What To Do For the Winter Olympics

So I haven’t posted in about a month. What can I say? Travel’s a bitch. But not a bad bitch. It’s actually one of the betters ones. Except when you’re in coach. Then flying is miserable. Anyway, I spent two weeks in Chicago until New Year’s and then spent another two weeks in the 2010 Winter Olympic host cities, Vancouver and Whistler, BC. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but I’ll try and give you a decent recap.

Chicago:

Hopleaf: As I’ve said before, the Hopleaf is my favourite beer bar in the city. And they serve more brews than any other Chicago bar.  Check out my lengthier review for more. While there, I enjoyed the Delerium Tremens Ale, reputed to be the finest beer in the world. It’s good. Real good. But as Belgian sours go, it’s not too special.

Chief O’Neil’s: The Chief’s is our favourite Irish pub in the city. The have acceptable craic, and pour a good, but not perfect, pint of plain. Standard Irish pub fare and a good location for when we are out shopping round out what makes this bar good. They have a wonderful whisk(e)y selection with both old and new world distillates. Of course, they focus on the Irish whiskey but good selections Scotch, Bourbon, and rye can all be found behind the stick. Their pint of stout is quite good, and fairly opaque, but doesn’t compare to Nash’s in the Pale.

While there, I learned that Guinness is holding a competition for “best pint.” Their scoring rubric seems to have more to do with prominently displaying the Guinness logo than anything else. Of course, given Guinness’s long history of marketing genius, I don’t know why we should expect anything else.

Park 21: This new restaurant from the same people behind Carnivale, a restaurant sensation is practically the same. While the service is impeccable, the atmosphere pleasant and vibrant,  and the wine list good, the food is mediocre at best, and the bar program leaves much to be desired. I suggest if you must eat there, you stick with vine, beer, or neat spirits.

O’Hare Airport: It is a sad truth that while traveling, we must spend a good deal of unpleasant time in airports. For the drinking public, however, it is getting better. While Patron has become de regour at most bars, I saw many airport bars making a concerted effort to stock at least one premium offering in each category, including Hendrick’s gin, a variety of sippable rums, good Bourbon and rye and belike.

Vancouver:

The Chef and the Carpenter: We only spent one night in the city, and we went to this wonderful French restaurant after the old school. The Caesar salad is still made fresh, tableside, and with a real egg yolk. Quite possibly the best Caesar I’ve ever had. The rest of the food was equally good. Their cocktail program was outstanding. The maitre d’hotel was a competent barkeep, and while they did not have a bar menu, he could mix up all the classics with a practiced shake or stir from a surprisingly well stocked bar. If you find yourself in Vancouver, I recommend you visit this outstanding Robson street establishment.

Chow: While I was there a year ago, I never mentioned this fine and progressive restaurant serving the fine Pacific Rim fusion cuisine. Another restaurant with an impressive drinks program including fine beer, wine, and, of course, classic cocktails. You certainly can’t go wrong here.

The Cat’s Paw: Another gem from last year, this Granville Island bar has innovative cuisine and reasonable prices, and is, by and large, filled with locals. Another great place to take a load off.

Whistler

The Dubh Linn Gate: This has been our longtime apres hangout. The best beer bar in Whistler, though that doesn’t say much, with a good selection of Scotch whiskies as well, and excelent food, this is as good a spot for dinner as for taking a load off after a hard day on slopes.

Black’s Pub: A reasonably indifferent bar with little to speak for it. While it has good bar staff, an indifferent drinks program and reasonably standard beer menu, as well as non-distinct food doom this to my “eh” list (and not in the way the Canadians say it either).

Milestone’s: A step up from Black’s. A fairly nondescript cocktail menu at least is supplemented by interesting local microbrews and better food. They offer the Wild Horse Winter Ale a refreshing, medium bodied beer with just a hint of winter spice. It is much less spiced than most American winter offerings which is quite a bit more refreshing.

The Cinnamon Bear Bar: Hotel bars tend not to be good, and whether I hit them on an off day, or something else, this is no exception. There are literally no redeeming features to this bar. Avoid it.

Merlin’s, The Girabaldi Lift Company, and Dusty’s: These three mountain-owned bars are surprisingly good. While the beer selection isn’t what it has been in years past, they still stock the Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale, a reasonably standard pale ale after the British style, and their Amber Ale, a heartier, more flavourful brew on tap. This, combined with good food, make this a reasonable place to recover. Dusty’s is supposed to have wonderful barbeque, but I admit to never having tried it. Similarly, both Merlin’s and the GLC have distincive personalities and menus. All have live music and are steps from the slopes.

Ceeta’s Bistro: This bar has a reasonable beer selection, and good, relatively inexpensive sandwitches. We were there for the Canada-Russia game of the World Youth Hockey Championship, which was epic. We also had the Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, a relatively non-descript pale, and the Okanagan 1516, an even less flavourful brew. Unfortunately, Ceeta’s is likely closing soon, so Whistler will loose this quarter century old establishment.

Rim Rock Cafe: This is not somewhere you go for the drinks, not because they do not have a wonderful bar, outstanding wines, and good beers, but merely because the food is so good. One of Canada’s top ten restaurants, if you are in Whistler, and can remotely afford it, you need to try it. One of the best meals of my life.

Hope this list has helped you if you are traveling out there. There are a lot of positives on this list, but I have been to Vancouver and Whistler enough to avoid many of the bad apples, though not all, as the list suggests. Again, I apologize for the lack of pics.

May wind fill your sails,
The Scribe

Quit Your Wining

Downtown Wine & Spirits, my choice for premium beer and high end everything had their annual wine tasting and sale yesterday, so, of course, I meandered on down. They were pouring quite generously enough, and I sampled the full line from Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, as well as a variety of other sparkling wines from all over the world. I hit the highlights of France, America, Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and pretty much anywhere else they have figured out how to grow grapes. They were pouring wines that sold for $5 per bottle, and wines that sold for $100 per bottle. All in all a great showing.

The standout for me was a bottle called Le Cyclot or something along those lines. It was an unfiltered and unfined wine made from biodynamically grown grapes, and then of course, aged in oak. It might well be the single nicest wine I have ever tasted. It was smooth as a baby’s bottom and full of all sorts of yumminesses. Unfortunately, my wine budget doesn’t go to such premium sips, or I would have put away a case of this vintage.

Now the tasting was combined with a 20% off sale. Let me just say that the combination of lots of free wines and a fifth off the asking price is a disasterous combination for the Scribe’s wallet. In addition to a Crémant d’Alcace, I picked up a couple bottles of a nice Italian red, a  bottle of Gran Gala and a bottle of rye.

Keep up the good drinking,
The Scribe

What I Have to Work With

I have mentioned, from time to time, the package stores near me where I go buy the stuff that gets reviewed here. Since I’ve paid the vast majority of them far more than I ever have for a single bottle (which is unsurprising, given, you know, statistics), I thought, as a service my local Bostonians, I would review the six or seven liquor stores I go to, or no longer go to, in the order I visited them in.

  • Hillside Wine & Spirits (Medford: 323 Boston Ave.): This is the first liquor store I ever went to, and they tried to ensure my loyalty by bribing me with my first shaker. At the time, it was the closest packy to me. This is really just you basic neighbourhood package store. The selection is a tad better than your average neighbourhood store, but really nothing spectacular. The prices are okay, but not great, even for Massachusetts. Joan, who runs the store, is quite nice, and I still go there for kegs, but that’s the only thing to get there.
  • Downtown Wine & Spirits (Somerville: 225 Elm St.): If there’s something I absolutely can’t find, Downtown is where I go. They have lots bitters, lots of interesting high end cordials and liqueurs. However, everything they have (with the exception of some cheap vodka an rum for us college kids) is premium or ultra-premium, and thus, a bit outside my price range unless it’s my last shot. One thing I should also mention is that if a beer can make its way to Massachusetts, they have it. Interesting Belgians, local microbrews, English real ales, they’re all Downtown. I go here rarely, especially now that I found two new stores.
  • Kappy’s Liquors (Medford: 10 Revere Beach Pky.): This is the local big-box package store. Pretty standard for what it is. Decent but not stellar liquor selection. Okay beer selection. Pretty good wine selection. Pretty good prices.
  • Ball Square Fine Wines (Somerville: 716 Broadway): I discovered this local packy the other day, and it has quickly become my choice, at least for short notice quick stuff. Their liquor selection is exactly what I am looking for, though they’re a bit shy on rum. Friendly, helpful staff, excellent prices, and wonderful selection: I’m in love. They have El Dorado 15, Mount Gay XO, and the list goes on. Lots of interesting stuff.
  • Liquor World (Cambridge: 13 White St.): I just discovered this store today, and, as the name suggests, they have lots of liquors, for wonderful prices. Wine and beer are pretty awful, and the service sucks, but this is where I will go for most liquors.

If it’s not on the list, and it’s not Main St. Liquors in Medford, and it’s in the area between Medford Square and Harvard Square, I’ve probably been there, and it’s not good enough to get a full review. I’ve been to DOMA, Harvard Fine Wines and Harvard Wine & Spirits, and they’re all pretty bad.

Let me know about any other goodies,

The Scribe

Mixology Monday: The Search for Peychoud’s Bitters

So, there are no Peychoud’s bitters in Boston, at least none that I can find. This proved a bit of a determent to my New Orleans inspired cocktail, but more on that in a week. Yes, indeed, MxMo has been postponed for a week. However, I will give you a mini-MxMo. Pfiff says I to those who need time to “recover” and “travel.” I need none of those things! Okay, so I wasn’t at Tales, but I can, you know, pretend…

Anyway, my mini-MxMo is a review of the Maple Tree Inn in Chicago. It truly is a little piece of the Big Easy in the Second City. They have all sorts of New Orleans specialties from crawfish etouffee to barbecue shrimp, and, of course, classics like fille gumbo and jambalaya. The bar, meanwhile, serves probably the most authentic sazeracs and hurricanes in the Windy City, and has an excellent beer selection as well with twenty brews on tap. This is a bar that never put “appletinis” or even cosmos on its menu, but would be more than happy to serve you an old fashioned with your choice of Angostura or Peychoud’s bitters, and probably has a bottle of orange bitters behind the bar as well. With that said, I doubt the barstaff have ever even heard of Jeffery Morgenthaller or Paul Clarke, or anyone else who writes online about the resurgence of classic cocktails, but they cannot imagine a world where you cannot get a properly made negroni or Manhattan, and have been making them the same way for thirty years.

Charlie, the owner, is a great guy, and is vaguely reminiscent of the walrus that serves as the inn’s mascot, and, if you give him notice, is more than happy to mix up specialties that aren’t on the menu. My parents swear that one of his shrimp dishes is the best example in the world. I call it “shrimp beyond veal” since I have absolutely not idea how to spell it. My best shot would be shrimp bingion vie. If you have any idea about the dish to which I refer, please let me know in the comments.

The restaurant is liberally decorated with various Marti Gras style decorations, especially during that time of year, as well a folk- or liberal posters and slogans. A recent visit had signs suggesting that January 20th, 2008 would be the end of America’s great mistake. Other signs suggest that you drink more, though only quality hooch. Meanwhile, the restaurant’s motto is “Sit long, talk much.” and if you aren’t talking enough, Charlie will come talk with you.

Good food, good drink, good service, good atmosphere, good prices. What else can you ask for? Check it out:
Charlie’s Maple Tree Inn and Louisiana Brasserie
13301 S Western [That’s Old Western, there are two Western’s in Blue Island]
Blue Island, IL 60406
Or give them a call at (708) 388.3461.

I bid you good eating,
The Scribe

A Hop-ining Place

Two nights ago we went to the Hopleaf bar in Chicago. The Hopleaf is Chicago’s best beer bar. It features a whopping 45 beers on tap, which rotate regularly, and a bottled beer list of eighteen pages. Now, you might assume that with such a huge number of beers, people probably only come for the beer, and don’t worry about the food. Not so! Our onion rings were exquisite, as were our oysters, which are the house specialty. My father enjoyed his Montreal smoked meat. Moreover, the prices are reasonable, with sandwiches around $12-$13 and appetizers a few bucks less.

But the beer! Oh the beer is wonderful. It’s a lot of fun to pick random beers to try. I had a Crooked Tree IPA from the Dark Horse brewery, a Tripel Karmeliet and a Special Block 6 from Brouwerij de Block. The IPA was a nice IPA, quite bitter, and a little sweet. The Karmeliet was probably my favourite of the evening. It had interesting citrus and mint notes and was vaguely reminiscent of the Woodstock Inn Pemi Pale Ale I reviewed last month. As for the #6…well…I remember it was fairly subtle and a little sweet, but not much more than that.

My mother had the De Koninck and the Kwack. Both are Belgian beers (as were the Karmeliet and the 6). At this point I should point out that one really cool thing about the Hopleaf is that they serve beer in its proper serving vessel. The Kwack and the De Koninck were fairly similar with fairly subtle flavours, though the Kwack was a bit sweeter and brighter. They had pleasant citrus notes. I would say I preferred the Kwack. The Kwack also came in a yard glass which made it ever so much cooler.

This brings us to the beers enjoyed by my father. He had North Coast’s Old 28 Stout, a Duppel 8 from Maredsous, and a Gulden Draak from Van Steenberge. While I don’t recall the latter two too well, since I only had a sip of each, I really enjoyed the stout. It had nice berry-raisin and chocolate notes.

The Old Jameson Distillery

Silvio from Refined Vices contacted me the other day about a more in deapth review of my tour of the Old Jameson Distillery. I was happy to oblige. You can now read the review over on his site. It seems Irish whiskey has been getting a lot of play here recently…

Slainte!
The Scribe

The Session: The London Beer & Cider Festival, 2008

Hello all, and welcome to my blog. For those of you who are beer drinkers, and new to my blog, welcome. For those of you who are spirits and cocktail bloggers, and don’t know what The Session is, it’s basically the beer blogging world’s version of MxMo.

This week the topic of The Session is beer festivals. Being freshly legal at home, I haven’t really been to any beer festivals in the States. However, while I was in London, I did go the annual London Beer and Cider Festival. Let me just say what a blast it was. The festival was hosted by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. So-called “real ale” for those who don’t know, is ale that is unpasteurized and served out of the same container in which the secondary fermentation happens. The way this festival worked was there was an entry fee (£2.50 for non-CAMRA members), and you could either borrow a glass, or buy the festival glass for £3. The glass was really quite gorgeous, and it was large enough that there was room for head proud of the imperial pint line. Then there was a cost per beer.

Frankly, I would have much preferred a higher entry fee, like perhaps £10 or £20, and unlimited beer. I felt that charging by the half-pint meant that I was less willing to simply try beers, which I feel should be a large part of the festival, but only tried the beers that had flavor notes I liked and were types of beer I liked. While I tried a ton of different beers, I had a good recollection of two:

Enville Brewery: Old Porter – This was quite a nice mild porter. It had some slight sweet notes, with just a touch of bitter and lots of fruity complexity. I would love to get my hands on this fine porter.

Fox Brewery: Cerberus Norfolk Stout – This seemed like more of a porter to me than a stout, at least in comparison to Irish stouts like Guinness, Murphy’s, and so on. Nevertheless I enjoyed this beer immensely. It had nice chocolate and raison notes with just the barest hint of bitterness. It was also pleasantly light bodied for a stout, which is a nice change from the more traditional meal in a glass

Thanks for coming to my Session. Next week, I should be mostly moved in, and will be back to live posting.
Cheers!
The Scribe