Monday, February 27, 2012

How a Dark Horse Finishes

It would seem that I'm drinking beer from bigger bottles these days.

Some of the beers that I've reviewed have come in 600- and 750-mL bottles, and over the past month I've tasted some new brews from growlers—64 fluid ounces.

And now here's a third:

Dark Horse Stout
Broadhead Brewing Company
Ottawa, ON
$10.00 + $5.00 deposit, 64 fl. oz.

I first learned about this beer from one of my foodie Twitter friends; last week, one of my Thursday Pints buddies told me that I had to go to the brewery and pick up some of this oatmeal stout. Because the brewery is only 10 minutes away from my house, that wasn't a tall order.

Broadhead Brewery has only been around since last summer and already it's making an impression in Ottawa. With a half-dozen choices available and growing, the brewery is in a good position to compete with other local breweries. And being a fan of stouts, I was more than anxious to try Dark Horse.

Dark Horse has a dark brown colour with a chocolate-milk-flavoured head that dissipates quickly. On the nose, I detected strong tones of dark chocolate, backed up with hints of roasted coffee. The malts were also clear. The chocolate carries through to the palate and finish, which lingers on the tongue. It's a very good stout.

At first.

When I review beers, I tend to drink alone so I can focus on the beer without distraction and without influence. That policy is fine when I drink a standard-sized bottle or even a 600-mL bottle (a 750-mL bottle is doable but is too much for a tasting).

A growler is way too much for me to drink in one sitting, so I tend to stretch it out over two or three days. I had my first glass on Friday night, my second on Saturday, and my third yesterday afternoon. While the first glass held fresh flavours and went down wonderfully, I found my second pint with much less fizz and the flavours weren't as fresh (but were still good).

My third glass was flat and the freshness was gone. I decided not to finish the growler, and so the fourth pint went unconsumed. Such a shame: I always feel sad when beer goes to waste.

This beer must be shared. Once the jug is opened, it must be finished in that sitting. Share the growler with a buddy. At $2.50 a pint, it's a great party beer. Leave no drop.

Because this dark horse starts strong and has the potential to be a real winner. But if it's left out too long, it finishes last. (Or we can also say its finish doesn't last.)

The growler is available at the brewery only. For now.

Mill Street Tweetup

I wanted to remind my Ottawa peeps that there will be a tweetup on Tuesday, March 6, at the Mill Street Brew Pub. We have a table reserved and it is shaping up to be a great evening. The gathering starts at 6:00 and we'll be on the second floor.

If you're interested in attending, please let me know by going to the link here and clicking Yes (or Maybe).


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Book at the End of the Tunnel

Almost there!

Chŏnju Gaeksa, courtesy Wikipedia
I was in touch with my publisher yesterday. There has never been a deadline for my book, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. When I was finished writing it, I was to let them know, to send it along. They would have an editor look at it and provide me with feedback.

With the feedback returned, I read the comments and was encouraged. I took the suggestions to heart, and in many ways I implemented changes. It took me all summer and into the fall, but I was under no deadline.

I submitted my second draft, and after more discussions I made a few final changes. And then I was done. I was satisfied with the results.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was presented with the proofs for my book. It was great to see the cover that the publisher had chosen, to read the synopsis and my bio, and to see how the pages were formatted. I reviewed the proofs, suggested changes, and sent the book back.

In January, I received the second proof, but because I was busy with work projects and other self-made commitments, I didn't get to the second proof right away.

No problem: there was no deadline.

Except, there really was.

I needed to get this book out, needed to see it in print form. I needed to hold an actual bound copy in my own hands. And most importantly, I needed to start working on my next book in earnest, without the production of Songsaengnim hanging over my head.

And so I reviewed the second proof. And I was satisfied with the changes that the publisher made. I sent the approval forms to the publisher and held my breath.

I heard from my publisher yesterday. My book is now in its post-production phase. The proofs have been sent to the printer.

According to my publisher, I should have that printed copy in my hands in the next couple of weeks.

And then you can have yours. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tweet Up!

Attention, Ottawa bloggers:

I know that there are plenty of tweetups all over the world, let alone Ottawa, but I am cordially inviting you to another opportunity to meet fellow twits and enjoy some fabulous food and beer too.
The date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The place: Mill St. Brew Pub, 555 Wellington Avenue (in the old mill at the Portage Bridge)
The time: from 6:00 pm, on

If you already follow me on Twitter, you've already read my tweets about this event. You can also follow news about the event and join in any discussion by using the hashtag #MillStTweetup.

Thanks to those of you who have already responded and have helped spread the word. I've already met some wonderful people through Thursday Pints West and I'm looking forward to meeting more Ottawa peeps.

So, who's in?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wuchak: Not Bad At All

I've been missing my wife over the past week, as she's away on business in Taiwan. She left before Valentine's Day, so we didn't spend that romantic day together. Instead, I watched our kids eat chocolate.

I miss my wife's home cooking. She's a great cook with a wonderful repertoire of dishes, yet loves to experiment and try new things as well. She loves to get us to be adventurous with her.

When my wife cooks a new meal and I dig in, she'll ask, "how is it?" Unless I really don't like the meal she's prepared, I'll give a non-committal response: "It's not bad."

She's used to this response. She hears it a lot. When she does, she knows me. She knows that I didn't hate the dish but she doesn't know if I like it (if I love it, I state it loud and clear). So, with my ambiguous answer, she'll follow up with another question.

"Would you eat it again?"

She knows that I'll answer honestly, with a simple yes or no. If I give a yes, she knows she has a new addition to her repertoire.

Because she's gone, I may not be eating as well as I would with her here, but I'm an okay cook and so my girls and I are getting along all right. And just because she's gone, I'm not about to stop my weekend routine of trying new beer. (You were probably wondering when I'd get to the point, weren't you?)

This weekend, I thought I would try another local brewery; this time, one that is much closer to home than Beau's. And so I visited a brewery that I pass several times a week and picked up their seasonal brew.
That brewery is Kichesippi, and the beer is their Wuchak Black.

Wuchak Black Cascadian Dark Ale
Kichesippi Beer Company
Ottawa, ON
$11.75 + $4.00 deposit, 64 fl. oz (growler); 6.4% alc/vol

Wuchak, according to the brewery's Web site, is a First Nation's word. Unfortunately, Kichesippi's Web site doesn't say what the word means, but it does say that over time the word transformed into woodchuck. Wikipedia offers a little more information, saying the word is originally Algonquin, or possibly Narraganset, and is the word for those gopher-like animals that we in the Ottawa area affectionately know as groundhogs. So it makes sense that the brewery would release this ale on Groundhog Day.

This Black IPA is a seasonal beer that is only available at select pubs* and restaurants in Ottawa or from the brewery directly. If you want some to take home, you'll have to buy it at the brewery, where it is only available in 64-ounce growlers. Not that that's a bad thing.

Unless you're alone, like me, and have to drink it all yourself. Not that that's a bad thing.

Wuchak Black is dark brown in colour, with only a slight trace of red—and only visible when you hold it up to bright light. The head is a creamy brown and not very thick; it dissipates quickly but leaves a thin lace on top.

On the nose, I detected dark chocolate and roasted malts, but the nose needed to open up over time. I consumed my growler in three sittings over Saturday and Sunday, and I found the nose was the strongest when I poured my fourth and final glass.

In the mouth, I was met with a rich, roasted coffee and traces of burnt walnut. The malt flavour and coffee carried through to the finish, which I felt seemed short, but clean.

For a dark ale, though, I found it a little light in body, especially with my first two pints. I expected a little more from this beer, and perhaps that was due to my anticipation with this dark ale and with the fact that Kichesippi had purchased an Ottawa brewery that had a few years ago itself purchased another local brewery.

Remember my first beer review? The 2005 Imperial Stout from Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, founded by my good friend and brewmaster, Perry Mason? Perry was the king of dark ales. He made that fabulous vintage stout that held up after six years; he also made his Black Irish Porter, perhaps one of the best porters I've ever had. Perry made a few other dark ales over the years; one of the last dark beers that Perry made, after he had sold his brewery and recipes to Heritage Brewery, was one final Imperial Stout: John By.

When Kichesippi Beer Company bought Heritage, my hopes were that they would keep and use some of Perry's old recipes. When Wuchak was released, I was very excited and had high hopes for this beer. When I visited the brewery and had the lady in the store fill a growler for me, I asked her what had happened to Perry's beer. Sadly, she told me that the line of Scotch-Irish beers had been retired.

Had Kichesippi bought Heritage to crush them? Perhaps. Who knows? Something had already been lost when Perry left Heritage and was no longer making his beer for them. Maybe the retirement of the line at this point was not as great a loss as when the master was no longer brewing.

But I had high hopes for Wuchak. Were my hopes dashed when I drank my growler? A bit, but not really. Though I was hoping for something more, in the end I did enjoy Wuchak. It's a good, easy-drinking dark ale. And though it has a somewhat high alcohol content, it's not overpowering. Wuchak drinks very well and I imagine that it will have a strong appeal to those who try it.

So, what did I think about Wuchak Black? Not bad, not bad at all.

The all-important question: would I drink it again?

Yes, definitely. While it lasts.

* For information about pubs and restaurants that carry this beer, contact Kichesippi Beer Co.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Photo Friday: One Photo, Three Apps

I love discovering new photo programs on my smartphone. They let me improve my photos, get artsy with them, and share them out to the world.

The other week, I discovered a couple of new apps and decided to play with them. I took one photo from my Camera Roll on my smartphone, processed the photo through one app to get a special effect, added another image with a second app, and then put the photo through one final process with a third application before sending it out through Instagram.

Here's the original photo. Though I have it on my phone, it was actually shot with my D-SLR. It's a photo of the beach in North Berwick, Scotland, just a short walk from Roland Axam's fictional home.

The first app I ran this photo through is called PerfectPhoto. It allows you to enhance a photo or apply special effects. For fun, I applied the Invert special effect, which turns your positive image into a negative. The result was quite dramatic.

I then enhanced the brightness and contrast of the new image, but felt I wanted something a little more. The image, with its new, rich sky, seemed alien. So I moved to another application to build on that theme.

The second photo app is called LensLight, and it allows you to overlay light effects, such as water drops, light apparitions, and other cool light-distortion effects. It also lets you drop the moon into your image, making it any size. So that's what I did.

Finally, I imported the image into Instagram, applied one more filter, and sent the following image to my Twitter friends.

What do you think?

I'm not about to start making a ton of photos like this one, but it was kind of fun playing with the different apps and creating something with all of them.

What about you? What are your favourite photo apps? What's the wildest image you've created?

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just Chill!

It's kind of like this:

If you go downtown in Ottawa on July 1st to take in the entertainment on Parliament Hill and watch the fireworks until they are completely done and the crowds start to work their way home, do you get upset because you can't simply hop on the first bus that is heading out of the core? Or the third one? Or the tenth one?

Are you ticked off when you finally get on a bus but can't find a seat?

Of course not. You know what to expect. You know that everybody else has the same idea, is doing exactly what you're doing. To get upset would be stupid, right?

When you use public transit to get out of the downtown core on the biggest day in Canada, you just relax and go with the flow.

So when a much-anticipated brew pub opens in Ottawa, after it is touted in the media and, yes, even talked about in The Brown Knowser, why would you get upset when you show up, without a reservation (if you could get one—and you can't), only to find that the wait to get a table at dinnertime is two hours?

Just chill, folks. Just chill.

I know, I complained a little when I tried to get in to the Mill St. Brew Pub on opening night and was turned away. But I wasn't disappointed because the place was packed and I couldn't get a table: I was cheesed because the grand opening was an invitation-only affair, but wasn't advertised as being private. Sure, the pub was opened to the public after 8:00, but for me and my party, that was too late for dinner.

But all is forgiven. In the first two weeks of its opening, I've been to Mill St. four times (five, if you count the brief stop on opening night). I have been there for drinks, have written some blog posts from the bar, and been there for dinner.

Dinner, on a Saturday night. But I knew I couldn't make dinner reservations. I knew that they were booked solid for months, that the private room is booked into 2013. There is a certain number of tables that are reserved for walk-ins, but you must arrive prepared to wait.

As I said, I was there on a Saturday night. It was the first Saturday of Winterlude, and it had been a gorgeous day, the perfect kind of day where you'd want to top of the day at a great pub. My wife, her sister, and brother-in-law and I arrived shortly after 5:00, before the peak dinner hour, without reservations. We had a tight schedule—we were due to see comedian Nikki Payne perform at the Ottawa Little Theatre. We had only about two-and-a-half hours to get a table, be served, eat, and get out again.

Plenty of time, I thought.

We were told that it would be an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to be seated. But there was room near the bar and we could wait over a drink or two. And that was fine. We decided we'd chill, enjoy some great beer, and enjoy our company.

It's great to learn that Mill St. Brew Pub has had such a strong, successful start. In its first 12 days, it had already sold out of its Portage Ale once and had just run out of its other Ottawa-only ale, the Valley Irish Red, when we were there that evening.

Luckily, I had tried it a couple of days prior to our dinner. And so I'm working in a beer review: here goes.

Valley Irish Red
Mill St. Brew Pub (Ottawa)
4.8% alc/vol

This classic Irish-styled ale has its own Ottawa Valley character to it, with Lanark County maple syrup added. Deep amber-red in colour with a creamy white head, I detected very little off the nose. I blame that somewhat on the fact that I was a little stuffed up at the time, having come in from the cold. But as I thawed out, and as the beer opened in my glass, I detected faint smoke. And though I generally refuse to look at tasting notes before I provide my own, I looked at the menu notes, and they didn't provide any clues about the nose.

And so I moved on to the palate.

This red ale had distinct flavours of smokey oak and caramel, and in the finish I thought I also detected traces of cherry. The ale was quite creamy in the mouth, with a nice clean finish. It was a thoroughly enjoyable drink.

And now back to that Saturday night...

So, one hour and twenty minutes into our wait, no table had yet freed up. But again, we didn't panic nor did we freak out. The pub was hopping and we were enjoying ourselves, but we did have to eat before we went to our show. The floor staff was very helpful and allowed us to order appetizers from where we were stationed, at a standing shelf across from the main-floor bar. While my wife and in-laws ordered snacks, I went to check on our status. I was told that we were next in line, and true enough, we had a table less than five minutes later. It was just shy of 7:00 when we were seated.

We already knew what we wanted, so no sooner had we sat down when we gave our server our order. And within minutes of that order, our appetizers arrived. My wife and I shared the calamari, which has a nice herbed batter and comes with a tomato marinade dip and garlic aioli. Highly recommended.

Our main courses arrived about 15 minutes later. My wife and I shared the wild boar ragu. Now, I must say, we had last eaten wild boar ragu in Tuscany: once, in Siena, and again in Volterra. They were absolutely amazing, rich dishes, and my wife used those as the touchstones to what we were to compare all wild boar ragus.

The Mill St. dish was excellent. Homemade pasta noodles and rich boar. The tomato sauce was rich but not overpowering. The dish exceeded our expectations.

My sister-in-law gave me a taste of her dish, a butter chicken with Basmati rice: sinfully creamy, with tender chicken chunks. My brother-in-law had a hamburger, and all I can say is that it was massive. It looked delicious, and my brother-in-law gave his stamp of approval.

Mill St. Brew Pub has proven that not only does it deliver on its excellent craft beers, but also offers food of an equally high calibre. And our servers were on the ball, friendly, and welcoming. Overall, we had a wonderful experience from beginning to end, and we'd go back in a heartbeat.

But if you're going to arrive, without a reservation, don't get upset if you find there's a long wait, especially on a Saturday. Know what to expect, and chill. Relax and enjoy the entire Mill St. experience.

I have heard that lunch during the middle of the week is not as busy, and I know for a fact that early evenings on Tuesdays gives you a good chance at a short wait. And to that effect, I'm wondering if anyone would be interested in making Tuesday evenings a night for a tweetup? Interested? Leave a comment. If you follow me on Twitter, stay tuned: I'll be announcing something in the next few weeks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Photo Friday: Dying Light

I've got nothing to say about this photo, other than I came across it while I was scanning slides, and I like it. This photo was shot in spring, 1991, in Snowdonia, in Northern Wales. The dying light waned behind Mount Snowdon, where we camped on the slopes, amongst a field of sheep and goats. The landscape was nothing short of majestic.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My 2012 Reading List

Well, it's done.

Two years ago, when I first called upon my followers for suggestions of what to read over the coming year, I received lots of suggestions. Last year, when I had more followers, I received so many suggestions that I couldn't possibly get through all of the books. And if you read my post last week, you know that I didn't get through that reading list.

This year, I expected to be swamped with suggestions, but I promised myself that I would do my best to pick out some really good reads.

I received only one response. One comment with two suggestions.

But to tell you the truth, I'm a little relieved. There will be no weeding out great reads, no making lists that I can't complete. This year's list is short and sweet.

Thank you, Finola. You provided the two recommendations, and because you're the only one who gave me something to read, I'm picking both books. I'll hit the local Indigo this weekend and take a look for them or will download them onto my e-reader. But for now, they're on my list.

My 2012 list shapes up as follows:
So when do I start reading? Now! I'm already six weeks behind. I've got to get cracking!

What are you reading this year?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's FeBREWary, Baby!

Each weekend for the past three months or so, I've made a trip to my local LCBO, where I've been checking out the beer section at the back of the store, away from the wines and spirits, and there I've scanned the shelves, hoping that my eye would catch a label or bottle that would draw me near. This weekend, I had a specific beer in mind, and instead of heading to my neighbourhood liquor store, I went on a road trip to the brewery itself, in search of its latest offering.

That brewery was Beau's All Natural Brewery, out in Vankleek Hill—between Ottawa and Montréal.

This February, Beau's is celebrating winter's typically coldest, bleakest month by offering five new releases in four weeks (FeBREWary is their word). The first release was this past Saturday in their brewery, and the beer was their Beaver River I.P.Eh?, an incredible mouthful of hops. I was lucky enough to sample this brew directly from a keg, as well as from a chilled tap, and was able to compare the two. In the end, I walked out with a 64-fl-oz bottle (growler)—essentially, four pints-worth.

Let's first talk about the tour, the event, and then the IPA.

My step-father, Greg, and I drove out to Vankleek Hill on Saturday morning, and neither of us realized that this small Eastern-Ontario town was as far away as it was. Sure, I've passed by it countless times on my way to Montréal, but because it's halfway to the city where I was born, halfway didn't seem that far. But it's more than an hour, door to door. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, and so it was worth the trek. Had it been snowing or worse, freezing rain, I would have passed on the visit.

Vankleek Hill, which I never really see from the 417, is a pretty town atop a small rise in the otherwise flat farmland. The brewery is on the far end of town, so we traversed the length of VH to get to our destination.

Beau's is housed in an old textile factory and shares its space with the natural-water bottling plant that supplies it with the breweries main ingredient. An uninterrupted supply of natural spring water: convenient.

When Greg and I arrived, we first checked out the gift store, where they also ran some taps of their Lug Tread lagered ale, as well as the new brew, Beaver River. Greg and I grabbed a Lug Tread and were then ushered into the brewery proper, where the tour was just getting underway. Only one other person was with us for the start of the tour—a beer fan from just across the Québec border. Whortly after, we were joined by another beer aficionado, my Twitter buddy, Katy Watts

Beau's has been in business for about six years and has been expanding steadily ever since. It is family- and friend-run and operates on the philosophy of creating certifiably organic beer in a green environment. The equipment was new and state-of-the-art: some of it hadn't even been used yet (up to now, the labels had been affixed by hand). The brewery is currently undergoing expansion, with new office space under construction behind the fermenting tanks. It's an impressive operation. Their growth a testament to their success.

The tour wrapped up with some beavertails—make that Beaver-River tails—deep-fried dough, made with brewer's wheat from the brewery. The ingredients had to come from the brewery itself so that the brewery could safeguard against contamination. The Beaver-River tails were certified organic, and they produced a hoppy, powerful flavour. Delicious, if not incredibly filling.

To celebrate the new release of Beaver River I.P.Eh?, a small aluminum cask was broken open, and we had the privilege of comparing it with the stuff that is now available in bottles and on tap.

And now, lets get to the tasting.

Beaver River I.P.Eh? reveals a deep-amber orange, whether from the tap or from the keg. The colour is intense and gives a hint of what to expect. The nose on the beer from the tap offered citrus, whereas the keg sample added a pine resin with the citrus. Both gave a strong scent of hops.
On the palate, the keg was a bold grapefruit; the tap was even bolder. Our guide put it best: it was like being hit in the mouth with a grapefruit. The finish on both was backed by lingering hops.

Beaver River is a beautiful IPA. My fear for this seasonal ale is that it might be hard to find. It was only available in 64-fluid-ounce growlers when I was at the brewery, and it will only be made available in limited quantities, in 600-mL bottles, at select LCBO locations.

As good as it is, I'm not sure I would drive an hour each way to pick more up. And the day after I visited Beau's, my growler was gone.

Yeah, it was that good.

My haul from Beau's: Mr. Hyde will be reviewed some day
Luckily, Beau's lets you buy your beer online, and delivers it to your door.

Do it. You'll be happy you did.

I'm looking forward to the other Beau's offerings, though I don't know if I'll get a chance to try all five releases. But I'll try.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where In Ottawa: The February Edition

It's that time of the month: one of my favourite times, where I get you to wrack your brain and test your familiarity with Canada's capital.

It's time for Where In Ottawa.

If you're new to this contest, here are the rules.

The photo in this post was shot somewhere in Ottawa. Your job: identify the location. The first person to leave the correct answer in the Comments section for this post wins.

I know that many of you who follow me on Twitter have tried to send me your guess by tweet, and I haven't accepted your answer, even if you've been right. The reason that I insist that you place your answer on this blog is because your response is date-stamped, so there's no ambiguity about who is first with a response. Also, some of the players only follow me through The Brown Knowser through LinkedIn, or through Facebook, and they never see the tweets.

I want to be fair.

The winner of Where In Ottawa will receive a PDF copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. Already have a copy? If you've already won Where In Ottawa and did so before November 2011, I'll send you a new copy. If you won Where In Ottawa in or after November, then all you win is bragging rights.

So are you ready? Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

Here's this month's location.

Okay, I'll be the first to admit it: it's not a very good shot. It's a little out of focus. But it was snowing when I shot it. And though I took this photo weeks ago, I didn't actually look at it until this weekend, when I was putting this post together.

But it should be enough to get you thinking, so get thinking!

Starting tomorrow, I will add clues to the top right-hand side of this blog, just below my photo. Clues will also be posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Good luck.

BTW: starting next month, Where In Ottawa will expand to include the Outaouais region. Why leave out the fabulous sites in Gatineau?

Update: the contest has been solved. Congratulations to MS, who correctly identified the angel sculpture in the Beaux-Arts Court in the Byward Market.

Your copy of Songsaengnim will get to you as soon as you tell me how to do so.