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Friday, July 20, 2007

More Weeks, More Beers

Geez, I keep forgetting to make a post about these! Here are the last few "Beer of the Week" posts I've made to Taste T.O.:

Waterloo Wheat - "...seems like a hybrid of a Belgian witbier and a German weissbier: it has the citrus and spice notes expected from a wit, but also a bit of the banana and yeast that’s typical of a weisse..." (full review)

Christoffel Blond - "...a somewhat unique version of a Pilsner, at least in comparison to the ones that most people are familiar with..." (full review)

Southern Tier Phin & Matts Extraordinary Ale - "...the pungent, grapefruit-like aroma of the Cascade hops [...] makes it obvious that this beer has some balls..." (full review)

Castlemaine XXXX Export Gold - "...aside from homesick Australians with bad taste in beer, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this chunder from Down Under..." (full review)

Hacker-Pschorr Hefeweisse - "...a fantastic beer from a venerable brewery..." (full review)

Beer & BBQ: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

As I've mentioned on this blog in the past, I was a pescetarian until a few months ago. I had been so for a number of years, not because I have a problem with animals dying for human consumption per se, but because I have a lot of issues with the factory farming industry that produces most of the meat consumed in North America. (OK, there was also the fact that my wife dropped meat from her diet before I did and stopped cooking it for us, and since I'm a lousy cook, it seemed easiest just to give it up as well.)

Earlier this year, however, I decided to start eating meat again for a number of reasons. I won't go into all of them here, but I will admit that at least some of it was due to me quite simply having cravings for meat more and more often. I nearly caved a couple of times, and then finally fell off the wagon when I was given the opportunity to attend a Brooklyn Brewing dinner at beerbistro back in February where the menu featured many delicious meaty courses.

Since then, I've been eating meat on an occasional basis, most often at dinners or events that I'm invited to attend via Taste T.O. or Bar Towel. One of the most recent of these was a lunch earlier this week at Steam Whistle Brewery featuring the succulent creations of Canada's reigning Grand BBQ Champions, Team Cedar Grilling. Consisting of Steve Adams, Daryl Maybanks and Mike Adams, the Team Cedar trio are a non-profit team who depend on sponsorship to defray their travel and equipment costs (although the $6500 they won a couple of weeks ago probably helps as well - congrats, guys!). Hence their partnership with Steam Whistle who not only hosted this little media get-together, but who also have their beer featured in several of the Team's recipes.

Held on Steam Whistle's sunny patio just south of the CN Tower, the lunch started with Cedar Planked Garlic Shrimp with Asiago Gratin served to us right off the planks. There were also an array of salads available, but as we started spooning them on to our plates, one of the guys shouted over that we'd better not eat too much as there was a lot more to come from the grill.

Like, for example, their award winning Parrot Sticks. These are chicken wings that are stretched to their full length and skewered, resulting in a sort of wing-meets-kebab thing that looks kinda funny but tastes damn good, especially when dipped in the accompanying Steam Whistle Chicken Sauce.

Of course, what we really wanted to try were the ribs, and when they finally made it off the grill, they didn't disappoint. Prepared using the team's Steam Whistle BBQ Sauce recipe, they were juicy and tender and bone-sucking good. So good, in fact, that they made the Pulled Pork Sandwiches that followed almost anti-climatic. Which is too bad, because the meat itself was possibly the best pulled pork I've ever had, it was just let down a bit by the doughy supermarket style bun it was served on and the odd inclusion of cole slaw on the sandwich. Still, I ended up finishing it even though my stomach was threatening to explode from the previous courses and the couple of beers I'd already put back.

Speaking of the beer - as you'd expect, Steam Whistle Pilsner was the only beer option. This beer/brewery gets a lot of flak from the beer geek community due to the fact that it's a fairly simple, straight-forward, crowd-pleasing lager. But I've defended them in the past, and will continue to do so now. Sure, it's a simple beer, but it's also a very well-made and refreshing one, and if you drink it cool and fresh - such as the less-than-a-week-old bottles we were served to us at the brewery - it's a perfect accompaniment to eating some killer BBQ on a warm patio.

For those in Toronto, Team Cedar Grilling will be appearing at the Fort York BBQ Championships on Sept. 14-16. If you're a fan of the swine and the smoke, you should definitely plan to be there.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Announcing Session #6

OK, it's been a week since the last Session took place, and since I'm hosting the next one, I guess it's about time for me to announce the theme.

First, some background:

2007 seems to be the year of the farmers market in Toronto. We've always had a few regular markets in the city, both seasonal and year-round, but there's been a mini-explosion of new ones this year, including a Sunday morning one in the Liberty Village neighbourhood, just a few minutes from my apartment.

As a result, my wife and I have been eating even more fresh produce than usual this summer. We're at the Liberty Village market almost every Sunday, and Sheryl also takes trips around the city to check out other markets for the Market Basket feature on our website, Taste T.O..

For the past several weeks, we've been gorging on fresh local strawberries and cherries, and have just recently gotten our first taste of the year's raspberry and blueberry crops. Coming soon will be peaches and plums, and later will be the first crisp, tart apples of the year.

With all of this fruit on the brain (or more accurately, in my belly), it gave me the idea for a theme for Session #6. Therefore, I hereby declare that on Friday, August 3rd, 2007, beer bloggers the world over will be writing about Fruit Beer.

Aside from the stipulation that it be a beer brewed/augmented with fruit (or fruit juice or extract), there are no other rules or guidelines. Anything is fair game, from a tart and funky Kriek or Framboise, to a sugar-laden "lambic", to a Blueberry Wheat or Raspberry Ale from your local brewpub.

And have some fun with it. After all, it's the summer! (Well, except for where it's the winter, but you know what I mean...) Spread the word, enjoy the rest of your July, and check back on August 3rd to report your contribution for the obligatory round-up post.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Book Review: Grilling With Beer with Lucy Saunders

Grilling With Beer
by Lucy Saunders
F&B Communications, 224 pp.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a manly man. I don't care much for any sports besides hockey, I don't own any power tools besides a simple drill set, and I don't have any interest in cars (in fact, I don't even have a driver's license).

The one manly pursuit I do enjoy, however, is barbecuing. At our previous place, my wife and I had use of a large backyard with a great deck, and we invested in a decent quality gas grill. While my wife is a fabulous cook, she always let me man the grill (even though she actually did all the prep work), and even during our years of being almost-vegetarians, we still did up some great grilled fish and veggies once in a while. Last year, we moved into our current yard-less and balcony-less apartment, which meant leaving the BBQ behind. I sort of missed it last summer, and now that I've started eating meat again, I'm really missing it.

Rubbing salt in the wound was the recent unexpected arrival of a review copy of Grilling With Beer by American food and beer writer Lucy Saunders. If only this book existed 5 or 6 years ago when I was at the top of my grilling game and getting more and more interested in exploring different beers - I would've been in beer & BBQ heaven! Sigh.

Still, even as a member of the unfortunately grill-free set, this is a great book to own. Logically arrayed into 10 main chapters - 5 covering sauces, glazes, marinades, rubs and other basic BBQ condiments, and 5 covering various meats/seafood and sides - Grilling With Beer features well over 100 recipes to match everyone's tastes (yes, even vegetarians - the recipes for Grilled Herbed Hazelnut Flatbread, Brined Grilled Eggplant, and Grilled Potato Salad all look delicious). And thankfully for kitchen klutzes like me, most of them are pretty simple as well, with clearly written ingredient lists and instructions.

Saunders has also brought a lot of her friends to the party, and features recipes from such beer cuisine luminaries as Brian Morin (beerbistro), Gary Marx (Pike Brewing), Mario Gongora (Marin Brewing) and Scott McGlinchey (Q Real American Food). Also pitching in are the Jason & Todd Alström of, who provide convincing argument for grilling with beer (in case you needed one) in their preface, and the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who explains why Saunders is pretty much the best person in the world to have written this book.

Making this book even more of a treat are the segments between the chapters. Written by Saunders and other beer scribes such as Anne Ausderau, Dan Rabin and Jay Brooks, these interludes provide profiles of festivals and events that feature craft beer and grilled/barbecued food, ranging from the New Mexico's Rio Rancho Pork & Brew and a BBQ Oyster Fest in San Andreas, to events in such exotic locales as Hawai'i, Australia and New Zealand. And as if that weren't enough, writer and brewer Stan Hieronymus gives some tips on pairing beers with the dishes that the book helps you prepare, and Saunders wraps things up with a list of mail order resources for all of your grilling needs, and a fantastic run down on the flavour profiles of various beer styles.

And it would be remiss not to mention how visually attractive the book is. The spot illustrations and font choices give it a slightly retro look (although not to the point of parody, like so many faux-retro cookbooks that are on the market), and the event profiles feature some nice photos, as do a number of the recipes. All in all, it's a slick little package.

Like most self-published books, the best way to get your hands on a copy of Grilling With Beer is directly from the author. Mail order instructions can be found on the book's website,, as well as at Saunders' main site, If you prefer the in-person method and live in Toronto, there's a good chance that she'll have some copies for sale at beerbistro this coming Tuesday, July 10th when she's there to present a special dinner as part of the restaurant's month long American Beer & Barbecue Fest.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Session #5: Atmosphere

Holy crap, is it already time for another Session? It seems like just three posts ago that I did a last one! Oh wait, it was just three posts ago, 'cause I've neglecting this poor li'l blog of mine more and more. If not for the monthly Sessions, it might just wither away to nothing. Sniff.

Anyhoo - for those just joining us, The Session is one of those things where a bunch of bloggers write about the same topic on the same day. In this case, it's beer bloggers writing about a particular type of beer, with the style chosen each month by a different one of us. Then the person/people who chose the topic keep tabs on all of the posts and compile a round-up. Our themes for the last four months have been local beer, milds, dubbels and stouts.

(I get to choose the theme for August, so watch for that to be announced here soon.)

This month, our "hosts" are Al & Ron at Hop Talk, and to mix things up a little bit, we won't be writing about what we drink this month, but rather where we drink it, as the theme is Atmosphere:

Beer is about more than flavor, IBUs, and the debate over what is a craft beer and what isn’t. It’s about Life. It’s the proverbial icing on the cake.

So, we want to know about the "Atmosphere" in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:


Because while life isn’t all about beer, beer is all about life.
Since I'm an indecisive git, I'm going to do as I did in the first Session and give multiple answers:

1) Down The Pub

Yes, I know, it's the most obvious choice, and will probably be the most popular one today. But I think very few beer lovers would deny that some of their favourite beer imbibing moments have been sitting in a friendly pub - whether it's your local spot, a place across town, or a bar you discover during your travels elsewhere - and hoisting a pint or three with friends old and new.

Here in Toronto, the bar I frequent the most is The Rhino. It's been my neighbourhood bar & grill for the 13 years I've lived in Parkdale, and while they've had their ups and downs on the service and food quality fronts over that time, they've been pretty stable in the year and a half since I moved from a place 5 blocks away to a place even closer. Their dozen or so taps are dedicated primarily to good local craft beers, they added about 200 bottled beers to their selection around the time I moved closer last year, and they also started carrying cask ale a few months back. They may not match destination spots like Volo or beerbistro when to comes to truly eclectic beer selections, but the remarkably low prices for both beer and food combined with the ramshackle neighbourhood vibe of the place just can't be beat.

(Addendum: A couple of hours after I originally posted this, my wife and I went to Rhino for dinner. I had mussels and fries, she had a veggie sandwich, and we each had two beers. Total with tax and tip was 40 bucks. That may seem a bit high to you Americans who are used to $2.50 pint specials and the like, but trust me when I say that for Toronto, that's a fantastic deal.)

2) Tasting Sessions (aka Geekfests)

Being a beer rater, I'm always up for trying as many new beers as possible, and one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways of doing so has been via tasting nights with some of my fellow raters. Once a month or so, I get together with my regular crew (Jeff, Paul, Harry & Jer) and occasional guests to listen to some tunes, shoot the shit, and drink & rate a bunch of beers. Sometimes we have a theme - like last summer's infamous "Beers from the RateBeer Top 100" tasting - but usually, it's just a pot luck of beers that most of us haven't tried before. Yeah, it can be a bit geeky at times, as we jot in our notebooks and debate whether the beer is true to style or try to figure out what hop varieties were used. But mostly, it's just a bunch of guys (and sometimes one girl) with similar-but-not-identical interests and views sitting around and sharing something that we all love.

3) I Drink Alone...

Supposedly, it's one of the warning signs of alcoholism, but I don't really see anything wrong with enjoying a beer on my own at home. (And to be completely accurate, I'm rarely completely alone when I'm doing so, as my wife is usually around, and will even join me if I crack something she likes). Sometimes, it's something new that I drink and contemplate and write about. More often, it's an old favourite that I quaff while watching the tube or poking around on the computer. Either way, it's an enjoyable and civilised way to unwind after a day at work. And it's cheaper than going out, as well.

So there you go - a trio of places that I like to drink. Check out the round-up at Hop Talk to see what the others have to say, and check back here in a couple of days to find out what we'll all be writing about a month from now.