Category Archives: beer

Great Food, Service at Canmore’s Market Bistro

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Market Bistro is a casual, fine-dining spot removed from the Canmore crowds

Now, this is what I call service.

We’re sitting inside The Market Bistro, a lovely little dining room sheltered from the madding crowds of nearby downtown Canmore, Alberta. I order an Alberta craft IPA, which the server says has orangey notes. That it does, but without the hoppy bite I’m expecting.

Upon her return, she asks how I like said ale. I give an indifferent shrug. Immediately, she whisks away the beer and returns with two other options, including a more satisfactory (from my perspective) Railway Avenue rye IPA from local Canmore Brewing Company.

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A fine rye IPA from Canmore Brewing

The exceptional service, from sharp-as-a-tack Brande, is just one of the details that makes Market Bistro a fine destination for a quiet dinner in the mountains. Another is the open kitchen, from which French-born co-owner and chef Anthony occasionally emerges to chat with regular customers.

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Great service from Brande

Most of all, of course, it’s the bistro-style French cuisine. It’s a step up from my usual cheap-eats meals but quite reasonable for the skill and time that goes into dishes such as chicken tajine and duck confit. Consider my exquisite beef back ribs ($27), braised for hours to fall-off-the-bone tender and served with Gorgonzola polenta, mushrooms and braised kale.

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Fall-off-the-bone braised beef ribs

Of course, you can’t finish a meal at Market Bistro without a slice of its famous lemon pie. Brande cautions other diners that it’s not the overly sweet confection they’re probably used to. Indeed, it has wee slices of lemon rind and a pungent flavour that lingers on the tongue.

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You haven’t had a real lemon pie till you try Market Bistro’s distinctive version

Lemony tones, certainly. Definitely not sending this one back.

The Market Bistro
102-75 Dyrgas Gate, Canmore, Alberta
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 11 am-8 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Tuesday
403-675-3006

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Get Sartori Harvest IPA Before It’s Gone. Oops. Might Already be Too Late

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Sartori Harvest IPA is a once-a-year fresh-hop beer

There’s nothing like scarcity to help sell a product. Just ask the single-malt Scotch industry, always happy to roll out a “one-time-only” cask of a peaty 12-year-old. Craft beer companies certainly play their part, with a roster of seasonal brews and one-off concoctions.

But when you can marry scarcity with a good story, you’ve really hit marketing gold.

Take the case of fresh-hopped beers, also known as wet-hopped or harvest ales. Typically, hops added to the fermentation process have been dried. But fresh hops are usually added within hours of being picked in the field. So by definition, fresh-hopped beers are only available during the late-summer or early-fall hop harvest.

Victoria’s Driftwood Brewery, perhaps best known for its fine Fat Tug IPA, has an entry in the fresh-hopped market: Sartori Harvest IPA. During the hop harvest at Sartori Cedar Ranch, near Chillwack, B.C. (just east of Vancouver), bags of Centennial hops are rushed to the brewery.

“It’s vital to get the hops into the brew kettle within hours of picking, while their oils and resins are still raw,” says a breathless video on Driftwood’s website. “This is our one chance to brew with the flower in its most natural form.” And, to rub things in: “Sartori’s fresh hops have a delicious profile unique to the patch of land they cultivate in the Columbia Valley, making this limited release singular and remarkable.”

I was already sold on this story, when a beer specialist at a Cascadia Liquor outlet in Victoria told me that Sartori Harvest had just hit the store shelves and would be sold out within days.

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Cascadia Liquour has a great selection of other 22-ounce bombers

$7 for a 22-ounce bottle? I’m in. I spent a good half hour letting the complexities of this ale roll around my mouth. And the next morning, I rushed back to Cascadia to pick up a couple more Sartoris to take home.

So what does Sartori Harvest IPA taste like? Guess you’ll have to wait till next year.

 

Great Belgian-Style Beers in Powell River, B.C.

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A good range of fabulous beers from Townsite Brewing in Powell River, B.C.

If you’re walking into Powell River’s Townsite Brewing intent on tossing back a glass or two, you might want to organize a ride home. Or at least have plans to take some big bottles or a growler back to your motel or campsite before imbibing.

That’s because a few of Townsite’s offerings weigh in around 9% alcohol. These have descriptions like tripel or dubbel, which I’m guessing is Belgian for bloody strong beer.

But unlike some potent ales that knock you over the head with their booze content, Townsite just offers massive flavour. Indeed, one company tasting note—for a 10.5% Belgian quadruple, aged for nine months in whiskey barrels— marvels at how beer maker Cédric Dauchot manages to disguise such strong beers behind amazing, complex profiles. It’s not till you’re tottering towards the door that you suddenly realize this ain’t light beer.

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Townsite’s tasting room is in a restored, historic Powell River building

Many aficionados consider Belgium to be the global pinnacle of beer making. As apparently the only Belgian-born brewmaster west of Montreal, Dauchot brings with him exceptional skills. He’s certainly not afraid to play with Belgian yeasts, European hops, barrel aging and even handmade candi sugar. Consider some of Townsite’s seasonal and special beers: a blackberry wheat sour, a Belgian-style IPA (Shiny Penny) and, maybe my favourite, a Belgian triple (Yogn 82).

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Tasting notes for one of Townsite’s many beers.

It’s unusual to find this quality and innovation in big Canadian cities, let alone in Powell River on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. Hey, it’s only a two-ferry ride north of Vancouver to reach Townsite’s tasting room. Better book your ride.

Townsite Brewing
5824 Ash Avenue, Powell River, B.C.
Daily 11 am-9 pm
604-483-2111

Great New England IPAs (I Plead Addiction)

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New England IPA No. 5 from Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing; design by Czech artist Mario Carpe. Note the hazy appearance

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.

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An over-the-hop double IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, California

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.

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Annex Ale’s seasonal New England IPA, called New Material

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 Calgary

Including an IPA is almost mandatory in a beer flight

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
403-475-4492

Collective Arts Brewing
207 Burlington Street E, Hamilton, Ontario
Daily 11 am-9 pm
289-426-2374
I got IPA No. 5 at my local Calgary Co-op liquor store

It’s Well Worth the Drive to Mile One in Pemberton, B.C.

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Mile One Eating House co-owner and chef Randy Jones runs a professional kitchen in Pemberton, B.C.

I’m sure there are some fine, inexpensive places to eat in Whistler, B.C. Indeed, I often head to purebread, which produces perhaps the best bread and baked goodies on the west coast. Mind you, I always stop at their little Function Junction location, a little ways south of the madness that is central Whistler.

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purebred’s fabulous hazelnut fig bread

Whistler is certainly not organized for the road tripper looking for a quick bite or beverage. Between the tourist hordes, all the side streets off the highway, the confusion about where to park and the baffling naming of pedestrian retail spaces—Village Square, Village Stroll, Village Lane, Village Green, Village Idiot—I usually just give up and get the hell out.

Instead, I often head 30 km north on Highway 99 to Pemberton, where I can easily locate, and find nearby parking at, my favourite restaurant in the region, Mile One Eating House.

Yes, there’s a growing lineup on a weekday night in late September (Tip: get there early). But it’s well worth the short wait at this family-run, chef-driven spot that produces fabulous, locally sourced burgers (they recently even bought their own, historic cattle ranch), upscale poutine and the best, gourmet mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever tasted.

I normally go for the divine Southern Comfort mac ‘n cheese—B.C. chicken breast, smoked bacon and brocolini in a creamy aged cheddar/mozza sauce. But there’s a Wednesday night special: a burger and craft beer for about $12. How can I resist?

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Best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever eaten

My Mile One burger features a five-ounce Cache Creek natural beef patty, smothered in smoked bacon, aged white cheddar and beer-braised caramelized onions, all stuffed inside a house-baked buttermilk bun. It’s so thick I have to cut it in half to funnel it into my gaping mouth. Still, it’s a messy, two-napkin job, washed down with a fine bottle of Russell Brewing’s Punch Bowl IPA.

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The delicious, jaw-stretching Mile One burger

Mile One’s got everything I’m looking for: high standards, excellent ingredients and hard-working cooks, in an open kitchen. And despite the crowd, there’s enough of a personal touch to keep things casual and friendly.

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Lots of regional craft beer available

Right across the street, with parking right in front, is another road tripper’s delight: Mount Currie Coffee. Yes, they also have a Whistler location. But when it might take me 10 minutes just to find it, is there any comparison?

Mile One Eating House
7330 Arbutus Street, Pemberton, B.C.
Wednesday to Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
604-384-3842

Mount Currie Coffee
7331 Arbutus Street, Pemberton
Monday to Saturday 6:30 am-6 pm, Sunday 7 am-6 pm
604-894-3388

Primed for a big burger in Fort Nelson, B.C.

Woodlands Inn, Fort Nelson

A perfect post-backpack prime-rib burger at Woodlands Inn in Fort Nelson, B.C.

Fort Nelson is in the middle-of-nowhere northeast British Columbia. Yeah, it’s on the Alaska Highway, and there’s lots of oil and gas activity. But it’s more than 1,000 kilometres from the nearest big city, Edmonton.

So when we pull into the town of 4,000 people after a week-long backpack in nearby Stone Mountain Provincial Park, I’m expecting it to be easy to find a place to eat, even on a Saturday night.

But the pub we go into is crawling with people attending a fundraiser. Strike one! Across the street, the local Boston Pizza is full to the rafters with folks watching the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather “fight”. Strike two!

It’s now pouring with rain, and we’re starving for a pint, or two, and something with lots of carbo calories to wolf down. Almost in desperation, we head across the highway to a hotel, Woodlands Inn & Suites, with odd concrete hallways.

The lounge is quiet—not a promising sign—and the two beers on tap are definitely generic. Finally, the food prices are rather northern expensive.

All that is except for a prime-rib burger and fries for $15, which all five of us order. Sure, the extras, like bacon and cheese, are another $2 or $3 each. Still, there are enough fixings on the basic burger to keep the cost down.

Now, it’s always hard to objectively rate a restaurant when you’re ravenous and just off a big mountain trip. But we all agree these charbroiled burgers are excellent: juicy, flavourful and big. And lots of hot, greasy fries. Yum! Several of us even order a second pint of Kokanee Gold.

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A Fort Nelson highlight, an excellent new rec centre

Woodlands Inn & Suites
3995 50 Avenue, Fort Nelson, B.C.
250-774-6669