Friday, May 30, 2014

Another Path

The first session ale that I ever drank was from my friend's brewery.

The beer, Session Ale, was Perry Mason's first offering and flagship ale for the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company. I still remember the first time I had it: it was in the summer, and my wife and I were sitting on the patio at Wilfred's, in the Chateau Laurier.

I remember the bold flavours and the crisp, clean finish that filled my mouth with lush, wonderful hops. At the time, it was the hoppiest beer I had ever tried. And it was wonderful.

I was also amazed that such a full-tasting beer could be so low in alcohol: I believe it was either 4.2 or 4.3 percent ABV.

It was the perfect summer, patio-season brew.

More than a decade later, on a hot afternoon, I tried another session ale from an Ontario craft brewery, and the memories of that first experience came back.
Detour (4.3% ABV)
Muskoka Brewery
Bracebridge ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 5
Appearance: slightly cloudy (it's unfiltered); deep gold to pale apricot, with a white head that settles to a thin but complete cap.

Nose: grapefruit, honey, canteloupe.

Palate: citrus hops, orange-pekoe tea, and honeydew; full body in the mouth but settles to a light, flavourful finish.

I shared my first six-pack of this session ale with a couple of my fellow dance dads, when we were moving props for our kids' dance recital. On our first sip, we were all blown away by the incredible citrus flavours and solid body. Having worked up a sweat with moving props on and off the stage, this ale hit the spot perfectly.

Later, in the comfort of my front steps, sitting in my Muskoka chair (appropriate), I thought, this can easily be my go-to summer ale. And it is.

This is my early pick for summer beer. It has all the refreshing flavours and is low in alcohol, so it is perfect for enjoying on a hot summer day. It makes me think of happy times, drinking great beer, and reminds me of that first, great session ale by my friend.

Stock up on this brew, which is available at the LCBO. I have a feeling it's going to move fast when it gets on the shelves.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

All Aboard! Next Stop, Summer

As spring enters its last phase and temperatures make us want to hit a patio, I start thinking of the perfect summer brew.

For me, I like something that is fresh and palate-cleansing, but still has a full body and lots of flavour. It's almost an oxymoron: something that feels light going down but maintains its taste.

It's not hard to find at all. Many saisons, pale ales, and session ales can be light and full at the same time. In the case of session ales, they are light in alcohol but the best ones still pack a punch in the mouth.

And on a hot day, it's hard to beat a cool pale ale.

Which brings me to a beer by the Toronto brewers at Junction Craft Brewing.
Conductor's Craft Ale (5.3% ABV)
Junction Craft Brewing
Toronto ON
Beer O'Clock rating: 4
Appearance: a clear, deep amber with a creamy, light-beige head that hops a thick cap.

Nose: light citrus and ginger.

Palate: malty caramel; sharp, but not overpowering hops; full mouth flavours, firm body, and a lasting finish.

I had been meaning to try this ale since one of my Twitter followers first put me on to the brewery, last summer. Unfortunately, at the time, Conductor's Craft Ale was only available at select pubs in the Toronto area.

Luckily, it is now available at the LCBO. I first tried the pale ale, on tap, at February's WinterBrewed Festival. I loved it right away, and was eager to get my hands on some cans, when I could review it in the comfort of my home.

I also wanted to wait until the weather warmed, because I thought that this ale would be perfect for a patio. Or enjoying on my front steps.

I was right. This is a fresh, crisp ale that goes down easy but presents plenty of flavour. On a hot day, I could drink this beer all day long.

If you haven't tried it yet, get on board. If you love pale ales, this one is sure to please.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

10 Great Ottawa Patio Pubs

Yesterday, one of my Twitter followers, Lori, asked me if I knew the best beer patio in Ottawa. I was about to respond with "Mine," but I knew that wouldn't be helpful. Instead, I told her I would answer her question with a blog post of my favourite pubs with outdoor patios.

In truth, I spend very little time during the summer on patios. In the spring, when flowers bloom and trees open up, the pollen kills me. If I'm going to be outside, I don't want bees or other pests bothering me. And if there's a wind, I prefer not to hold down my glass.

But on warm sunny days when the weather is right and the bugs are at bay, nothing beats enjoying a cold one outdoors. So, in no particular order, here are my top 10 patio picks for Ottawa.

Mill Street Brew Pub (555 Wellington St. at the Portage Bridge): You must have known I'd bring up this place off the top. It's my favourite pub in the city, and they have two great patios. And with the historic mill as a view, it's a cozy spot to drink a wide assortment of craft beer, some of which is made on the premises. During Bluesfest, you can sit on the patio and hear some of the performers, depending on the stage. The acoustics are such that the sound echos off Mill Street's parking garage: I was there last summer and could hear the live music perfectly.

Earl of Sussex (Byward Market, 431 Sussex Drive): This pub has been around forever and has a great patio on the corner that is shaded with trees. Right near the National Gallery, the patio offers views of Major's Hill Park and Nepean Point.

D'arcy Mcgee's Pub (44 Sparks Street, at Elgin): Another great patio with a view, D'arcy's outdoor space wraps around Sparks and Elgin, offering a great view of the War Memorial and the Chateau Laurier. There are great beers on tap, with many seasonals and featured beer changing all the time. This is one of my favourite places, year 'round.

Arrow & Loon (99 Fifth Avenue, at Bank Street, in the Glebe): This is the first Ottawa pub that featured local craft beer. My friend's brewery, Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, first offered his beers on tap at this pub, and many local craft beers can still be found here. While the patio doesn't have the greatest view, you are very close to Lansdowne, Ottawa South, and downtown. I go for the fabulous beer.

Sir John A (284 Elgin Street, at MacLaren): In the heart of Centretown, you are guaranteed to see lots of night life from the patio of this pub. There is great beer to be had here, including local craft beer and fine imported ales.

Heart & Crown (Byward Market, 67 Clarence Street): This pub is part of five interconnected pubs, known as the Irish Village, with patios both outside and within inner courtyards. For me, the best place to sit is at the corner of Clarence and Parent Avenue, where you have the best view of the heart of the Byward Market. If you prefer a more private setting, the inner courtyard patio is also great.

Heart & Crown (353 B Preston Street): Owned by the same folks as the Byward Market location, the Little Italy H&C is close to Dow's Lake. Don't be surprised to see the occasional Ferrari drive by.

Highlander Pub (115 Rideau Street): I tend to go to the Highlander for its outstanding and unmatched selection of single-malt whiskies, but the beer selection isn't bad either. Situated between the Rideau Centre and the Byward Market, the Highlander is close to many attractions.

The Clocktower Pub (418 Richmond Road, Westboro): The beer and food is hit and miss at this brew pub, but the patio is large and gets plenty of sunshine, and the pub is located in one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city.

The Lieutenant's Pump (361 Elgin Street, Centretown): Again, in the heart of Centretown, this pub has great Ontario craft beer on tap and the food is pretty good. The patio isn't huge but it does offer a great view of one of the city's great streets.

Those are my picks. If you go to any of these pubs you can't go wrong. (Good luck, Lori!)

If you have a favourite patio pub in Ottawa, please share it by leaving a comment.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Logical Ale

Every once in a while, when I'm in the LCBO, searching for a new beer to try, one will jump out at me and scream, "Buy me. Drink me."

It's not something that I say often, but I'm a big Star Trek fan. Like, really big. I have seen every episode of the original series, countless times; seen every episode of The Next Generation, countless times; every episode of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. As a child, I saw a few episodes of the animated series, but it wasn't readily available after its first run. But I'd watch it now, if given the opportunity.

I've read several Star Trek novels. I've seen every movie. I have even owned Star Trek mugs, utensils, and action figures (I even had the bridge of the Enterprise for the action figures, complete with transporter). I have built many models of the U.S.S. Enterprise—stashed in my basement are three starships (the original NCC-1701, A, and D), mounted together on a stand that looks like The Next Generation insignia/communicator.

I even had a Star Fleet uniform from The Next Generation, which I wore for Hallowe'en over a couple of years.

I'm an unapologetic Star Trek geek.

So, when I entered an LCBO in the Quinte Mall, in Belleville, and saw a particular can of ale, with a hand raised,  palm outward, fingers spread to make a V, I had to have it.

It was the only logical thing to do.
Vulcan Ale (5.4% ABV)
Pluto's Moon Beer Company
Calgary AB
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5
Appearance: deep amber with brownish-red highlights, much like the surface of Vulcan. A deep-taupe head that starts as a thick foam and settles to a creamy cap.

Nose: orange citrus with mild hops and a milder malt. A hint of caramel.

Palate: big, malted body, with caramel, apricot, and a slight pine finish that is lightly bitter.

Overall impression: all of the flavours meld into a mind-blowing, cohesive, full-bodied ale. This variation of an Irish Red is the logical choice for relaxing at home with friends, but it's tough to keep your emotions in check.

Vulcan ale was brewed to celebrate the 2013 centennial of the town of Vulcan, Alberta. That's where they have a honkin' model of the Enterprise.

Live long and prosper (I mean, cheers!).