January 31, 2014

Beerlympics-The Pre-Game

Logo Courtesy of Brett Jeacle

Craft beer lovers love to talk about beer. The things they taste or smell. The styles they like and don't like. They love to discuss and debate with other beer lovers. It is just in our nature.

This love of discussion and debate, this love of breaking down beer is going to be exploited on Friday, February 7th.

In the spirit of competition and the  Olympics we are hosting the first Ottawa #Beerlympics!

Coming Friday, February 7th

All suggestions must be beers available in the LCBO or Beer Store.

Suggestions are open to both Microbreweries and Macrobreweries. All bets are off.

Beers will be served in flights of 3 in a blind tasting. Tasters will not know what beers they are being served.

Each taster will taste the beers and rank each. Scores will be given in ranks of 1-10 with full and half scores possible.

Highest and lowest score of each will be dropped.

Highest overall score after all the flights will be awarded gold, second will be awarded silver and third will be given bronze.
So this is how it is going to work.

Brett Jeacle, Katy Watts, Sasha Dunfield, Matt Petitpas, Dave Price, Dave Evans, Brian Papineau and Ryan Bellerive and I are going to be the judges.  

The 15 different beers are the competitors.

Chuck, the Wort to my Barley is going to be doing all the purchasing of the beer. The list he makes will come from the judges and from you. (more on that in a minute) He will be preparing five blind tasting flights for each judge.

Each flight will have three beers at an approx 2 oz sample in a styrofoam cup marked one, two and three.  We, the tasters sip each and figure skating judge style give each a score between 1-10 (ex. great beer might be 9.5, bad might be a 1)  The highest and lowest score for each beer will be dropped and the rest averaged out.  We then move on to flight 2 and so on and so forth till the end (apprx 5 flights with breaks in between to clean palates and have water)

At the end the beer that scored. The highest overall will be awarded gold, second silver and third bronze.  We will then reveal the names of the winners.

The score tallies and all arbitration will be handled by Ottawa's very own Brew Donkey, Brad Campeau.

Where do you come in?  Well simple. Starting on Saturday, February 1st we are going to be asking for beer suggestions. We will give a style and you get to flood us with your ideas of what beers we should have go head to head against each other.

Keep watch on twitter for the #Beerlympics or comment here on the blog. Either way all suggestions will get added to the list and will be considered for competition.  Remember micros and macros are allowed as long as they can be purchased in the LCBO or Beer Store.

As for the judges, well the smack talk has already started with Brian decreeing "Go Pilsners!" and Brett throwing down the gauntlet with "Go Stouts!"

When the day arrives keep watch on twitter for the live updates and the final results. In the meantime don't hold back on suggestions.

Which beer will come away with gold? Which will rank lowest in score?  We will find out on Feb. 7th at the #Beerlympics!

January 28, 2014

Tap Takeover-Corner

What are the two things that you can count on from a tap takeover involving one of the oldest and one of the most creative breweries in Ottawa? Interesting beers and a big crowd.

Both were present on Saturday at The Corner Bar and Grill in Westboro.

Beau's Brewery and Beyond the Pale took over their taps to serve patrons some great beer.  An overall great selection with BTP bringing Pink Fuzz, Imperial Super Guy, The Darkness, Party Animal and the new Bigamy. Beau's presented the crowd with Lugtread, Bog Water, Bottle Imp, Hogan's Goat and Barrel Aged Burnt Rock.

The event kicked off at 6:00 pm though people showed up early to enjoy dinner. By 7:00 the place was full and by 8:30 there was a line up waiting for tables. Many chose to grab a beer at the bar while Beau's Tim Duncan and BTP's Shane Clarke moved about the room talking to people who had questions about the beer or who just wanted to compliment the brews.

What about the beers?

Well, as expected they were very good. We tried Bigamy (very nice hop flavours) and Barrel Aged Burnt Rock (like a vanilla creme chocolate) We also happened to be there when they tapped a cask of BTP's Breaking Bitter. This beer is good off draught but on cask it was perfect.

A special mention to Turtle Island whose cask of Black Forest we also got to try and it lived up to its name. If you like black forest cake, with the chocolate and cherry combo than this beer is for you.

We got to try the beers we wanted and with the steadily building crowd choose to leave early to give room for the newcomers to enjoy the offerings as much as we did.

Congrats on a successful tap takeover to Beau's and Beyond the Pale!

January 23, 2014

Winterbrewed: Questions and Answers

Last year in February National Capital Craft Beer Week launched Ottawa's inaugural winter beer festival Winterbrewed.

There were issues. Plunging temperatures meant the long line ups were frustrating. Beer lines froze and made it impossible to pour samples. Attendance was expected to be around 6000 and in the end 12 000 people made their way through the beer tents across two days.

Despite the hiccups the festival was fun.
When organizers looked to plan this years festival they hoped to correct many of the unexpected frustrations but keep the same feel. Overall feedback was positive from the first year and the other things could be corrected and managed.

This year's festival is occurring February 14-16th. Originally it was to be held at City Hall but when tickets were announced this past Monday the venue had changed as had the format.  The feedback from the announcement has been both good and bad.

So why the change in venue? Why the format change? We sat down with NCCBW head organizer JP Fournier to find out.

BoW: Why the change of venue?

JP: City Hall has been great in supporting the festival. The mayor has been fantastic but the big challenge for City Hall was the outdoor facility.There are things we felt were important heating, security and freezing beer lines (a major issue from last year) that bring cost of the festival up. The cost to ensure everything was done properly for us, the city and the breweries was prohibitive. We would have loved to come up with solutions to these things. I have a design for an outdoor bar that would keep things; the kegs, the lines heated but unfortunately there was not enough time to put that together.

In addition to the outdoor we hoped to use the indoor facilities as well but unfortunately the space is booked on the Saturday. We were very close to working out something with the cafe in City Hall but despite our special occasion permit, they have a clause in their lease which prohibits the sale of alcohol in that facility.

All things taken into account it means that it just wasn't possible to have it at City Hall this year.

BoW: Why the Arrow and Loon and the Courtyard Atrium?

JP: I had been speaking with Jacob at the Arrow and Loon beforehand. He has been extremely supportive of everything we have done. If people remember the first year of National Capital Beer Week we had a Cask Festival at this facility. It went extremely well and Jacob was great to work with. The guys at Arrow and Loon are amazing so it made it sense for me to consider taking the festival back to that facility knowing we have the support that we needed.

We could have looked at a hotel or a conference centre. They would have had the room to accommodate the numbers however the atmosphere counts for a lot. Arrow and Loon has a relationship with the craft breweries and the public. They are a huge supporter of craft beer and they know craft beer.

BoW: You switched indoors and to a session format. Why those changes?

JP: We wanted to give people an opportunity to talk to the breweries, talk to the brewers, to discover what the brewery is all about and what the beer is all about. Two issues that I think are resolved by moving to the smaller space in a session format is there are less people during each session so more one on one face time with each brewery. That to me is really important. One of the reasons for the festival is to help people discover craft beer and really discover it. If people just want to come out and sample the beer and have a good time, absolutely. More than happy to have them come out. But we also wanted to offer the opportunity to mix and mingle with other fans and the breweries. So doing it in the more intimate venue like this in session format really gives attendees the opportunity to do that. They couldn't do that as much with the outdoor venue because it was so cold. Plus you can't really, in that kind of weather and in those sorts of temperatures get a good sense of what those beers are like.

BoW: Was that part of the feedback from last year, that it was too cold to talk to the breweries or get a sense of the beers being offered? You can't change the weather obviously but was that something you wanted to take into account this year?

JP: That was a big part of it. Comfort is important, especially when you are outdoors. The line ups were another issue. As far as I am concerned no matter where it is your attendees should be comfortable, they should feel like the service is all about helping them enjoy the festival. Getting 12 000 people out there with a skeleton crew of volunteers made it really hard for us to do that last year.

BoW: So by taking it inside, to a smaller venue and going to the session format you are addressing line ups, temperatures, crowd control, tasting the beer in a comfortable setting as well as the ability to talk to each other and the breweries. Do you feel you have hit the main logistical and customer complaints from last year?

JP: Exactly.  

I also want ticket holders to know that it doesn't just allow them access to the 5th Avenue Court Atrium but it gets them both. It is unfettered from one side to the other. In the Atrium, that side is focused on the sampling and discovering the different beers. Say you are in the sampling area and you find something you like and want a full pint. Arrow and Loon will be carrying the participating breweries will be on tap all weekend. You can go try a bunch of beers, find one you like, head into the Arrow and Loon and enjoy a full pint.

BoW: I will admit I am missing a bit of the bragging component of the outdoor aspect. It isn't even that I am missing being outside. It is the 'So Canadian we have our winter festivals outside.' To be honest though if I don't have to freeze while drinking my beer I am okay with that. Do you think people are missing that part, even though they seem to forget just how cold it was last year?

JP: We will be headed outside again in future years. It was cold last year but it was a lot of fun. People should expect that this year will be fun too.

BoW: Do you feel that you are a bit rushed or disorganized this year because you have had to change the venue or because things have had to be altered?

JP: To be honest I feel like I am more organized this year than I was last year. The reason I say that is we have gone through a lot of planning and we are aware of the hurdles of continuing the festival outdoors so we have more than enough time to address those for future years. For Winterbrewed 2014 we have Kamp Operations who are involved. They do volunteers for Beau's Oktoberfest and they are doing a number of different things for us.

The site map, because of the limited space compared to last year's two blocks we have had to be a lot more aware of the details when creating it. We need to create flow for entrance, exit and throughout the whole area in general.

The nice thing is we aren't going to have any surprises in terms of a huge snowfall or freezing rain or things are melting. People who are coming to the festival also don't have to worry about that. The festival is a go, rain or shine.

BoW: I think some people are missing that point. You aren't going to be getting up the morning of the fest and wondering "hmm, well do I go, how long, how do I dress, is it worth it?"

JP: As a host we really tried to take that into consideration last year. We wanted to make sure that we did what we could to make things comfortable, hence the heaters but with the sheer volume of attendees and temperatures outside it created a whole new set of challenges for us to keep up with. Moving inside means both ourselves and those coming don't have to worry about weather.

I think the other thing to consider with us moving inside to a more intimate space is our line up. You will notice that more than half are small breweries, a chunk of them being new breweries.  Covered Bridge, White Water and Perth are going to be there. Beyond the Pale, Turtle Island will be there as well. We have some others lined up but I am staggering the news as paperwork is done. From the way it looks right now we will have about 12 to 15 breweries. Some are doing double booths, Beyond the Pale for example, which means they will have a ton of beer there.

This event will be a fun one for sure.

BoW: But in a more intimate setting, which gives it an entirely different experience than the big outdoor festival.

JP: Exactly. Also giving those small breweries a chance to talk to people, meet people and introduce themselves to people.

BoW: I think that session style seems to be a bit foreign to people. It is a big change from the all day festival. It is better for crowd control and conversation. The immediate response to the festival this year seemed to revolve around the idea of it switching to session. Do you think people feel that you are downgrading from last year?

JP: It is a change yes. I guess it might be more a combination of the smaller venue and the new format. I think both are positive. It really is more intimate and for us, allows us to address the issues we had at the last festival. Maybe the fact that is a lot of change is what is shocking. Makes people think it is nothing like last year, which is true but for the better.

I would love for people to understand that to build a festival in such a way for it to be self sustaining, especially the kind of festival we are talking about where eventually we'd like to see it as two sites, one pass that it takes a lot of planning. We now know that an outdoor festival will bring 12 000 people. This year we are working on the indoor, more intimate. The goal to bring the two together in future years.

After this year we will know if an indoor component to Winterbrewed will be successful. This will give us all the information we need moving forward with a two site system.

This year there will be no slushy beer, unless the brewery wants it that way. There will likely be hot beer and special beers. There is more a chance to talk to the brewery. These, as I see it are all positive and I hope the public sees it that way.

BoW: How did you set the ticket price this year? An advantage of session style is tickets tend to be less expensive. Was that a factor for you, being able to offer tickets at the price of $12 in advance, $15 at the door?

JP: If we had kept things the same as last year, if we had produced it the same as last year based on our actual cost of the logistics of it all it would have meant charging about three times what we are charging this year.

There are no surprise costs attributed to the weather this year.

We want the price to be reasonable so that you don't have to have lot of money to come out. The point is for everyone to be able to come out and try the beer.

BoW: The way Ontario law works you have to sell tokens/tickets for samples. What will the prices of those be like this year?

JP: Like last year they will be $2 a token. Samples will vary in price anywhere from one token upwards. The breweries are asked to price their products accordingly. More expensive beers will cost more, higher ABV will be more.

I suggest people pace themselves. Lower ABV and less hoppy and work your way up but that said there are a lot of adventurous beer drinkers in Ottawa so I won't tell people how to enjoy the festival. I feel comfortable in saying there will be something for everyone. It promises to be a fun event for craft beer enthusiasts and new craft beer fans alike.

BoW: Are you asking the breweries ahead of time what beers they are bringing? Are you releasing a list?

JP: We have tried that and it is sort of 50/50 on if there is an advantage to it or not. Some of the breweries are able to say "This is what we are bringing and that's that." Others it depends on their schedules.

BoW: Are you encouraging breweries to keep the line up the same across all the sessions?

JP: We are asking them to keep the beers as much the same across the sessions as they can. In the end it will be determined by their stock but they are asked to have beer available for every session.

The changes to this years festival seems to address the major issues that last year brought. The smaller venue will bring smaller crowds, less line ups and a more intimate atmosphere for talking and learning about the beer.

Yes, there is a three hour time limit to each session but with the line up being anywhere from 10-15 breweries it gives attendees plenty of time to try out the beers.

Access to the Arrow and Loon means being able to purchase a pint of your festival favourite.

The move indoors means no shivering or chattering teeth.

No matter if you are fond of the changes or not there is no denying that the festival will be enjoyable. If we can have fun with freezing beer and bone chilling cold than we can have fun in the warmth of a craft beer loving space.

To purchase your tickets, see the line up of breweries and more information check out Winterbrewed. Follow the #Winterbrewed on twitter and @CraftBeerWeek for all the most up to date announcements.

Thank you to JP Fournier for sitting down with us and going over the changes to this year's Winterbrewed.

January 20, 2014

A Winter Beer Tasting Party

In December a group of Ottawa bloggers and beer lovers got together for a 'Taste and Tweet' session focusing on winter beers and holiday foods.  Being in the grip of plunging temperatures and the holiday season we felt it might be good to taste some winter beers as well as ones we count on as holiday favourites.

Most 'winter' beers tend to be bigger ABV's and are richer in flavour or spice, much like traditional winter foods are heavier and richer. They are crafted for drinking by a fire, huddling under a blanket to ward off the cold or getting together with friends and discussing how much you miss the summer.

We hoped to help people with suggestions of beer and food pairings for holiday parties so what better way to figure it out but to have a party of our own.

We had the pleasure of hosting, Marissa Begin The Beer Gypsy (follow her here @thebeergypsy), Brett Jeacle Craft Beer Love (follow him here @craftbeerlove), Brian Papineau Bryehn.net (follow him here @bryehndotnet), Dave Price (follow him here @ve3bax). Katy Watts Sheltered Girl meets World and Ottawa Beer Events (follow her here @klwatts) popped by to drop off some beer but was unable to stay for the tastings.

*Check out their blogs for write ups on the 'Taste and Tweet' as well!

Everyone brought some beer to taste and in the end we had quite the line up.  In addition to the beer, everyone brought some holiday type foods ranging from cheese, cured meats, rillettes, chutneys, crackers and desserts.

Thirsty? We were.

I will admit once everything was laid out we seemed to have a daunting, but incredibly enjoyable, task ahead of us.

Our beers ranged from rare seasonals to home brews and then to beers more readily available in the LCBO and local breweries.

Here is a rundown of the beers we tried:

Friar Buck's Sarrasin - Made by Church Key Brewing. It has buckwheat in the malt giving it a nice finish. It is lighter in colour than I expected. It was a great start and deceiving at 7%.

Lustrum Sour Anniversary Ale - From Driftwood Brewery this beer was quite the treat for us. Marissa brought this rare treat that is brewed in British Columbia. It comes in at 9.4% and carries an amazing sour taste with a some dried fruit notes. It was voted our favourite out of province beer.

Bah Humug - Made by Wychwood Brewery this is a traditional Christmas beer that is available every year in the LCBO. If you are looking for a beer with light spice notes for the holidays then this is it.

Winter Ale -This one comes from Great Lakes Brewery. It has all the rich spice notes that you want in a winter warmer. It was our pick for best readily available seasonal beer. It was available in the LCBO and reasonably priced.

Nickel Brook Cuvee - Brian brought us a year old bottle of the cuvee and we had a two year old bottle in the cellar.  We opted to do a side by side. The 2012 unfortunately did not hold up in its aging for whatever reason and left everyone slightly disappointed. The 2011 however was still beautifully spiced and mellowed to an almost spiced wine flavour.  The best news? Nickel Brook just released the 2013 to the LCBO so head out now before it is gone. Buy two, one to try now and one to age.

Reserve de Noel 2013 - Brett made a trip to Quebec to get this one for us. Brewed by Les Trois Mousquetaries this spiced beer comes in at 10.5% and the bottle is worth sharing. A perfect host/hostess gift. We voted this one a 'need to find' beer. When the cold hits and the Christmas lights go up this is one you want in your fridge.

Our next three were barley wines. We had Mill St's 2011 and 2013 Barley wine as well as Howe Sound's Woolly Bugger. We did a side by side of the Mill St's and voted the 2011 the better of the two. Sadly Woolly Bugger was not anyone's favourite. Perhaps if it had been aged it would have balanced and mellowed more. The barley wines are available in the LCBO (minus the 2011 as it was from a cellar)

Chimay Bleue (Grande Reserve) - From Bieres de Chimay this Belgian strong ale is a winter and holiday staple for Dave. It comes in a 9% and is perfect for warming you up on those cold winter nights.

Blackstone Porter - Another one from Driftwood. Porters are a winter standard and this was a good quality porter. At 5.1%  it was nice balance of roast and malts.

Nutcracker Porter - Anything with a name like nutcracker screams holidays. This porter, available in the LCBO is brewed by Black Oak Brewing Company. With our first drinks the table decided that this is a perfect holiday breakfast beer. Yes, breakfast.

Old Kentucky Bastard Imperial Stout - Voted our other 'need to find' winter beer, this imperial stout from Nickel Brook comes in a 10% and brings a ton of flavours with it. The nose was full on bourbon. The beer brings hints of orange, vanilla and chocolate on the finish. Buy some and age it or drink it now, you can't go wrong. It is available in the LCBO for limited time.

IX Cacao Triple Chocolate Stout - A treat bottled for us from Turtle Island Brewing. Lots of dark chocolate flavour. Even had a bit of cigar notes to it. Reminded us of rich dark chocolate cake and it was just begging for some vanilla to round it out.  Limited run in kegs around the city.

Big thanks to Turtle Island for bottling this for us.

Expedition Stout - A Russian imperial stout from Bell's Brewery in the USA. Boozy with a bit of raisin and chocolate. Nothing like 10.5% to warm you on those cold winter nights.

Chocolate Manifesto - The name says it all. This sweet milk stout from Flying Monkeys packs a big chocolate flavour. From the nose to the finish it is all chocolate. A great bottle for sharing with those rich holiday desserts or sipping by the fire.

It should be noted that we also had two growlers from Big Rig. With all the other bottles we were not able to crack them open that night but did so the next night.

Gingerbread Porter - Like drinking a gingerbread cookie in all the right ways. Great spice balance that reminds us of holiday baking at its best.

Gingerbread Porter-cookies in a glass

Triple Chocolate Cherry Imperial Milk Porter - Sweet, smooth, chocolatey with a hint of cherry. A perfect after dinner beer.

We also had some home brew. Dave brought a Scotch Cap Saison that had lots of black raspberry notes. Brian offered his Bitter Holiday, with cranberry and nice bitter finish. Brett favoured the group with his Rum Runner. This double brown packed amazing rum and vanilla notes.

Rum Runner and dessert. A match made in heaven..or at least in Brett's kitchen.

The holidays with its presents, decorations and parties are over but the winter is far from done. All of these beers are perfect to help ease away any chill you might have.

A big thank you to Brian, Marissa, Brett, Dave and Katy for a fantastic day of drinking, eating and tweeting. There is nothing better than a day filled with good people.