling of crappiness.

As a result, I've not been enjoying my visit to Seattle as much as I would have liked. I've only visited a handful of places that I'd planned on seeing, and while it's only afternoon on Saturday, I'm honestly considering just staying in my hotel room for the rest of the day & evening. The idea of drinking more beer is actually somewhat unappealing. This is not good.

Still - I have managed to get a bit of exploring in, starting with last night when I headed out to Capitol Hill neighbourhood. This area is Seattle's version of Greenwich Village or Queen Street West, as well as the heart of the city's gay community, so needless to say there are lots of funky shops, trendy restaurants, espresso bars, high-end grocery stores and the like.

My first stop in the 'hood was the Elysian Brewpub (1221 E Pike St.), a large and inviting place that seems to be popular with the slightly aging hipster set. Several tables were taken by post-grunge couples in their mid-30s who had brought along their little Kurts & Courtneys in training. One kid in particular caught my eye - he couldn't have been more than 5 or 6, and he was dressed in faded jeans, a red plaid shirt, and had a mop of dirty blonde hair. Very cute, in an odd sort of way.

Anyway, my well-inked waitress was chipper and friendly, and the beer and food were both quite good. My dinner was grilled mahi-mahi tacos - the fish was a bit overdone, but still tasty. And on the beer side, I did a sampler flight of five of their house beers, with the Hydra Hefeweizen and Perseus Porter being my faves, and followed that up with a glass of their Spirit Fire IPA, which was a hop bomb but in a very good way.

Leaving Elysian, I walked a couple of blocks over to Broadway, which looked to be the main drag in the area. When I got the corner of Pike & Broadway, I saw a Bartell Drugs, and recalled that Sheryl had found out from a friend that they carried Idaho Spuds, a local candy bar that we had read about in Steve Almond's Candyfreak and wanted to try. I went in and found not only Spuds, and Sheryl's beloved Payday bars, but about a dozen other candy bars that we'd never tried. I called Sheryl to list them off, and she replied with "one of those, and two of those, and...". The somewhat embarrassing result is pictured to the right.

Next up was The Stumbling Monk (1635 E. Olive Way). Located a couple of blocks off of Broadway, this a serious blink-and-you'll-miss-it place. I ended up walking several blocks past the turn on Broadway, and then had to keep my eyes open for it once I back-tracked and found the right street. It has no sign and heavily frosted windows, so unless you know it's there, odds are you won't find it - but according to the friendly barman, that suits them fine. They have a steady local clientele who dig the laidback neighbourhood vibe of the place, as well as the impeccable beer list. After all, where else would you find a corner tavern with Duchesse De Bourgogne, Chimay White and Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux on tap, alongside some solid local micros? And I'm sure the the large, Belgian-heavy bottle list probably helps, as well as the remarkably reasonable prices. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours at the bar, and put back some of the aforementioned Duchesse along with an Imperial Stout and a Silk Lady Belgian-Style Ale from Dick's Brewing of Centralia, Washington. All nice stuff.

And then I woke up this morning with what I originally thought to be a hangover, but what has proven to be something more nefarious. I managed to get out for a couple of hours at least, and I'm still not sure about whether or not I'll head back out this evening. Whatever happens, watch this space for a summary in the next day or two. Bleh.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Seattle - Day 1

I'm in Seattle, and my hotel room has a kitchen. I find this very odd.

After many hours on a very large plane, and a stop-over in Vancouver, and less than an hour on a very small plane, I got in around 7 PM local time. My schedule didn't really allow me to have a proper dinner, so after checking in at the hotel, I went out with the rest of the folks who are in from Toronto for this weekend's conference to have what felt like a midnight snack to my still-thinks-I'm-in-the-Eastern-time-zone body.

Dining options near the hotel are limited, so we ended up across the street at a horrendously overpriced seafood tourist-trap called Chandler's Crabhouse (which is, I shit you not, next door to a place called Joey's). Thankfully, I wasn't very hungry, so I didn't get tempted by any of the extravagant main courses. I went with the Tarantula Roll appetizer and a bowl of Seafood Chowder, both of which were tasty enough. And I was also glad to find some decent beers on tap - I had pints of Pyramid Hefeweizen and Alaskan Amber, and while neither of them were spectacular, they kept me happy.

Should sleep now. More later!