Category Archives: beer

Caravel a fine addition to Calgary’s craft brewing scene

Caravel Brewery

Caravel is one of Calgary’s newest, largest craft breweries

When Vladislav and Victoria Covali started making beer at home in their native Moldova, they gathered wild hops from the forest. Other ingredients were purchased at farmers’ markets.

That’s in sharp contrast to today. Vladislav and partner Chris Travis are owners of one of Calgary’s newest and largest craft breweries, Caravel, in an industrial park near the city’s airport. The 19,000-square-foot facility is full of gleaming tanks and grains purchased from as far away as Germany.

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A gleaming row of kegs

Caravel is brewing three, unfiltered standards—a European-style lager, an Irish red and an award-winning Hefeweizen—along with seasonals like an IPA and a Scotch ale. Drop by their taproom to sample these fine beers and to fill up a growler.

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Caravel partner Vladislav Covali has come a long ways from his Moldova home beer-making days

Caravel Craft Brewery
12, 10221 15 Street NE, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday 2 pm-9 pm, Friday 1 pm-9 pm, Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Facebook: @CaravelCraftBrewery

It’s the Selection That Counts

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I’m always on the lookout for local microbrews. And Tucson’s Plaza Liquors delivers

“It looks like a dump,” my companion observes as we pull up to Plaza Liquors & Fine Wines in central Tucson.

Mind you, her admitted preference in beer is “rat’s piss,” so I’m not taking her opinion too seriously. I’m relying more on the advice of the barista and a customer at nearby cutting-edge-cool Presta Coffee Roasters. I figure coffee aficionados know where to pick up good local micro brews.

Bingo! As soon as we push open the Plaza’s strip-mall doors and enter the dimly lit interior, I know we’re in the right place. In behind a guy swirling and sniffing a glass of California Pinot are rows of global craft beers stuffed into every nook and cranny. And I like the way they’re organized, by country and by style, such as IPAs, porters and lagers.

Most importantly, from my perspective, is a whole shelf of Arizona beers, which is harder to find than you’d think. There’s Arizona Trail Ale and Road Rash IPA from That Brewery (okay, not an inspired name) in Pine, Arizona. And there’s Lost Highway Double Black IPA from Flagstaff’s estimable Mother Road Brewing Co. And the piece de resistance: a fine selection from Tucson’s fabulous Iron John’s Brewing Company, worthy of the $8-plus for a big bottle of small-batch goodness.

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You can’t beat Iron John’s when it comes to Tucson beers

The lesson, as always: don’t judge a place by its location or exterior. It’s the inside that counts.

Plaza Liquors & Fine Wine
2642 North Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Daily 10 am-9 pm except Sunday noon-6 pm

A wobbling cycle hop at Calgary’s newest craft brewery

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Bike tour lands at Calgary’s newest craft brewery, Annex Ale. All photos by Helen Corbett

Annex Ale Project just opened on a commercial side street in southeast Calgary. So how busy can its taproom be on a warm spring Saturday afternoon, especially on a weekend when the annual Calgary International Beerfest should be siphoning off the hard-core aficionados?

The swigging crowd at Annex is actually not too bad when we arrive. But mayhem soon descends, when some 75 cyclists wobble into the parking lot. They’re on a three-microbrewery cycling tour, part of the citywide Jane’s Walks weekend. And they’ve certainly worked up a thirst, forming a long line to the counter, where co-owner and brewmaster Andrew Bullied and staff are scurrying to fill pints and taster glasses.

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Before the cyclists descend

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After

We’ve already staked out counter seats, where we can enjoy the show while sampling Annex’s four, small-batch brews on tap: a pale ale, a bitter, a sour and, our favourite, the Prologue IPA (7.8%). We also try a Calgary first, their delightful, all-natural root beer along with a novel bowl of salty cheese strings.

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Tasters’ choice. Annex’s flights feature generous 6-ounce pours, all for $10

It’s a nice, bright space (a former woodworking shop) in Calgary’s Manchester district, with long tables along spacious front windows and a big glass garage door, which can be opened on hot days. In back, a gleaming row of steel tanks harbours batches of brewing beer.

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The business end of the brewery

Annex is a fine addition to Calgary’s booming craft beer scene. Soon enough, you’ll be able to fashion a full day of beer hopping on a bike.

Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Taproom  hours:  Thursday 3 pm-10 pm, Friday 3 pm-11 pm, Saturday noon-11 pm, Sunday noon-5 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
403-475-4412

Pints & Poses: Yoga Meets Beer in Tucson, Arizona

Pueblo Vida, Tucson Arizona

We slip into Pueblo Vida, in Tucson, for some sampling right after the weekly yoga session.

It seems yoga has infiltrated nearly every aspect of western life. So why not beer?

At Pueblo Vida Brewing Co., in downtown Tucson, it’s called Pints & Poses. On Sundays at 10:30 am, the pub tables are rolled to the walls and the mats laid out for a guided one-hour session of yoga. All that stretching is rewardedwith some elbow bending: a pint of Pueblo microbrew, all for the bargain price of $5.

Of course, we arrive just after the sweaty posing’s completed (I’ve never seen so many glowing bodies in a pub) and head straight to the tasting table. We order a flight of four samples—ranging from the Northwest IPA to a breakfast stout—all delicious, noontime refreshments.

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I’ve never seen so many healthy, fit folks in a pub as at the Pints & Poses session at Pueblo Vida

The 2.5-year-old Pueblo Vida is a rather exclusive brewery. You can choose from some 10 beers on tap at the pub, fill a growler or purchase a very limited selection of cans. You can also find the brewery’s products at a scattering of pubs and restaurants in the Tucson area. Good luck, though, locating it at your local beer merchant.

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Now, this is my idea of taking flight

But don’t get bent out of shape. Just show up for the next Pints & Poses session. It’s only an hour of contortions before the suds start flowing.

Pueblo Vida Brewing Co.
115 East Broadway Boulevard, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Thursday 4 pm-10 pm, Friday 2 pm-11 pm, Saturday noon-11 pm, Sunday noon-8 pm

Iron John’s: Best Beer in Arizona?

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Iron John’s tasting room, with the brewery in back, in Tucson, Arizona

I’ve had my share of beer flights. It’s a good way to quickly sample a craft brewer’s, or pub’s, range of offerings. But in my experience, the wee glasses are usually thrown back like shots, so you can move on to the main event: a particular pint.

This is definitely not the case at Iron John’s Brewing Company, located in an out-of-the-way industrial bay in central Tucson, Arizona. Here, a flight is a selection of four beers, carefully decanted into four-ounce snifters.

But damned if it doesn’t take two of us the better part of 30 minutes to work our way through these four samples in Iron John’s little tasting room, interrupted only by cracking open peanuts in the shell. That’s because each sip is treated like a fine single-malt scotch as we considered the complexities, the subtle notes, the lingering flavours of chocolate, pear, hibiscus, etc.

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A flight of outstanding beer samples, chased with some peanuts. What more do you need?

I won’t bore you with the details of these four beers—a rye IPA, a seasonal porter, a strong ale and a red ale—other than to note that they’re produced in small batches and hand bottled.

Which means that to taste how outstanding these brews are (maybe the best in all of Arizona), you’ll likely have to make a trip to Tucson and visit the tasting room/brewery or ferret out the pubs, markets and fine beer stores that carry the stuff.

But if you do find it, you won’t mind spending an hour savouring this nectar or dropping an average of $7 for a 500-millilitre bottle to take home.

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Happy camper

But you’d best hurry. Just as I decide the Julio Rye IPA is the finest of our four samples, my pourer informs me the bottles of same have just sold out.

Guess that means another trip from Canada to Tucson.

Iron John’s Brewing Company
245 South Plumer Avenue, #27, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Saturday 11 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday
520-775-1727

Best of Tucson on a spring road trip

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Descending the lovely Blackett’s Ridge trail, with the sprawl of Tucson behind

Many western Canadians, desperate to escape the ever-lingering vestiges of winter, often take spring road trips to U.S. hot spots like Palm Springs or Scottsdale or Moab. But after recently spending 10 early-April days in Tucson, I’d like to recommend the southern Arizona city as a worthy springtime destination for outdoor activities.

Sure, the temperatures can creep into the 30s Celsius (90s F), though the desert nights cool off remarkably. The trick is starting your hike, bike ride or other outdoor activity as close to sunrise as you can manage, get in a few hours of exercise and then spend the rest of the day more idly in the shade or air-conditioned comfort. Once the sun sets, you can re-emerge in the glorious night-time air for, say, a shirt-sleeve patio drink/dinner or outdoors concert.

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The trick to springtime Tucson hiking is staying out of the mid-day sun

You’ll definitely need a car to get around Tucson, which in that great western tradition of embracing sprawl, spreads in all its low-density glory to the very edges of a broad valley. Sneeze when you’re passing through Tucson’s downtown and you might miss it. (On the other hand, Tucson has long been a pioneer in fighting light pollution so as to preserve the night skies for area observatories.)

All this means is it takes awhile to drive anywhere, especially with traffic lights that leisurely go through their cycles. But the traffic never gets L.A. or Phoenix hellish, though it really shouldn’t given the city proper has a population of just 530,000 (1 million metro).

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Typical Tucson commercial street

On to the activities. I’m not a cyclist, but an amazing number of road bikers either live in Tucson or make dedicated trips to the city. They range from racers here for serious winter training to those seeking more leisurely rides along the tremendous 100-plus-mile Tucson Loop, which winds through the city.

The real test piece is the 26-mile-mile grind up Mount Lemmon, a climb of nearly 6,000 feet. Followed by a blazingly fast descent (average 4.3% grade), which obviously delights roadsters but would scare the road-rash bejesus out of me.

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Three of a bunch of people cycling the steep highway up Mount Lemmon

But we’re here for the hiking, and it’s wonderful in spring. There are hundreds of miles of trails scattered around the five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, highlighted by the two chunks of Saguaro National Park that bookend the city. The trails go up ridges, follow washes and explore valley flats.

It’s principally Sonoran Desert hiking, featuring a wonderful foursome: the magnificent Saguaro (suh-wahr-owe) cactus, the orange-tipped, whip-like ocotillo and various forms of cholla and prickly pear cactus. Just don’t stumble onto them or accidentally grab their nettlesome thorns, or you’ll be like the dog that challenged the porcupine. Many of these species come into magnificent bloom in early spring, though the saguaro waits till May or June.

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Looking over the I-10 from the steep hike up Picacho Peak

But what about the food, Marathon Mouth? Of course, being this close to the border, there’s a good selection of Mexican cuisine, including the Tucson classic Sonoran hot dog, best served by parking-lot vendors. There’s also some great coffee roasters and a few fabulous microbreweries.

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Tucson’s famed Sonoran hot dog is better than anything you’ll find at a ballpark… and a lot cheaper, too

I’ve selected some favourite eats and drinks in my best-of-Tucson list below, with individual reviews coming in the weeks ahead.

Best museum: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Mountain Park, 2021 North Kinney Road

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A giant agave (I believe) and saguaro at the fabulous Desert Museum

Best tour: Boneyard bus tour of mothballed war planes, Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 East Valencia Road

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One of hundreds of mothballed war planes seen on the Boneyard bus tour

Best dawn hike: Blackett’s Ridge, Sabino Canyon

Best two-ecosystem hike: Agua Caliente Hill, eastern edge of Tucson

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Tucson’s Agua Client trail climbs above the cacti into treed grasslands

Best road cycle: Mount Lemmon

Best city pathways: Tucson Loop

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Cycling more than 100 miles of paved pathways on the Tucson Loop

Best through streets masquerading as country roads: Orange Grove and River Road

Best current events publication: Zocalo

Best local grocery: Bashas’

Best sunset view with a beer: overflow parking lot Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Best farmers’ market: Rillito Park (Sundays)

Best live music venue: La Cocina, 201 North Court Avenue

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Downtown’s La Cocina is the perfect shirt-sleeved nighttime place for a brew and bluegrass

Food and Drink

 Best breakfast (also best restaurant): 5 Points Market, 756 South Stone Avenue

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5 Points Market is my #1 Tucson pick for best breakfast and lunch

Best coffee: Yellow Brick (3220 South Dodge Boulevard) and Presta (2502 North 1 Avenue) a tie, with the latter getting bonus points for cool factor

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Presta Coffee Roasters is cutting-edge cool, with great java to boot

Best lengua tacos: Taqueria Pico de Gallo, 2618 6 Avenue

Best Sonoran hot dog: Ruiz, 1140 South 6 Avenue

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Parking-lot Ruiz serves up great, cheep Sonoran hot dogs

Best sandwich/deli: Roma Imports, 627 South Vine Avenue

Best craft brewery: Iron John’s Brewing Company, 245 South Plumer Avenue

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The tasting room at microbrewer Iron John’s is the place to sample Tucson’s best beer

Best beer selection: Plaza Liquors & Fine Wine (2642 North Campbell Avenue), with honourable mention to Whole Foods (three Tucson locations)