Category Archives: food pairings

Toronto Beer Week – Day 1: Tappin’ and Shuckin’

I feel it only proper that any city-wide beer festival should be kicked off with a ceremonial cask-tapping, preferably by a political figure of some sort. And apparently the organizers of Toronto Beer Week agree with me, as they put together a trade and media launch of the event yesterday at Mill Street Brewpub, with Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, MPP Steve Peters, doing the cask-tapping honours at 11:00 AM.

This is hardly the first time that Peters has been involved in a beer-related event. In fact, he’s a long-time fan and supporter of craft beer, and in his role as the Speaker, one of his initiatives has been an annual tasting at Queen’s Park to choose which Ontario craft beers will be served in the dining room and at catered events. So while his riding isn’t in Toronto, he was still a great choice to kick the week off.

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Toronto Beer Week – Day 0: Dieu Du Ciel!

It’s only a few hours old, but I already feel like I haven’t written enough about Toronto Beer Week. Loads of other folks – like Jordan, like Stephen, and Jordan, and Troy, and Jordan, and Chris, and, uh, Jordan – were all over it well in advance, which has given me a bit of the ol’ blog guilt.

In order to assuage that guilt somewhat, I’m going to attempt to post a daily TBW diary this week, which will likely consist mainly of photos and a couple of paragraphs posted each day as a recap of the day before. Or that’s the plan, anyway. And I’ll likely be doing plenty of tweeting, as will many other folks.

To kick it off, here are some highlights from the TBW pre-party of sorts that took place this weekend, when the folks from Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! came in from Montreal for a few events to mark their recent brewery feature at the LCBO.

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Innis & Gunn Rum Cask

This is one in an occasional series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. For the previous post in the series, covering Innis & Gunn Original, click here.

When I wrote my first in this series of Innis & Gunn reviews back in mid-October, I didn’t expect that I’d be posting them on such a glacial schedule. But as is usual for this blog, it’s taking me longer than hoped due to the thousand-and-one other things to which I’ve got myself committed. (Which reminds me that it’s been ages since I last posted a round-up to my beer-related posts on Taste T.O. – I really should get around to that sometime as well…)

Anyway, in the nearly two months between then and now, one of those “other things” that I was lucky enough to do was  attend a dinner presented by the secretive underground dining club Charlie’s Burgers that featured Innis & Gunn beers paired with food prepared by Jonathan Gushue and Victor DeGuzman, the Executive Chef and Executive Sous Chef respectively at Langdon Hall, one of the top restaurants in North America. The food was absolutely stellar, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in my life, and I was especially impressed by the pairings given that the chefs admitted that they’d never done a beer dinner before. While not every match was absolutely perfect, most were excellent, and there were no train-wrecks.

With so many great dishes and solid pairings to choose from, it was hard to pick a favourite. The poached Colville Bay oysters paired with I&G IPA was a surprisingly solid match, and the pure decadence of the Atlantic lobster in hand-churned butter with pig cheek and foie gras torchon would’ve blown me away even if the beer on the side, I&G Original, hadn’t been such a good accompaniment.

Since it was a multi-course tasting menu, there was no traditional “main” course for the dinner, but the final course before dessert was an outstanding elk tenderloin served with smoked tongue (better than it sounds!) and several sides, all paired with Innis & Gunn Rum Cask. It was a great match, and while the bottle I had at home a few weeks later wasn’t paired with such an exciting dish – just a couple of pieces of good chocolate – it was still enjoyable.

I&G Rum Cask  is currently available in Ontario as part of the I&G “Connoisseur’s Oak Collection” holiday gift pack along with bottles of I&G Original and IPA and a nice branded glass. It’s apparently slightly different from the version that was available in single bottles last December, but my impressions were so close to what I wrote about the 2008 version on Taste T.O. that I might as well quote myself:

It has a much darker reddish hue than [I&G Original], and a deeper and richer aroatma with strong notes of spice, rum and sweet toffee. Rum also comes through prominently in the flavour, along with sweet malt and a bit of oak, and a mild spiciness in the finish. It’s a warm and flavourful beer that could be enjoyed with many desserts and sweets, or just on its own as a pleasant nightcap.

My only criticism, which is the same one I’ve lodged against other I&G beers, is that the fairly light body doesn’t quite hold up to the flavour, although I’m sure that my strong appreciation for the barrel-aged imperial stouts and barley wines that are becoming more and more common in the US craft brewing scene may be influencing my opinion in that matter. To others, it may seem just right. Either way, it’s a tasty winter treat.

Next up: I&G Triple Matured. Watch for it sooner than two months from now, hopefully…

Danish Beer Dinner at beerbistro


Having now been to several gourmet beer dinners at beerbistro, I know that I should expect to be blown away by them. Chef Brian Morin and his team are true artists when it comes to preparing food and pairing it with beer, and they always team up with some of the world’s best breweries for these multi-course extravaganzas.

Still, I find myself amazed, delighted, and often surprised at every single one of them, and their Danish Beer Dinner this past Thursday night was no exception. With the support of import agents Roland + Russell, the dinner put the spotlight on the beers of Danish breweries Nørrebro Bryghus and Mikkeller, and Nørrebro brewmaster Anders Kissmeyer flew over from Copenhagen to introduce his beers, while beer writer and beerbistro partner Stephen Beaumont did the honours for the Mikkeller beers.

Read on for a full run-down of what was served, along with some dark photos and a few scattered thoughts on the beer, food and pairings.

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Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter Launch Dinner

The Abbot on the Hill, a Toronto gastropub specialising in imported beers, marked the launch of Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter in Canada with a special beer dinner this past Monday. They have a beer and food pairing prix fixe dinner each Monday, and this week featured five Fuller’s beers matched with each of the five food courses. My wife and I went to check it out, and shared a table with fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch and esteemed brewmaster and beer & food pairing expert Bill White.

Here’s how it turned out (and apologies in advance for the mediocre photos – the room was quite dark, and the few flash photos we took look even worse):

fullerschiswick_soupStilton Ale Soup
beer pairing: Organic Honey Dew

This course was sadly a disappointment. “Stilton Ale Soup” suggests something flavourful and hearty to me, but instead we got an under-seasoned and lukewarm onion soup with a couple of small pieces of Stilton floating in it. Considering the light body and subtle flavour of Honey Dew, though, that might’ve been a good thing, as I don’t think the beer could’ve held up to anything too rich or heavy. Having eaten at the Abbot a number of times before, I knew they could do much better than this…

fullerschiswick_fishGinger Beer Battered Salmon
Shoestring Fries
beer pairing: Chiswick Bitter

…and I was right, as this next course was excellent. My wife had a bit of trepidation about the fact that they chose to deep-fry a perfectly good piece of organic Irish salmon, but once we tasted it, there were no complaints. The shoestring fries were nice as well, and the presentation in a small take-out style container was very cute. And it probably goes without saying that pairing the traditional session ale with the slightly gussied-up take on the traditional fish & chips was a good choice.

fullerschiswick_pastriesMini Vegetable Wellington
beer pairing: ESB

I don’t know if there was a last minute change in plans, or if they were being creative with the description, but what was called a “Mini Vegetable Wellington” on the printed menu was actually the mushroom pastries that my wife had previously ordered off of the Abbot’s regular menu. No complaints here, though, as they’re damn tasty. The ESB was a suitable pairing – not revelatory, but solid.

fullerschiswick_beefRoast Prime Rib
Peppercorn Jus
beer pairing: 1845

As someone who prefers his red meat to be served very rare, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed but the fairly well done piece of beef that I was served. At least it wasn’t dried out and leathery – it was quite juicy, in fact, and while the Yorkshire pudding was a bit overdone and dry, the champ was absolutely lovely. I think the beer went well with it, although to be honest, by this point the pre-dinner pint and all of the paired beers were starting to get the better of me, and the conversation was getting more animated, so I was paying less attention to the subtleties of the pairings.

fullerschiswick_floatPorter Vanilla Float
beer pairing: London Porter

Yeah, it looked like a total mess – especially in the photos – but this float made with London Porter and vanilla ice cream was seriously good. Like, off-the-hook good. Especially after I smushed up the ice cream and mixed it up and drank it like a boozy milkshake. Mmmm!

Torontonians looking to get a taste of the Chiswick can head up to the Abbot, where it’s still on tap, and it should be rolling out to other pubs and restaurants over the coming weeks. Thanks to Premier Brands for bringing in another beer from the Fuller’s portfolio, they’re always a treat to try.

Big Rock McNally’s Winter Spice Ale

bigrockwinterspiceAt the trade & media launch for Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter last Saturday, I was chatting with Stephen Beaumont & Bill White, and being close to the holiday season, the conversation naturally turned to Christmas beers – or rather, the depressingly small number of them that are available here in Ontario.

The LCBO‘s current Winter Warmers promotion includes a couple, including Great Lakes Winter Ale and Samichlaus. A couple more are available from Ontario breweries, such as Grand River Jubilation and Barley Days Yuletide Cherry Porter, although these are often limited in distribution to draught or direct brewery sales. But considering that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Christmas and holiday beers available out there, it’s unfortunate that the LCBO once again limits us to such a small selection of choices.

One of those beers not available here is McNally’s Winter Spice Ale, the new winter seasonal from Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery. Distribution is limited to the four western-most provinces, but they were kind enough to send me some for review in the form of the holiday gift set with includes four bottles of the Ale, two branded glasses, and a small package of bite-sized ginger cookies from Cookie Occasion, a gourmet family bakery in Calgary.

The cookies were a very nice touch, and it would be great to see more breweries putting such tasty treats into their gift packs. There’s a place called Northern Confections that makes peanut brittle with Steam Whistle, which would be a natural addition to their cases, and bottles of the new Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Aged Ale were sent out to media along with a small box of rum truffles, so why not include them with the retail version as well?

As for the beer, my only real complaint was that the body is on the light side for what is ostensibly a winter warmer, but otherwise, I’m pretty happy with it. The spices used in the brew – ginger, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg – all come across in the aroma and flavour, and the beer also has a pleasantly sweet maltiness to balance out the spices. Similarly, the cookies had a nice tingly kick from the ginger, but had a healthy dose of molasses as well. Great on their own, and pretty nice with the beer as well.

Big Rock has pretty decent market penetration in Ontario for many of their other beers, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this one shows up next year as one of the LCBO’s usually decent selection of beer holiday gift packs. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be spending my holidays making do with the handful of Christmas beers we’ve got while reading Don Russell‘s Christmas Beer and being very jealous of all you non-Ontarians who can actually buy most of the beers in the book.

Molson Presents a Beer School for Bloggers

Due to the fact that I write about beer (and occasionally other things) in a number of different places, I get a lot of press releases and invitations and freebees. This is nothing new to me – I spent many, many years as a music writer and DJ, and received an absolutely insane number of free CDs, records, concert tickets and other swag – and as such, I’ve become both jaded and realistic about PR and marketing and the people who work in that business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of really nice PR people over the years, a couple of whom I’ve gone on to become fairly good friends with. But I also have to recognize that my relationships with most them are ultimately based on them giving me stuff in hopes that I will write about it, and nothing more.

In addition to recognizing this, I’ve also developed what I think to be a pretty strong bullshit detector (OK, sometimes it’s a bit too strong), as well as a low tolerance for empty buzzwords and marketing doublespeak. Basically, I’m a cynical bastard who dislikes many elements of our consumer-oriented society, and I take most of the PR bumph that I receive with a huge boulder of salt.

So when I received an invitation a month or so ago to a blogger-oriented tasting event of some sort featuring Molson beers, I was typically ambivalent about it. Not just because I dislike most of Molson’s products, but also because the event was called “Brew 2.0” and the invite used phrases like “social media space” and “blogosphere” and such. I was prepared to ignore it, but I got hooked by two things: the promise of a debut of a brand new beer (Molson or not, I’ll all about trying new beers, since I’m a ratings whore), and the chance to check out the micro-brewery at the Air Canada Centre where they brew Rickard’s Red for on-site sales (not a big fan of the beer, but I always like looking at all the shiny tanks and pipes and things).

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The Return of Unibroue

(Sorta creepy photo borrowed from

The title of this post is a bit misleading, as Unibroue never actually went anywhere. But for the last couple of years, their presence was on the wane in Ontario. Their products were being delisted from retail outlets, and while Blanche de Chambly was still a popular draught choice at various in-the-know establishments, most of their other beers had all but disappeared. Quite simply, it seemed that parent company Sleeman (and their parent company, Sapporo) were more interested in expanding the Unibroue brands in the US market than in Ontario, which is somewhat understandable, given the relative size of that market.

Recently, though, there’s been a definite push to re-establish Unibroue in Ontario. 750 ml bottles of several of their beers are now back on LCBO shelves, and a couple of events have taken place in Toronto recently that show they’re serious about getting back to business.

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Dogfish Head Dinner: Hot Damn!

Working at the same place for almost 20 years generally means you get some nice perks (assuming you work at the sort of place that provides perks, of course), which is why I am lucky enough to have five weeks of paid vacation a year. The problem, though, is that I’m really slack about taking that time off. I rarely travel, and I generally enjoy my job, so taking a big chunk of time off at once usually isn’t a priority for me.

So around this time every year, when I’ve only taken a handful of days off for short trips or appointments, I start to realise that I’d better start booking a few days here and there before I end up having to take the entire month of December off. Which is why I’m off work today (well, that and the fact that my wife, who works from home, it out of town today, so I needed to stay home to take care of our dogs who are a couple of spoiled brats that get a walk every 3-4 hours).

All of which is a long-winded explanation as to why I finally have some time to post something to this oft-neglected blog of mine. In fact, I might manage to get a few posts written today, although I’ll probably schedule them to post sporadically over the next week or two in order to fill what is bound to be another lengthy gap before I get around to writing something here again.

Today’s topic: The stupendous Dogfish Head beer dinner at beerbistro that I attended way back on Wednesday May 28th. As others have noted, this was possibly the best beer dinner Toronto has ever seen, and it was certainly the best I’ve ever attended. Even DFH’s Sam Calagione (pictured above right, along with Tom Peters from Monk’s Cafe in Philly who made a pit stop on his way to Mondiale in Montreal) was completely blown away, and said that it was in his top three DFH dinners ever.

The spectacular meal from beerbistro chef Brian Morin and his stellar kitchen staff featured nine courses, all of them playful takes on classic comfort foods, and each paired with a Dogfish Head beer, plus a bonus beer at the end. If you know anything about DFH, you’ll know that most of their beers are 6% and up, with some as high as 20%+, so it probably goes without saying that Thursday morning was a little blurry. But man, was it worth it.

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Southern Tier Beer Dinner

As usual, others have beat me to it, but I figure since I was a host and co-presenter of the Southern Tier beer dinner at the Academy of Spherical Arts last Friday, I should probably post a little write-up about it.

This was the first beer dinner presented by import agency Roland + Russell for one of their represented breweries, and while the turn-out was a bit lighter than they’d hoped (most likely due to the insane number of beer dinners that have taken place recently), it was still a great night. It definitely helped that the Academy is an absolutely gorgeous venue, and that the chef did a pretty fine job on the food and beer pairings. And having Phin DeMink and Paul Caine on hand from the brewery to speak and answer questions was a big plus as well.

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