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I’m in the Market for a Good Beer

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Now this is what I call a compelling stall at a farmers’ market: one selling beer

The typical farmers’ market combines a reliable twosome: fresh produce and crafts. So when I see a Calgary market selling a different kind of craft—beer—I couldn’t be happier.

Farmers and Makers Market at cSPACE is a shiny new Saturday market in South Calgary, on the grounds of the restored, sandstone King Edward School, which has been converted to a bunch of arts spaces.

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cSPACE: A combination of market, historic building and arts incubator

The cSPACE market takes advantage of a year-old provincial government policy that allows Alberta craft beers and spirits to be sold at farmers’ markets (cottage wines were previously allowed, accounting for Strathmore’s Field Stone Fruit Wines’ stall at the market).

No, you can’t sit down with a pint at the market (though that would be a great next step). But you can sample and purchase brews from a local brewery.

At cSPACE, it’s Inglewood’s Dandy Brewing Company, usually offering two or three of their beers for sample and sale. I go for some tall cans of a vibrant seasonal IPA, named T2G after Dandy’s postal code.

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Field Stone Fruit Wines is also selling its wares at the cSPACE market

When I’m wandering around a farmers’ market, I like to figure out which stalls are the most popular and why. At cSPACE, Dandy is obviously a contender. I mean what would you rather buy on a hot summer’s day: a four-pack of chilled beer or a knitted scarf?


On the road in British Columbia

Sorry, no posts for the past couple of weeks. Been on the road in British Columbia, hiking and feeding the insatiable maw. Future dining descriptions to come.

In the meantime, a pictorial summary of tidbits along the way.

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Along the Coquihalla Highway; the bathroom maintenance must go on

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Lofty Hermit Meadows in Rogers Pass

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A wee mouse was a hitchhiker in my car for four days before the live trap struck.

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The Heather Trail in southwest B.C.’s Manning Provincial Park has unparalleled flower meadows, here featuring spent anemones

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Across the road on Frosty Mountain, rare alpine larch in southwest B.C.

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Trail runners heading up Frosty Mountain

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Sausage roll in Manning Park cafe. Me: “Did you bake these this morning?” Server: “With help from Sysco.”

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Near Lindeman Lake in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park

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The big oinker at Bubba’s Big Bites in Chilliwack. It lasted me a couple of days on the trail

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The incomparable fig-hazelnut loaf from Purebread in Whistler

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Casually cool Olive + Ruby coffee shop on West Broadway in Vancouver

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Only in Vancouver

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Elfin Lakes panorama in south Garibaldi Provincial Park

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Hikers adopt all sorts of dress near Vancouver

Yelp! I Need a Trip Advisor

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This is how my road-trip food research usually starts

Before embarking on a road trip, I spend considerable time figuring out all the places where I’m going to eat and drink. That research usually begins with a perusal of online reviews, principally on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

What I’m looking for at this stage is a general sense of what’s worthy of my cheap-eats attention. It’s mostly a process of elimination, winnowing out hundreds of contenders and ending up with a short list that may require further research elsewhere.

The question, of course, is how much can you trust the online reviews of a huge swath of customers—some of whom may have an axe to grind or, at least, have very different tastes/standards than you.

All of which makes a recent New York Times article, Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews, so intriguing. The tagline gets right to the point: “Research suggests that people heed negative reviews more than positive ones—despite their questionable credibility.”

Despite being in the minority, negative reviews carry more weight than positive ones, perhaps because of their relative scarcity. They’re also seen as more trustworthy because the reviewers are willing to point out flaws, even if they’re just in the eye of the beholder.

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So who you gonna trust?

The story goes on in more detail about why you shouldn’t take negative reviews to heart, and it’s well worth reading. Although not about restaurant reviews per se, the article got me thinking about how I react to both negative and positive reviews.

I admit my eye is drawn to one-star reviews, just to see how bad things were for that diner. And if I see a lot of one- or two-star ratings, I’m apt to move on to greener pastures.

But it’s quite common to see a one-star “worst place I’ve ever eaten” right next to a five-star rave about the “best meal I’ve ever had.” Which can make it quite frustrating to figure out who’s right.

What I now do is look for places that have a high percentage of four-star reviews, on the theory that if most people had a great meal/time, it’s probably a true representation. It also reduces the impact of the one-star complainers and the five-star ravers, some of whom may have ulterior motives.

Your thoughts?

The Boule Melts My Soul at 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters in Powell River, B.C.

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Bright, colourful cafe at 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters in Powell River, B.C.

My formula for a great coffee shop is, like me, pretty simple.

First, surprisingly, is superb coffee, preferably roasted in house, super fresh and expertly pulled or poured.

Second is one or two warm-from-the-oven baked goods. These can be dense fruit muffins, flaky croissants or no-icing cinnamon buns (“rolls” if you’re American). Just don’t wrap them in plastic… unless they’re a day old, in which case why are you selling them?

Third, that’s it. No sense complicating things. All you want is a steaming mug and a tender bite to savour, while not glancing at your screen.

The wonderfully named 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters—opened in 2013 by Margot and Nathan Jantz in Powell River on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast—has these simple, but rarely achieved, details nailed.

The coffee is small-batch roasted and available for purchase as bagged beans. My Americano is full flavoured and strong, the way I like it.

But what catches my eye is a rather unique baked good to go with the java. Yes, they have fresh sourdough croissants and local macarons on offer, plus wild-yeast sourdough waffles on Sundays.

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The coffee is excellent, but the sourdough boule steals the show

I’m instead immediately drawn to a basket of organic sourdough boule (a round, crusty bread), produced in house by talented 21-year-old baker Alexis. The boule is available as a full loaf ($6.50) and also as a bun, which I order for $1.50 (okay, it’s another 50 cents for melted butter, but still a steal). The bun is at once soft, chewy and tangy—one of the better baked goodies I’ve had with a coffee in quite some time.

32 Lakes’ café, on a downtown Powell River street, is full of light, with colourful art on the walls. I grab a window seat and gaze out the window as the coffee and boule slowly melt my soul.

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32 Lakes Coffee Roasters
4707 Marine Avenue, Powell River, B.C.
Daily 7:30 am-3 pm, except 8:30 am opening Sunday

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

Great New England IPAs (I Plead Addiction)


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.


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.


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

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