Swan’s Brewpub

Looking back this weekend, I realized that I have yet to dedicate a review to some of my favorite watering holes here in Victoria. Sure, I’ve mentioned them, maybe even rated their wings, but where’s the page dedicated to them? Time to remedy this! And I shall start with the place me and wife know as “Old Faithful”. Swan’s Brewpub.

I can remember when I was a young man and living in Ottawa, some friends of mine who were from Victoria and periodically came back to visit family would always bring some Swan’s beer home with them. Yeah, it was always a treat to enjoy a few frosty Swans and watch some our favorite shows in those days. If they’re reading this, hi Aaron, hi Megan! Miss you guys!

Since moving to the west coast, dining in at Swan’s has been a recurring treat. Not only are their beers faithful examples of craft brewing, their food is also a tasty treat. It’s little wonder then why my wife and I refer to this place as “Old Faithful”. Alas, some specific examples feel necessary. First up, the taps!

Appleton Brown Ale: A nice, tawny, smooth ale that is in keeping with a London-style dark ale. Highly drinkable, smooth and yet complex. 4/5

Arctic Ale: Definitely one of the lightest beers I’ve ever had, and certainly the lightest produced by Swans. Named in honor of Canadian-style beers, apparently, this beer is clean tasting, has a quick, light finish, and is completely inoffensive. However, that is not necessarily a good thing, not when you’re me at any rate. Nothing wrong with it, but not my favorite either. 3.5/5

Buckerfield’s Bitter: One of my favorite ESB’s (Extra Special Bitter) to date. Copper colored, clean tasting, with a nice dry hop finish; this bitter taught me what this beer is all about! A favorite I routinely order! 5/5

Extra IPA: A true India Pale Ale, at 6.8% alc/vol and full of hops! The color is a rich orange, the nose is floral, and the flavor both sweet, dry and lingering. I’ve had so many I think I’ve OD’d! Best enjoyed with food and in moderation, unless your an IPA lover like me! 4/5

Old Towne Bavarian Lager: A fitting accompaniment to spicey food or on its own as a nice light drink. This beer is a faithful lager, combing a clean taste, crisp hops and a lingering finish. Its color is also clear and golden, reminiscent of traditional lagers found in your famed Munich beer halls. 4/5

Pandora Pale Ale: Probably the most faithful brew offered by Swans, I can attest to both its popularity and its drinkability. Golden amber, with a nice hop nose, clean taste and short, sharp finish, this beer is their flagship brew for a good reason! 4.5/5

Raspberry Ale: My wife and I agree, there are few who do fruit beers up right. These guys would be one of them! This ale combines a nice drinkable ale with a tart and semi-sweet touch that is both refreshing and is well paired with deserts or just on its own. It’s especially refreshing when enjoyed on your patio during a hot summer’s day. The taste also manages to conceal the fact that its actually quite strong, at 7% alc/vol! 4/5

Riley’s Scotch Ales: A traditional ale done in the “wee-heavy” style, meaning of high alcohol content. And this customer is no exception, being 8% alc/vol and possessing a strong, malty flavor, a big dose of hops and a sweet finish. Definitely not for the unititiated or the faint of heart. Definitely not for light beer drinkers! 4/5

Swan’s Oatmeal Stout: Swan’s was one of the first microbreweries in my experience to incorporate the Oatmeal Stout into their lineup. And there stout is definitely among the best I’ve had. Well rounded, creamy smooth, but with a nice, bitter bite for a finish. Stout lovers will approve! 4/5

Legacy Ale: This ale you won’t find on the regular menu. It’s an anniversary ale, which means it was made in honor of the brewery’s anniversary back in 2007. Hence, it is only available periodically, and let me tell you… it is one of the best beers I’ve ever had! Comparable only to McAuslin’s Millennial Ale, this Barley Wine has it all. Rich, mahogany color, smooth malty goodness, and a semi-sweet touch with just the right hop finish. I give this beer 6/5. Yes, I know that doesn’t make any sense, but who cares? I love it!

You might have noticed, most of these beers are rated pretty close to each other. But that’s a testament to their quality. And now, the food! However, know that the menu has changed since we ate there last, so some of these items might be out of date.

Chicken Wings: Not the best wings on the island, but definitely faithful and consistently good. The wings themselves are not plump, but not emaciated either, and the sauce is simply Frank’s Red, but they get the job done. Especially with beer! 3.5/5

Yam Fries: Now I’ve had several version of yam fries over the years, especially since I moved to BC (seems to be a local thing!). However, this remains the place that does it best, in my humble opinion. Sweet, lightly dusted with Cajun spice, granulated salt and accompanied by a kick-ass chipotle mayo! 5/5

Chicken Focaccia: A very decent sandwich! The focaccia bread is the perfect accompaniment to a chicken breast, don’t ask me why, and the veggies, red onions, and mayo compliment the flavor perfectly. 4/5

Buckerfield’s Burger: One of the best burgers I’ve had since moving to the island. Hand made patties, cheese, bacon, grilled mushrooms and onions and a smokey bbq sauce. This burger is exceptional when pared with a Pale Ale and some yam fries! 5/5

Apple Pie: Apple pie is just one those things. It’s hard to screw up,  but its still nice to find a place that does it especially well. And as you can imagine, this is one such place. The pastry is hearty, the apples sweet and spiced just right with loads of cinnamon! And of course, the accompanying dollop of vanilla ice cream, ya can’t go wrong! 4/5

Creme Caramel: It has always been a source of consternation to me that Swans doesn’t do a creme brulee. However, their creme caramel is a fitting stand in! Creamy, rich, sweet, but not overpowering, this desert is the perfect end to an evening of fine beer and fine dining! 4/5

Hmm, seems I did it again with the food. Just about all them score within the eighty-percentile. But hey, that’s how it is. Good food, good beer, good times. If you’re interested, here’s a link to Swan’s full and updated menu. Check it out, preferably in person!

Swans Brewpub

Beer that Tames the Fire

Not that long ago, I tried my hand at homemade curry paste. The results were… shall we say, less than mild? Yes, I’m still getting the bugs out of the recipe, not literally of course, but I maintain that homemade is best. Which brings me to something else I’ve been working on of late: a list of suitable, spice-appropriate beers. Granted, its not exactly rocket science. Pairing beers with spicy food is fact more of an art, and highly open to interpretation. Nevertheless, it generally is wise to avoid anything too heavy, hoppy, or best when served warm (aka. stouts, porters, ales, etc). In short, when dealing with spicy foods, one should stick to lagers, pilsners and other beers that offer a clean, crisp taste and are best when served cold.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of just a few that are particularly good in this respect. Interestingly enough, most happen to be from the very parts of the world that are famous – or infamous – for producing some of the world’s spiciest food. And just to be helpful, I’ve grouped them from best to worst, at least according to my own taste and standards.

Sapporo: 8.5/10 A Japanese draft lager that dates back to the Meiji period (19th century). Like most Asian breweries, it was established by a German brewmaster and it shows in the taste and character of the beer. Although not surprising or particularly complex, it is a very reliable beer that is at once clean, crisp and quite tasty, with a mild bitter finish that does not interfere or enhance the taste of spicy food.

Tsingtao: 8/10 Compared to some of its competitors, this Chinese beer, named after its town of origin, is somewhat hoppier. However, it still retains the characteristic flavor of a German lager; crisp, clean, and not overpowering. As you can imagine, they can easily be found wherever Chinese cuisine is available, and pair well with the spicier Hunan and Szechuan dishes.

Dab: 7.5/10 From Dortmund, Germany, the name is actually an acronym for the brewery itself (Dortmunder Actien Brauerei). I would have to say that this has got to be one of the cleanest beers I’ve ever tasted, meaning it has a light taste and little to no aftertaste. Not the best standalone beer, but excellent when paired with something spicy. One can expect the heat not to linger when this exceptionally light lager is introduced to the palate.

Red Stripe: 7.5/10 Next, we have Red Stripe beer, Jamaica’s famous export lager. It might seem just the slightest bit stereotypical to assume that warm-weather climes would produce beer that goes well with hot food and hot weather, but this beer certainly lives up to that reputation. Like a true lager, it is light, refreshing and has a gentle, lingering hop aftertaste. And like just about all Caribbean brews, it goes well with Jerked food, curry, and spicy Roti.

Tiger Beer: 7/10 Last, but not least… From Singapore, Tiger is the flagship brand of beer for this city-state/nation that dates back to 1932. Its flavor is reminiscent of pilsner, the hops tasting sharp and distinctively Czech, and maintains a well rounded, light taste that finishes quite clean. All of this makes Tiger quite drinkable and well suited to dishes featuring chilis, curry, or other such delights.

I could go on, but this is making me hungry AND thirsty! Time to seek out spicy food and a cold beer! Until next time, keep sampling my friends!

Surgenor Brewery, We’ll Miss You!

Just got back from Comox where I was visiting with friends and family, as I periodically do. I was hoping very much to find a sample of Surgenor’s latest beer – In Seine Pale Ale – and instead came away with a dire piece of news. It seems that Surgernor, Comox’s own brewhouse, has closed down! Naturally, I wasn’t too surprised, there were rumors that this upstart brewery – just a few years up and running – was falling on hard times.

After experiencing a setback with their aluminum bottling – which I still think was brilliant and made their beer taste fantastic! – it seemed they had encountered some problems with government regulations and distribution. Naturally, there’s only so many setbacks and frustrations and upstart business can stand, and so its owners decided to close up shop and move on.

However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find the announcement both sad and deplorable! Its always sad when a great microbrew closes down, but when it’s a hometown operation that also makes a damn fine product, you got to take it personally! I tell you, I haven’t been this disappointed since the Hart brewery shut down in Ottawa. The world of craft brewing  is always diminished when one of its own succumbs…

So it seems only fitting that I dedicate this next review to Surgenor’s line of signature beers. Not only were they tasty, creative choices, they were also a truly local operation, making beers that were named in honor of Comox Valley’s history and heritage.

Steam Donkey Lager: This beer takes its name from the steam powered winch which played an important role in Comox Valley’s historic timber industry. Since it was the workhorse of west coast logging operations, its understandable why the folks at Surgenor decided to name their own workhorse in honor of it. Having enjoyed several, I can attest to its authenticity, solid flavor and drinkability. It’s color is a rich, orange-yellow, the taste is malty and has a nice hop finish which lingers nicely on the tongue. 4/5

Red House Ale: Named in honor of the Surgenor brew house, the Red House is my personal favorite of Surgenor’s lineup. Rosy red in hue, this beer combines a strong malt profile with crisp hops and a touch of citrus. The nose is especially nice, sharp, floral, and with a touch of effervescence. 5/5

#8 Shaft Black Lager: I take full credit for this one! No joke, when the brewery was first starting up, they were taking suggestions from the community on what beers people would like to see them make. Given the fact that they were naming their beers in honor of Comox Valley’s heritage, I thought a dark lager or ale named in honor of the Cumberland coal mines was a good idea. A little over a year later, at Nautical Days, what do you think they’ve got on tap at the beer tent?

Okay, I can’t take full credit (or any in all likelihood). After all, it’s kind of obvious when you think about it. Dark Lager, coal mining, it’s just a matter of time! Glad they came up with it though, and enjoyed the flavor even though I only got to taste it once. Light, but tawny and smooth, this black lager is reminiscent of Vancouver Island Hermann’s or Sleeman’s Dark, both fine dark ales in their own right. A little weak for my taste, but still enjoyable. 3.5/5

In Seine Pale Ale:  Another name that is one part Comox history, one part delicious pun, In Seine honors the fishermen of the West Coast. Unfortunately, I have yet to sample this one, and now that the breweries shutting down, I will scowering the island looking for some. Expect to hear about it soon!

Rest In Peace, Surgenor’s. And if you get the chance, get back in business! See what you can do about bringing those aluminum bottles back, that was lighting in a bottle!

Wings! (Updated)

Here is the updated review of the Islands wings, dated July 2011:

A little over a month ago, I did a review of the best wings on the island. Since then, a few things have changed. For one, the Longwood Brewpub has changed up their game. They’ve finally introduced a spicy wing, which I believe I might have recommended! And – wouldn’t you know it? – Craig Street changed theirs, with dire consequences! So the following changes need to be made to my ratings:

Longwood Brewpub: 5/5!! Once a runner-up to Craig’s because of a lack of spiciness, this baby now makes the best wings on the island! While the jalapeno wings have been around for some time, they possessed just a little kick, not the spicey punch in the gullet I personally crave! But with the addition of the suicide hots, that’s all remedied! Plump, tasty, well-prepared, and now nice and spicey! Best wings on the island!

Canoe Club: 4.5/5 Comparable to the better wings I’ve had on the island as of late, and with the decline of some of my favorite places, the Canoe Club just might become my new go-to wing place! They were plump, juicy, had a good level of spice, and came with a damn good blue cheese sauce. And unlike some other places, the sauce seemed to consist more of just Franks Red Hot. Nothing personal, but if you’re making wings, it seems lazy not to make your own sauce!

Craig Street Brewpub: 3/5… A sad day indeed! Not long ago, my wife and I went back to our favorite watering holes, right up there with Swans and Spinnakers. I was wary, having had wings there that were clearly different once already. But this visit confirmed my worst fears: they’ve changed the wings and not for the better! They took what was an original and turned it into a generic knock-off! Whereas they were trim and tastily glazed with sauce, now they’re thick skinned and slathered in it! And the sauce has changed too, I swear to God its just Franks Red Hot with some added chili flakes! Not impressed Craig’s! You had the best wings and for some reason, you decided to downgrade. And the serving I had last time was dry, overcooked, and oversauced. I choose to believe this was an aberration, which is why I’m only dropping you two grades!

(New mention!) Glo Nightclub: 3.5/5 located on the Gorge, this posh “Euro pub and Grill” does a pretty good spread. Their wings are not stellar, but they get the job done, especially when paired with a spinach salad (never liked the beets though!). The sauce is basic, Frank’s Red Hot, but at least they tell you that up front. And like most of the menu, they’re not cheap, but when you sit down and take in the atmosphere, decent food, many taps and house music playing the background, you’ll know where your money went. Been a few times and plan to go back!

http://www.longwoodbrewpub.com/salads.html

http://glovictoria.com/menu

Wings!

Here is an old review, dated May 2011, of my favorite haunts to get chicken wings on the island. Be warned, I get a little fanatical when it comes to my wings. So if you don’t agree with my assessment… well, then let me know and I’ll be sure to check out any place you deem fit! Having a good wing is more important to me than being right ;):

Great wings on the island!  Yep, I’m dedicating an entire entry on the subject of chicken wings, and who does em right!  I know there are other wing enthusiasts out there and I hope they will appreciate this info.  For simplicity sake, I use a simple grading scale. 1-5, with one being the worst and 5 being the best.  Okay?  Here goes:

Avenue, Comox: 3/5  Okay, technically they’re not wings.  They are “chicken drummettes”.  What’s the difference you ask?  You pay a lot more for them and there aren’t that many!  But they are nevertheless tasty and satisfying, both in terms of meatiness and flavor.

Christie Carriage House, Victoria: 3.5/5  Not bad, both the Louisiana and the Five Alarm are spicy and relatively plump.  Except on Wing Night!  Then they get a bit skinny, but everybody knows wing night when they get rid of their B-grade stuff, and its cheap, so you pretty much get what you pay for!  Otherwise, not the best I’ve had, but pretty good overall!  Also best when enjoyed with a nice cold brew, and the house has many taps!

Craig Street Brewery, Duncan: 5/5 Yep, best wings I’ve had on the island.  Not only is the chicken healthy (that is to say, neither the hormone-fed tasteless variety, nor the skinny kind), the sauce is awesome.  My favorite is the suicide hot!  Holy crap it’s hot!  And best when washed down with a few of their microbrews.

Fat Teddy’s, Mount Washington: 2.5/5  What can I say?  You get what you pay for, and Fat Teddy’s isn’t exactly gourmet.  It’s a nice place to sit and have an after-ski beer, and these wings fit that bill just fine.  And they got a relatively nice spicy number, though I suspect its just Franks Red.

Longwood Brewpub, Nanaimo: 4.5/5  Runner up to the Craig’s.  Plump and delicious, and the beer-b-q sauce is one of the best I’ve ever had.  It comes in at a close second for one reason only, no spicy flavors!  I need a little kick in my wings.

Lorne Pub, Comox: 1/5  Worst wings I’ve had since moving to the island, possibly ever!  Not only were the wings dry and emaciated, they were over fried and the sauce came on the side!  And it was obviously just a cup of tabasco!  What the hell man!

Spinnakers, Victoria: 3.5/5  Not bad, definitely not bad.  But not exactly stellar given the ostentatious nature of their menu and beer.  The beer-b-q sauce sure is decent enough, and the chicken is neither too plump nor too skinny.  But dang it if I don’t want a spicier flavor on the menu!

Swan’s Brewpub, Victoria: 3/5  Nothing to write home about, but they’re not offensive, /just not very special.  They aren’t very plump, and the sauces, while somewhat creative (beer-b-q flavor is never a bad idea!), don’t put them over the top.

The Black Fin, Comox: 3.5/5  These are a little harder to rank.  Pound for pound, the Fin makes a damn good wing.  They’re plump and the Louisiana sauce is hot, hot, hot!  On the other hand, they don’t always add up to a pound!  Ten bucks is a lot to pay for a mere hand-full.  If they get this squared away, they can expect a better review.

Note: this list has seen been updated due to some changes and one instance of fire. To the Lorne, my humble apologies for criticizing your wings. Had I know Comox’s most historic building was about to burn down, I would have kept my mouth shut and warned you about the impending crisis! Rest In Peace!

The Longwood Brewpub

This review is from awhile back, dated May of 2011. But since its of one of my favorite restaurants and watering holes on the Island, I can’t NOT include it. If you’re in Nanaimo, check it out!

I’ve been wanting to do this review for awhile now, but lacked the means.  It’s a venerated place that’s been around for close to a decade AND was voted as Nanaimo’s best pub for four years, running from 2006 to 2009.  Yep, I am referring to Longwood!

http://www.longwoodbrewpub.com/

For starters, this place scored immediate points with me in that they are a brewpub.  That is to say, they are a microbrewery and make their own beer on the premises.  I’ve sampled most of them and can attest to them all! 

Longwood Ale: not bad as a starting ale.  It’s mild, not too bitter or complex on the palate, clean aftertaste. Inoffensive all around.

Czech Pilsner: a very nice variation on the traditional Czech beer, clean, crisp, with a nice lingering, but subtle, aftertaste.

India Pale Ale: many people have a problem with this traditional ale.  It can be overpowering at the best of times, too fruity and too hoppy all at once.  But I seriously enjoy this version.  It has a nice fruity taste, plenty of aroma and a good solid bitter aftertaste.  Like a nice punch in the gullet!

Dunkelweizenbrau: this is a nice combination of a dark beer and a wheat beer.  It has a tawny flavor that works on a couple levels.  It is subtle, deep, and yet refreshing, everything you’d expect from a dunkel and a weizen.

Weizenbock: haven’t tried this one in awhile, but I do recall how much I enjoyed it!  A strong wheat ale is one nature’s most perfect foods (that’s right, beer IS food!  Deal with it!) Strong yet smooth, refreshing and tasty.

Extra Special Bitter (ESB): a favorite of mine, and Longwood’s happens to be one of the best I’ve ever tasted.  It’s got all that’s right about a bitter to it.  A nice, crisp, bitter taste with a lingering, tawny aftertaste.  The quality comes through in the careful balance of lightness, bitterness, and deep complexity.  Not sure how they do it, but I like it! 

Oatmeal Stout: geez, everybody’s doing an Oatmeal Stout these days!  And you know what?  Most of them aint’ half bad!  This one is one such none-too-bad number.  It’s got rich, deep hop tones with a heavy tannin flavour that comes from dark, roasted oats and barley! One of the better microbrewed stouts I’ve had on the island. 

Framboise: this one is not a favorite of mine, but only because I don’t do the fruity beers if at all possible.  Still, if I were a fruit beer guy, this would be my go-to!  It’s got a genuine tart and sweet rasberry flavour that is a perfect compliment to its light, refreshing flavour.  Nothing artificial about it.

Barley Wine: I took a case of this camping to Pachena Bay.  In all honesty, its not the best barley wine I’ve ever tasted.  Barley wine, by nature, is both sweet and hoppy, richly malty and complex, and has a strong tannin flavour.  It’s dark beer on steriods, essentially.  This one has just about all of that going, except for the sweetness.  It’s not especially hoppy either.  Mainly, its just strong and tawny. In a nutshell, good, not great.  Hate to say it considering how much I love the place and it’s beer, but it’s only because they set the bar so high that I felt a tad bit underwhelmed.

They have others, but I either can’t remember what they taste like or haven’t had them out of lack on interest.  Hope the above reviews are enough for the curious and enthusiastic.

Okay, now to the food!

Obviously, I can’t attest to the quality of everything, but there a few items I have had a few times and am prepared to rave about… 

Crab Cakes: I’ve been to many pubs that served crab cakes before, sampled them whenever possible, and I thought that these were among the best.  They were fresh, crunchy on the outside, rich and delicious on the inside!

Sweet Potato Fries: always a favorite of island pub-goers!  Again, one of the best variety I’ve tried.  Rivalled only by Swan’s in Victoria.

Wings: I’m a wing man!  I go to bars specifically to see how their wings stack up. The whiskey bbq jalapeno wings are some of the best I’ve had.  Not too spicey, which I love and demand, but they got a real nice rich flavour that is perfectly complimented by some blue cheese dressing.  Not to mention they are always plump and never overcooked.  Hate it when that happens!  

Spinach Salad: a nice light salad, good combination of sweet, fresh and salty flavours.  A perfect accompaniment to a plate of wings or fries and some beer.

Brewmaster’s Salad: looks good on paper, looks good on your plate, not so good when you taste it though!  You’d think the combination of seafood, chicken cheese and salad would be an instant hit, but it isn’t!  It’s cold, fishy, and overpowering.  In terms of the overall menu, it’s a rare miss! 

Burger: it’s awesome!  Handmade patties, grainy mayo, and the smoked cheddar is especially good!

Beef Dip: awesome for the same reasons.  Piled high shaved beef that is always fresh when I order it.  And of course, smoked cheddar to compliment.

Fettucini: one thing I love about their pastas is the freedom to make your own.  I have tried the fettucini with chicken and cream sauce, and it was amazingly tasty and satisying.

In total, I give Longwood’s a 9 out of 10.  That one point deduction is largely because of the brewmaster salad, but the remaining nine points are well deserved!  The reliable menu and great beer selection make for a killer combination that brings me back over and over.  The only other drawback is the price, dinner and beers is kind of expensive, but well worth it. In short, when you eat the food and drink the beer, you’ll know where that money went!

The Canoe Club

Here is my latest restaurant review, dated October 16th, 2011.

Here’s a restaurant and brewpub that I’ve been wanting to review for months, but never seemed to get around to. It was completely by coincidence that I ended up there one night, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well take notes! In addition to their taps, I was able to sample a small array of their food and came away quite pleased. As usual, I will start with the taps!

Red Canoe Lager: This lager is light, summery and has a nice nutty finish to it. Very good with spicey food (like wings!) or as a hot summer beverage. 3.75/5

Siren’s Song Pale Ale: This microbrew reminded me of Fat Tug IPA, one of my favorite beers in recent memory. It’s crisp, has a good malt taste and has a strong hop profile that is reminiscent of grapefruit and other citrus fruits. Definitely one of the better pales I’ve tried of late. 4.5/5

Beaver Brown: This ale is a good example of Victoria browns, similar to Spinnakers and Swans. The taste is smoky and tawny, but also smooth and with a nice nutty aftertaste. 4/5

Riverock Bitter: This beer is a perfect example of an ESB. Dry hopped, clean malty taste, and with a robust finish. Definitely one of the better microbrewed bitters I’ve had. 4/5

Honey Wheat: This seasonal beer is definitely one of the lightest Canoe has on tap. Like the lager, the flavor is clean and summery, but the tinge of honey grows on the palate. Perfect for spicy food, hot weather and drinking on the patio. 3.75/5

Now for the food. It doesn’t come cheap, but when you eat it, you know where the money went.

Flatbreads: I can honestly say that the presentation alone was worth the price. Served in margherita pizza fashion, it consists of cherry tomatoes, basil, crushed olives, arugula pesto, olive oil and smoked sea salt. Fresh baked and tasty!

Wings: Comparable to the better wings I’ve had on the island as of late, and with the decline of some of my favorite places, the Canoe Club just might become my new go-to wing place! They were plump, juicy, had a good level of spice, and came with a damn good blue cheese sauce. And unlike some other places, the sauce seemed to consist more of just Franks Red Hot. Nothing personal, but if you’re making wings, it seems lazy not to make your own sauce!

And now deserts…

Creme Brulee: Like wings, spinach salads, and beer, here is another thing that I like to sample wherever I can! And the Canoe’s was not only delicious, but also excelled in the key departments of consistency and firmness.

Ice Cream Sandwich: I can’t imagine a desert worth dying for, but I think this one might be worth killing for! Decadent, chocolately, good vanilla ice cream, and with fresh baked tasty cookie to sandwich it!

We shall be going back! That Winter Ale looks delectable and I haven’t had my fill of their food yet. Expect an updated review! To finish, here’s a pic my wife took the last time we were there:

Unibroue (or, the Belgian Inspired)

I might have mentioned when I announced the theme for this month that Belgian inspired beers would make it into the mix. And you can’t talk about Belgian-inspired beer without paying due respect to the most famous Belgian-style beer maker of all: Unibroue!

Based in Chambly Quebec, this brewery has been making true Belgian beers for many years. They just don’t happen to be in Belgium, hence why they have to hyphenate. And, interestingly enough, they even managed to beat out Belgium’s top brewers during a recent annual competition. Needless to say, the Belgians weren’t pleased, some even cried foul by pointing out that Chambly isn’t in Belgium! Crybabies…

In any case, Unibroue’s list of beers is long and diverse. I have yet to try them all, but some are downright hard to find unless you live in or near Quebec. But I continue to keep an eye out whenever I’m in Ottawa, and as the list shows, I’ve done a fair job. Most are available in large bottles that are corked rather than capped, keeping with the brewery’s emphasis on tradition and commitment to Belgian Abbey-style brewing. The more common varieties can be found in beer bottle form; however, I highly recommend buying the corked bottles and taking an evening to enjoy the whole thing.

Anyway, here they are in order of commonality – aka. how easy they are to find. Those at the top of the list you are likely to be able to find at any government or private liquor store, but the latter ones are not likely to be available outside of Quebec, unless you know a dedicated private store that specializes in Belgian-style beers!

La Fin Du Monde: A triple fermented strong ale, weighing in at 9% alc/vol. with a thick head and a taste that combines faint traces of citrus, honey and strong malts. One of my all-time favorites, but definitely not for the uninitiated. It’s not a beer that works well in small quantities and a pint or more has been known to floor people with weak tolerances. Light beer drinkers beware! Oh, and its also a fine treat as a beer float. 5/5

Maudite: This is a strong amber ale that is 8% alc/vol, and certainly lives up to its name (which basically translates to Goddamn!). Overall, the flavor is sharp and spicy, with a strong malty taste and a crisp hop finish. Think of it as an amber on steroids! Not a personal favorite, but a fine beer nevertheless. 3.75/5

Blanche De Chambly: A beer who’s name means White of Chambly, referring to the fact that its a wheat ale. And this is definitely one of the best wheat ales I’ve ever tasted, with a strong orange flavor and notes of cloves. It’s also one of their lighter fare – being only 5% alc/vol, it is accessible and is enjoyable with food or even on its own. A great hot weather beer! 4/5

Trois Pistoles: Another triple fermented beer, but which is dark and malty with a a spicy, semi-sweet aftertaste. It is this last point that makes this last beer one of my favorites, putting it right up there with Westmalle and St. Ambroise Millenial Ale. Like La Fin du Monde, it also has a rich head, a complex aroma, and is definitely not for the faint of heart! 5/5

Ephemere Apple: This is a special line of Unibroue product, a fruit-infused wheat beer that actually comes in several flavors. However, the apple is the flagship ephemere product and the easiest to find. Light and fruity, golden in color, this beer has a strong apple nose and a slightly sweet taste that is (of course) highly reminiscent of apples. Definitely nice as an aperitif or a hot weather beer. 3.75/5

Ephemere Blackcurrant: This is one I’ve tried only on one or two occasions, but I was clearly impressed enough to remember it. The color, smell and taste are all highly indicative of the fruit, being a light purple, slightly sweet and tangy, and with a light clean finish. Between it and the Apple, I tend to prefer this one, mainly because the flavor seems more natural. 4/5

Don de Dieu: This beer recently scored a 97 and a “Best Buy” rating from the “Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide”. No faint praise there, and I can attest to it being well deserved. This triple fermented wheat ale is similar to La Fin Du Monde, except that it brings a wheat character to the table. Golden in color, and reminiscent of cloves and citrus. Definitely worth sampling! 5/5

Noire de Chambly: A Belgian-style black ale, and not that easy to find! But in my opinion, people aren’t missing much with this one. The color is deep black, much like stout, but the flavor and head set it apart. Rather than being smooth, its sharp, bitter, and has a long, smoky aftertaste that probably won’t appeal to people unless they are fans of smoke beer. 3/5

Terrible: Part of their specialty beer line, this one is not easy to find outside of Quebec. And the name is definitely well-deserved, being 10.5 alc/vol, but with a sweet taste that is similar to Trois Pistoles, but with stronger notes of fruit and barley wine. Worth picking up, if only you can find some! 4/5

Quelque Chose: Another specialty beer, and one that is also hard to find outside of Quebec. In short, this cherry beer is a blend of brown ale and Belgian Kriek ale that is ruby red in color and has a strong cherry taste. Definitely a good fruit beer, but a little on the strong side for my (ahem!) experienced palette. However, people unaccustomed to Kriek and Belgian fruit beer’s acquired taste will probably love it. 3.75/5

There are several other specialty beers, nine in total, and a line of lagers that I have yet to try. All of these can be viewed on Unibroue’s website: http://www.unibroue.com/en/home/

More Belgians!

Okay, back for more Belgian beer reviews. I should take this opportunity to mention a few places which I found over the years which can be counted on to carry some of the beers I’ve been covering. In addition to Vineyards, located in the Byward Market in Ottawa, there is also Pub Italia, located on Preston Street in Ottawa’s “Little Italy”. Third, there’s the Beer Markt, one of the biggest beer halls I’ve seen outside of Germany, located in King West, Toronto. All of these places were quintessential in my beer education, up to a hundred taps and several hundred bottles. For some reason, I have yet to find such a place in BC, but I will try!

In terms of Beer Stores, your larger LCBO’s (in Ontario) are usually a good source. In BC, the BCL usually focuses on beers of the pacific northwest, but Liquor Plus has been known to carry quite a few labels.

St. Martin Blonde: The brewery of Brunehaut, which is responsible for this brew, has a looooong history. Though technically not a Trappist beer, it is nevertheless a traditional Abbey beer, done in the same tradition of making strong, double/triple fermented, and bottle conditioned ales. The blonde ale is one of their flagship beers, and is nice and light. At 7% alc/vol, its certainly no slouch in terms of strength, but the taste is clean, oaky, and with just a touch of honey. The color and nose are consistent with this, being cloudy gold with light aroma of hops and honey. 7.5/10

Duvel: Here is a beer that I’ve sampled many times, but can never really acquire a taste for. Which is surprising given my love for most wheat beers. At 8.5% alc/vol, this beer lives up to its name (Devil), and the taste is certainly consistent. Befitting a traditional Belgian golden ale, it is made with Pilsner malt and white sugar, which is reflected in the taste – being crisp, hoppy, and with a strong finish that is reminiscent of rum. Originally brewed to commemorate the end of WWI, this beer is certainly a fine product, but remains one Belgian I can’t get into! Duvel – good quality, but not a personal favorite. 7/10

Maredsous Brune: Made by the same brewery that produces Duvel (Duvel Moortgat), this beer was a faithful fallback beer during my sampling days. The color, as the name suggests, is dark brown, the taste is tawny, but with a syrupy touch. A good balance of hops, malts and sweetness that Belgian Abbey beers are famous for. I wish I could get my hands on more of their lineup, such as the Blonde, and Tripel. Next visit to Ottawa, I guess! 8/10

Those Crazy Belgians

Here is the first in my Belgian-themed posts for the month of October 2011. Once again, the theme came to me on a whim, but its a good whim so bear with me! And please, please, if you get a chance, get out and try some of these. You haven’t tried beer until you’ve tried a real Trappist or at least a Belgian-style beer. Trust me!

Alright, so let’s kick this month of Belgian beers off right! As promised, the entire month of October will be dedicated to beers that are Belgian and Belgian-inspired. Let me start by pointing out why I decided to do this in the first place.

Not only is Belgium famous for making lots of beer, what they produce is pretty damn good too. With 300 breweries, they have more breweries per square kilometers than any country. In addition, it was in Belgium where the venerable tradition of brewing with hops originated. Sure, the Bavarians created a law for it (the Bavarian Purity Law), but they were just jumping on the bandwagon. It was the Trappist Monks who started that, having learned what worked. In short, malt, hops, yeast and water. No mushrooms, no wormwood, no poisonous herbs!

Speaking of Trappists monasteries, there are only seven of these left in Belgium (with one in the Netherlands), and I intend to give them all their due this month. They are, in alphabetically order: Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Most I’ve tried, some I need to reacquaint myself with, and one or two I still need to find!

La Trappe Tripel: Although technically not Belgian, this brewery is nevertheless a Trappist Monastery and hence a Trappist brew. And I can say without exaggeration that its a fine example of a Tripel (a triple fermented ale). By nature, these beers are heavier, stronger, fragrant and flavorful, and are either light in color or rich and dark. In the case of La Trappe’s Tripel, the color is caramel, the nose is sweet, malty and even kind of smoky. The taste is also characteristic of true Belgian ales, being both sweet, syrupy, and slightly floral. In terms of alcohol, it packs a respectable punch at 8% alc/vol. 8/10  

Orval: A recurring favorite of mine, this Belgian ale is a relatively light and lively number, being 6.2% alc/vol, but which is dark, smoky, and with a taste that is just slightly reminiscent of cherry. A good dessert beer, best when served with something chocolatey or fruity. 8/10

Chimay: This breweries lineup comes in four varieties: red, blue, white, and doree (golden). The last I have yet to find, and is quite rare when compared to the others, so I shall confine myself to the red, blue and white.

Red: The Red is the most common and is considered the premiere beer, meaning the most widely distributed and popular. It is dark brown, has a fruity nose, and tastes both sweet and oaky. 8/10

Blue: This ale is classified as the Grande Reserve (meaning of a special stock) that is the second most popular of the Chimay lineup. This beer is a lighter, coppery color, is stronger at 9% alc/vol, has a more complex flavor that is slightly peppery and has notes of caramel. 7/10

White: A golden Tripel, light orange in color, 8% acl/vol, and the most hoppy and crisp tasting of the three. Like many Trappist beers, it has a strong note of fruit to it, reminisicent of grapes and raisins. 7.5/10

I should mention that these beer are definitely an acquired taste, but once acquired, is most appealing to the palate!

La Rochefort 8: Like most Trappist and/or Belgian beers, this brewery produces at least three varieties. In this case, those come in the 6, 8, and 10, corresponding to their alcohol content. The Rochefort 8 is their flagship beer, being the most common and popular. The color is dark, the nose is floral and malty, and the taste is correspondent, being at once smooth, sweet and smooth. Definitely one of my favorites beers and in the top five Belgians! 8.5/10

Westmalle Tripel: As usual, I saved the best for last! Shortly after my favorite beerhall (Vineyards, Ottawa) ran out of my favorite beer (St. Ambroise Millennial Ale), I began searching for a viable replacement. I found it with this, the Westmalle Trappist Tripel. Golden in color, with a crisp taste, slightly hoppy, floral nose and a distinctive, sweet finish, this beer charmed my palate and is still a favorite of mine today. I cannot emphasize enough how this beer combined complexity and subtlety with a fine sense of drinkability, all the while being 9.5% alc/vol. Anytime I pop into Vineyards, I order one. 9/10!