Thursday, 20 September 2012

Go Local - Ottawa Area Breweries

You don't think I only drink wine, do you?

I am a huge fan of beer! But real beer - local, flavourful, and varied. Last night, I went to a Craft Beer Tasting at the Billings Museum with local Sommelier, Beer, and Whisky guru Geoffrey Skeggs. He teaches both a Beer Course and a Whiskey Course at Algonquin college. They are part of the Sommelier program, but they have no pre-requisites so you can take them on their own. The setting of the museum is beautiful, and you feel a little special/naughty drinking beer in a historical setting like that.

Ottawa's micro-brewery scene has seen rapid growth in the past few years. You now have a number of options to get fresh and flavourful beer right here in the city. All 5 of the beers last night, 1 lager and 4 ales, were fresh from a different brewery in the National Capital Region, and paired with a nice little nibble. Most of the pairings were cheese, and he touched on the rumour that I have heard a few times before - that cheese actually pairs better with beer than it does with wine!

A little beer lesson to start: all beers are either a 'lager' or an 'ale' (they can be a 'lagered ale' but that's another story). What is the difference, you ask? Well the main difference is in the type of yeast used to ferment the beer. Lagers use a strain of yeast that is bottom fermenting, works at a cooler temperature (around refridgetor temp), ferments more slowly (up to 6 weeks), and converts all the residual sugar to alcohol. This leaves the beer with a "clean" taste with a short finish. Ales use a top fermenting yeast, works at room temperature, ferments within about 6 days, and leaves around 5% residual sugar. That's why we perceive ale to have a 'fuller' taste, and be more fruity.

First pairing was the lager - Beau's Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager. This is a seasonal beer brewed for the fall only - and just beacuse it's a larger, doesn't mean it's light! It's a full orange-copper colour, with a deep aroma of yeast, orange, dried fruit, honey, and metallic notes with a short, clean finish. It was paired with a cheese - which Geoff had never tried before and wasn't sure 100% what it was called. From his attempt at spelling it, and matching the flavour profile, I believe it was a cheese called Menage, which is a hard cheese made with a blend of cow, goat, and sheep's milk. The only thing is it's an American style, and he indicated that it was Spanish. Either way - it was decadent tasting, with a deep earthy, nutty, sweet, and tangy flavour. A full and rich flavoured cheese, with a rich flavoured beer and a clean finish. Great pairing! If you would like to pick up Beau's, you can get many of them in the LCBO, including their rotating roster of Seasonal beers. You can also visit their brewey in Vankleek Hills east of Ottawa.

Second pairing was a hoppy wheat beer - Kichesippi Uncle Mark's Hopfen Weisse, which is a traditional German Hefeweizen brewed with lots of hops, adding extra bitterness. The aroma is tradtional Hefeweizen aromas of banana, bubblegum, and clove with grapefruit pith and pine aromas. The flavour is much drier than most wheat beers, and slightly herbal. Geoff paired with herbed goat's cheese. The herb coated matched the bitterness of the beer, which the sweet and creamy cheese was a nice contrast to it. If you would like to purchase some, Kichesippi offers this seasonal beer only in growlers from it's brewery on Campbell Avenue, close to the Carling exit of the 417. It's flagship Natural Blonde is available in bottles in the LCBO.

The third pairing was my personal favourite - an India Pale Ale. I'll save the history of IPA's for another time - I know I'll be talking about them again. This one was from Big Rig Brewpub, a new brewpub in Ottawa partially owned by Ottawa Senator Chris Phillips. I was impressed by this IPA, which I expected to be a wimpy attempt. It was very powerful, with stone fruit, orange, grapefruit, pine and soapy aromas. The flavour is very fruit with a long, lingering bitterness. It was missing a little bit of the tropical fruit aromas I enjoy in an IPA but still a very strong beer. It was paired with a spicy sopressata. Personally, it was my least favourite pairing. Traditionally, IPA is a great pairing with spicy foods because the bitterness has a cooling effect that quels the spiciness. However, this time both flavours lingered leaving me with both spiciness and bitterness competiting for attention in my mouth for a long time. Big Rig IPA is available in growlers at the Big Rig Brewpub on Iris at Greenbank, near the IKEA in Ottawa (you all know where that is) along with 4 other traditional styles. You can stop in just for the beer or stay for a nibble at the restaurant.

The fourth pairing - back to cheese - was a strong French style of beer called Bière de Garde. Ambre de la Chaudiere from Mill Street is one of the styles brewed exclusively in the Mill Street Brewpub in Ottawa. This style is very fruity, very sweet with stone fruit and honey aromas, and just a hint of yeastiness (the style is unfiltered) and clocks in at 7% alcohol. Typically, I am not a fan of this style of beer, but I thought it provided a nice contrast when paired with the aged blue cheese which was very earth and salty. If you like this style of beer, you can pick it up in a growler at the store in the Mill Street Brewpub in Ottawa near Lebreton Flats. I believe they can also be found in the Mill St. seasonal sampler packs in the LCBO - but don't hold me to this, they probably have a different seasonal offering now.

Finally, our last pairing was dessert. Geoff paired Broadhead Beer's Darkhorse Stout with a locally made chocolate ice cream - heavenly! I had actually seen an article in the Ottawa Citizen earlier in the year that used the same beer to make a Beer Float (I know!!). Anyways, the beer has a very nice aroma of coffee crisp (coffee, chocolate, vanilla) and creamy in the mouth. It's a little drier in the mouth than the aroma hints at, but a nice coffee hint in the background without hitting you over the head with it. If you would like to purchase this lovely treat or one of their 5 other ambitious offerings, you can get them in growlers at their little brewery at 81 Auriga Drive unit 13 in the industrial park at Hunt Club Road and Prince of Wales Drive. They just switched units in order to expand, so it would be helpful to note that it is on the right side of the building about halfway down. Also note - because of the move coupled with a lot of recent publicity, their brew availability is spotty. You should call ahead before making a special trip to find out what is available!

Before I depart, in case you've been asking "What is a Growler?" and you haven't googled it yet, a growler is a 1/2 gallon refillable bottle (64 oz, or a little less than the equivalent of a 6-pack).

1. Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager - Beau's Brewery
2. Uncle Mark's Hopfen Weisse - Kichesippi Brewery
3. Big Rig India Pale Ale - Big Rig Brewpub
4. Ambre de la Chaudiere - Mill Street Brewpub Ottawa
5. Darkhouse Stout - Broadhead Beer

Happy drinking!

Friday, 14 September 2012

My Buys: Vintages Release - September 15

So my birthday is tomorrow, and it is also the next Vintages release! The focus of this release is all about Ontario wines. I am a huge fan of Ontario wines, however I will heading out to the Niagara Wine Festival at the end of the month (September 28 - 30) so I'm a little reluctant to purchase many Ontario wines - I know I will have all the wines available to me, and I'm going to blow my budget! However, I will show restraint while still fantasizing about what I will buy (and if someone reads this and wants to buy one for my birthday, I won't stop them!)

The release is filled with the grapes that are done very well here; Riesling and Chardonnay  for the whites, and Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc for the reds. These are all wines that can excel in our climate, and the skillfull hands of our winemakers.

Riesling is a very versatile grape, making wines in the range from bone-dry aperatif wines to rich and sweet icewines. However, it needs a cooler climate like Niagara to keep a balanced acidity that makes it lip-smacking good and keeps it from being cloyingly sweet. The 2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling at $18.95 is the signature balance of peach, citrus, minerality, and petrol that makes Niagara Riesling so great and has some cellar-ability as well.

An even more versatile and adaptable grape would be Chardonnay, which can flourish in almost any climate. In warm climates, the result is a more powerful wine filled with tropical fruit and usually a heavy-handed dose of oaking. In Niagara, we produce a more elegant Chardonnay that can be both refreshing and complex at the same time. To me, Lailey Chardonnay 2010 sounds delicious: apple, peach, and lemon with a light oak adding aromas of sweet spices. $19.95.

I am a fan of Cabernet Franc. It is original fame is as the third in line in red Bordeaux, or a more prominent red grape in the white-wine dominated Loire region. In Niagara it is gaining popularity, but it has a bad rap. It does need a longer time to ripen than Pinot Noir or Merlot, but less time than Cabernet Sauvignon. If under-ripe, Cab Franc has some harsh tannins with aromas and flavours of including tart cranberry, bell pepper, and pencil shavings. But in a good year, it can rival the other Cabernet for richness and depth of flavour. I'm excited to try 2 wines: Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 at $16.95, which is a rich and intense style that is featured as the "Local Find"; and the Burning Kiln Harvest Party Cobernet France 2011 at $17.95, which is actually made in an "appassimento" style using grapes partially-dried in old tobacco kilns. Should be very rich and smokey!

Finally, the king of grapes, Pinot Noir can be very finicky. With the right soil, weather, and winemaking, it can be show-stopping. However, it can easily be a flat and lifeless wine. Prince Edward County has been making some very impressive Burgundian-style Pinots, but they don't usually come cheap. So, my last Ontario pick is a splurge (for me, anyways): Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2010 at $35. I had to pick this one, because I have had to pleasure to visit the winery earlier in the spring and reading the reviews brings it all back to me; it was juicy, fruity, earthy, and smokey. Deliciously delicate and complex.

2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 - Niagara - $18.95 - 294041
Lailey Chardonnay 2010 - Niagara - $19.95 - 193482
Burning Kiln Harvest Party Cabernet Franc 2011 - Niagara - $17.95 - 301515
Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 - Niagara - $16.95 - 064618
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 - Prince Edward County - $35.00 - 125310
Full Vintages September 15th release

I promise to give my favourites when I return from Niagara at the end of the month!

Birthday wine to come...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cooking with Miso, Growing Green Onion, and some wine

I had a busy weekend this week, with an Italian wedding on Saturday. I was a +1 as a favour to a friend - but I really did not mind at all, because the food was fantastic, and they even served a nice local wine. Our table wines were Trius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and Sauvignon Blanc 2011. I wish I could do a better review of them, but I consumed a little too much. The Cabernet I can say was medium-bodied, rich red fruit, vanilla, touch of oak. Very nice under $15 Ontario wine, and a stunning winery if you're ever in Niagara. Also - it's on sale until Sunday!

Back to this week, I found a little time to cook last night, and the stove was full. I attempted 2 dishes using one of my new favourite superfoods, miso paste. The first being a Vegan Cheesesteak wrap (yes, I know I have officially changed everything about it), and the second being a Green Onion and Pea soup to use up my stock of green onions. The latter didn't quite work so well - I had a hard time getting a smooth consistency while maintaining a fresh flavour.

However - I would like to take a moment point out just how easy it is to have an abundant and fresh supply of green onions on hand. Green onion, along with other herbs, is one of those things I buy for a recipe, use half of, then throw the other half out when it gets old and tired. No more! I found out that you can very easily grow green onions from saving the bottoms of green onions from the store. I did this a while ago, so I don't have procedure pictures. Basically, here's the deal:

1. Save the white bottoms of store-bought green onions after you use them.
2. Stand them upright in some water (with the root-part down and the cut part above the water).
3. Change the water daily for 2 - 3 days, during which you will see the roots start to grow longer and green onion shoots will start to grow taller.
4. After a few days, plant in soil and place in the sunlight.

Easy, yummy and fresh! They grow really quickly, so you don't need much for a steady supply. This is the result of planting the bases of 3 small bunches of green onion:

A week later, after using green onion for a green onion fritatta, green onion and pea soup, and salad rolls (with lots of green onion) over the course of the week. It's never-ending.

Back to miso: miso is generally made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans and grain (barley or rice). What fermenting does is makes it an un-cooked and unprocessed "living food", with healthy bacteria that aids in digestion. It is also a good souce of fiber, vitamin k, and maganese. It is a good source of plant protein. However, it is very high in sodium, so needs to be used sparingly. It had a great umami ("meaty") flavour so it can be used to create a meaty flavour in vegan/vegetarian foods. So far, I've been using it in gravy, substituted for boullion in flavouring soups, and in veggie burgers. However, it should be heated as little as possible as cooking kills the healthy bacteria. It's not the most common grocery-store item, but you can get it at any health food store and any grocery store that has a decent ethnic sections (Food Basics, Loblaws). I got it at T&T, because of the large selection and good prices.

Last night, I used it to flavour a gravy in making a vegan cheesesteak, complimented with this Basil Cashew Cheeze sauce from the amazing vegan recipe blog Oh She Glows. I also made vegetable stock, but I will save that for another time.

Cooking requires wine.

Surprisingly, the end of my Monasterio bottle was still good days later! Actually, I swear it was better.

Vegan Cheezesteak

Yield: 4 servings
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (any colour), sliced
  • 1 lb large cremini/portabello mushroom, sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp Red Miso (any miso will work fine)
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • Ground pepper
  • Vegan Cheeze Sauce
  • 4 sandwich rolls or wraps
1. Heat oil to a large pan over medium high, saute sliced onions, pepper and mushrooms until soft, about 8-10 minutes.
2. Stir cornstarch into warm water. Add mustard, soya, and cornstarch mixture and stir to slightly thicken, about 1 minute.
3. Remove from heat and add one heaping tablespoon of the miso paste, stir to incorporate. Season generously with fresh ground pepper.
4. On halved sandwich rolls or wraps, spread a heaping tablespoon of cheeze sauce. Add 1/4 of the mushoom/pepper mixture. Close/roll and enjoy!

I'm not great at the picture-taking yet, so here is my results for this round. I know, not too appetizing.

I promise to work on my recipe writing!!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2006

At the last minute I changed my mind and opened the Monasterio last night. Aroma was what I expected: plush red fruit, sweet spice, violets, minerality and also a touch of dried fruit. The taste was a little more savoury, probably because of age, but still quite fruity. It's a great complexity for the price, and I think it would have done a little better with an hour decanting. It would pair well with roast pork, veal, and my meal last night: Lentil burger with broccoli satay.

Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2006 - Spain - $13.95 - 166579

Tonight I plan to make soup: fresh peas are on sale, and my green onion experiment was a success, so they are getting together in the pot tonight!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

My Buys - September 1, 2012 release

These are wines that I have bought for the latest Vintages release, September 1, 2012. A combination of scouring the Vintages magazine, past experiences, and some LCBO insider information have lead me to dip into my relatively small wine budget to try my luck at finding some gems. Typically, I will attempt to taste wines that I think I might want to buy more of, before they are all gone! The wines I pick are typically in the $15 - $20 range. This post may be rather long, but I like to explain the reasons why I think the wines are a good value, and hopefully you can use these tips to pick other great wines!

First of all, I decided on a little bubbly, the Reyes D'Aragon Brut Reserva Cava. This is should be a great value at $13.95 with a medium-full body and added depth of raisin and toast with the typical notes of yeastly, apple, and other bright fruit. Most think of Champagne when they think of sparkling wine, but the Champagne region sets prices collectively, maintaining a high price point across the board so you aren't getting anything for under $50. Great sparkling can come from some lesser-known sparkling wine regions such as Cremant d'Alsace and Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy) in France, and Cavas from Spain. Of course, I have also had some great sparkling wines from Ontario! And sparkling wines aren't just for celebrating - they are very versatile for food pairing, and great for palate-cleansing.

For a white, I picked Joseph Cattin Gewurtztraminer. The off-dry wines are not for everyone, but at 18g/L this wine is actually on the border between dry and off-dry and should be a little more balanced with it's acidity. Gewurtztraminers always seduce me with their rich aromatics of lychee, rosewater and sweet spice. Joseph Cattin is consistently good, but this 2010 vintage also won a Gold Medal with the Decanter World Wine Awards 2012. Gewurtz pair well with foods that are creamy and spicy (think curries).

For red wines, first of all I chose Sampietrana Vigna Delle Monache Riserva Salice Salentino 2006. Salice Salentino is D.O.C. in the Apulia (Puglia) region of Italy. Puglia is in the South East of Italy (the heel of the boot) and has a warmer climate. They typically produce wines made with the Negroamaro grape, although they also produce Primitivo wines (Italian Zinfandel grape). I have always been the most intimidated by Italian wines which I often found to be thin, acidic, and earthy with very little fruit. I now know I enjoy Salice Salentino D.O.C. wines because I find them to be more full-bodied and earthy, with rich dark-fruit notes and dark chocolate (Negroamaro means "black and bitter" in Italian). This Sampietrana has the added benefit of scoring 5/5 with Decanter, and an International Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010. I will be opening this one tonight, as stocks are starting to become scarce!

Finally, I'm back to Spain with the Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva, a blend of 70% Garnacha (Grenache), 20% Tempranillo, and 10% Carinena (Carignan). Spanish reds can be a really great deal, as the Reservas have high standards for aging and you can often get well-aged, complex wines for about $20, typically with the Tempranillo grape. Grenache, however, is the grape of my moment and the nice ones will have rich red fruits, sweet spice, violet, and minerality. This one is a GREAT price and scored a 90 with Jay Miller of

Reyes D'Aragon Brut Reserva Cava 2009 - Spain - $13.95 - 194803
Joseph Cattin Gewurtztraminer 2010 - France (Alsace) - $16.95 - 224626
Sampietrana Vigna Delle Monache Riserva Salice Salentino 2006 - Italy (Puglia) - $15.95 - 247908
Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva - Spain - $13.95 - 166579

I will give my own opinion of these as I drink them, and let you know if I'm going to get more! If you're a keener like me, you can use the product codes to search the LCBO website to see where these wines are still available. Here is the full Vintages release for September 1.


Putting myself out there

I must admit, I've been putting this off for a long time. I have gone to several sessions that touched on "Personal Branding" online; I've been excited to start putting myself out there online, but when I sat down to my computer, it just seems so daunting. I decided I need to take baby steps, and so I started with my Twitter account @floodcourtney. I'm also coming to realize, 140 characters is not a lot.

I've come to realize that most of my free time now is spent doing 3 things: drinking wine (and beer), healthy cooking, and exercising. I find the latter 2 really help support an everyday habit of the former. I have really developed the passion for wine in the past year, and now that I have a taste of sharing it I want to do more. So, I will attempt to clear the backlog of my brain and fill the pages with useful substance, rather than blabbing about how much I love to drink (Ok I'll stop now).