One challenge of keeping up with the booming craft beer scene is figuring out what the heck you’re ordering. Among dozens of beer styles, there are, for me, true head scratchers like fruit lambics, sessions, saisons, sours, goses, kolsches, barley wines (yes, it’s a beer) and hefeweizens (half a bison?).
To keep things simple in a tasting room, I’ll often ask for an IPA (India Pale Ale) because I generally like the somewhat bitter, hoppy, grapefruity taste. IPAs are also a core offering at most craft breweries and thus provide a good standard of comparison.
But even sticking to IPAs isn’t that simple. Subcategories include American IPAs, hopped-up West Coast IPAs and boozy double IPAs, also often known as Imperial IPAs.
I was recently introduced to the latest sub-type, the New England IPA. Such ales are hazier in appearance, less hoppy and more floral, resulting in a smoother, flavourful taste I find quite delightful.
The good news is you don’t have to go to New England to enjoy them. Calgary’s Annex Ale Project, for example, has a limited edition New England IPA, aptly called New Material (7.5% alcohol), with aromas of “pineapple and Juicy Fruit gum”. And Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing—which features the innovative work of international artists on its beer cans—has unveiled its latest seasonal IPA, No. 5. It’s a New England, double-dry-hopped, double IPA, with “massive amounts” of Simcoe and Citra hops” and a staggering 8.2% alcohol content.
I could try to describe IPA No. 5. But why bother when there are dozens of online reviews at the Beer Advocate, written by beer geeks with much more talented noses and inspired adjectives than I.
“It smells of muddled domestic citrus rind, dried cat piss,” writes one connoisseur, and he’s a fan. “The taste is gritty and grainy pale malt, orange, red grapefruit, and lemon citrus peel, a small stoney flintiness, faded uric acid, and more zingy herbal, piney, and gently soused-up floral verdant hoppiness.”
One critic got right to the point: “Fuck anyone who rated this less than 3.5 (out of 5)… chances are you’re just a spoiled wank job from Connecticut.”
Have you got a favourite IPA? Please grab a thesaurus and share it with us by hitting the “leave a reply” link in the top left.
Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
Opens at 3 pm Wednesday to Friday, noon Saturday and 1 pm Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Collective Arts Brewing
207 Burlington Street E, Hamilton, Ontario
Daily 11 am-9 pm
I got IPA No. 5 at my local Calgary Co-op liquor store
I usually hate weekend brunch. Because of the late-morning opening, there’s invariably a line of folks who, once seated, tend to order mimosas, dally over eggs benedict, endlessly refill coffee cups, engage in long conversations and generally just linger long after the bill has been presented—all prolonging your wait. Also at brunch, the usual breakfast menu is souped up, jacking up prices.
But even a curmudgeon like me must make an exception for the Deane House, in a recently restored historic building near downtown Calgary. First, they take brunch reservations, which pretty much eliminates the wait. Second, the service is casual but professional.
Third, prices are Calgary reasonable for the quality and imagination of the food. Yes, there’s a croque madame for $22, featuring duck rillettes and a local duck egg. But maybe the best dish on the menu, poached eggs on a bed of potato rostii and winter squash, is $16. And a smoked Arctic char eggs Benedict is $18, and char is never cheap.
But what truly makes the meal reasonable and the experience exceptional is the setting. The house is situated along the banks of the Elbow River and surrounded by a block of lawns and “edible” gardens, giving the space room to breathe, much like its sister restaurant, River Cafe, on Prince’s Island. Add to that the charms of a 1906 house, with its collection of distinctive rooms and vintage furniture.
Sitting at a table in an enclosed, wraparound veranda bathed in light sifting in through large windows, it’s a place on an early spring morning I don’t want to leave.
806 9 Avenue S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Weekend brunch 10 am, lunch weekdays 11 am, dinner 5 pm daily
Despite living in Calgary a long time, I’ve never had a favourite local coffeehouse. A lot of good spots but, for various reasons, not places I frequent. Until now.
Ironically, all I needed was to look for the right name: Sought and Found Coffee Roasters, which officially opened, just north of downtown Calgary, in January. It’s lovingly owned and operated by Caleb and Kitty Leung; he got his coffee roasting/tasting training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of all places.
First, Sought X Found’s space is gorgeous, with lots of repurposed wood along the coffee bar and a micro roaster (only six pounds at a time) towards the back. While the room is long and fairly narrow, there’s no sense you’re sitting on top of each other. The place is full of nice touches—a row of children’s books for reading, old window frames on the side wall, hand-written descriptions on the packages of fresh-roasted beans for sale.
Everything is carefully thought out and beautifully executed. That certainly applies to the coffee.
My Sumatra pour over (or “hand brew”, as they call it) is patiently filtered into a glass carafe. Unlike a lot of “third-wave” coffee shops, with lightly roasted beans, this cup is full of complex flavours the tasting notes describe as oak, whisky and cacao. Whatever. It’s still worth savouring even when allowed to cool.
The coffee is not cheap. A hand brew or a large espresso and organic milk (the latter from Vital Green Farms in southern Alberta’s Picture Butte) is $5.50. But hey, if speed and volume is paramount to you, there’s a Starbucks across the street. Here, you’re paying a little more for superb quality and a leisurely experience.
The food menu is simple, featuring croissants from Calgary’s Butter Block (a croissant sandwich with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and jelly is $7) and chocolate. The non-coffee drink options are similarly few but well chosen: loose-leaf teas and Japanese green matcha and houjicha teas.
My only complaint is Sought X Found is not close to where I live. Otherwise, I’d be here every week.
Thanks to Mike Haden for alerting me about this place.
Sought X Found Coffee Roasters
916 Centre Street North, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
On the menu of Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma are listed several family plates. Here’s a tip: Just order a one-person serving, and you might still feed a small family.
My chicken shawarma plate ($13.95) arrives with an alarming quantity of food. There’s about a pound of delectable, slow-marinated and shaved chicken served on a bed of rice. Filling out the oversized platter are wedges of garlic potatoes, healthy scoops of creamy, fresh hummus and garlic sauce and a choice of salad: Greek, Russian, corn or fatuch. After five minutes of feasting, I come up for air, scarcely putting a dent in my dinner.
My companion’s bountiful falafel plate is weighted down by six sizable falafel balls, deep fried to order. “The best I’ve ever had,” she says between mouthfuls.
While waiting, we watch shawarma and donair wraps ($11-12) being assembled. Here, copious amounts of meat and toppings—including tahini, red cabbage, parsley, banana peppers and pickles—are loaded aboard a large pita, rolled and heated in a press. The resulting logs are bigger than any burrito I’ve ever seen, easily feeding two moderate appetites.
Whatever you order, odds are good you’ll be asking for a leftovers box. Though I notice plenty of folks heading back to the counter, post feeding, to toss down a honey-laced piece of baklava.
Jerusalem Shawarma is a fast-casual joint, where you order at the counter and then retire to a row of booths, unless you’re getting takeout. Owned and operated by five Abufarha brothers originally from Jerusalem and using their grandfather’s recipes, their mini chain has expanded in a few years to six Calgary locations. Growing almost as fast as my belly.
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm
As a longtime Calgarian, it pains me to promote any import from Vancouver, even though I briefly lived there many years ago. But when said import considerably elevates Cowtown’s sandwich game, who am I to protest?
The sandwich shop in question is Meat & Bread, which I enthusiastically reviewed shortly after it opened in Vancouver’s Gastown district in 2010. It delivered everything I look for: delicious, innovative sandwiches, made to order yet produced so efficiently that the lunchtime line moves swiftly.
Such a sandwich shop was sorely lacking in Calgary, at least until a Meat & Bread location opened in June in the historic Grain Exchange Building, along downtown’s busy 9th Avenue. While it’s a franchise (there are currently two other locations, in Vancouver and Seattle), it’s in the capable hands of Eric Hudson and wife Bao Nahn. Most importantly, the experience and quality is essentially the same as at the flagship restaurant in Vancouver.
The keys to success are deceptively simple. First, there’s a very short menu of sandwiches—on fresh ciabatta buns—including a few standards, such as the outstanding signature porchetta, with its crunchy cracklings, and a barbecue beef. On a recent Friday, I opted for the special: three substantial, moist pork and beef meatballs topped with parmesan aioli, a chopped herb condiment and kale ($9.50).
Second, everything is freshly made each day by skilled “chefs, not sandwich artists,” featuring quality ingredients. Indeed, there’s no freezer on the premises.
Finally, and crucially at lunch hour, there’s a highly efficient crew assembling these four or five sandwiches. Such that our counter order is delivered to a high table in scant minutes.
The sides are similarly limited—a daily soup and a salad and a handcrafted chocolate bar for dessert. Nice to see a small selection of beers from Calgary microbrewers.
“It’s simple,” the company’s mantra goes, “we make sandwiches.” What more do you need?
Meat & Bread
821 1 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday