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