Category Archives: food

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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Lordy, Lordy, Look Who's Forty!

birthdaybeerIt’s my birthday today. The Big Four-Oh. I guess I’m supposed to be starting my mid-life crisis now – or does that start at 50 nowadays?

Like most big events in the Clow-Kirby household, it’s being celebrated fairly quietly. Friday night, we got together with Joann and Rodger, a lovely older couple who we’ve gotten to know over the last couple of years at Harvest Wednesdays, a series of dinners and tastings at the Gladstone Hotel where they and we are regulars. They both work at the Royal Ontario Museum, so they gave us a quick tour of a couple of current exhibits featuring diamonds and gemstones (oooh, sparkly!), and then we went for dinner at Dynasty, a nearby Chinese restaurant. The food was good, albeit about twice as expensive as a similar meal would be over on Spadina, but that’s Yorkville for ya.

Last night, it was dinner at beerbistro which is always a treat, birthday or not. We started with duck confit corn dogs and blonde ale veggie pakoras, followed by an astoundingly huge serving of rabbit & bacon fettucine for Sheryl, and the succulent applewood-smoked suckling pig special for the birthday boy, washed down with the always enjoyable Durham Hop Addict IPA. Manager Dayna somehow found out that it was my birthday (oh, alright, I bragged about it on the way in…) and sent over a bomber of Lagunitas Imperial Stout for us to enjoy with our dessert of flourless chocolate cake – but wait, before the cake arrived, chef Brian stopped by to see if we’d like to try something he’d been “playing around with”: foie gras cured in Rochefort 6 served with a banana-cherry chutney. Well, twist our rubber arms, and ohmifrickingod, best foie gras EVAR!!!

Today, it was brunch at The Beaver, one of our favourite little brunch spots in the ‘hood, and tonight, dinner and drinks with my usual beer drinkin’ posse at The Rhino, the best beer bar within staggering distance of our apartment.

Yeah, I guess 40 is turning out to be pretty OK so far…

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.

Don't Put That In Your Mouth, You Don't Know Where It's Been!

Catching up on some blog reading recently, I came across posts from Jay Brooks and Stephen Beaumont regarding The Omnivore’s 100, a list of 100 food items – some really weird, some not so much – that bloggers are supposed to post their blogs, bolding items that they’ve eaten and crossing out items that they’d never consider eating.

Since I ate bull testicles (which are notably missing from this list, I might add) for the first time last week, I thought it would be fun to find out my results:

Homer has eaten #46 on the list, but I have not.

Homer has eaten #46 on the list, but I have not.

  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare
  5. Crocodile *
  6. Black pudding
  7. Cheese fondue
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari
  12. Pho
  13. Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart
  16. Epoisses
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream
  21. Heirloom tomatoes
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters
  29. Baklava
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
  33. Salted lassi
  34. Sauerkraut
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar **
  37. Clotted cream tea
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects
  43. Phaal
  44. Goat’s milk
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi
  53. Abalone
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini
  58. Beer above 8% ABV
  59. Poutine
  60. Carob chips
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads
  63. Kaolin ***
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
  68. Haggis
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini
  73. Louche absinthe
  74. Gjetost, or brunost
  75. Roadkill
  76. Baijiu
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie ****
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers
  89. Horse
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake

* It was actually alligator. But close enough.

** Never been much of a congac drinker, but back when I occasionally smoked cigars, I’d often pair one with a nice bourbon or big, peaty single malt scotch. So again, close enough.

*** I had to look this one up. According to Wikipedia, Kaolin is a mineral which was “the active substance of anti-diarrhea medicine Kaopectate” until the early 1990s. I can’t remember if I used Kaopectate before that point or not, so I’ll count it as half.

**** I don’t think Hostess Fruit Pies were ever available in Canada, as we had a different Hostess company up here that made potato chips. But I ate plenty of Vachon snack pies and cakes as a kid, which was sort of the Canadian equivalent. I’ll take a half-point here as well.

So my total is 80 out of 100. Not bad! And none of the remainder that I’d absolutely never try. (Well, roadkill isn’t exactly at the top of my “must try” list, but as Stephen said in his post, “you just never know”…)

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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