Trees and potholes

Even the recent spell of warm weather has not released these trees from their burlap bindings here in Toronto!

Even as Toronto struggles with a shrinking economy and the proposed need to elevate taxes, the city has come up with a unique way to deal with the increasing number of potholes…the use of corn meal as a sealant on the Danforth!

Sainte Reserve Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus

Sainte Reserve Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus, brewed by MicroBrasserie Charlevoix in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, hits the ground running at 10 percent abv. From its golden sunset coloured shell and snow white head of foam unfold aromatics of invitingly fresh green hops.

Continuously hopped for 60 minutes with Amarillo, Simcoe and Saaz hop varieties to 70 IBUs, this beer delivers an essential spicy and citrusy bitterness that is forthright but not overwhelming. Lupulus is a very well balanced ale that serves up sufficient hop bitterness alongside a late kiss of malt sweetness that quietly keeps all that alcohol in check. A hop grassiness is evident as the beer warms in the glass.

This is a very well constructed and sublimely executed brew of great depth that deserves to be shared–bottle after bottle. Sainte Reserve Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus is available in 750 ml bottles.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Serves 4 contented diners with fresh flax bread. The beauty of this soup is that you can make it as rich as you prefer, simply by adding a bit more cream. And you can also serve it hot or chilled.

2 cups Spinnakers Nut Brown Ale, plus 2 cups chicken stock
1 bunch fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and well rinsed
1 red onion, skinned and chopped
1 large shallot, skinned and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon butter or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons 35 percent cream
Paprika as garnish


Sauté chopped onion and shallot in butter with a little salt and pepper in a saucepan until beginning to colour. Break off woody ends of asparagus where it snaps easily and discard. Rinse remaining asparagus spears well, drain and chop in 1-inch lengths. Reserve the asparagus tips Add in beer, chicken stock, and asparagus. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Cook the asparagus tips separately in salted water for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a cold water bath to set colour. Remove soup from heat and place small amounts in food proce with cutting blade and process. Strain soup through strainer and return goods to saucepan with the cream and the asparagus tips. Discard pulp. Heat soup through, adjust seasonings to taste and serve individually in soup bowls with a dusting of paprika and slices of fresh flax bread.
You can also add a bit of grated medium cheddar to this asparagus soup when reheating for a flavour variation.

Beer Choices

Spinnakers Nut Brown Ale is a 5.2 percent English Style Brown Ale brewed at Spinnakers Brew Pub and Guesthouse, Victoria, BC, Canada. It’s a brownish coloured ale with sumach red tinges, having a cappuccino coloured head of foam. Complex malt mixture releases scents of chocolate, brown malt, a hint of spice, iodine, medicinal notes, mineral elements,  seaweed, and a sweet and sour combination late. Medium bodied ale. On the palate, burnt toast, malt and mineral notes co-join with a background malt sweetness. Low level of hop bitterness perceived. Middle has toast and roast with evident malt sweetness.  Medium length finish delivers an upfront mineral note, toasted flavours and more malt sweetness. Bottle conditioned , naturally carbonated ale, therefore yeast sediment in the bottle. Cask beer in a bottle. Canada’s original brewpub and microbrewery. Bottling brewpub in Victoria, BC. Canada’s oldest licensed brewpub dates from May 15, 1984.

Mill Race Mild from Grand River Brewing, 3.5 percent abv, pours with a light mocha coloured foam on a reddish-brown base. This ale has a malty nose with an underlying fruitiness, a dash of spice and something that reminds of licorice but doesn’t taste like licorice? On the palate, malt is gently embraced by a soft bitterness. The middle continues with malt, fruit and a restrained bitterness. The finish has chewy malt, a brace of malt sweetness, a light background note of toast, with a continuing and persistent fruitiness and a malty mouthfeel embraced by a peppering of hop bitterness

Holsten Premium Pilsner is a 5 percent abv German-Style Pilsener brewed by the Holsten Brewery AG of Germany. It’s a sparkling light golden coloured lager with greenish undertones and  a light white head of foam. Fresh malty aromas burst forth on opening. Light in body. Malty start gives way to a reserved hop bitterness. Mouthfeel is of soft malt spliced by a light hop bitterness coursing through. Finish sees more of the same malt and hop combination, with wet grains putting in an appearance. There’s also a developing dryness on the palate. Conforms to the Reinheitsgebot of 1516, namely that it only has water, barley malt and hops in its makeup.

Fuller’s Vintage Ales, 2004 to 2010

The sight of cartons containing 2004 through 2010 Fuller’s Vintage Ales, four deep from 2005 to 2010,  on the bar brought a heightened awareness around the table convened to share and explore these well developed and highly complex bottle conditioned old ales.

From around the table as the tasting advanced came words of rich maltiness, notes of caramel, hints of Marmite, a kiss of molasses, spicy hops, nutty, Christmas pudding in a bottle, fruity, warming alcohol, hints of raspberry, citrusy, with even bottles from the same vintage showing distinct variances. And not a bad bottle among the lot of them.

Toss in a growler of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Double IPA and a Thai feast of Thai BBQ chicken with a sweet and hot sauce, sticky rice cooked with coconut milk, roasted peppers of several colours, garlic shrimp, as well as artisanal cheeses in reserve, and you could be forgiven if you thought you had been elevated to papal status.

And if my memory of events as they unfolded is a bit hazy, I’ve already forgiven myself.

Hop Rubbing, Toronto

ImageWhen 25 different varieties of leaf hops are being rubbed at once, releasing essential oils and volatiles, the air at the Black Oak Brewery, Toronto, was redolent with pungent aromatics of spicy Comet, earthy English Fuggle and floral Legacy hops. Palms were turning golden and green in equal measure as attendees at the second, ‘We love hops technical event’, gleefully rubbed their way to release the heavenly compounds of hops.

Hop rubbing is quite simply the best way to get to know what a particular hop variety has to offer the brewer. By placing a few hop cones in the palms of the hands and rubbing vigorously, literally pulverizing the cones, and then cupping the hands to contain and direct the resulting aromatics directly into the nose, is a technique that never fails to deliver the goods.

Nicholas Schaut, president of The Ontario Hop Growers Association, spoke on behalf of the 18 hop growers who are working diligently to grow the industry in this province. This was followed by Evan Elford, OMAFRA, speaking about the need for hop research in Ontario and relationship building between microbrewers and hop growers.

Following some tasty burgers catered by Brock Shepherd of the Burger Bar of Toronto, Diana and Stacy Puterbaugh, Hops Direct of Washington, spoke about the U.S. Hop Acreage Report and hop growing techniques.

Seven unique single-hop beers and Black Oak Pale Ale and Nut Brown, as well as Augusta Ale from the Kensington Brewing Company were available for sampling.

The well attended event was organized by Bob Latimer of Beer and Wine Filter and importer of Puterbaugh hops, and James Tien of the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge.


Benelux, Montreal

Montreal’s beer culture is driven by its diverse brewpubs, which produce most of the city’s finest brews at the keenest prices. The only drawback is that the brewpubs have varying opening hours, which usually requires a bit of planning, but as it happens one of the brewpubs, the Benelux has a solution, sort of…

Benelux time!

And that is the Benelux deluxe ‘guy clock’, which has no hands to sweep around one another, thus giving guys yet another reason to claim they had no idea what time it was. Time for another beer, I guess. Sorry I’m late, love. Had no idea what time it was. Legitimally. Totally. Or so I believe.

Benelux Brasserie et Cafe, a brewpub at 245 Sherbrooke West, sees head brewer Benoit Mercier crafting fine beers with a deft hand and an understated elegance, with some 30 beer formulations in circulation.

Featuring an open concept bar and large blue tubular tentacles hanging from the ventilation system,  stationary black stools along narrow community tables, the feel of this space is very light and airy. It caters to a university crowd for most of the year.

A couple of very tasty brews from Benelux: Batch 500 Double IPA, hitting out at 8 percent abv, has a hoppy, piney nose and is bitter throughout. There are strong parallels to Black Oak Brewery’s 10 Bitter Years. Batch 500 has a bold bitter finish worth chasing.

And then there is the stalwart Yakima  american style pale ale coming in at 5.5 percent abv. This is a fine flavourful ale that is hop forward and very drinkable. It has a dry, bitter finish that simply demands more. Yes. Okay I will have another as I inevitably do. Or so says my wife.

There are a number of other good beers from which to choose such as the Dredlux Imperial Stout, at a hefty 8.2 percent abv, and is  fittingly served in a chalice, with flavours of licorice, roast, alcohol and a background hop bitterness co-mingling happily together. On the flip side there is a West Coast Stout that is sharply defined by a citrusy hop attack backed by roast flavours. Psychlopathe, an American style pale ale, delivers a good balance of malt and hop in this neatly formulated brew.

But the most wonderful thing was seeing 12 gals and guys of all ages seated around a large half-round banquet with small tables in their midst all drinking Benelux beers on a Friday lunch time.

Now that’s, ‘C’est si bon!’