A rather odd review of a brew pub in the Ottawa Citizen whose only value from a brew point of view is the brief introductory comments on the state of the competition in town:
How to tell apart the national capital region’s numerous and newish beer-themed eateries? Lord knows I’ve struggled. Here’s my breakdown, peppered with superlatives. Beer Brothers Bistro serves the best food. (That the venue doesn’t brew its own beer doesn’t disqualify it.) Les Brasseurs du Temps in Gatineau’s Hull sector makes the best beer. Mill St. Brew Pub has the best location. The one with the most locations — five — is the Clock Tower Brew Pub chain. And Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery, which opened in June with Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris “Big Rig” Phillips as a partner, is the sportiest and most celebrity-driven.
This is something of a good precedent, an actual attempt at comparison. It is at the outset of a review of the last one, Big Rig and does a decent job getting to the point. When, as with this article, the general media present information about beer and pubs it can go one of two ways. It can be clueless which is dangerous when the uninformed writers idea of what is great is not all that great. Or it can be more honest and direct than a beer media insider already known in a relatively small circle players. Unlike the first, the danger arises from the hedging of a direct concern, the use of oblique critique to avoid stating a harsh reality. After the introduction above, however, this review takes off on a third route. It does not mention the beer. I read the article a few more times just to make sure. The space is declared something of a large sports swag echo-ridden cube. The steak was the thinnest ever encountered. We learn that you can view the brewing equipment and that the customers are “hundreds of boisterous, beer-fuelled diners” but not a word on the beer itself.
What do you do with this sort of review that only references the key product of an establishment once it ends up as content of the patrons’ blood streams? I have seen beer being treated beneath contempt before but I am not sure I have seen it treated beneath all observation.
The garden – by which I mean the yard – has been inordinately productive while promising more and more.
The green beans are on their third wave of crop. Salad green have been on every plate for weeks. Stoke’s Cherokee purple tomatoes are meaty things with tiny watery seed cell. And, as illustrated, the yellow and purple fleshed carrots that were planted where I lifted up front lawn on Easter weekend are now a foot and a half long. I dug deep. Layered in a deep seam of sheep poo. Going into a carrot cake this evening. And green beans can be made into pesto. Who knew? Ripped out another yew hedge and put in black currants. Sugar snap peas for autumn planted.
Foot long Chinese pole beans are in my diet now. Hidden under over reaching… or, really, crowded… collards there are defiant multi-coloured Swiss chard. I am already looking at seed catalogs dreaming of next year. And that shower stall in the basement might get turned into a salad grow-op for the off season. It already has a drain so why not? I could start 1,000 onion seeds in February in my own home. I could. As the thumbnail shows, Google maps hardly recognizes the place out front since the decision was to ditch the ornamental ugliness of the front lawn for tasty utility.
Another day with nothing to do. Another summer run into nearby Prince Edward County, Ontario, to hit a few wineries and pad what we like to call the Christmas stash. See, I like good beer just fine and all but when you have big gatherings around roasts and twenty types of root vegetable when the sun goes down about 3:15 pm and find yourselves packed in tight with people whose tastes I am not sure about – well – I am going to pour wine. I will have good beer around, too, but just like a 50th birthday party I attended recently where I took a few good beers I expect they will sit there on the counter as every cooler, every bulk beer is drained ahead of it. See, most people are not like us. They don’t share our hobbies. They like auspicious dates on the calendar to be filled with familiar comforts and joys. And why not? Does every occasion need to be some sort of amateur training session?
So, west we drove the thirty miles or so to the winery laced county. It is pretty impressive when you get into the back roads. Corn and produce stands mix with wineries as well as folks’ houses and farms down narrow back roads roamed on a Saturday. Lunch was at Huff with its table service dining. The food was swell. Architectural even. The service attentive. We only had one glass of 2007 Merlot to check on the state of one of the bottles laid in last time. No need to save it any longer. The kids will do without in the 2020’s. Then we hit Grange, a new one for us with a bucolic setting and plenty of folk enjoying a basket lunch on the grounds. Our favorite sample was the most humble, a 2006 blend that was under 11 bucks. I also bought a Cabernet Franc, too. It’s destined for a roast as well. The tasting room had that odd library hush about it that wine people seem to like but the service was pleasant. Not that I was going to slap my knee and shout yee-haw or anything but, really, could the staff ask what I thought of their wine?
Last of the three was the smallest, Closson Chase, a return visit. On the way out, I told the staff that they won our loyalty with that free Freezee give away – not to mention the gardens in which you were invited to take the samples. Kids need a break and drinks buyers have kids. Smart move. Buys you 12 minutes. We tried a pinot noir, their 2010 Chardonnay from local grapes as well as this pinot rosé in my glass here later at home. It is tough having pinot noir or other red wines from Ontario having been trained as you all have for years on inky red plonk from Oz and Chile. These are lighter. And complex in ways that are… complex. So, even swishing the rosé around we noted something that was not acid, fruit or mineral in there. Something vegetative. We hummed. We hawed. Then green beans next to salmon were mentioned and, bingo, there you were. Now that thing is reminding me of that thing in saison that I like when it is there in a saison. Something between white pepper and green beans.
That was it. All the kids could take. We were off to the beach to paddle about and then off to Black River for cheese curds, a block of maple cheddar and a round of ice cream before the ferry home.
The funny thing about Ontario is it started as a part of Quebec. Until the division of Upper and Lower Canada in 1791, this was all the one unified colony that Britain took from France in the conquest of 1760. Settlers started moving in 1783 first from central New York in the first direct Loyalist wave, then over the rest of the decade from the eastern US seacoast as the losers of the Revolution filtered their way around up from New York, Nova Scotia and then down the St. Lawrence. An oblique reference in a land document for a Lieut. Mackay from 1794 gives an interesting hint as to the development of brewing here in Kingston, the commercial center of this new colony:
On May 27, 1794, a petition had been presented in Council on his behalf for “a Piece of Land about the usual Size of a Town Lot, situated on the West side of a Lot lately laid out for the Kingston Brewery, to be bounded on the North by the said Brewery on the East by a small run of Water, on the South by the Common, & on the West by the top Bank…”
The passage is from The Parish Register of Kingston Upper Canada 1785-1811, an online resource that also confirms that by 1797 it was managed by one John Darnley. That is it above shown on a map of my town from 1824. It is also shown on a map from 1865 and later additions are still there – as the 2003 photo at this post shows. There was earlier brewing in the colony but likely tied to taverns like Finkle’s in nearby Bath. Steve Gates, our comment leaver and author of the excellent book The Breweries of Kingston & The St. Lawrence Valley pegs the building of the brewery in 1793 by merchant John Forsyth but it is John’s brother Joseph who is more of the man about Kingston in the 1790s. But, as a garrison town and a depot supplying deep into the continent from the main colonial centre of Montreal, it is entirely likely that their Kingston business affairs overlapped repeatedly.
Creation of the brewery reflected some level of certainty after years of difficulty in ensuring the grain crops could supply the expanding colonial population. A 1796 letter noted in Preston’s Kingston Before The War of 1812 even speaks of the continuing infestation of Hessian Fly affecting the area. Building a brewery spoke to an expectation of peace.
The drought has had its effect. Something of a shut down by the onions. A refusal to go on. Squash and zucchini did not make it for a couple of reasons well studied already. But the leaves are booming. I have two sorts of mustard green as well as beet greens, red and green oak leaf lettuce as well as spinach. The salad bowl is full nightly. Beans boom. We are between flowerings so may well be looking at a late August harvest mirroring the mid-July one. A second planting of peas is taking off, too. Basil is booming. It will be pesto week. Collards have formed a blue green wall. All but two of the grave vines have excelled. Location is everything apparently. Having a yard full of berries now makes sense. There is nothing wrong with a yard full of berries. The rabbit has taken up residence. Were this 1870, he would make a swell stew along with the purple and yellow carrots. Starting to think about next year already. Five month to seed catalog ordering you know. Soil will need shifting, too. Much depends on soil quality.