Sunday, November 25, 2018

The best of the 2018 Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

This year’s Gourmet Food & Wine Expo seemed to have fewer exhibitors than in the past, but there was still more than enough to sample over three evenings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

I largely focused on one beverage type each night, with Thursday dedicated to beer, Friday to wine and Saturday to spirits and cocktails. Drinking was more of a priority than eating, but I also tried a bit of food to soak up all of the alcohol.

Here are the highlights:


Muskoka Pair of Wise Guys Weizenbock, part of Muskoka Brewery’s Moonlight Kettle Series, was the clear winner. Germany’s Schneider Weisse Aventinus is one of my favourite beers, and this dark amber brew reminded me of it. The 7.5 per cent alcohol content isn’t evident and there’s a pleasant banana aspect to the flavour.

Goose Island’s Even Weissbiers Get The Blues is billed as a pilsner, though it’s not as crisp as most good pilsners. The 4.5-per cent alcohol beer is brewed with magnum and kolibri hops and has a floral aroma with banana bread notes in the flavour. It has a smooth finish.

While the above two beers stood out from the pack, of the 15 other beers I sampled, I’ll also give honourable mentions to BrewDog Clockwork Tangerine Citrus Session IPA and BrewDog Vagabond Gluten-Free American Pale Ale.


Don’t Poke The Bear Cider is made in Caledon with seven types of Ontario apples. It’s semi-sweet and refreshing and has an alcohol content of 5.8 per cent. A 500-millilitre can sells for $3.25 and a portion of the proceeds from each one goes to an anti-bullying campaign.

McAuslan Brewing’s McAdam Urban Cider pours pale gold and has a rich apple aroma. It’s primarily made with McIntosh apples and is somewhat dry, with just the right amount of sweetness. With an alcohol content of 4.7 per cent, it’s quite sessionable.


I much prefer white wines over reds, so that was my focus for the 20 wines I sampled. My favourites are described below.

Baden Gewurtztraminer has a nice floral bouquet and pours pale yellow. It’s slightly sweet and off-dry, with elements of melon in the flavour and a pleasant finish.

Pelee Island Lola Gewurtztraminer is semi-sweet with a rich mouth feel. It was my favourite of the four wines I sampled from the winery.

Thierry Delaunay 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, France is an extra dry, pale gold-coloured wine with a complex citrus aroma and a fresh and fruity flavour. It has an alcohol content of 12.5 per cent.

The 2016 Clarendelle White from Bordeaux, France is a blend of 70 per cent sauvignon blanc, 25 per cent semillon and five per cent muscadelle grapes. It’s very pale in colour but rich in its fruity aroma and flavour. It has an alcohol content of 12.5 per cent.

Cornerstone Strawberry Festival is in your face as soon as you see the rich red liquid pouring out of the bottle. It has a very big strawberry aroma and flavour, and there was even a strawberry seed in the glass I sampled. It may be too sweet for some people, but I liked it. I also liked Cornerstone Estate Peach, which is even sweeter, but not sugary. Both of these fruit wines from Beamsville, Ont. have an alcohol content of 12 per cent and sell for $16.

Don’t Poke The Bear Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc presents a nice blend. It’s mellow and medium-bodied and sells for $14.95.


Muskoka Gin and Tonic Docker is a very pale straw-coloured cooler with a very fresh cucumber aroma and flavour profile. It’s very easy drinking with a four-per cent alcohol content and has no added sugar, so a 500-millilitre can has 160 calories.


The most interesting spirit I had was Von Schoultz Vodka from King’s Lock Craft Distillery, which is made with garlic. It’s bold and very evident in both the aroma and flavour. I also enjoyed King’s Lock’s Smugglers Gold Rum, which had a nice vanilla element to smooth it.

Murphy’s Law Apple Pie Moonshine, made with apple cider, is delicious on its own served over ice. It’s also excellent mixed with cranberry juice. The Elmira, Ont. distillery makes other moonshines as well, and I enjoyed its White Lightin’ mixed with grape juice and its root beer mixed with A&W root beer.

Kavi is a cold-brewed, coffee-blended Canadian whisky that sells for $29.95 a bottle. It includes vanilla from Madagascar and that’s the flavour you get up front before the coffee kicks in. I enjoyed its smoothness when I drank it straight over ice and particularly liked it mixed with egg nog. It has an alcohol content of 36.2 per cent.

Rheault Distillery’s 24-per cent alcohol Sinful Cherry liqueur is very good on its own and excellent when mixed with San Pellegrino Clementina.


The Don Julio Grapefruit Ginger Margarita made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila, grapefruit syrup, lime juice, ginger beer and Inferno Bitters was spicy and excellent.

The Tanqueray Ten and Tea made with Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, green tea simple syrup, lemon juice and soda water was light, fruity, refreshing and very good.

Mojitos Lounge served me a blueberry and raspberry tropical mojito that was divine. It’s a fruit and rum explosion in a glass.

A chocolate martini made with E.T. 51 Premium Vodka and McGuinness Creme de Cacao, and served in a chocolate-rimmed glass, was lovely.

A whisky sour made with two ounces of Collingwood Whisky, a half ounce of simple syrup and a half ounce of lemon juice, and served at the Good In Every Grain booth, was good.


The pulled pork parfait from Pig Out layered creamy garlic mashed potatoes, pulled pork and barbecue sauce and was topped with crispy onions. It was delicious.

JP’s Barbeque served me pulled pork, beef brisket, salmon and egg rolls with three sauces. I was pleased.

The Fancy Franks Frankie Goes to Buffalo hot dog featured a panko-fried wiener, chicken bacon, blue cheese dressing, carrots, celery and Buffalo wing sauce. It might seem like an odd combination, but it’s great.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Wyoming: Grand Teton, Jackson and Alpine

Grand Teton National Park, while one-seventh the size and less famous than Yellowstone National Park to the north, still has much to offer visitors.

The Teton Mountain Range, topped off by Grand Teton at 13,770 feet, offers a dramatic backdrop for hiking, boating and other outdoor activities. My visit just scratched the surface as I arrived in late June via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway from Yellowstone.

Trail near Jackson Lake Lodge.
The first stop on my Cosmos tour was the recently renovated Jackson Lake Lodge. I had time for a short hike, which unfortunately was made shorter by bear activity shutting down the trail I was on, but that gave me time to take in the beautiful vista with a pint of Snake River Brewing’s fine Hoback Hefeweizen on the lodge's terrace.

A beer and a view. It doesn't get much more relaxing than that.
After moving on and crossing over Jackson Lake Dam, a 30-minute break at Jenny Lake offered more great mountain and water views during a brief walk.

Jenny Lake
Next up was time spent at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a small log chapel in the community of Moose, Wyo. that was built in 1925. The site also featured a former non-motorized Snake River ferry and Maud Noble Cabin, which provided more information about the history of Grand Teton National Park, which was created in 1929 and expanded in 1950.

Chapel of the Transfiguration
From there, it was a relatively short drive to Jackson, the biggest town in the area at just under 10,000 people, at an elevation of about 6,200 feet. Mountain Modern Motel would be home for the night, and its convenient location made for easy walking access to the rest of the town.

Snake River Brewing was around the corner, and the microbrewery has an impressive facility inside and out to cater to visitors. After imbibing a St. Stephen’s Saison, I walked to Town Square, where the entrance at each corner has an arch made of approximately 2,000 elk antlers.

An elk antler arch at Jackson Town Square.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar has an iconic neon sign on its roof and saddles on its barstools inside. The bar had a wild west vibe, country-rock covers courtesy of The Winford Band and a decent selection of locally brewed beers sold only in bottles and cans.

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
I’d worked up both a hunger and a thirst by this time and decided on Thai Me Up, a Thai restaurant that had 16 beers on tap from Melvin Brewing. A big $15 plate of “Drunken Noodles” (made with noodles, green onion, green cabbage, red bell pepper, tomato, Thai basil, egg and spicy oyster sauce) acted as a great base for the two flights of four five-ounce beers I consumed as I ate and and drank at the bar.

The locals were conversational and friendly, and one man even insisted on paying for one of my $12 flights just because I moved two spots over so he could sit beside his friend. There wasn’t a bad beer among the eight, as I rated them all between 8.1 and 8.9 out of 10.

I didn’t want to leave, but figured I should check out one more bar before closing time. I had a can of Wildlife Brewing’s Hopstafarian IPA as a nightcap while listening to another cover band at Silver Dollar Bar & Grill before heading back to the motel.

Dave Hansen Whitewater & Scenic River Trips office
After about three hours of sleep, I got up at 6:15 a.m. and took a school bus to the outskirts of Jackson to a Snake River public access point, where 10 of us paid $77 to get into a rubber raft for a 13-mile, two-hour trip down the river with Dave Hansen Whitewater & Scenic River Trips.

A bald eagle on Snake River.
Our guide, Lily Shipley, rowed to steer the raft. It was strenuous even though the current did much of the work. She also provided a lot of information, answered questions and stayed on the lookout for wildlife. She briefly caught glimpse of a moose, but I didn’t, and animals seemed to be shy about showing themselves. There were several bird spottings, however, the most impressive of which were bald eagles.

A view of Jackson from Snow King Mountain.
The early start still left time to explore more of Jackson before the bus pulled out at 3:30 p.m. My friend Inken and I elected to hike up Snow King Mountain, a ski hill overlooking the town. The strenuous trail had some steep sections, but we stopped at plateaus when needed to catch our breath. It took 75 minutes to reach the top, and we were rewarded with some great views.

Another view of Jackson from Snow King Mountain.
We walked about two-thirds of the way back down, then took another trail to where there was a bobsled-like track where you go down the hill on wheeled sleds. You’re  supposed to buy tickets at the bottom of the hill and take a cable car up. But the operator said that since we’d hiked and didn’t have tickets, he’d let us go down for free. It took about two minutes to navigate the banks and speed down the straightaways to the bottom.

We still had time before departure and spent two hours walking around and checking out some of Jackson's high-priced art stores and boutiques. Part of Broadway, the main street, has a covered wooden boardwalk not unlike the one I’d trod over in Keystone, S.D. earlier in the trip.

The view from the trail in Alpine.
It was back on the bus for an hour drive south, through a valley along the Snake River that's surrounded by dark green mountains on both sides, to the Flying Saddle Resort on the outskirts of Alpine, Wyo. Alpine has about 825 people, so it doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife, but I headed down the highway towards town and then found a trail that provided nice views of the river and mountains and cut my walking time down to 40 minutes before I reached my destination: Melvin Brewing.

Melvin Brewing's exterior.
The eight Melvin beers I’d had the night before at Thai Me Up made the idea of trying more of the brewery’s beers at its flagship location too much to pass up. A mouth-watering $16, 12-ounce bacon cheeseburger and French fries filled the spot in a big way after the day’s early walks. The beers once again didn’t disappoint, and a half-price special meant that I sampled eight more five-ounce glasses of varieties I hadn’t yet had for $12. Melvin specializes in highly hopped and strong IPAs, and those I enjoyed ranged in alcohol content from eight to 13 per cent.  I rated all of them at least an eight out of 10.

And as good as the beer and food was, the friendly staff was just as impressive. A waiter gave me two iron-on patches and a waitress took me on a private brewery tour, gave me a baseball cap and offered me 24 free cans of beer. I told her I was on a backpacking trip and couldn’t carry that much, and they might be difficult to carry on the unmarked trail back to the hotel in the dark, so she gave me eight instead.

Melvin Brewing's interior.
I found the trail and, since Alpine is in the middle of nowhere population-wise, I enjoyed the best night sky for star-watching since staying on a small island with villagers on the Mekong River in Laos 18 months earlier.

These two days in Wyoming treated me well.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Making the most of three days in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park — which covers 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho — became the first national park in the United States when it opened in 1872.

It attracted more than four million visitors last year, and I added my name to its guest list for three days in June as part of a Cosmos bus tour. We arrived through the east entrance in Wyoming and crossed through the 8,530-foot Sylvan Pass and along the small Sylvan Lake before stopping at Lake Village on the shore of the much larger Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone Lake has 110 miles of shoreline and is approximately 400 feet deep. Its depth, altitude and northern latitude ensure that the water temperature doesn’t exceed 60 degrees Fahrenheit. While others ate lunch at the restaurant, I walked through a meadow to the shore, dipped my hand in and instantly realized it was too chilly to go in any further. However, it did offer a good view of the lake and mountains in the distance. A few bison even cooperated by grazing nearby.

Yellowstone Lake at Lake Village
Back on the bus, we followed the course of the Yellowstone River and passed more bison as well as Mud Volcano, Sulphur Caldron and Hayden Valley before stopping at the Upper Falls 35 minutes later.

Upper Falls
We got up close for a good look at rapids and the brink of the falls before continuing on to Artist Point, which provided lovely perspective of the higher Lower Falls in the distance. It also gave us access to look at what’s known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its multiple-coloured rock face. After taking in all of the beauty, we were dropped off at Grant Village’s Antelope Lodge in the heart of the park near the shore of the West Thumb section of Yellowstone Lake.

Lower Falls
I walked to the nearby general store and purchased seven different pale ales, two sandwiches for dinner and a muffin for tomorrow’s breakfast. A trail along the lake was closed due to bear activity, so I returned to my room to eat and have a beer before meeting two new friends at Grant Village’s small bar for another pint.

Continental Divide
An elk was crossing through the parking lot when our bus set out the next morning. We passed the Continental Divide of the Americas, where some of the water heads toward the Pacific Ocean and the rest heads toward the Atlantic, for the first of five times during our time in Yellowstone.

Gibbon Falls

We walked around Fountain Paint Pot — a collection of red, yellow and brown mud pots boiling and bubbling up from underground — in the Lower Geyser Basin. We then took some time around the Madison River, where a few people were fly-fishing, before moving on to Gibbon Falls, which weren’t as breathtaking as those from yesterday but were still impressive.

The next stop was the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes the majority of the world’s active geysers — the most famous of which is Old Faithful. A friend and I climbed a trail up to Observation Point to see Beehive Geyser erupt to a height of more than 150 feet for five minutes. Old Faithful went off a few minutes later for about the same amount of time, but it didn’t go as high.

Upper Geyser Basin

We walked back down and traversed a variety of paths and boardwalks, covering several miles and seeing dozens of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots over three hours. The most impressive was Grand Geyser, the tallest predictable geyser in the world, reaching about 200 feet during the 10-minute eruption we witnessed.

Grand Geyser

I had a quick walk around the charming and historic Old Faithful Inn before boarding the bus back to Antelope Lodge. I walked down to the lake again and had an enjoyable conversation with a local family that lives and works in Yellowstone, before having an OK $17 dinner of lemon and pepper trout, mashed potatoes and carrots at the nearby Lake House Restaurant.

Old Faithful Inn interior
Our final morning in Yellowstone started with a short drive to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, on Yellowstone Lake, and a walk around more small geysers and hot springs for 40 minutes.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

We watched a video on the bus about Yellowstone’s massive 1988 wildfires, which affected more than 40 per cent of the park and became the greatest firefighting effort in the history of the U.S. to that point. We passed Lewis Lake, the third largest lake in Yellowstone, and Lewis Falls, along with deep ravines and forest before leaving through the park’s south entrance.

Yellowstone's south entrance

Yellowstone is massive, and there were large swaths of it that we didn’t have time to visit, but I credit our Cosmos tour director Bruce Fritzges and our bus driver for coming up with an itinerary that covered quite a bit of ground and enabled us to see a good cross-section of the natural beauty and wildlife that the park is known for.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Gaining an appreciation of small South Dakota and Wyoming towns

Smalltown South Dakota and Wyoming have never been on my list of must-see places. But when the opportunity to spend a few days in them during a Cosmos tour of American national parks and canyons arose, I was happy to do it.

Unfortunately I didn’t make it as far east as South Dakota’s badlands, but travelled through its Black Hills en route from Denver, Colo. to Keystone. Large hills covered in pine trees look black from a distance, which is where the mountain range derived its name. Large, interestingly shaped granite outcroppings occasionally broke up the green and serene surroundings, and it was this granite that formed the backdrops for the region’s two major tourist draws, which I’ll get to soon.

South Dakota's Black Hills region

But first, I spent an evening in the town of Keystone, which was a mining town when it was formed in 1883 and is now home to less than 500 people. Its main street features a covered wooden boardwalk, which came in handy during a torrential rain storm, and most of its shops are aimed at tourists. One of them prominently featured very jingoistic Donald Trump T-shirts hung out front, which i found disturbing, and I spotted a few of them being worn while in the area.

Bad Trump T-shirts
But I quickly learned that, if you don’t talk politics (I was travelling through areas that for the most part don’t share my liberal views), you’ll meet lots of friendly people. I had dinner at Boss’ Pizza and Chicken, which featured an all-you-can-eat salad, pizza, pasta and chicken buffet for $13.99. The food was decent, if unexceptional, but it was the staff and patrons sitting near me at the bar that made my visit memorable when the storm caused the power to go out for 30 minutes.

Cheerful banter and joking ensued, and I was given a free pint of Lost Cabin Hefeweizen before power was restored, the rain had calmed and I ventured down the street to the Red Garter Saloon to have another beer and listen to country singer Jerry Allan in a classic western saloon adorned with vintage memorabilia which is open from April through October. Allan talked and shook hands with every member of the small Saturday night audience between sets, while local legend and 7’4” cowboy “Big Dave” Murra posed for photos with visitors he towered over.

"Big Dave" Murra
It was overcast and rainy when we left at 8 a.m. the next morning to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, so the views of the massive and still-under-construction carving of the Lakota leader from the visitor complex were somewhat disappointing — and the bus that takes you closer wasn’t running because of the inclement weather. Viewing the exhibits of The Indian Museum of North America therefore occupied most of the two hours I spent at the site before driving for 20 minutes to Mount Rushmore.

Crazy Horse Memorial
I’m not American and didn’t feel any pangs of patriotism from viewing the giant carved faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But I was impressed with the work put in to create them by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and a crew of more than 400 workers from 1927 to 1941. The complex also featured an informative visitor centre, where I watched a 14-minute film about Mount Rushmore’s creation.

Mount Rushmore
The rain had subsided enough that I was able to walk a trail and get closer views, though part of the trail was closed and blocked a loop route, to fill out two hours.

The beautiful Black Hills scenery continued to surround our bus as we headed west. We stopped just outside of Deadwood to visit Tatanka: Story of the Bison, where displays and two Lakota men told us about what the bison meant to their ancestors and their experiences growing up and adapting to both their native and white cultures. The visit ended outside at a recreation of a buffalo jump hunt featuring breathtaking bronze sculptures portraying 14 bison being pursued by three Native Americans on horseback.

Tatanka: Story of the Bison

Actor/director Kevin Costner paid millions of dollars to fund Tatanka, and his admirable work is appreciated for telling the story of how up to 30 million bison that once roamed North America’s great plains were reduced to about 1,000 by the end of the 19th century due to hunting and senseless killing by white settlers and visitors.

A school bus driven by a Kevin Costner Original Deadwood Tour guide picked some of us there and drove us around Deadwood for an hour, telling us entertaining tales of the town’s wild west history, which involved such characters as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

After dropping my bags off at Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort, I walked 20 minutes to do my own exploring of this town with a population of less than 1,500. Every second or third storefront featured casino gaming (primarily slot machines, but with a few card tables), which I wasn’t interested in, but a satellite operation of Sick-N-Twisted Brewing Co. drew me in for a flight of five what turned out to be disappointing beers.

I paid $12.99 for an excellent meal of a 12-ounce bison salisbury steak, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and garlic bread — washed down with a pint of Deschutes Fresh Squeeze IPA — at Gem Steakhouse and Saloon. I next visited the Celebrity Hotel and Casino’s collection of celebrity memorabilia and then sampled apple pie, coffee and margarita moonshine (the apple pie was my favourite) at Deadwood Distilling Co.

Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett jumpsuit from Hawaii Five-O at Deadwood's Celebrity Hotel and Casino.
I ended my tour of town with a flight of two beers and two ciders at Deadwood Winery that were much tastier than I had earlier in the evening — particularly Ace Pineapple Hard Cider — before walking back to the hotel.

The next morning saw us depart at 8 a.m. and drive through part of South Dakota before re-entering Wyoming and passing through the town of Sundance, which got its name after outlaw Butch Cassidy’s partner in crime “The Sundance Kid” spent 18 months in jail there in the 19th century. The highlight of a rather long day on the bus was driving through the Bighorn Mountains, which are part of the Rockies, and along the route of Shell Creek before arriving at Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody, Wyo.

My accommodation was a small log cabin outfitted like a modern hotel room, wifi included. From there it was a short walk into the heart of the downtown at Irma Hotel, where I got a pint of Snake River Brewing Pako’s IPA and a vantage point on its large deck for the 6 p.m. gunfight staging that’s been taking place on the street nightly since 1979 featuring locals playing tthe likes of Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, Belle Starr, Wyatt Earp and others. It was hokey and the acting was poor, but it’s true to Cody and most people seemed to enjoy the 20-minute show.

The Cody gunfight
Cody has about 10,000 people, so it didn’t take long to walk around. I ventured to the Shoshonee River to go on a 1.3-mile nature trail that ended up being flooded and forced me to turn back and return the way I came. I stopped for a six-beer flight at Millstone Pizza Co. & Brewery and wasn’t impressed by any of them. I was much more pleased with the salad, mashed potatoes and 10-ounce chicken fried chicken I ordered for $15.95 at Rib & Chop House along with an Elysian Space Dust IPA.

A backyard visitor in Cody
My last stop in Cody took place the next morning at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which includes the Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Plains Indian Museum and a special exhibition area. The admission fee was $19.50 and was well worth it, as I didn’t get a chance to fully take in everything during the two-and-a-half hours I had to spend there.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Baseball and beer in Denver

Denver, Colo. is known as The Mile High City due to its elevation and, more recently, its legalization of cannabis.

Union Station
My two days in the state’s largest city, however, largely revolved around baseball and beer. That started as soon as I dropped my luggage off at the well-located 11th St. Hotel and Hostel before noon on the first day of summer. From there it was a five-block walk, a ride up 16th Street on the free shuttle bus, and another short walk past the refurbished Union Station to Coors Field.

SandLot Brewery at Coors Field.
It’s the home of the Colorado Rockies and the SandLot Brewery, the first brew pub ever located in a baseball stadium when it opened in 1995. Its Bellyside Wit became so popular that it was mass-produced by Coors as Blue Moon, which is known as Belgian Moon in Canada. I bought a pint of it, partially using my $15 Rooftop ticket, which gave me access to a standing room area high in left field and nearby seating on a first-come, first-serve basis, as well as a six-dollar credit toward concessions. I split my time between standing, sitting and walking around the stadium, which offers good views of both the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

National Ballpark Museum
Following a Rockies victory over the Mets, a Polish sausage and three more beers at Coors Field, I went to the National Ballpark Museum, which focused on classic early 20th century stadiums that are no longer with us. It was interesting but tiny, so I don’t know if it was worth the $10 admission. But it’s run by a non-profit organization and the woman at the door was friendly and knowledgeable and gave me a two-dollar discount coupon for the History Colorado Center, which has a temporary baseball exhibit this summer.

The area around Coors Field is full of bars and brew pubs, and I took advantage by drinking several different beers at Falling Rock Tap House, Tap Fourteen, Blake Street Tavern, Cherry Cricket, Chophouse Brewery, Wynkoop Brewing Co. and Yard House before grabbing a pizza at Dominos on my walk back to the hotel.

Molly Brown House Museum
I transferred to the more suburban Cherry Creek Holiday Inn the next morning, since that was the departure point for a Cosmos bus tour I was starting the following morning. A round-trip city bus trip took me back to the area where I started, which is known as the Golden Triangle Museum District. It was a short walk to the Molly Brown House Museum, where I took an exterior photo but didn’t go into the former residence of the Titanic survivor, activist, philanthropist and actress.

You won't find Pete Rose or Mark McGwire honoured at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but they were part of the History Colorado Centre exhibit.
Using the discount coupon from the day before, I paid $12 to visit the History Colorado Center. I probably wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the temporary baseball exhibit, but I’m glad I did and took the time to visit all four of its floors during a visit that lasted more than two hours. I learned a lot about the state through a variety of often interactive exhibits. Even without the baseball exhibit, which featured what’s supposed to be the best memorabilia collection from greats of the game outside of Cooperstown, I would have enjoyed it.

State Capitol Building
I took exterior photos around the Denver Art Museum, Denver Public Library, City and County Building and State Capitol before taking a 3 p.m. guided tour of the capitol’s beautiful interior. I learned a lot more about the state, the city and the building, and also got a great look at the city from an outside viewing area.

Daniels and Fisher Tower
More photo opportunities took place at the Colorado Convention Centre, which features a statue of a giant blue bear looking in a window, and the Daniels and Fisher Tower, which was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River when it opened in 1910 and has been a symbol of the city ever since. Skyline Park sits at the base of the tower, and its summer beer garden provided a welcome respite for a couple of pints.

I walked up to Larimer Square, a historic section of Larimer Street between 14th and 15th streets. It’s quaint and full of expensive restaurants, but wasn’t my scene, so I returned to 16th Street, which is pedestrianized except for the free buses that run up and down it. I got a streetfront patio table at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery to do some prime people-watching and had a very good plate of jambalaya washed down by a $6.50 flight of six different beers.

I’d never been to Coyote Ugly, a bar franchise where the female servers wear skimpy outfits and dance on the bar while encouraging patrons to join them and get rowdy, but a two-for-one beer coupon I’d discovered earlier in the day was enough to make me take the plunge.

Knowing I had to get an early start the next day, I returned to my hotel and had one last pint at its Flagstone’s bar before going to my room to prepare for an adventure that would take me through six more states, a handful of national parks and more over the next two weeks.

Denver may have the best craft beer culture of any city I’ve been to, and I had more than two dozen different ones during my two-day visit. I feel as though I’ve seen all I need to of the city, but I definitely recommend it as a summertime destination for a short getaway — particularly if you’re into baseball and beer.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Observations from Toronto’s Festival of Beer

I made my annual pilgrimage to Toronto’s Festival of Beer and took advantage of its Thursday opening evening, which is less crowded and hectic than the sessions over the following three days and made it easier to speak with the brewery representatives.

My first stop was the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies tent, which had several interesting collaborative brews to choose from, including: London Brewing Co-Op Bramble & Bine, a 4.9-per-cent alcohol raspberry-kumquat saison, where the fruit element hits you first before the spice and yeast aspects creep in on the finish; and Amsterdam Sassy Beach Pale Ale, an unfiltered ale with the colour of sand and flavours of pineapple, mango and papaya.

There was a spotlight on Victoria, B.C.’s Phillips Brewing & Malting Co., which was set up nearby. I’ve tried the cans they have in Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores and wasn’t overly impressed, but sampled two that aren’t available in the province. The easy-drinking Solaris White Peach Ale was nothing special. The Electric Unicorn White IPA — which mixes Mosaic and Citra hops with wheat — was pleasant and slightly better.

I made my way over to the large beehive-shaped Funk Town tent, which featured its own DJ and focused on beers made with dank hops and wild yeasts. Unfortunately, during my visit, it didn’t feature brewery reps to talk about the various available sours or water to rinse out glasses. It was a good idea executed badly and I took a pass.

TekSavvy presented New Brews, an area dedicated to 12 newer breweries. Unfortunately, I’d previously had everything that Saulter Street Brewery had on tap and the styles offered by the other breweries weren’t among my favourites. The one exception, and the only brewery I had the wares from at the tent, was OverHop Brewing Co., which representative Tatiana Fulton told me is moving from Toronto to Montreal this week.

As you’d guess by the name, hops rule at this brewery, which originated in Brazil before entering Canada. I started with the Hazy New England IPA, a 50 IBU, 6.5-per cent, somewhat hazy ale with a rich mouth feel and clean finish. I then took a step up in strength and bitterness with the citrusy 90 IBU, nine-per cent OneLove Imperial IPA, which was smoother and easier to drink than expected.

Cowbell Brewing Co. always makes interesting beers in its Renegade Series and has friendly folks to chat with, so it made a natural next stop. 

The 6.5-per cent, 30 IBU, very pale, unfiltered Mango Milkshake IPA was mildly sour and not as rich as I was hoping for. The lime zest was definitely evident in the refreshing, four-per-cent, 12 IBU Paradise Lime Wit, which was a slight step up. I was nonplussed by the 11-per-cent Cinnamon and Cardamon Belgian Tripel.

But it was Cowbell’s 6.5-per cent, 30 IBU Belgian Spiced Tripel Nitro that captured my heart and was my favourite beer of the evening. It poured a cloudy dark gold with a rich tan head. It was very rich, slightly sweet and completely delicious. Once last call neared and I had to spend my remaining beer tokens in a hurry, I made a beeline for Cowbell and downed a couple more to satiate my thirst and end the session on a guaranteed high note.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Prince Eddy’s Brewing Company, but was impressed with the Picton, Ont. brewery’s Citra IPA. The five-per-cent ale poured a light, cloudy gold and had a strong citrus bouquet, well-balanced flavour and easy finish.

I always spend time at the Flying Monkeys booth during this festival, and I wasn’t disappointed by what was on tap this year.

Its Pina Colada had a lovely aroma, as you might expect from a coconut and pineapple milkshake IPA made with tropical hops. The 6.3-per-cent, 55 IBU ale’s flavour veered more towards the coconut. This was a strong contender for my second favourite beer of the fest, but may have been edged out by the same brewery’s Cherry Pie Dessert Ale. The graham cracker malt balanced out the sweet cherries very nicely. It may not be for everyone, but it was for me.

Big Rig Brewery’s output has been hit and miss for me over the years, but its Walla Walla Big Bang Mango Milkshake IPA was definitely a hit. The unfiltered, cloudy orange, 6.6-per-cent, 80 IBU ale had a pleasing citrus and mango aroma, a slight tartness and a rich and satisfying mouth feel.

I like Angry Orchard Cider so, when I saw it was offering a rose cider, I had to try it. It was slightly sweet, went down well and was enjoyable.

I sampled a few other beers, but I think the less said about Barnstormer Watermelon Ale, Midway India Session Ale and Junction Ghost Train IPA the better.

Toronto’s Festival of Beer always features a variety of musical acts, but The English Beat, Squeeze and Sloan are the only acts I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve actually focused on over the past 24 years.

The Thursday lineup this year on the OLG Bandshell Stage was comprised of The Darcys, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Broken Social Scene. I’ve seen all of them before and don’t count myself as a fan of any of them, but they provided an inoffensive background soundtrack to the real matter at hand: drinking new beers.