Monday, June 18, 2012

All I Want For Father's Day Is My Family. And Beer.

I had an amazing Father's Day. It was a perfect, summer-like day and I made the most of it.

The girls let me sleep in while they made breakfast and served it on our sun-drenched patio: homemade eggs Benedict with fresh grape tomatoes, oatmeal and pecan muffins that my eldest daughter baked, and a strong cappuccino made by my youngest.


You'd think for a guy like me, trying to lose weight, that this would be a killer breakfast. And it would have been, if I was to have sat on my butt all day. But my family gave me something else for Father's Day: something that I don't often get on weekends.


I was given about two-and-a-half hours to spend as I pleased, and they knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get on my bike and ride. So while they went off to do what they wanted, I hit the road.

I cycled for two hours and thirteen minutes and covered nearly 50 kilometres on a large circle that covered the heart of the city. My route led me out of my community, along Prince of Wales Drive to Hogs Back, through Vincent Massey Park and along the Rideau River all the way to old City Hall, to the National Gallery, past the Chateau Laurier, down the Rideau locks and below Parliament, along the Ottawa River to Lincoln Heights, along the Transitway to Baseline Station, and then down Woodroffe, all the way back to my neighbourhood. Apart from the gusting wind along parts of the Ottawa River and Woodroffe, it was a fabulous ride.

Thanks to my girls for giving me the time to accomplish this ride. I've wanted to do it for some time now.

But Father's Day is about spending time with your kids, so after I returned home I showered, shaved, got dressed, and committed the rest of the day with them.

Doing stuff I wanted to do. It was Father's Day, after all.

Earlier this week, a new brew pub opened its doors in Ottawa. Big Rig Brewery and Kitchen is owned by Senators defenseman, Chris Phillips. Luckily, the Sens were eliminated fairly early in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so Chris has had the time to focus on his brew pub.

To soon, Ottawa? Still feeling the pain of the loss?

I'm not a hockey fan, as you can tell, and when I first heard that a hockey player was starting his own brew pub, I have to admit that I thought Ottawa was getting a new sports bar that was also going to dabble in homemade beer.

Not so with Big Rig.

One of the first things I saw on entering the pub was the lack of NHL or any other sports paraphernalia. This is a restaurant with no emphasis on sports. Sure, there were a couple of TVs with soccer playing, but nearly every bar in town has a TV or two hanging on the walls. At least the TVs at Big Rig were out of the way and did not detract from the brew pub experience.

Big Rig is spacious, clean, and bright, with large windows covering the front, allowing plenty of light to flood in. This place is huge. At the far end of the restaurant, floor-to-ceiling windows display the large stainless steel fermenting tanks, showing this place is all about the beer.

We arrived in the late afternoon: after the lunch crowd and before the dinner crowd. We were seated right away by friendly staff. Because we had dinner that was waiting for us at home (chili in a slow cooker), we weren't planning to eat. I just came for the beer. Lori ended up ordering a plate of chicken nachos and the girls shared a grilled cheese sandwich: all agreed that their choices were good. Reading Big Rig's menu, their selections did look good (I did drool over their burger menu), so I'll definitely be up for a return visit.

There were six beers on offer, but I went for the sampler of four six-ounce glasses and passed on their flagship Gold and seasonal Hefeweizen. I wanted to go for the brews that were my standard favourites, the styles with which I was most familiar.

I decided that I would try these four miniature glasses and from them, I would select my favourite and enjoy a full pint.

So here are my samples and tasting notes.

Beer #1: Big Rig Rideau Red (5.2% ABV)

At first, I couldn't pick this sample out as a red ale. It has a deep amber colour with only a kiss of red. To me, it looked more orange than red. But for me, the colour seemed more natural than many reds I've tried.

Rideau Red has a subtle, light nose. I thought I detected a hint of cherry and citrus, like orange. On the palate, this ale was light, cleansing. There were mild hops and refreshing citrus. The finish was short and clean.

This was a delicious red, something I could see myself enjoying on a hot patio. Unfortunately, despite the perfect weather, Big Rig's patio was not open for business. Licensing delays? Not enough furniture?

I gave the Rideau Red a thumbs up.

Beer #2: Big Rig Byward Brown (5.2% ABV)

Everything about this ale screamed walnut. The colour was a deep walnut brown. The nose came up with walnut overtones. In the mouth, I detected warm malts, mild hops, and a nutty and tasted caramel flavour. The finish was long and satisfying.

I enjoyed this brown ale, but when I had to sum it up, the only word I could give to my server, Tarra, was "okay." It was okay. Good, but it didn't blow my socks off. If someone were to ask me if they should order it, I would say, "if you like brown ales, go ahead. It's okay."

I give it neither a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Try it. Or don't.

Beer #3: Big Rig India Pale Ale (6.2% ABV)

This is a lovely looking IPA: golden amber with a clean, white foam head. On the nose, I detected a sweet pink grapefruit and something I could only describe as floral. A hint of honey. This is a beer that I could just sit back and sniff all afternoon. There are many wines with which I could do that; only one other beer that does that to me: Mill Street Ambre de la Chaudière.

And now this IPA. This is a wonderfully aromatic ale.

But once you do get a mouthful, this beer is in your face without looking for a fight. It begs to be noticed. There are lots of hops. Lots of grapefruit. This is the IPA flavour I love. And the Big Rig IPA is all about that flavour that calls out for more.

I give this brew a big thumbs up.

Beer #4: Big Rid Stud Stout (5.6% ABV)

I love stouts. I always get excited about trying new stouts. I rarely meet one that I don't like. So I was looking forward to Big Rig's offering.

Stud Stoud is a deep brown colour with a hint of red. More red than the Rideau Red, I found. This stout has an incredible bouquet of chocolate. It was rich, almost reminding me of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, but there was also a marked sweetness, backed with cedar. According to one of my daughters, who absolutely loves stout, there was also a hint of cherry.

My mouth was greeted with more chocolate and tobacco, and there was a distinct smokey finish.

I liked this stout. I'm not sure how I feel about the finish, but I would certainly have it again and do recommend it for the stout lovers out there.

So which beer did I like the best? Which beer did I order again in a pint glass?

Beer #3: the IPA.

Hands down, it was my favourite. I'd have it again and again.

But truthfully, I was impressed with all four of the brewery's samples.

Chris Phillips' career may be hockey, but his passion also lies in beer.

At least we have that in common.


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