Ontario: Windward Belgian Wheat, Stone City, Kingston

stone1The last year has been the scene of many a revelation when it comes to my relationship with beer. Among other things, out of nowhere two fabulous breweries opened up in my immediate vicinity after years of claiming my town was the least served by fresh beer for its size in the northeastern bit of North America. One is MacKinnon Brothers which I have discussed before. The other is Stone City Ales who have a great social media presence and a website with great generational honesty. One feels a certain pain knowing one has kept a beer blog for over a decade appreciating that it’s like knowing how to properly maintain an 8-track player.

The great thing about having local beer choices finally after a quarter of a middle-aged life waiting is now normal it is. I did my Saturday morning shopping run and hit Stone not long after the 11 am opening. I picked up a ridiculously under-priced Rochefort 8 at the LCBO to soak a flank steak from Pig and Olive in. Hit Bread and Butter bakery as well as the Quebec-based Metro grocery, too, with all its ever so slightly exotic tendencies and, then, home and unloading the making of a good feed. What has changed is that the good local beer fits in now as just a stop on the way. Nothing precious, special or even – frankly – craft. Just as good as all the other excellent stuff you can buy in my very foodie town.

I bought a growler of Stone’s Windward Belgian Wheat. Eleven bucks after growler returns. It’s a 4.9% cloudy thing. See that picture? Cloudy. I am working on my cinéma vérité approach to representing beer in my art. The beer gives off very evocative aromas. Is it just me or do some wheat beers smell like babies straight from the bath? Maybe its just me. I diapered for 14 years. Anyway, the scents are twiggy herbal – mace, rosemary and lavender – with cream of wheat and meadow in mid-spring. Maybe even oolong tea with its earthiness. In the mouth, there is a grassy acidic bite then a wall of dry French bread crust with more of all that rich tangy complex herbal construct. The effect is drying rather than astringent. Extremely appetizing. I would love to soak pork shoulders in this for the best part of the day and slow smoke it for another, too.

Early signs of BAer respect. Every beer from here is a favourite. As I found in last December‘s taste test at Bar Hop in Toronto, Stone’s beers stand up to the best. This one is just another chapter in the same story. Lucky me.

The Beer On My Path To Owen Sound And Back


I had one of those happy sad events over the weekend, a remembrance of someone two generations older than me, forty-eight years older to be exact. I won’t get into details but suffice it to say that anyone who ensured there was a good beer in the fridge was an ally as much as anything. The weekend was moderation itself with plenty of time spent listening to stories of generations past as well as seeing who might make the funniest strangest face, me or a seven year old. But there were stops and there were meals. So – as a service – I offer a few thoughts.








I will mention the last first. On the road home, we stayed off the main highways given the snow and went with the 1930s era ones, now secondary roads. Which brought us into the towns on the north shore of Lake Ontario. In Trenton, we came across Port Bistro Pub. A burger for me which I might have enjoyed more had the other plates not looked better. The picture above in the middle does not do justice to the architectural nachos consumed by the boy. The salsa was light and lime while the cabbage cole slaw was cut with shredded green apple. You wanted that intel, correct? I mean one needs to project to all parts of the theatre, no? Fine. I admit it. The reason for that all is as background to me now mentioning the one glass of milk stout I had which was made by Gateway Brewing, also of Trenton. It was good. I shall hunt it out again. I took no notes so that is about it. Sorry. Did I mention I was six hours into a none hour snowy drive? Worth a visit.








On the way up, I was more prepared. Or at least I aimed and when I found Northwinds Brewhouse, I had… a burger. But as it was a burger eaten on a Friday unaware of the one I order on the next Sunday. I shouldn’t have had two. But I should have had this one. I had a gratzer as well as a mild. I did make the mental note that it was really grodziskie. But then I noted that these were two of the three beers under 4%. And each passed a critical test, the favour of the one who doesn’t really like beer. I took away the 3.8% farmhouse ale, too. That’s the bottle shop’s chalk board up there. All extremely well made and all the beers entirely avoiding the trend of adjunct craft. No phony baloney fruit sauces in the saison, no silly “vanilla note from a vanilla note giving” bourbon barrel aging. Just that sort of well managed expert brewing that occurs when the basic ingredients meet an intelligent ambitious brewer. I like. Oh, and the chance of a fried egg on your chips. That helps, too.

What did the two places have in common. The spaces were clean, contemporary and well suited for the offerings. I particularly liked how Northwinds employed some clever sound dampening panels up in the rafters. Made what might otherwise have been a bit of an echo laden industrial space into a very strong candidate for my favourite Ontario beer house. Port Bistro? It was the wall of glass facing the river. Another faces the road. So tidy I might have felt awkward if that was an emotion I was capable of feeling.

Not Beer: Welcome To Seed Catalogue Reading Time


I know I mentioned I am sick of winter but did I mention I am sick of winter? I did? OK. Did I mention that I am already gearing up for spring planting. With any luck, three or four weeks from now I will take out the bag of soil I keep in the basement all winter, dump it on the ground and ram in a bunch of pea seeds. It’s my way of shaking a fist at the lingering frost. Peas like a few other common vegetables survive early frosts quite well. Not hard in these parts to get a few crops in that might start providing some salady bits before mid-May. The first peas are as good as the first tomatoes – except they come two months earlier.

It’s not the only bet I will have at play in the garden. I’ve left parsnips and leeks to overwinter. More than one pot of soup to be made of the sweetened roots. Saison Dupont’s true partner is fresh spring harvested parsnip. I pulled that batch up there out of our suburban front lawn a couple of years ago. Need fresh seed for the 2016 crop. There’s parsley and chives and maybe a few other herbs under the drifts waiting to send out fresh shoots, too. The other great spring crop is bok choi. I only learned this two growing seasons ago when I bought a pack on a whim. It grows like mad in the cool spring air and again in a second season in autumn. Ten bucks gets you 1,000 seeds if you buy the commercial grower size packs. That’s a lot of small shoots, a lot of dinners.

I am convinced one of the best ways to understand beer is to understand all the things you can eat and drink. Better than buying hydroponically fed, commercially produced veg growing food will give you an earthier experience as well as a small but direct appreciation of agriculture and some of the tensions plants face. Beer, after all, is a result of our relationship with edible plants.

Beets, Beet Greens, Fence Posts And Poppies


A busy Remembrance Day. Elementary school assembly hall at 9:15 am then right over to the main City of Kingston gathering. I say the main one as there is another which starts about 15 minutes earlier for the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery about 200 yards away, then one for the Burma Star after the main one, then one after that at the naval memorial. All are well attended. And well protected. A large police presence with other sorts of security moving around us. All well received. Except by that guy with the black back pack on the bike. Seriously. He went on his way after a good searching.

Lunched. Being off work while the kids are at school does wonders for the luncheon scene. Luncheon dates need a revival. Our first time at Carmelinda’s. No avacado to be seen but a solid and surprisingly good chicken sandwich. Thence to Home Depot for stuff to further fix the fence. 12 gauge metal plate to screw in across a week spot. $3.39. It must be 45 weeks since the ice storm of last December. I have the fence 78% fixed and will have to get through another winter in that admittedly enhanced state even if the rot is in. It actually feels fairly solid even if it’s all jury rigged. Cheap and jury rigged. Needs to be cheap seeing that the new in-the-wall oven is coming in two weeks. Why?

Oh me nerves. Convection oven fan motor fried right at the end of roasting the chicken for dinner. It made a funny noise and, when I looked in the oven, the fan at the back was glowing bright orange like the coals at the foot of the gates of hell. Race downstairs. Shout to the kids to get upstairs. Thinking of how to call the fire dept. Pull fuse for oven. No flames when I get back upstairs. Leave oven door open to let everything cool. Then find a really good bottle of port. Because the chicken was, in fact, done. Like the oven. And roasted chicken and roasted convection oven fan both good with good port.

That was Saturday night. Me on Facebook, Oh. Me. Nerves. So, a new oven is coming.

And then the beets. Maybe 15 pounds of them? A third of a bucket with a full bucket of greens. Chopped the greens, sauteed them in olive oil and garlic, added a little ham, a little mustard. Kids ate it with a 60% rate of enthusiasm. I’ve seen worse.

Book Tour Tales: Why Do I Love Upstate New York?


Back home. Been in the USA since Thursday and, unlike a lot of you who have to cross an ocean or get out a map, I was able to hit three grocery stores on the way home. See, I live 37 minutes from the international Thousand Islands Bridge, the most beautiful border crossing on the planet. So I bought laundry soap. But unlike most trips into the nearby Empire State, the family was not in tow. I don’t take off in another direction all that often. Which means I had a lot of time in the car to think about stuff. Or at least stuff other than where Mr. Bunny had gotten himself to. It’s always under the swim bag, by the way.

I had all the time in the world to think about what attending the SUNY Cobleskill event Grain to Glass meant. It certainly was the opposite of that stunned big craft celebrity brewer neediness. The room was full of people interested in becoming better brewers, better hop growers, better business people. It was also held on alumni weekend at the school, largely an agricultural college. There were chain saw demonstrations as illustrated past the corn stalk. There was free pulled pork from the hospitality school students, classrooms of diesel engine repair classes to check out and a whole bunch of other stuff. Beer was a topic among topics. It was a trade. It was placed in its proper place. A hipster free zone where no one gave a rat’s ass about the next PR twisty line coming out of the national Brewers Association board. Excellent.

Then, there was thinking about where I fit in to that proper place. People were really interested at that event and the others Craig and I attended about their region, their history and their beer. Beer was part of their culture. They were not there to learn about their niche hobby. There was no beer community. There was beer in the community. So, they wanted to know about traditional hops as opposed to new hybrid flavoured hops. Folk there – like at the other events – want to know about US ale brewing history, how there was two centuries of beery life before lager. It’s good to imagine how brewers in training might want to emulate those who came before them instead of some big craft guy who they see on YouTube or a TV ad. Are you picking up a theme?








One of the real treats of the trip was talking with a guy who has run a bar called The Lionheart for a quarter of a century who has found the way to sell three dollar pints of US craft beer while making a good living. A lot of it has to do with running a good bar with great staff but a lot of it also has to do with ignoring the next big thing that never turns out to be the next big thing. Taking care. Supporting local. Looking for value. Remembering the customer pays the bills not the suppliers. Including different sorts of clientele. Serving a mix of clients was also the obvious decision Browns of Troy which was running a charity event in another section of the brewery while we were holding forth in another space talking about the city’s brewing heritage. In a third section, the bar crowd were kicking back Brown’s great oatmeal stout or an IPA made on site as Jeter played his last game for the Yankees on the big screen. And as the Giants beat the Washington Whatchamacallits on another.











What’s it all mean? Why do I bother spending holiday time and more money on discount hotels than I will ever make on the book to visit again and again. I was telling someone how weird it is studying and writing about the history of a city I have no personal connection with. Yet when I am there – whether it is Troy or Cobleskill or Syracuse or up in the North Country – it feels like a place that is entirely normal. Not to mention beautiful. Yesterday afternoon I cut out of the SUNY event to take three hours to doddle my way over to Syracuse on a warm Saturday afternoon care of route 28 then along route 20 to route 92. Changing leaves. Pre-interstate main roads though small towns, along river valleys over rolling hills farmed for generations. Took me through watersheds that meet the ocean at Baltimore, New York and east of Montreal. Bought a hot dog at a Stewart’s.

Reading what I just wrote, if I am Stan I might think about how beer comes from this place and with the farmstead brewing and hop yards and cideries there is a lot to be said for that. But it is also a great place that you can learn about through its beer, its bars and its breweries. Beer isn’t a community. It is a window through which you can get to know about a community. That is why I am actually optimistic. You may not catch that from time to time but I do disagree with the idea posted by Boak and Bailey last week that beer is not as rich a seam as food, or music, or film. Beer is as rich but you have to know what beer isn’t to appreciate the point. Beer is not passive and it is not haute or elite. It is pervasive and innocuous. When we say beer is like bread we have to remember it is really like bread. An everyday thing. But we live and have lived in the everyday for hundreds and thousands of years in communities built around the brewery as much as the church and the town hall. That’s what people do as they do other stuff with their lives. Like these guys who you can see in the background of the picture above. People of the beer, I’d say.

That’s worth writing about.

What Korea Is Teaching China About Beer On TV

We live on a big planet. So big that that there is no reason to expect to understand why this is happening:

In “My Love From the Star,” a romantic comedy about a Korean actress and her extraterritorial boyfriend, the show’s main character (played by Korean A-lister Jun Ji-hyun) is crazy for chimek—“chi” is short for chicken and “mek” for “mekju,” the Korean word for beer. She specifically likes to partake in a meal of chimek to celebrate the year’s first snowfall. That on-the-screen tradition is playing out in real-life fried chicken joints across China as fans of the show get their chimek fix. “These days when my friends and I get together, we order fried chicken with beer,” said Ada He, who works for a real-estate company in Beijing and is a self-professed Korean drama lover.

We are further told that more “than 3.7 million posts related to the Chinese term for chimek have been published on Weibo over the past few weeks.” Korean fried chicken is fried twice but it all looks a lot like, you know, chicken. Some guy in Melbourne ate it with 4 litres of beer and left a review on the web this very day. The fad showed up in NYC in 2007. Apparently, one must get some fried chicken delivered to your picnic spot near the Han River.

Is the beer any good? Or is it only the goodness of the chicken that suits the beer? Not sure.

Maureen, Trains, Meat And Beer

4302I do this every time, don’t I. I start reading a book and then start writing the review before I am a third of the way in. Why can’t I be a good little reviewer – especially when Maureen Ogle was good enough to make sure by email that I would be interested in a review copy of her new book In Meat We Trust. Once I got into the second chapter this morning at the YMCA as six year olds played, I knew I had made the right call even thought the book was about the history of the US meat industry.

See, in the history of brewing in Ontario that Jordan and I are working on, the second half of the 1800s was the only period throughout the 400 years of beer in the colony then Province that was without a pre-existing myth set out for us. You have your explorers and you have your New France. After 1783, you have your Loyalists, then pioneers and the expansion of settlement. Then in the early 1900s you have temperance, then prohibition followed by industrial macro gak with craft following up in the rear. That’s it, right?

Nope. As it turns out the good stuff we know as modernity pretty much occurs between the US Civil War and WW1. Mass communication and transportation. The shift from local to national markets. The vision to view the private marketplace in an imperial way just as Britain and her competitors had as nations for centuries. It’s when things scaled up. From our research, Jordan and I have identified a similar thing. And just as the names Swift and Armour have continued in the US food trade due to decisions made in the 1870s and 1880s, brewing names from Ontario at the time like Labatt and Carling are still known for the same reason.

Maureen shows that the train lines stretching westward across America brought, first, live cattle then chilled carcasses and finally butchered cuts of meat from Chicago to the cities of the US eastern seaboard. The new transportation technology allowed for the best quality finished product to be shipped for the least cost. So, too, with beer. While no one in their right mind loads cart for the pioneer edge of settlement with barrels of beer when whiskey is available, train cars of beer barrels sent by brewers with vision can crush a lot of local old school brewer hundreds of miles away. It’s so… modern.

No wonder the peak number of breweries was in the 1880s and not just before prohibition. Incorporations and collusions were just the thing for late Victorian brewing magnates with facilities located on railway spurs to ensure the beer and money flowed. And as with big brewing so too big butchery in the last years of the 1900s. I will keep reading In Meat We Trust to find out what happens next. You should be, too.

Travel: A November Saturday Night In Albany

I finally figured out how to pronounce the name of the capital city of New York state. I knew “Ahhhlbany” was wrong but could not figure out “Awlbany” until I heard it was called “Smallbany” too. So it rhymes with small. There you go. We were there for an Albany Ale Project event at the Albany Institute of History and Art. It was a great event which I will likely write about over at the beer blog but wanted to note a few things for now about the travel aspects of the trip.





First, as illustrated, we had a great brunch at the Gateway Diner handy to the simply majestic Oliver’s Beverage. The place was big for a diner but the spaces were broken up so that you had a sense in each part of it that you were in a busy family diner. Service was fast and friendly. The coffee was good. I like having New York strip steak while in the Empire State. This was my first one with eggs. Poached. One must be careful these days.

The diner was not that far from where we were staying, the CrestHill Suites on outer Washington near the State Campus. We picked this up for 91 bucks on Hotwire. Clean. Generous room with a real kitchen that defied the use of nook. Armchair and sofa. Quite even if near the highway. We had room 312. We will book again. Best thing was the laundry basket in the bathroom. A $1.79 item that meant we did not have to leave damp used towels on the floor and, presumably, allowed the staff to clean up with a little more dignity than getting down on all fours to recover the last facecloth from under the sink. A simple smart thing that earned our respect.

Last, after the event three couples went for a Mexican dinner before heading for beers at the Lionheart Pub closer to downtown. The restaurant, El Mariachi, sits across the street from the Institute. Its one of those spots you go to in the States that reminds you that Canadians thing BBQ is a wiener on the hibachi. I won’t go into much detail except that supper for six was only a bit over $80 and that I had something that really rearranged my thoughts about Mexican food – chicken with pumpkin seed sauce. Fabulous. I am now going to make pumpkin seed sauce and pour it over everything. Generous portions. Great service and cozy small spaces.

So, as you can see, I have thought about something I want to write about in this space other than gardening. I mean I could write how the fence blew down on Friday but… really?

Vermont: The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, Burlington

Back from the road. There is still time ahead away from work but my banker and I agree that we would do well to pull back from the Atlantic shore and pull into the driveway. Not that I am grumbling. It was the attack on marine life that I had been hoping for. Good restaurants are a training ground for both manners and inquiry. Or at least that’s what I tell the bankers. I picked Farmhouse Tap & Grill for Sunday brunch, however, for one thing – line avoidance. See, it is a place that you have half a chance of getting a beer from Vermont’s celebrated brewery Hill Farmstead without driving off the road, up the hill and apparently waiting in line. Not a training ground for manners or inquiry. My own, that is.





First, this was brunch and it was a good one. By chance, we hit the place in a lull that turned into a blur of plates, eggs and coffee cups. And In that blur a mistake was made. A blessed mistake. We were served the wrong thing. When I pointed out that the Farmhouse sandwich was not mushroom and kale laced Eggs Benedict, we were told not to worry, to nibble on that and the proper order would be out soon. I scoffed the lot. I did offer to pay for both but there was none of that. So I upped the tip. Tipping well on the right occasion is a proper lesson for the young as well. Shun those who calculate closely after sharing a meal or a few pints. Shun them.

The beer from Hill Farmstead was named Edward. I thought we were past the inside baseball naming of beer but I guess not. Edward was the brewers’ grandfather. I will think of this as Gramp’s Pale Ale from herein out. It’s a bitter pale ale with weedy and black tea hop over, my companions agreed, apricot fruity malt. Not really the citrus and pine as advertised but that’s par for the course, right? Its creamy texture was cut by bite of the hopping. Minerally without being drying and dour. A fitting companion for drippy egg and kale. A lovely appetizing beer which cost $6.5 for a 12 oz snifter. Fine for one at a brunch but a bit steep for the session which its weight at just over 5% might invite.





An excellent place. The sort of place in the sort of city you can build a weekend trip around. I took photos of the drinks menu which I thought might be good fodder for discussion. I will post them in a bit when I figure out a handy way to display them. Quebec beers seem to earn a premium while some US craft were quite modest. It struck me as uneven. But the marketplace is a good educator in relative value. Or so I told the kids. School is coming up, I said. Back to math class.