Category Archives: tastings & dinners

Calling Out Top Restaurants on Beer Selection

No, I’m not going to waste your time or mine whinging about the lack of decent beer selection at fine dining restaurants. That situation is improving by the day, at least in major North American cities, and besides, it deserves noting that for every good wine place that lacks a decent beer list, there are probably two or three beer places serving crap wine.

No, my bitch today is about restaurants that decide to dip their proverbial toe into the good beer waters and do so in a way that would, if done in a similar fashion with wine, would earn the place naught but ridicule. Exhibit 1 being the new Seafood Fest menu at Toronto’s Nota Bene, a downtown resto with impeccable food credentials.

Seriously, this place has been awarded accolades like they’re going out of style, as anyone can clearly see on their website: Talk of the Town Award of Excellence; Best New Restaurant; Independent Restaurateurs of the Year; etc. Its wine list features 170 selections, and its back bar is certainly decent enough. And the beer selections for its August long seafood promotion?

  • Stella Artois
  • Hoegaarden
  • Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale
  • Goose Island Sophie

If you noted a theme to these picks, you’re right: They all come from the stable of Anheuser-Busch InBev, by several degrees the largest brewing company in the world. So it’s a fair guess that some money was involved in the crafting of this promotion.

While I give fair dues to AB InBev for putting together a beer deal with such a respected restaurant, I can only shake my head at the lack of judgement at Nota Bene. You don’t have to be a beer expert to understand that, with the lone exception of Sophie, these are all astoundingly ordinary beers. (For non-Canadian readers, Keith’s is not an IPA by any reasonable definition of the term, tasting as it does more like a mainstream lager.) And in my admittedly not-so-humble opinion, even Sophie isn’t quite what it used to be back when Goose Island was still independent.

Ten years ago, this might have worked at an upscale Toronto restaurant; people then weren’t terrifically beer-savvy and imported brands still carried a bit of cachet. But today? When the LCBO down the road from Nota Bene is selling Saison Dupont and Renaissance MPA and Founders Centennial IPA and locally-brewed King Vienna Lager? I think not.

To find a parallel, I try to imagine Nota Bene piecing together a month of wine and food pairings featuring Fat Bastard, Little Penguin, Yellow Tail and Fuzion, but somehow that seems rather unlikely. So why, I wonder, do they think they should get a free pass doing the equivalent sort of promo with beer?

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps esteemed chef David Lee tasted his way through dozens of beers before deciding that the ideal match for mussels and frites is Stella and the perfect accompaniment for Maritime lobster is Keith’s, in which case I completely withdraw my criticisms and invite Chef Lee around for a beer tasting sometime, so that I might introduce him to some more diverse and interesting flavours. But if not, then Nota Bene has done itself a serious disservice.

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The Beaumont-Webb Travelling Road Show

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much of late. Indeed (gulp!) for the last three weeks. There are reasons for this.

Reason number one is travel. As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@BeaumontDrinks) will know, I’ve been all over the place lately, and keeping on top of my various columns and assignments is almost all I can manage when I’m on the road.

Reason number two? That would be the prep time I’ve been spending getting organized to write my next book, but more about that at a later date.

And reason number three is the impending North American release of The World Atlas of Beer, the book I’ve co-written with Tim Webb. We’re pretty damn happy with it, and initial reviews have thus far been most encouraging. So we’re going to take this sucker on the road!

That’s right. Starting in early October, the esteemed Mr. Webb, himself the author of seven editions of the Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and I are going to be making a series of appearances across the United States, with most events already organized and some with details TBA. Here’s how it all is shaping up:

October 4: During the afternoon (exact hours TBD), Tim and I will be signing books at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia, followed by a World Atlas of Beer dinner at the Belgian Cafe. See www.monkscafe.com and www.thebelgiancafe.com for details.

October 6: We’ll be at the World Beer Festival in Durham, North Carolina, appearing at both sessions. www.allaboutbeer.com/gather-for-beer/world-beer-festival/durham-nc

October 7: Come visit us at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Event details TBA. www.beerknurd.com

October 8: We’re flying into Dallas to see how Texans react to Tim’s British accent during a beer dinner at the Meddlesome Moth. www.mothinthe.net

October 9: Back on the road, this time to the Austin Flying Saucer for another appearance with details TBA. www.beerknurd.com

October 10: Once more with feeling, this time at the Sugar Land, Texas, Flying Saucer. www.beerknurd.com

October 11 – 13: It’s Great American Beer Festival time, and we’ll be there signing books during the Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon sessions. God knows what else we’ll get up to… www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com

October 14: Tim is off to Seattle for an as-yet-undisclosed event at an as-yet-undecided locale, but I’ll be popping up in Chicago for a beer and whisky tasting at Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill. Hey, it’s a bye week for the Bears, so what else are you going to do!? www.rockwellsgrill.com   

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Beer in Canada

I’ve been a bit busy running around, flying about and writing for money of late, so I’ve missed out on posting about some upcoming events and news items pertaining to beer in Canada. Here, then, is a quick round-up of interest to Canucks and those planning to visit my home and native land in the near future:

1) The big news of the summer is that Westvleteren is coming to town! Now, Westvleteren 12 might be the most over-hyped beer in history, but the monastery brewery is nonetheless exceptional at what they do, so this opportunity is nothing to sneeze at. Alberta-based Horizon Beers is the agency bringing it in, in the form of 6 bottle, 2 glass six-packs. The last I heard, allocations are going to Ontario and points west – sorry Maritimes & Quebec – and it should be arriving sometime in the very near future. Keep your eyes peeled!

2) For Torontonians, on the eve of Toronto’s Festival of Beer, comes word (via Canadian Beer News) that a new beer festival is headed your way. The Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival will take place August 11 and 12 in the area fronting Steam Whistle Brewing. Check here for details.

3) I won’t be around for the Roundhouse fest because I’ll be busy at the Halifax Seaport Beer Festival that weekend, hosting a beer dinner at Brussels Restaurant on Thursday and hanging at the fest Friday and Saturday. If you’re in or nearby to Nova Scotia, come on over and say hi!

4) The weekend following the Seaport fest, I’ll be in Ottawa for the National Capital Craft Beer Festival, speaking both Friday and Saturday. My buddy Jordan St. John will be there, too, so get yourself down to Marion Dewar Plaza on August 17 and 18 and harass him, will ya?

5) Finally, I’ve been sampling a bunch of Canadian beers of late, both established brands and new arrivals. Here are some thoughts in brief –

  • Waterloo Authentic Amber, from Brick Brewing, sold singly or as part of their sampler pack, shows caramelly malt and some vanilla notes from the oak chips used in its lagering. Not bad, but a bit too sweet and cloying for my tastes.
  • Brasseurs Sans Gluten’s Blonde Ale is a gluten-free winner, spicy and citrusy with a bone dry finish. A triumph for Celiac and gluten-sensitive beer drinkers.
  • Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company’s latest collaboration, Venskab, made with Anders Kissmeyer, is a fascinating creature, with bog myrtle, yuzu fruit and ice wine-soaked wood chips all figuring in its recipe. The result is a sweet-ish and somewhat winey tripel, reminiscent of a citrusy dry vermouth, with bitterness creeping around on the outskirts. We’ll be serving this at my beer dinner in Halifax.
  • Lastly, Moosehead sent me over some of their Cracked Canoe, a 3.5% alcohol light lager with a thin sweetness, not quite grainy, but far from caramel or toffee maltiness. All in all, a very light tasting lager with a sweetish edge to it.

 

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Looking Back at the Brewer’s Plate

You might recall a while ago – long before my curmudgeonly rant of last week – I posted about an event called the Brewer’s Plate. If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen the tweets, as well. And you may have wondered what it was all about.

ImageWell, much like the upcoming, and sold out!, Savor event in Washington, DC, the annual, Toronto-based Brewer’s Plate is a beer and food partnering event, featuring local breweries and some of the top chefs in town. This was my third Plate, and I think the best thus far.

Note the “thus far,” part of that line above. Because as good as the Brewer’s Plate has become, it’s still not where I think it can be in terms of quality and effectiveness. Here’s why.

The Venue: No room for improvement here! Roy Thompson Hall is an ideal setting for events like the Brewer’s Plate – and the upcoming Spirit of Toronto – and should be held on to with an iron grip.

The Beer: The local angle is good, but limiting. There is now great beer available in Toronto from across Canada and around the world, in styles local brewers have not yet even attempted, much less mastered, and the inclusion of some out-of-province brands would surely benefit the scope of the Plate.

The Food: Here’s where I think the most work needs to be done. Not that any of the food I tasted was sub-par or even ordinary – all the dishes I sampled were at least good, sometimes very good and occasionally great – but more effort needs to go into matching beer and food, in my opinion. At too many of the stands was I told that “any of these beers” will pair well with the food, regardless of how disparate they may have been in style and taste, and too often I heard the tired old refrain that Dish X was cooked with Beer Y – usually in some innocuous way, such as using it to colour a sauce or braise a meat – and thus is also paired with Beer Y. That may have flown in the mid-1990s, but certainly we’re now sophisticated enough that we can and should expect more of a food and beer partnership.

The Organization and Service: Again, I thought everything was superbly managed, after the slight confusion at the door when the event first opened, and the service was first-rate.

So there you have it, Brewer’s Plate. Work on the food, perhaps add a bit more beer and I think you have the potential to lay claim to one of this country’s best beer events.

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Great Toronto Beer Event Fast Approaching

This is an event I try to announce well in advance every year – although I missed the “well in advance” part last year — simply because it’s a first-class, extremely worthy show that not only highlights beer and food pairing, but does so for charity.

It is the Brewer’s Plate.

This year, the Plate is boasting a new benefiting charity, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, which is an award winning organization offering food growing and environmental education programs to inner-city schools and park sites, reaching over 3,000 children each year. The press release for the event boasts that “their school gardens are about kids and their grownups, plants and their people – from all over the world!”

But as much as I always feel warm and fuzzy when I support charitable efforts, the meat and potatoes of this event are the brewers and chefs, and this year the Brewer’s Plate would seem to have a good class on hand. Chefs for this year’s event include: Brad Long, Aaron Joseph Bear Robe, Karen Vas,  Lori Kirk, and my favourite from two years ago, Brook Kavanaugh from La Palette. Brewers include Beau’s, Black Oak, Granite, Steam Whistle, Grand River, Muskoka, Spearhead and numerous others.

The best news, however, is that the Brewer’s Plate has a new home in Roy Thompson Hall, a space I have experienced several times for the Spirit of Toronto. (And will again for that event on May 12!) It’s a great move for the Plate and should alleviate much of the crowding and over-heating that has occurred in years past.

This is not a cheap event, but in my estimation it is one well worth the cost. Visit the website for details and to purchase tickets.

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Updated Events Listings

I’ve finally gotten around to updating the events I’ll be participating in over the next little while, including all my Toronto Beer Week gigs. And don’t forget to check out the luxury beer and whisky/whiskey cruise I’ll be hosting in May of next year!

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Upcoming Events

Check the Beer Tastings, Dinners & Events section

for upcoming appearances through May.

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Toronto (and GTA) Event Notice

It’s been a bit crazy around World of Beer Central these last couple of months, so much so, in fact, that one of the premier beer events of the year slipped my mind not once, but twice!

Tomorrow will see food and beer converge in one glorious evening as The Brewers Plate takes flight once again, this time in a new location at the Artscape Wychwood barns. I have attended this event the past two years — although I won’t be able to make it tomorrow — and can assure you that it improves annually. Considering that it was pretty damn good in 2010, this year’s should be magnificent. And as a bonus, it’s not only a delectable event, featuring some of the city’s most celebrated chefs and the province’s finest breweries, it’s also for charity.

So if you’re at loose ends tomorrow, click over here and get yourself a ticket or two. You won’t regret it!

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Man Meets (Brew)Dog

While the last two weeks of deadlines and new assignments and consulting meetings and Toronto Beer Week have been singularly exhausting, they have also provided a number of unique situations and opportunities. Like last Monday, when I was able to sit and sup a while with BrewDog co-founder James Watt.

It shall come as no surprise that I am not the biggest fan of BrewDog’s high-strength offerings – at least those I have tasted; Watt has promised me a miniature sample of the End of History, mailed once he returns to Scotland and to be reviewed here after it arrives – but I have enjoyed several of their other, more conventional brews, including their IPAs and the whisky barrel-conditioned Paradox Islay. So it wasn’t an entirely hostile audience the lead Dog encountered immediately following my Malt & Molluscs sampling at Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill.

Our chat covered numerous topics, from beer (obviously) to whisky to politics, and spanned a few hours and three bars. And it was just that, a chat, rather than a notebook open, could-you-please-repeat-that-for-the-record interview. Still, some notions linger, such as:

  • Watt explained that his brewery’s headline-grabbing high-test efforts need to be viewed within the context of the fiercely traditional U.K. beer market, where innovation in the fashion of U.S. craft brewers is rare and attitudes can be more than somewhat straight-laced. For a small brewery in northern Scotland to make its voice heard in such an environment, sometimes drastic steps – and presumably missteps, as when the brewery lodged a complaint about their own beer with alcohol watchdog The Portman Group – must be taken, he said.
  • Talking about BrewDog’s IPAs, primarily the lower strength Punk, Watt explained that their presence in North America was not to his mind exactly an ideal state of affairs and even admitted that were he in Poughkeepsie and staring at a fridge full of pale ales, he would likely pull something fresher and local in place of his own beer.
  • He also noted that, for the present, at least, North America was but a minor market for the brewery, compared to the closer European markets where they sell the bulk of their beer.
  • He readily admitted to a real fondness for the Forty Creek Confederation Oak Canadian Whisky I poured for him and expressed interest in getting hold of a bottle to take with him back to Scotland. Hmmm, Paradox Canada?

Thee was more, but some things are best left between us dogs.

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For the Canadians…Well, the Ontarians…Okay, GTAers

Heads up, folks, the first ever Toronto Beer Week kicks off on Monday and it’s looking like it will be a good one. I’ll be presenting a bunch of events — like my Malt & Molluscs Monday at Starfish and Wednesday’s Malt Magic beer and single malt pairing at The Monk’s Table — but also attending a lot more.

Yesterday, I posted my picks for the week at my thatsthespirit.com blog. Rather than repeat them all here, why not just follow this link and check them out?!

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