The Manx Pub, Ottawa

Welcome back and hope you’re enjoying my series on Ontario Beers and where to drink them when you find yourself in the nations capital. Today, I would like to pay homage to one of my most favorite pubs (in part because of their many, many taps). As the title line suggests, I am referring to The Manx Pub, located at the cozy intersection of Elgin Street and Frank, right next to that venerable institution, the Elgin Street Diner!

I was first introduced to this pub back in the early 2000’s. I was told in advance that it was good, that it was popular, and I immediately saw why. As soon as you walk in to this basement-level pub, you are hit with a warm, cozy feeling that is augmented by the decor. In addition, they also have artwork and photographs on the walls, showcasing the work of independent artists. I tell ya, it’s like a cross between an updated Tudor-era pub and a Bohemian artists wet dream!

But what I liked especially was the friendly atmosphere and the many taps they boasted. Not only that, but if you were a regular in the old days, they’d let you bring in a mug of your own, hang it behind the bar, and you serve you out of it whenever you came in. Mine was an Alexander Keith’s porcelain mug, and it hung there for a little over two years (since renovating, they had to discontinue this trend, but hopefully they’ll pick it up again soon).

In 2004, when I moved into an apartment just up the road, I made the Manx my go-to place for dinner and drinks. Many an evening I would spend their with friends, my writing note-book, or just a stack of papers that needed marking. Since moving to BC, I make it a point to go back there anytime I’m in town. My wife and friends became easy converts to the place, seduced by the atmosphere, food, and great beer!

The Great Beer:
Of their taps, the following names have typically enjoyed a home there.
McAuslan Brewery: the St. Amboise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout have had a home at the Manx for as long as I can remember. Good thing too!
Churchkey Brewery: Another popular customer at the Manx, particularly their Northumberland Ale. However, others seem to be making it into the lineup all the time.
Scotch-Irish Brewery: An old favorite that I keep returning to, and one the Manx has been known to rotate in every now and then.
Niagara Brewery: I can recall many occasions when Niagara was on tap, particularly the Gritstone or the Olde Jack.
Creemore Springs: the lager is available year-round and the Urbock is brought out during the winter season. Every winter, I’m sure to get on that!

The Food:
In addition to all that, I’ve found that they make the best burger in town! Competition on that front has been intense since our most recent visit, especially since the burger joint known as Hindengburger set up shop! Nevertheless, my feelings on this issue stand!

One can always find their daily burger creation listed on the specials board. Everyday there’s something new and creative, but the core principle always revolves around a burger with a hand-made patty of thick beef, a toasted kaiser, and the usual fresh fixings. Not to mention the potato-wedge fries with garlic aioli, which is frankly to die for! The most recent special (which we enjoyed during our visit) featured a Kim Chi twist (Korean pickled/spiced cabbage). I can also remember one incarnation from years back that involved Brie cheese. Others involved shaved beets, cucumber, white cheddar, back bacon… the list goes on!

Aside from that, their special board always includes a Naan pizza (always different), soup, pasta and a main dish which are often vegetarian, but which will sometimes feature steak, ribs, or duck. Portabello mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and different types of cheese will usually make it into the mix as well. And their regular menu is definitely worth checking out as well. Since it keeps changing and I tend to visit only once every few years, I cannot attest to the contents with any real accuracy. But always the ingredients are fresh, the combinations creative, and the result well worth the price. Word around the campfire is that they do a fantastic brunch too!

The Atmosphere:
When one walks into the bar, one is immediately struck by the old-world feel of the place. Whether it is the dark wood tables, beams, and bar, the warm lighting, or the stucco walls, one can help but think they are in a Victorian or even Tudor-era pub (updated for the current century obviously). In addition to that, adding to the creature comfort factor, are the plush red velvet booths and couches and copper-skinned tables. Where else but on Elgin street could someone find such a place, I often wonder. Ecclectic and artistic, traditional yet trendy-modern. With friendly staff, great beer and good eats to accompany, its little wonder why the place is always packed.

This latter aspect is something that can be a bit uncomfortable about the place. It’s size and popularity lend themselves to a packed a tight mentality. What one person finds cozy, another might find claustrophobic. Live music is often featured, but again, space is not at a premium which means noise levels can get a bit oppressive too. In addition, the food can be pricey as well. Still, once you get your seat and have your meal, you’ll feel that your time and money were well spent!

My thanks to the Manx staff for having us back again this trip! To my fellow Beer Snobs, I say to you that if you find yourself in Ottawa and are looking for good taps and a quality establishment, get yourself a table at this here place. Come early or call ahead, as the place tends to fill up quickly during the dinner and drinking hours! Cheers and keep on tilting!

Mill Street Brewpub, Ottawa

Several months back, a good friend of mine wrote to me here in BC and told me that I should come to Ottawa to check out the recent expansions in the beer market. Of particular interest to him was the Mill Street Brewpub, a new branch of the Toronto-based microbrewery that had opened up in Ottawa. After a quick check, I confirmed that this was in fact the brewery that made one of my favorite Ontario beers (the Tank House Pale Ale) and decided I would drop in next chance I got. And, as promised, when Carla and I visited Ottawa recently, we were sure to drop in.

Quite the experience, let me tell you. Having just come from Hull Quebec to attend Winterlude’s Winter Beer and Ice Wine event, we were already full of good cheer. And after a walk across the Portage Bridge to get back to Ottawa, we were also quite cold and in need of some warmth. So you can imagine how good we felt when we walked into the brewpub, located just up the road from the bridge, and saw hundreds of people looking pleased and even more sample glasses in wooden trays being carried around.

Things began as expected, we were told we’d have to wait… for forty-five minutes. We initially expressed some disappointment, until the hostess told us that that was down from the three hours others had to contend with earlier. “Okay!” we said, took a pager, and grabbed a seat at the bar. Some nice people were just vacating their seats, and in the process, we got to see the multi-hued array of beers they had ordered, and a plate of pulled-pork nachos. Our anticipation grew! Ten minutes later, our pager began to vibrate and they seated us in the section overlooking the Ottawa River. The night got progressively better from there…

The Atmosphere:
Before I get to the lovely dinner and samples we enjoyed, I would like to note the surroundings, as it brought back some curious memories. Located in a former grist mill at LeBreton Flats that overlooks the Ottawa River, and within walking distance from the Canadian War Museum, this 140 year old stone building has served as a restaurant for some years. In fact, I can recall eating there once as a boy, though I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called back then. Nevertheless, the good people at the Mill St. operation chose well when buying up this building. Combining heritage and modern comforts, the restaurant is just all-around festive and cozy! In addition to its stone walls, wooden tables and floors, one gets an eyeful of the brewing apparatus the moment they walk in (sealed behind plate glass of course). I was immediately reminded of the Pike Place brewpub in Seattle, another fine operation!

The Beer!:
Okay, down to business! I should note that though demand was high, my heroic server (who’s name I can’t remember, though I do seem to remember dark hair, a quick smile and a Van Dyke beard) was able to score me the final wooden sample tray and some glasses. They were plastic, but at this point, that didn’t matter. Thank to his efforts, I was able to try a full array of the their taps. Kudos to you, dear sir. May your barley be plentiful and your hops bitter and fragrant!

Tank House Ale: This pale ale is one beer I was on good terms with even before I set foot in the restaurant. Having sampled it years ago while visiting my good friends (Hi Chi! Hi Christina!) in Toronto, it was also the beer I drank on my last visit with both of them before packing up and moving to the West Coast. And my reasons for liking it remain. Hoppy, refreshing and with a citrusy nose, the Tank House has a nice dry start and a lingering finish that calls to mind all that is great about a pale ale. Though I have been known to love many a pale ale, this one ranks among my favorites, comparable only to St. Amboise and (more recently) Hoyne’s Down Easy. 5/5

Portage Ale: This beer was an interesting diversion from the hoppy Tank House, and whose name I found irresistible since a good chunk of my childhood was spent camping and portaging! A lighter cream ale that is at once crisp, light in hue and in terms of hops, its subtle flavor and clean finish were a good accompaniment to my hot wings (more on that later!). Using pale malts and a combination of hops, this beer is reminiscent of lager, a definite go-to for those looking for a pleasant and easy-drinking experience. 3.75/5

Valley Irish: No beer lineup is complete without an Irish Ale, I always say! Done in the traditional Irish-style, this beer combines a creamy, tawny taste with a clean finish that calls to mind such British classics as Boddingtons and Kilkenny, though I honestly preferred this one to either of those. In addition to being better tasting, in my humble opinion, it is also made in honor of the Ottawa valley and honors its proud heritage! 3.75/5

Cobblestone Stout: Next up was their stout, which any beer snob will tell you is an indispensable part of any sample lineup! The Cobblestone is not to be confused with their Coffee Porter however, another fine beer that I’ve had on several other occasions. And in both cases, I was quite pleased. Much like the porter, this beer is smooth, highly tawny on the palate and boasts rich coffee notes which linger long after you sip it down (Do not gulp! You cannot appreciate it if you gulp!). 4/5

Helles Bock: And last, but certainly not least, was their bock lager (word of advice: Always save a bock for last, as its the most likely to compliment dessert-fare). Translated from German, Helles refers to the pale color of the lager, which I would describe as a light amber hue. In addition, the bock has a strong malty taste flavor that boasts traces of citrus which is balanced out by a discernible hop finish. Dry, smooth, but not too sweet, this beer is a good accompaniment to either the main course or desserts. 3.75/5

The Food:
As a final note, I would like to mention what we had to eat, as it would seem unfair to mention everything else and not include the food. Though we could hardly sample everything on the menu, Carla and I were pretty impressed by what we saw. As I mentioned earlier, this brewpub boasts some pulled-pork items which are sure to tantalize the glutton in all of us. And the restaurant also comes highly recommended for their Wild Boar Ragu, which I will definitely be trying next time we’re in the area! However, they’re also pretty good at pub fare and comfort food, as my wife and I quickly learned. Here’s what we had:

Wings: As is customary for me, I went with the wings for my first visit. No good pub can pass the bar if they can’t make a good wing, I always say. So it pleases to me to say that Mill St. is in fact a damn good pub! Their hot wings were nice and meaty but not overly breaded, which is a pitfall for many pubs who try to pass off emaciated wings by smothering them in batter. The hot sauce was also a surprise, being multi-layered in addition to real spicey, which is a step up from places that’ll give you Frank’s Red Hot and nothing more. Good job, Mill St! You passed the wing’s test! 4/5

Spinach Salad: Another favorite of mine, the perfect accompaniment to any plate of wings. And ’round here, they do it up fancy! In addition to goat’s cheese, candied walnuts and dried cranberries, their salad boasts red and heirloom beats; which though I never been a big fan of, I certainly appreciated. The artistic appeal alone was well worth the price of admission, but the health benefits pay for themselves! The dressing was also nice and light, composed of their own Frambozen beer and a balsamic vinaigrette. Num! 4/5

Chicken Pot Pie: Here’s where the comfort comes in! Flaky, delightful pastry, chicken, peas and mashed potatoes make up this lovely meal, which is then covered in a light chicken gravy. At once tender, juicy, and even a little smoky-flavored, Carla was a happy girl with this as her dinner. It was accompanied by some creamy Yukon Gold spuds that just expanded on the comfort factor. Though it was Carla’s dish, I was delighted to pick at it! 5/5

I guess it goes without saying that this was a highly enjoyable experience, and one which we intend to repeat. I strongly recommend that anyone who is fortunate enough to live in the Ottawa area year-round (as opposed to those of us who have to fly in!) get out to this place and try the fare and beer ASAP. I also recommend that they call ahead and reserve since the place is already popular and sure to be packed on any given weekend. Also, if you got time, check out the links below for the restaurant and their original Toronto location. Their beer to easily found at just about LCBO in the province 😉

Back from Ottawa!

Greeting all from the nation’s capital! Some interesting things have transpired since our arrival. Some friends came out, some pubs were visited, some pints were tilted. All good times! And as usual, I intend to write about it all, particularly all the beers we drank! Some old, some new, there were many brands that were drunk even thus far that have been worthy of a review. It will take me days to cover them all, so please, your indulgence as I try to do it all justice…

My first review is dedicated to the beers encountered at a timely and impressive event:The Winter Beers and Ice Wines event that took place during the weekend of the 17th/18th. Not only did it coincide with our visit nicely, my darling wife had the foresight to suggest we book some VIP tickets. As such, we got the deluxe experience! In addition to sampling many, many beers from the Quebec side of the border, we got a taste of some true culinary delights in an upscale atmosphere. It all went down at the Maison du Citoyen in Hull, Quebec, and here’s what I thought of what I tasted, by brand and name.

Brasseurs Du Temps:
Located in Gatineau, Quebec, this brewery was the only one at the tasting that had its own booth staffed by its own people. And given the fact that the sample glasses were also stamped with their company logo, I got the distinct impression they were hosting the thing. All of their brews were made in accordance with traditional European and (more specifically) Belgian brewing, at least the ones I tried. As such, they were strong, heavy, dark and deep! Not to mention flavorful.

Dumduminator: Named in honor of its creator, Dominique Gosselin (Dumdum to his friends), this dunkelweizenbock was a nice surprise, calling to mind one of my all time favorites: Aventinus! And like its predecessor, it was dark, strong, had a heady foam, and some rich wheat malts. However, the DD was different in that it had a distinct banana flavor in addition to its spicey notes. A nice opening to this tasting experience! 4/5

La Saison Basse: This seasonal beer, named in honor of the fall, is a blonde ale that boasts a variety of spices with an intense, distinctly Belgian taste. Overall, I was reminded of Duvel, another blonde done in the Belgian fashion that boasted some gruff malts. I should also note, in a move that is decidedly clever, this beer has an opposite known as La Saison Haute, a seasonal spring beer. Unfortunately, this one was not available at the tasting. Guess I’ll have to wait til next year! 3.75/5

Messe de Minuit, 2010: A holiday beer which, quite frankly, is like Christmas in a glass! The color is black, the smell is fruity and spicey, and the nose and taste are similar to a stout. Add to that a rich flavor that is reminiscent of figgy pudding, cloves and spices, and you get a pretty good picture of what this beer is all about. A great finish to this breweries lineup. 4.5/5

I just wish I could have sampled more. A quick perusal of their website would seem to indicate that there’s certainly no shortage! I wonder if they deliver…

IGA Famille Charles:
Said family is a major compact in Quebec which owns the Independent Grocers Association, a number of craft breweries, and the relative giants of Molson, Coors, and Rickards Brewing. Overall, I’d say I spent the majority of my time at this booth, trying their beer, talking to their patrons, and bugging their representatives for info! Here’s what I sampled and where it came from:

L’Assoiffe: brewed by Brasseurs du Monde, from St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, this beer’s name literally translates to “thirsty”. A double brown ale, brewed Belgian-style, it was expectedly strong and quite dark, combining a strong malty profile with the tawny character of a brown. Lightly scented but firmly flavored, it was quite the thirst quencher! 3.75/5

Trois-Mousquetaires Wiezenbock: this beer, I quickly realized, is something we have in BC. In fact, I can recall drinking one or two Mousquetaires not that long ago; luckily they weren’t the Wiezenbock so I didn’t consider this experience wasted! Brewed in Brossard, Quebec, Trois Mousquetaires is another Quebec craft brewery specializing in continental-style beer making. And at 10% alc/vol, this wheat beer was certainly a unique experience, combining strong wheat  malts with a very rich, very dark profile that called to mind brown sugar, molasses and a hint of smoke and bananas. Quite the powerful number, and definitely for the barley wine enthusiast, if not the casual beer drinker! 3.5/5

La Noblesse: Possibly my favorite from the IGA section, this beer was reminiscent of Chimay in a number of ways. For starters, its a dark amber, cloudy in appearance, and boasts a strong oaky flavor that reminds one of sour ale.  I was also told to be on the lookout for a touch of vanilla, though I admittedly took awhile to find it! Definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for in the future. 4/5

McAuslan Brewing:
Technically, the bar hosting McAuslan’s fine products was hosted by the radio station CKOI (104.7 Outaouais), but to me, they were the centerpiece so they might as well have been running it themselves. Several other brewers were represented here; unfortunately, I only got to try one other. Lucky for me, it was worth it since I finally got to try McAuslan’s latest Vintage Ale as well as the rather unique and intriguing Diablo. Of these:

Millesimee: This is the name of McAuslan’s 2010 Vintage Ale. Awhile back, I reviewed McAuslan and claimed that their Millennial Ale, the 2000 Vintage, was the best beer I’ve ever tried. Well that’s still true, but unfortunately, I’ve been unable to offer any opinions on any of the vintages they’ve produced since. Thanks to this event, those days are now behind me, even if it’s likely to be awhile before I can review any of their vintages again. That being said, I have to say that I was unimpressed with this latest vintage by the good folks at McAuslan. Unlike its Millennial predecessor, the 2010 Vintage was an amber ale, very strong, slightly sweet, and quite rough on the palatte. I was reminded of Scotch-Ale, the “Wee Heavy” style of beer that combines rich, heavy malts with a touch of sweetness and a bitter, highly viscous aftertaste. That’s what you got here, and I have to say that I do not think these different elements go together well. This is not to say that the beer is a bad contribution, far from it! In fact, its without a doubt a faithful adaptation of an extra-strong amber ale and an interesting choice for their latest vintage. It just didn’t agree with me personally. Mainly because the strong flavor has a way of really lingering. Seriously, after a glass of this, everything tasted rough and bitter! 3/5

El Diablo: Last of the festivals lineup comes to you from the Brasserie du Lievre located in Mont-Laurier, Quebec. And I can honestly say that my choice to try this over several others from this bar was thematically consistent, given the fact that it too was a strong amber, rough on the palatte, and quite rich and chewy. However, the Diablo combines all of this with a strong, vanilla flavor that is surprising and quite palatable. A touch of velvet you might say to an otherwise rough and tough brew. Little wonder then why they call it Diablo! 3.75/5

Well, that is all for now. Like I said, there were many drinking experiences during my Ottawa trip, and it will take some time to do it all justice. Lord knows I spent plenty of time this trip with a beer in one hand and my PDA in the other, constantly drinking and typing, hoping to get all my impressions down so I could do faithful reviews later.

Coming up next, the Mill Street Brewpub, a newly opened branch of the Toronto-based craft brewery!

Hoyne’s Brewing (part II)

And we’re back with more Hoyne! Today, I will be reviewing the second half of their starting lineup, featuring all the flavors I wasn’t able to get my hands on before. But first, I should mention that after my last review, I heard from the brewers themselves!

Well… actually I wrote to them and told them I was impressed with their wares. But to my surprise, they wrote back and even invited me and my darling bride to come by their base of operations and try some samplers. Oh, and they also let me know that they are open for growler sales on Thurs and Fri from 3 – 6 pm and Sat from noon – 6, information I now pass onto you, the consumer!  Do what you like with that, but I for one plan to go! My car has a surprising capacity, and I bet I could fit several growlers in the back…

But I digress. Here’s Hoyne’s Pale Ale and their Pilsner, both of which were consistent with their Bock and IPA (i.e. kick-ass!)

Down Easy Pale Ale: The name pretty much says it all. Pale Ale has a reputation for being hoppy, yet crisp and drinkable, at least when it’s the good kind. And I can honestly say, without doubt or exaggeration, that this beer is true to that legacy. When my wife and I tilted some in our favorite Hofbrauhaus mugs, our first words to each other were “oooooh”. Crisp, clean, drinkable, yet still with a good hop bite and a strong aroma, this beer is an easy-drinker, but still maintains all that is right about a pale ale. Another big hit! 5/5

Hoyner Pilsner: Last but certainly not least. This beer impressed the heck out of me, mainly because it accomplished all that a pilsner usually does, but still found room to go above and beyond. Allow me to explain. Pilsner’s are typically crisp and clean tasting, but have a rather distinct and lingering taste that some would qualify as skunky. However, this beer manages to pull all that off – being crisp, clean and hoppy – but without any skunky aftertaste. In fact, the flavor is quite subtle, combining a light hop bite with a gentle, lingering aftertaste. Which makes for an especially refreshing drink. I’m looking forward to this summer when my wife and I can finally open our patio and invite some friends over! 5/5

Okay, that’s Hoyne’s starting lineup covered. I’m looking forward to any additional beers and seasonals they might choose to release in the near future. Given their performance so far, I imagine they will be appropriately kick-ass. So… hintedy hint hint Hoyne 😉

Hoyne’s Brewing

You ever have this happen to you, where multiple sources tell you you have to try something? Well, that happened to me recently. Everywhere I turned, it seemed people were talking about Hoyne’s brewery, a start-up operation located right here in the heart of Victoria, BC. But of course, I did a little homework before sampling from this beer maker, and was pretty damn impressed with what I found!

For starters, the brew master of Hoyne apparently got his start with Swann’s own brewpub, an operation he started with Frank Appleton back in 1989, which he then took over when the venerable Appleton moved on. He then started the Canoe Club 1998, which he then ran for 13 years before moving on himself to establish Hoyne. As far as I’m concerned, they don’t make credentials better than that!

Okay, enough fawning. Here’s what I’ve sampled thus far, and it just happens to be half of their starting lineup:

Hoyne’s Big Bock: First impressions… great! In fact, I was reminded of Creemore Urbock, one of my all-time favorites. Smooth, malty, lightly hopped, and with a tawny taste that has nice subtle notes that just linger on the tongue. Faint notes of chocolate also give this beer a light trace of sweetness, which is absolutely essential when it comes to good bock! Congratulations, Hoyne! My first sampling and you smacked it out of the park! 5/5

Next up, always a personal favorite, their IPA!

Devil’s Dream IPA: I tasted this one just a few minutes ago, and immediately another comparison came to mind, to another one of my favorites no less! Strong, malty, but with a big hop kick that is strongly citrusy in terms of bouquet and taste, I was immediately reminded of Driftwood’s Fat Tug. This is no coincidence, as both are perfect examples of a true Northwest IPA, using hops and malts that are characteristic of this fine region. Another home run! 5/5

Now I just need to try their Down Easy Pale Ale and Hoyner Pilsner, and given the impression they’ve already made, I expect good things! My apologies to Hoyne for the comparative analysis, but the association was unavoidable. Rest assured that if I had tried yours first, I would be comparing their beers to you! Keep up the good work!

Cameron’s Brewing

Welcome back to my series on Ontario beers, in honor of my old stomping grounds. Today, I pay homage to Cameron’s brewery of Oakville, Ontario. I remember these guys quite well because of their eight packs. Yes, whereas everyone else chooses to pack their bottles by the six, twelve, and two-four, these guys put out boxes numbering eight. I tell ya, it’s the perfect cube to fit in the back of your car! Weird, yet unique, and somehow esoterically pleasing! And the beer is good too! Speaking of which, onto that…

Cameron’s Auburn Ale: Cameron’s Auburn has apparently earned them the bulk of their awards and praise. Having sampled this one in the early 2000’s, I can tell you that I was relatively new to the whole Auburn ale thing. If there were a fitting comparison, I’d say it’s an Irish/Amber, with a malty profile, a tawny aftertaste and a subtle yet lingering hop finish. Over the years, this one sticks out in my memory because it is both a distinctive beer and my introduction to this particular variety. 4.5/5

Cameron’s Cream Ale: This beer, contrary to what I thought, is actually their flagship beer, the one that started their brewery and is the mainstay of their product line. Having tried the Auburn first, I naturally thought it was their first beer. Live and learn! Anyway, this beer is a somewhat different take on the cream ale, possessing a strong malty taste and a clear British hop presence, but with a clean taste that is reminiscent of lager. I have since learned that this is due to the cold fermentation they use to make this brand. The result is much like their Auburn, a beer that is subtle and quite unique. 4/5

Cameron’s Lager: An aromatic, crisp, clean lager that is nevertheless quite light and (again) subtle to the palate. Their lightest tasting beer, it is not my personal favorite, but is nevertheless consistently good and possesses layers of flavor, in spite of its light hop profile. This becomes evident the more ones get into it, a clear sign of quality and in keeping with Cameron’s ability to balance subtlety and complexity. 3.5/5

And of course, this brewery has also come out with some additional products since I left town. Naturally, I am never happy when I find this out, but when I saw what they’ve been producing, I was REALLY unhappy! Yes, it seems they’ve come out with a dark lager, a series of whiskey-barrel aged seasonals (in 750 ml bottles) and a doppelbock! Three of my favorites, all from one place that I have no access to! I tell ya, this would seriously piss me off if I weren’t on my way there soon! Beware LCBO, I will be coming soon and I will be bringing a big shopping bag. Do not be out of stock, or you shall see what I’m like when I’m sober!