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

 

 

Refined Fool Brewing

Sarnia might be quite a ways from most other cities, but Refined Fool is worth the trip. It’s the sort of brewery that has it all going on: it’s a good place to hang out, it has a great batch of beers, and it even has a neat brand and interesting merch.

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THE PLACE

The big colourful mural down the side of the building makes it stand out, and they keep up that quirky, old-timey theme (heavy on top hats) throughout the building and throughout their brand.

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And they have a proper bar. Not a standing-awkwardly-tasting area, but a place you can get cozy at one of the table. It feels like they actually want people to hang out there.

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So you can hunker down at a table, and try a flight of interesting samples, or have a big glass emblazoned with that logo.

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THE BEER

Refined Fool makes a lot of beer in a lot of different styles. Jess & Josh have conflicting views on this. Jess thinks: how exciting, keep pumping out the brews! While Josh thinks that maybe a focus on 3-4 might be the better way of doing it.

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Still, they go across the field, from European standards to beyond, playing with the bits and pieces, and interesting ingredient ideas to make some pretty unique brews.

When we were there, these were the offerings on tap.
During our autumn visit, these were the offerings on tap.

Some of our favourites:

  • She’s German, Oktoberfestbier –   perfect for the season, less malty than most Oktoberfest styles
  • Pouch Envy, Australian Pale Ale –  quite unique. With a fruitier, more citrus-y taste than most IPAs, and less of the hoppy bitterness, this was a winner for both of us. We took a bottle home.
  • Serenity Now,  Extra Special Bitter (ESB) – we’re always on a hunt for a good local ESB, and of the Ontario craft ESBs we’ve tried, this one probably matches the traditional English style best. Well balanced in hops and malts (and not particularly bitter).
  • Troll Toll, Cream Ale – uncomplicated, simple, and refreshing. What else can you say about a good cream ale?

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THE EXTRAS

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Now as we’ve mentioned, the Refined Fool brand is strong – and pretty freakin’ cool too – and the little shop at the back of the store shows it. (Jess regrets not picking up a t-shirt).

We even caught the brewer at some paddling.
We even caught the brewer at some paddling.

 

Visit date: October 17, 2015

Finding Beer Beyond Corona & Dos Equis in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Relaxing on the white sand in front of bathtub-warm turquoise waters, shaded by a palapa, beer in hand sounds ideal. You know what could make it even better? If that beer wasn’t one of the fizzy yellow lagers that Mexico is best known for.

Both Jess and Josh make it no secret that they aren’t huge fans of clear or light lagers. But only Jessica had the opportunity to go down to Cancun (for work – tough job, we know), so it was up to her to do the hands-on beer research in finding the good stuff.

Tulum Swing Bar

With palapa roofs and swings at the bar, the Mayan Riviera’s drinking establishments can’t be beat. And it’s not all yellow and fizzy cerveza. The main alternate styles seem to have a certain taste profile: darker, heavy on the malt, light on the hops, but still easy drinking for the beach. There’s dark/dunkels, Vienna style lagers, and amber lagers.

To find these guys, keep your eyes out for the words:

  • o(b)scura
  • negra
  • ambar

Some of the more easy to find aren’t craft/microbrewed, but they are still unique to Mexico – or at least we’ve never seen the dark malt-bomb of Bohemia Obscura, the Munich-style dunkel Leon, or others up here in Ontario, Canada.

Beyond the Mexican macro. . . where’s to find the craft? Well, we have a few recommendations.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN

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Club de la Cerveza 

5th Ave, between Calles 34 and 38, Playa del Carmen

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Right on Quinta Avenida – or 5th Avenue, PDC’s main tourist drag – Club de la Cerveza is an oasis of casual tables for sipping beer amid the fluorescent lights and thumping bass of the other shops and bars along 5th Ave.

 

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The beer list is a full book, with pages of Mexican microbrews and interesting craft offerings, as well as a good list of imports.

Just a single page of the menu
Just a single page of the beer menu

And the fridge is packed full, some familiar up here, and some delightfully less so.

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Jess wasn’t there for food, but the free popcorn was a bonus!

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Elsewhere in Playa del Carmen

Jessica didn’t get to visit, but she strolled past the delightfully German-looking  Manne’s Biergarten (Calle 4 Norte, between 10th ave and 15th ave) which apparently has a decent selection of Mexican beers beyond the standards, plus German imports. 

 

CANCUN

Casa Tequila

8.5 km Kukulkan Blvd | Next to the Convention CenterCancun

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Since Jess was in Cancun for a conference, she didn’t have much time to escape the hotel zone and head to Ciudad Cancun, so she went on the hunt for a place to get some local beer. Surprise, she found a place right beside the conference centre: Casa Tequila.

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It might be a  touristy place and the food is probably more on the side of what tourists expect over authenticity. But hey, that beer list is pretty decent for central hotel zone, and the food (authentic or not) was good!

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Elsewhere in Cancun

The big grocery store in the Hotel Zone, Selecto Super Chedraui (Blvd. Kukulkan 9) has a pretty large beer selection – craft, imports and macros – so even Josh was able to partake in the batch that Jess brought home.

Jess didn’t make it out to Ciudad Cancun, but heard that Estadio Cerveceria and The Beer Box are also good places to grab a cerveza! Just call ahead for Beer Box, because a lot of the reviews or posts we saw online had people disappointed that they showed up when it was closed.

Carvings at Tulum
Carvings at Tulum

 

StoneHammer Brewing – Guelph Brewery Crawl Part 3/3

Part three of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl. 

Our third and final Guelph stop was to StoneHammer Brewing. You may know them under their previous name, F&M Brewing (StoneHammer was the product line). Regardless, they’ve been making their brand of all-natural, hand-crafted, fine-brewed ales and lagers for 20 years.

In fact, it was StoneHammer Dark Ale that first sparked Josh’s love for craft beer, so he’d been particularly eager to visit and check it out.

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The Place

StoneHammer is tucked away inside a quiet commercial-industrial park, designed for utility more than aesthetics. Not very pretty, but it does the job. Inside, it’s set up like a storefront rather than a bar/hang-out. A few fridges, a table with a register, and a tiny serving area. We weren’t lucky enough to get a tour the day we went, but there were tastings.

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The Beers

We came between any of their seasonals and one-offs, so it was just their five year-round signature pours up for sampling. Samples were free, so we tried a bit of each.

  • Light Lager: We’ll be honest – neither of us particularly like light beer, nor do we drink it. That said, this one is certainly an improvement over the major commercial offerings.
  • Pilsner: There’s not much to say about a pilsner – it’s simple, crisp, and either done right or done wrong. This one is definitely done right.
  • Pale Ale: This is a brew you won’t get anywhere else. Yes, beer has a “terroir” just like wine does – the flavour of this one comes from Guelph’s unique municipal water, heavy on limestone, which gives it an almost savoury quality. Perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, but definitely worth trying.
  • Dark Ale: Easily the best of all. It has a malty aroma and a toasty flavour that anyone who enjoys a dark beer will certainly appreciate
  • Oatmeal Coffee Stout: One of the better blends of beer and coffee that we’ve tried. The oatmeal gives it a sweetness almost like a regular coffee at your favourite shop.

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The Extras

Stone Hammer is pretty much bells-and-whistles free. There’s a rack of t-shirts, but not much beyond that. But hey, look at that shelf of awards!

Visit Date: October 9, 2015 

Post 1 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Royal City Brewing: http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/03/royal-city-brewing-guelph/

Post 2 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Wellington Brewery – http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/12/wellington-brewery-guelph/

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.