Monthly Archives: January 2009

A trip to the beer stores

Firefly Fine Wines & AlesI’m lucky to work near enough to Brewery Creek and Firefly that I can pop in at lunch, which I usually do every other week.  This week I set out with a purpose, to see if I could find myself some more of Mill Street’s brews.  I recently wrote about my experience with a couple of Mill Street products and the honourable Rich Green was kind enough to let me know that Firefly had Mill Street Coffee Porter in stock.

I am always curious to hear what Erik, and other beer enthusiasts, purchase from these fine purveyors of beer, so I thought it might be of interest to post my recent purchases.  I came back from Firefly with:

My return trip via Brewery Creek was also fruitful:

I always come back with more than I “need”, but never have a hard time finding people to share beer with.  There is usually some rhyme or reason behind my purchases.  I purchased the GI Porter and the Philips Stout because they are new BC seasonal releases, the Rogues on the recommendation of a co-worker I was with at the time, the Mill Street to continue my investigation, and the Pumpkin Ale because there was a big ‘new’ sign under it.  I am that fickle.

A side note, I bought an extra Philips the Hammer for The Cellar. Patience not being a gift of mine, it pains me whenever I stash a beer in my ultra high tech cardboard box garage cellar.  See you in a year beer.



A tour of Russell Brewing

A month or so back I wrote about a bad experience I had with Russell Brewing.  Russell found the post a short time later and contacted me.  Angie Harris, a marketing manager at Russell, invited some friends and I in for a tour of their brewery and a tasting.  Living not so far away, I gladly took them up on the offer last Saturday.

We were met by Angie and her brother Paul, a brewer with Russell, at their brewery in Surrey, BC.  It turns out that Russell is somewhat of a family affair, employing many of the Harris clan.  It also turns out that Angie, who is on maternity leave at the moment, and Paul came into work this past Saturday specifically to meet us and give us a tour.  Right off the bat they showed great commitment to their product.  They were also effusively apologetic for the bad batch of Russell Cream Ale I came across.  They were very nice, very passionate people who were very excited to tell us about all of the great improvements that Russell is making to their business.  They admitted that they’d had some problems with their canning process a few months back.  They’ve since made changes to their equipment, improved filtration, and hired one of the top quality control guys in the brewing industry.  I thought it was really great of them to be so open and honest.  I can tell you from first hand experience that these people love their beer and are doing their best to make it awesome, even while on maternity leave.

Paul showed us around the brewery while Angie prepared a tasting for us.  It was really cool to see how a microbrewery operates.  We got to see everything from Russell’s new bottling line to the latest forklift dent in the refrigerated storage area.  When it came to tasting, it was refreshing for me to taste how good Russell Cream Ale really can be.  I hadn’t purchased any since last summer, but will surely do so in the future.  We were also able to taste Russell’s Lager, Honey Blonde Ale, and Pale Ale, as well as the Pale Ale and Dark Ale of new Manitoba partner Fort Garry Brewing.  All were very simple, good quality beers.  Angie was also kind enough to suit us up in some Russell t-shirts, which you’ll see us sporting in the pictures below.

Russell more than made up for their mistake in my books.  I thank them very much for the tour and the tasting, which made for an excellent Saturday afternoon.

Pictures of the tour I took with my iPhone:

NOTE: I linked to these from Facebook and the album no longer exists for some reason, so here’s one of us at the end:

Us guys in our sweet new Russell shirts

Us guys in our sweet new Russell shirts



Real Beer Can Go Bad

Last Monday I had my family over for a nontraditional, one day late Robbie Burns Supper. The evening went quite well, at least I think it did, and I was pleased with the food, except for one key element, the beer. I picked up a bottle of Jameson’s Scottish Ale from Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub last September with the intent of serving it at a Robbie Burns supper. Scotch Ale is not my favorite style of beer – I find it cloying and challenging to finish as a result. But I bought this ale anyways thinking it would be great when paired with a rich flavorful dessert – sticky toffee pudding to be precise.

I served a delicious Brown Ale from Canoe Brewpub as a match to a supper of cullen skink, braised beef cross rib and of course neeps and tatties. A sticky toffee pudding was going to be served alongside a strong scotch ale as a conclusion to the meal, but disaster prevented this from happening. The beer had gone bad. The ale that was supposed to be smooth and malty was now offensively sour. I picked myself up from this great disappointment and carried on the evening by serving an oatmeal stout instead. Crisis was averted and dessert was served, but with a lingering sense of disappointment that nearly spoiled the evening.

This is not my first experience with spoiled beer from Spinnakers, this is the third time this has happened to me. Obviously Spinnakers has a problem with their bottling line that should be corrected, but in the world of small craft brewing I deem this to be somewhat of an acceptable error. This is not to say that I look forward to opening a bottle only to find sour beer waiting for me, I don’t. Small brewers operate on a tight budget and do the best with what they have – this means consistency from bottle to bottle may occasionally vary. The main reason why I can overlook this mistake is because craft beer is real beer and real beer is not pasteurized. Pasteurization is a high heat bacterial kill step that most macro brewers use to ensure their beer has a long shelf life. The intense heat of pasteurization does not help to improve beer’s flavour, if anything it destroys the delicate flavour compounds found in a proper brew. A clean brewery and proper brewing practices are all that is necessary to ensure a quality beer is reaching consumers – at least most of the time.

Opening a bottle of spoiled beer is part of the real beer experience. Of course it should be a very rare occurrence, but it will happen. Before modern science many beer drinkers would have regularly found their pint glass filled with sour beer. Without stale beer England’s famous Porter may never have existed. I am certain that the great Robbie Burns came across stale beer from time to time and I am quite happy to have a shared experience with him. Every stale beer I come across will continue to remind me that I am drinking real beer and real beer can go bad.


Beer and Meat

I am not much of a cook, except when it comes to meat.  I am not particularly skilled at cooking meat, I just enjoy spending time with my BBQ.  I asked for a meat cookbook for Christmas this year and my wife really came through for me.  She bought me The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who you may recognize as the dude from the F Word who helps Gordon Ramsey raise his turkeys and his pigs.  The book itself is over five hundred pages, half filled with recipes and half filled with information about meat.  I have most enjoyed reading the informative chapters.

I absolutely love this book.  I am obsessed with learning about farming practices, how to spot quality meat, and about all of the different cuts of meat.  I was shocked and appalled at what are considered industry farming practices, which are intensive to say the least.  What I found the most interesting is that healthy, happy, animals produce better quality meat that tastes better.  While obviously not a vegetarian, I do love animals and have since undertaken to buy my beef from a local farm where the cows are likely to have lived good lives.

My search for local beef lead me to a few farms nearby.  Sadly, like Hugh warns of in the book, it seems our culture is obsessed with lean beef, which is debatably healthier, but less tasty.  The first farm I looked into was Mount Lehman’s Grass-Only Beef Farm.  I spoke to a woman there who boasted of her lean beef, but also stated that her slaughtered beef was only hung for two weeks because it is so lean that it would dry out.  High recommends at least three weeks of hanging time, so I kept looking.

Erik recommended we look into Painted River Farm, who advertised three weeks of hanging time.  They also feed their beef organic grain as well as grass, to help fatten them up a bit.  Sounded tasty to me.  Erik and I decided to split a 30lb box of various beef cuts for starters, just to make sure we liked it.  Our original goal was to purchase a half or quarter cow!

The first cut of beef I attempted to prepare was a rib steak on the BBQ.  Upon opening the package, I was a little disappointed by the lack of marbling in the beef.  I was hoping for more, but who was I to judge without tasting.  The only seasoning I used was a Pride of Szeged Steak Rub.  I decided to pair by first steak with a Driftwood Blackstone Porter, which may or may not go well with steak depending on your tastes.  I’d usually recommend a Pale Ale or an IPA.

Sadly, I overcooked the first steak.  This never happens to me, I swear!  I was highly distraught and very disappointed in myself.  If you are going to kill and eat an animal, you had better prepare it properly, right vegetarians?  Luckily, there was a second steak, which I managed to cook well, although not as rare as I would have liked.  The second one was delicious.  I really thought it tasted sweeter and more beefy, which is weird to say, but that’s what beef tastes like.  Talking to Erik later on, I found that he overcooked his first t-bone also.  We think this beef somehow cooks faster, maybe due to the lack of fat?  I’ve learned my lesson in any case.

What does all of this have to do with beer?  Well, I love drinking beer with beef, or any meal for that matter.  There is also a beer recipe in the book, a recipe for a stew that Hugh calls “beef in stout”, which I hope to make soon.  If you are an animal lover and you want to get the most out of your meat, I really recommend The River Cottage Meat Book. It is a fascinating book.



Dining Out Vancouver

Dineout Vancouver logoIt’s Dineout time in Vancouver again.  Dineout Vancouver is a local tourism event where restaurants in these parts offer a three course menu at set rates, either $18, $28, or $38 for an appetizer, main, and dessert.  I believe it was conceived to promote local dining in the doldrums of January, which I imagine is not a busy time for culinary institutions otherwise.  For me, Dineout means heading to one or two of Vancouver’s top restaurants (by top I mean most expensive) for a dinner I couldn’t otherwise justify, affordability wise.  This year I set out to make note of the beer on offer by these upper crust restaurants.  I’ve often found that wine gets much more fanfare at “fancy” establishments and is often recommended in pairing with the food on offer.  Why then does beer, an equally complex and satisfying beverage, not get the same amount of love?

I was very pleased to find that both restaurants I visited this year offered local craft brew on tap.  However, the beer selections were dwarfed by the wine lists.  The Blue Water Cafe boasts an epic 56 page wine list that requires a solid hour to study in full.  We were actually seated in the wine room, which was lined wall to wall with excellent wines of varying varietal and vintage.  The beer menu consisted of only:

  • R&B Pale Ale (on tap)
  • R&B Lager (on tap)
  • Innis & Gunn (bottle)
  • Asahi (bottle)
  • Sleemans Honey Brown Lager (bottle)
  • Stella Artois (bottle)

To be honest, it was a better selection than I expected, but only three of the six brews available I would consider craft.  It was great that they had local R&B on tap and the excellent Innis & Gunn available in bottles.  I just don’t understand how a restaurant that prides itself on the finest cuisine and matching that cuisine with the perfect wine would neglect the art of beer pairing.

I was also able to visit C Restaurant, which, like Blue Water, also boasted a huge wine list, just under thirty pages in length.  Their beer offerings included only Lighthosue Lager, IPA, and Race Rocks Amber.  I do enjoy Lighthouse beer and I appreciate that it is craft brewed and relatively local.  But again, why the huge emphasis on wine, while beer is largely ignored?

I must say that both of the meals I had were delightful and very tasty.  I had a great time at both restaurants.  Still, it confounds me that restaurants who put such an emphasis on preparing great food made with local ingredients don’t take more of an interest in their beer, especially considering that more of the population drinks beer over wine, not to mention the growing abundance of local craft beer.

Sadly, I’m pretty sure these restaurants focus on wine because of the snobbery associated with viticulture.  I mean, what “well regarded” restaurant doesn’t have an excellent wine selection?  That being said, I hope that Vancouver’s restaurant scene gets wise to the great beer on offer hereabouts. I really believe they’ll be missing out otherwise.