Hoppily Ever After’s Best Beer “Stuff” 2017

We’ve done the beer itself, but craft beer tends to be such a movement that there’s so many other things going on. Here’s a few of our favourites from 2017.

Best Beer Experience Overall

Organizing a Beer Festival For the First Time.  We got recruited to be the “Beer Coordinators” for the first I Heart Beer Festival in Hamilton, February 2017. We took all of our beer and Ontario brewery knowledge and ran with it, learning a lot along the way. We also did Beer Coordination for the April 2017 festival in Guelph.  Unfortunately we then had to step back from our role as I Heart Beer was growing more than we could participate in with day jobs. Congrats to the team on expanding throughout Southern Ontario though – we were proud to attend the Hamilton I Heart Beer Christmas fest as guests rather than hosts, and see how much it had grown.

Hamilton I Heart Beer Festival

Honourable mention: Prud’homme’s Level 1 course. Yes, we’re now certified Beer Enthusiasts (as opposed to before when were were un-certified beer enthusiasts). This course was great and we’d recommend it to both a novice to beer and those with a bit more experience such as the two of us. Our hope is to be able to attend one of the Level 2 courses in 2018 en route to becoming full Beer Sommeliers.

Best Beer Fest

(Not counting the ones we coordinated, of course). 

Because Beer, Hamilton. We’ve been going since the 2014 inaugural year (see our post on it here), and it never fails to impress. It has a great brewery selection dedicated to Ontario craft, a lovely location by the water, and smooth timing and logistics. As a non-niche festival it works for a general audience – including us. The beautiful weather this year made it even better.

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Honourable mention: Funkfest, Sawdust City Brewery, Gravenhurst. One of the niche festivals, this one is entirely dedicated to funky, sour, farmhouse, and barrel-aged beers.  Totally up our alley. It’s a really fun festival – for brewers as well it seems – and is worth the trek to Gravenhurst.

Best Beer-Related Paraphernalia

Pretty Pennie Jewellery Hop Necklace. After lusting after it all year, the solid brass hop necklace was Jessica’s Christmas present from Josh. A local artisan out of Cambridge, you’ll often see Pretty Pennie Jewellery at all sorts of local craft and/or beer shows. They’re gorgeous in person too!

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Honourable Mention: Brewcrafters GameFun game play and maybe frustratingly realistic about how little money you have left at the end of the “year” – yikes! Very chit-heavy in the set-up though, but once we got things organized the most logical way in their baggies, it was a bit better.

Best Brewery- Visiting Experience

Valentino’s Restaurant, Hamilton. Some Hamiltonians might be surprised to see this old standard Italian restaurant on our brewery list, but it’s our favourite place for pasta AND a pint. The Westdale location brews for the restaurant, and both locations will generally have their flagship Bohemian Ale along with a seasonal. Most recently it was a Lemon Stout and we’ve also seen beers like a Cream Ale, Boreal Brown Winter Ale, and more.

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Honourable mention: Neustadt Springs Brewery, Neustadt. In an old brewery building from 1859 inside a really charming village, Neustadt Springs feels like a bit of a holdover from an older age of beer. They don’t have any food or a license to serve pints, but you can sample their beer. We spent a bit of time and chatted with the proprietors – some of the few remaining founding members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association. Their 10w30 Brown Ale has always been a favourite but a visit exposed us to others like their very tasty Sour Kraut Lager, a raspberry sour.

Best Beer News

The Expansion of Beer in Hamilton. We love travelling Ontario – and beyond – to tour breweries, but it’s really exciting for us to finally have a good selection of breweries right at home. Collective Arts has become the oldest Hamilton brewery with a physical location, and Shawn & Ed has been trucking along Dundas for a little while, but 2017 saw Merit, Grain & Grit, and Fairweather Brewing all open in Hamilton. Great news for local beer lovers! We’ve heard that Rust City Brewery is getting close to actually being able to brew, and Clifford Brewing has a place which is so close to opening. We predict 2018 will be another great year for local beer nerds.

Crowds at Grain & Grit
Crowds at Grain & Grit

Honourable mention: Online Ordering from Breweries. This is a great piece of beer news we haven’t yet taken advantage of, but our new year is going to be filled with beautiful deliveries from far-flung breweries. We’ve been drooling over Instagram pics of other people’s orders from breweries like Dominion City and Half Hours on Earth.

Did we miss any amazing 2017 beer experiences?

 

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Pairing Beer with Hearty German Comfort Food

Food and beer pairing doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. We hear a lot about pairing the right foods with the right wine, but not enough about the true diversity of beers, and how the right combination can create a unique dining experience. With the explosion of craft breweries lately, we think it’s time that beer and food pairing steps into the limelight.

Brewers’ Plate

That’s why we were thrilled by the Brewers’ Plate event in Toronto back in May. They get it! With a classy rock ‘n’ roll theme (wear your concert tees and blazers), it brought local restaurants and breweries together to show us how it’s done.

Brewers Plate, Toronto, Hoppily Ever After

Inspired by the event, we at Hoppily Ever After and Heather from Hamilton Small Fries decided to cook up a beer pairing feast of our own.

Beer Pairing 101

We started with the most basic rule in beer and food pairing: match strength with strength. You don’t want the strength of either the beer or food to overpower the other. To put it in the language of cheese, don’t match your Imperial stout with a creamy, mild Brie. But you might want to match it with a sharp old cheddar.

Though we usually default to aiming for complementing flavours, there’s actually three C’s of beer pairing: 

  • Complement – pair similar flavour profiles (e.g.  chocolate cake with sweet stout, Southern brisket and rauchbier)
  • Contrast – pair opposite flavour profiles, to bring out the flavours of the other (e.g. spicy food and malty beer, salty food and sour beer)
  • Cut – pair something that can cut through a dish’s richer flavours (e.g. spicy food and hoppy beer)

And in thinking about the three C’s, don’t forget all the flavour elements you could have. To start with: the malt, the hops, the carbonation? What about added flavours like fruit, herbs & spices, or chocolate? How about acidity, salt, or heat levels?

Beer sampling glasses, Hoppily Ever After
Preparing our varied collection of sample glasses

The Food & Beer Pairing Feast

We couldn’t resist a classic beer-producing region as our starting point: Germany. We had the benefit of Heather‘s epic cookbook collection as our starting point. Luckily, she had the perfect vintage German cookbook.

Beer and German food pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Main Course

Our main course was Schweinskoteletten mit Knackwurst und Kartoffeln – that’s Pork Chops with Knackwurst and Potatoes, for those not from the Old Country. We substituted Bockwurst (like a German-style hot dog rather than the more intense sausage-flavour you might picture) for the Knackwurst, and no one knew the difference.

German stew, Beer, Hoppily Ever After

We chose Old Tomorrow’s Track 85 Lagered Ale as our beer, and it was a very successful pairing. With the smoothness of a ale, and the crispness of a lager, this German-style Altbier complemented the mild pork chops, potato, and bockwurst, and contrasted the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes and Gherkins in the dish (yes, Gherkins).

Vegetable Side Dish

The veggie side we chose was Bohnensalat, or “French” Bean Salad. A salad with a witbier is usually a good bet for a complementary pairing, with oil/vinegar/spices of the food matching the citrus/spices of the beer.

Food and beer pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Black Oak’s Beat the Heat, a Belgian style witbier, fit the bill perfectly. The citrus and coriander of this light, classic Wit perfectly complemented the tanginess of the beans.

Dessert

We picked up an apple strudel at Denninger’s, our local German and international grocery store. We aimed for a Hefeweizen that we thought might be a complementary flavour. Unfortunately, this was a match that didn’t work as well. The apple strudel was delicious, the beer was delicious. But together? They just didn’t really pair well.

Food and beer pairing, Hoppily Ever After

Refined Fool’s My Cousin Knows the Drummer hefeweizen, with its cloudy light gold tone, definitely looks the part. However we found it a bit more sour than the hefeweizens we were used to. This meant it wasn’t a perfect match for the sweetness of the strudel, but it also wasn’t far enough into sour territory to contrast. Doing this again, we’d find something malty to complement the warmth and sweetness of the strudel, or perhaps a sessionable IPA to contrast. Or, we’d have My Cousin Knows the Drummer with something like a lemon meringue pie!

Details

Want to learn more about the food in these posts? Check out Heather’s post at Hamilton Small Fries

Brewers Plate, Hoppily Ever AfterCheck out the Brewers Plate! Fun event, food & beer, and it’s for a good case. This year they raised $9,000 for War Child. #rocktheplate

Finally, this October, Jessica from here at Hoppily Ever After, and Heather from Hamilton Small Fries will be leading two tours during Hamilton’s new culinary week, NOSH Week! Find our “Paired: A Food and Beer Pairing Tour”, and “Spooky Spirits: A Cocktail and Food Pairing Tour” on Thursday October 20 and 21, 2016. 

Indie Ale House Stout Night 2015

The public transport trek from our Hamilton Hoppily Ever After home to Indie Ale House‘s Barrel House in Toronto’s Davenport, is a long and arduous one. But we needed to do the bus thing, because their Stout Night 2015 had so many good (and new to us) brews.

In a string of commercial buildings and warehouses on a side street, the Barrel House is tucked away. And yep, inside it’s lined with barrels.

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It’s not a huge place. It’s a relatively small room, and it had a relatively small crowd. With the concrete floors and hanging twinkle lights, it felt like we had been invited to an exclusive party, rather than a big beer festival.

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Maybe it was the size of the event, but the people there were less clique-y, more friendly. We got in several stout-fuelled conversations with patrons of all ages (well, all ages 19+).

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THE BEER

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As you might guess from a stout-specific festival, there were a lot of creative takes on the style. Josh and Jessica both adore stouts – sweet, smoky and malty are winners for both of us. However, Josh likes the imperial and barrel-aged brews better, whereas Jess is more likely to grab a lighter, roasty stout.

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There were a lot of prime options, and we had trouble narrowing it down, but here’s a few that intrigued or delighted us:

  • Black Oak – Nox Aeterna – near the top on both of our best-of lists. Smoky but still smooth, no burn at the end of your sip. A very slight sweetness tempers it a little. You can see why they call it a breakfast stout: it’s very drinkable.
  • Niagara College Teaching Brewery – Set Me Free – an ice wine-barrel-aged imperial. Intriguing flavour. The sweet grape flavour is at the same tiem subtle and quite noticeable. Both of us found it interesting though it was a bit strong for Jessica.
  • Blood Brothers Brewing – Guilty Remnant – a pale stout; you wouldn’t expect it to taste so stout-like but it does. The white chocolate works well with the coffee-like notes, like a fancy cafe drink.
  • Belwoods Brewery – Bring Out Your Dead – aged in cognac barrels, a lot stronger in scent than in taste, but it’s present in both. It’s a strong hit with the “whoa cognac” feel that it would work well as an after-dinner-sipper.
  • Great Lakes – Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder – maybe it’s a cheat as it’s a porter, but this tied for #1 for Jessica (the other being Nox Aeterna), and Josh also really enjoyed it. It’s got a Dr Pepper vibe with the cherry, malt, and a hint of fizz. Can we buy a bottle?
  • Forked River Brewing – Weendigo – Josh’s number one of the stout night (or stout afternoon, in our case) – Warming and satisfying, with a bourbon top note.
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Posters for a couple of the stouts

All in all, it was worth our trek. We just wish we could buy all our favourites – so many delicious one-offs. Next goal? Making it out to Indie Ale House itself.

Event Date: December 19, 2015

 

 

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest at the Schwaben Club

Since we couldn’t make it to Germany this year, we did the next best thing. We popped down the highway to Kitchener (once known as Berlin), which has Canada’s largest German community, and the second largest Oktoberfest celebration in the world. The first, of course, being Munich itself.

Jessica had been to the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest before, but only to a couple of the big festhallen. Josh was a first-timer, and we knew we wanted to get that holy grail of tickets: to one of the city’s authentic German clubs. They sell out early each year, so you have to be quick on the draw.

Luckily, we found a pair of tickets to the Schwaben Club. They had two rooms running for the ‘Fest: the larger Main Hall, and the smaller Schwaben Hall, where we ended up. It didn’t disappoint. 

Oktoberfest Crowd

All colourful pennants and half-timbered-style ceiling, the hall had everything that comes to mind when you think of when you think of Oktoberfest. Beer? Oom-pah-pah band? Servers in dirndls and lederhosen? Guests in dirndls and lederhosen? Sauerkraut, schnitzel and bratwurst? Jawohl!

Steve Angel Band
The Steve Angel Band in their lederhosen’d best

ZWEI BIER, BITTE!

We have to admit: we worried about finding good beer with the Molson sponsorship. But fortunately we found two interesting options in the Hall: Big Rock Brewery’s Traditional Ale and Rickard’s Lederhosen. Big Rock’s “Trad” is a medium English brown ale with a nutty malt flavour. Definitely not Oktoberfest-style, but a tasty brew. Lederhosen, on the other hand, is a traditional märzen (the iconic lager of Oktoberfest). It didn’t quite measure up to some of the craft märzen‘s we’ve had this autumn, but it was welcome at the Fest – and undeniably in style.

That is NOT Canadian in the glass on the right.
That is NOT Canadian in the glass on the right.

One of the benefits of being at a proper German club was that we had options. The Schwaben Club continues to run their open-to-the-public Bier Keller (cellar beer bar) downstairs during Oktoberfest. And they’ve got a good variety of offerings from Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. We both went for Paulaner’s Hefe-Weizen as a change from our upstairs brews.

DAS ESSEN

Oh, the food. Another major benefit of going for an authentic club – real, homecooked  German food.  It must have taken forever to bake all that Apfel-Strudel, not to mention tenderizing all that schnitzel. But boy, was it worth it. Beyond the main meal options (schnitzel, sausage, sauerkraut, potato salad, coleslaw, strudel, etc), they also came around with baskets of warm pretzels, which we definitely indulged in. 

 

Apple strudel
Fresh baked apple strudel

DIE EXTRAS

The Schwaben has what we think is the ideal ‘Fest vibe: a blend of young and old – the university students, the grey-haired crowd, and beyond. We ended up chatting with a group of folks from another Schwaben Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then a group of recently-legal university students who’d never heard of sauerkraut. Everyone got along, chatted at their long tables. And dance.

The dancing brought everyone together. Lots of accordion, horns, polka, chicken dance, and the regular necessity: Zicke-Zacke-Zicke-Zacke-Hoi-Hoi-Hoi!

At 11pm, the lights turned on, and we thought we were kicked out. But no! Instead, a special and unexpected treat: traditional German dancers folk-dancing away to German techno. . . and Du Hast.

Imagine the sounds of Rammstein to this country dance.
Imagine the sounds of Rammstein to this country dance.

Why? Because Beer!

Until very recently, Hamilton wasn’t a craft beer city. Even the Lakeport plant shut down over 5 years ago.

That’s changed, and the craft breweries sprouting up aren’t the only evidence. The second annual Because Beer (July 10-11, 2015) is one of the new local beer festivals. It’s organized by Sonic Unyon – better known as the Supercrawl people. We knew from year one that it would be well put together.

A Collective Arts-y lineup

And yes, the event was a solid performance. We got lucky with the warm, sunny weather two years in a row. But everything else – from the bayfront location at Pier 4, to the shade tents, to the short lines, to the clean and plentiful port-a-potties (a dirty topic, but vital) – were prime examples of good planning.

Muddy York Brewing’s branded burlap

BECAUSE… WHAT? BEER!

In 2015, there were 30 breweries, up from last year’s 23. The signature glass steins are already on our keeper shelf, and since they match last year’s, we’ve got a nice little set. The entry fee also included 4 sample tokens, with the opportunity to buy more as the day progressed. Each sample was 4 oz, but many breweries were giving a little extra – great for those coming for a few samples, but making it nearly impossible for those trying to fill out their “beer passports”.

Because Beer steins 2015

 

Standout Beers of the Event

Our winner was, strangely, a combination of two of Flying Monkeys beers (yes, actually mixed together), recommended by the guy behind the taps. Those were 12 Minutes to Destiny – a hibiscus/raspberry lager, and Chocolate Manifesto Stout – a sweet-and-bitter triple chocolate milk stout. “Like a Viva Puff,” he said. We agreed! They’re both good on their own, but even better together. Like us.

The navigable crowd, early in the day

 

Garden Brewers is one of Hamilton’s new craft breweries. We’ve been following them since last year’s Because Beer, so we knew we had to try their new Petal Pusher, an elderflower lager. Josh described it as one of the best lagers he’s ever had, and the elderflower gives it a floral, vaguely fruity, kind of citrusy…almost indefinable taste. Pure summer. We tried both cask and draught versions, finding the cask stronger but more mellow, with the draught version having more carbonation and a sharp tang at the end.

Yeah, we did pretty well.

 

We were into the ginger flavours going on this year. Jessica particularly liked Mill Street’s Ginger Cat, a Belgian Witbier that would make the ideal, flavourful session beer: candied ginger! Orange peel! Unfiltered hazy deliciousness!

Josh’s ginger pick was Double Trouble’s Revenge of the Ginger – Kickin’ Ginger Red IPA (oddly described as an Australian Pale Ale on Untappd). The Double Trouble guys described it to Josh as a gingerbread IPA. He found it had the kick of ginger without the extreme hoppiness found in some IPAs. Even Jessica enjoyed her sip, and she’s not one for the ultra-hoppy brews.

THE FOOD

The Hamilton food truck scene is no slouch, and they were out in full force, in great variety, many with beer-matching menus or beer puns, which delighted us (though our many beer samples may have helped).

Good one, Southern Smoke truck

All in all? We’ll be back next year!