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travel: shamelessly in love with austin.

on my last vacation i discovered something.
i discovered that austin, texas is perhaps one of the greatest places i’ve ever visited.
and while oodles of people told me “you’ll love austin…”, i was still surprised that not only did i love austin, but i LOVED austin.
in fact, one drunken evening, i called my husband and told him “fuck vegas, all our vacations are to austin from now on!”

this city.
it’s the fucking best.
its pure rock and roll, the nicest people and the best food.
if it was in canada, i’d have moved there already.

so… the original draw to austin wasn’t the city itself, it was this festival.

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and this was incredible.  it was amazingly run, clean, efficient… just surpassed all expectations.
i’ve been to a lot of large scale events and this was hands down the best run.
i can not say enough good things about the management of ACL festival.

their food options were out of control… some of austin’s best restaurants and food trucks representing.  none with a lineup longer than 10 minutes even in the peak of dinner rush.

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the beer hall… and it’s important to note that this is a beer HALL, not a beer GARDEN.
because in the great land of america, you get to be a big kid and you can take your beer wherever you damn well please.
and they sold 20 different craft & local beers throughout the festival.
the main beer hall was over 20,000 square feet, again, with no line longer than 10 minutes even in the heat of the day.

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besides the festival, we did some shopping and eating at south congress… which was very cool and we spent a good couple of hours and some decent money in the little funky shops…

we also did the requisite tourist activity and visited the gorgeous capital building…

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and on our food tour we hit some really cool places and noticed that austin loves its infused booze.
and bar worth its salt was infusing their own liquor and some of the brews were wild.
some spicy, some insane and others complete genius…

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the craziest one we tried was the franklin’s brisket infused bourbon.  it was salty, beefy and smoky.  truly one of the most inspired and unique tastes i’ve encountered.

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but this… this is what i came for.
my beloved silversun pickups played on saturday and fucking owned it.
i had a spot right up front and took a million pictures…
the played three of my all time favourites.
they played 10 songs total, which i can’t complain about…
and they declared it to be their last performance until the new album comes out next year.
it was fucking worth every penny i spent.  i’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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in fact…
i already know i’ll be back next year.
thanks for the super awesome fun times austin!

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drinks: summer of fruit beers

despite summer’s lackluster performance this year… i declared summer of 2012 the summer of fruit beers.
previously i mentioned this in my canada cup of beer post
but i’ve since done a little more homework.  you know… in case i wasn’t sure.

definitely a reigning champ of fruit beer awesomeness is the granville island raspberry.

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i mean… it’s kinda obvious.
granville island makes a damn fine beer on any day of the week, but you throw some raspberries up in there and you have a winner.
it’s a great “intro to fruit beers” in that its the familiar distinct flavour of granville island that we all know and love, but with a nice raspberry edge.  so it’s not reinventing the wheel… it’s just greasing it up with something extra.

there’s a couple raspberry offerings this year… and phillips made a solid contribution to the genre.

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disclaimer: i am a total whore for phillips beer.  i LOVE their stuff.  with the exception of their mad hopps creations, i am pretty much down with everything they’ve ever touched.
their blueberry pail ale is one of my all time favourites.  but alas, i did not get one this year… so i had to settle for the raspberry wheat.
its yummy.  and very berry.
while the GI rasp is more “raspberry flavoured”, this one is like drinking mashed up berries.
its a very authentic berry flavour.

this year’s “fruit beer game changer” is totally the parallel 49 seedspitter watermelon wit.
never has a single beer divided a friendship circle so sharply.

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you want to talk a about a LOVE it or HATE it beer?
this is it.

i, am absolutely on board 100% on the love wagon.  the capital LOVE wagon.
as is my husband, moonbeam and loads of our other friends.
some, however, think this is the most foul thing they’ve ever tasted.

i have had clerks at the liquor store try to talk me out of buying it.
my brother told me he took one sip of the one i left him and dumped the rest.

there is no middle ground with the watermelon beer.

for me, i could happily drink this one non stop all summer… and i pretty much have for the last month.
i have a few 6-packs squirreled away because i’ve heard they’re about done for the season.
there’s 4 in my fridge.
i’m thinking of opening one right now, lol.

i. love. this. beer.
but i understand how others can hate.
it’s a strong, no holds barred watermelon assault that rides a mellow very drinkable wheat beer.
its different, its refreshing and i just flat out like the way it tastes.

the last one i want to mention on my fruit roundup is the whistler pineapple express wheat ale.

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i’ve really come around to love whistler’s beers.
or maybe their beers are just getting better.
either way, i like what they’re into right now.

their other fruit offering, the grapefruit beer is in high rotation in our house.  my husband is a huge fan.
and this pineapple one was good… but didn’t make me forget the grapefruit.
i liked that it was a very subtle pineapple flavour.  not too aggressive at all.
good patio change-up beer.

lastly… this is about as far from fruit as one can get… but i realize i never featured it on the blog and it definitely warrants a mention.
if for no other reason than for sheer WTF-ness.

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ya, thats right… a beer based on a maple bacon doughnut.
and not just any one… the famous voodoo doughnuts maple bacon doughnut that was years ahead of the trend.

i’m not sure what to entirely say about this beer except that it legitimately tasted like a bacon maple doughnut.
like smoky bacon and real maple syrup and yeasty doughnut.
it was… weird.
one of those flavours where you sipped, stopped, looked at it and said, that was weird.
crazy times.
not a beer you’d drink all night… but one i was glad i can say i’d at least tried.

drinks: canada cup of beer 2012

ah summer saturday.
the perfect day for some outdoor beer drinking.
and what better place to partake in said outdoor beer drinking than at an event called the canada cup of beer?

as a beer hound, i enjoy a solid beer festival.
but honestly, i actually wasn’t going to attend this one this year.
i’ve been to the canada cup of beer before and while i had always found it to be fun times, the locations always put me off.
they always seemed to be in pretty unfriendly transit locations like UBC.
this year was at swangard, which was a little better – walking distance from patterson station… but still, not ideal.
no one lives in burnaby.  all my friends are either downtown or coquitlam.  so its one of those “everyone has to travel to get there” locations.

but, our minds changed when both myself and moonbeam won tickets from the shore 104 radio station.
and then we came upon some other ticket comps as well.
so all in, we had tickets for all our friends and some to spare.  and how can you say no to that?

so we assembled a mighty team and headed out on probably the most picture perfect day weather-wise that we’ve had this summer to drink a lot of beer out of tiny cups.

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the event itself is pretty well run, but really suffers from low attendance.
which is good news for patrons, because line ups at the booths are short or non existent… but i can’t imagine it does much for the sustainability of the event itself.

in all, i knew 22 people that attended.  and none of them paid for their tickets, as they came from some sort of media related comps.  but i think with an event like this, for a lot of the breweries, they’re not necessarily looking to make money per-say, its more a marketing opportunity to get their product out to their exact target demo.

in terms of marketing, this sort of event is a must-do for any craft brewer.
right now the market is absolutely flooded with craft breweries.  you can stand in the beer section for ages trying to decide, but at the end of the day, because most are big UNKNOWNS, they usually get passed over in favour for a more reliable option.
with the disappearance of single beer sales at bc liquor stores, most people are pretty unwilling to take a chance on a whole 6 pack if they know nothing about the brewery.  so sampling is really the best way to get your product out.

i would say this holds true 10-fold for fruit beers.
the fruit beer is so hot for this summer from the bc breweries.
without a doubt, this is the beer trend of 2012 summer.
howe sound’s 4-way fruit ale, granville island’s raspberry, dead frog’s mandarin, phillips’ blueberry, tin whistle’s peach, fernie’s huckleberry… and the list goes on.

but the thing is… fruit beers are either great or they’re fucking terrible.
and while you may get me to take a chance on a single big bottle of beer… its unlikely i’m going to buy a whole 6 pack of one i’ve never tried.
case in point; dead frog’s mandarin beer.  dead frog is hit or miss for me.  i’ve enjoyed some of their products and been really disappointed with others.  so while i was intrigued, i wasn’t willing to make a $13 gamble on it.
but on saturday, i tried it for free, liked it, and would probably buy a 6-pack of it now.

another example comes from unibroue.  i have had some really bad experiences with their beers.  i find them totally offensive to my palate and when people leave them at my house, they go straight down the sink.
about a month ago, i started to soften my stance, based on my friend’s strong endorsement of their Blanche de Chambly.
i tried it in a bar (again – didn’t have to commit to the 6-pack) and actually quite enjoyed it.
but the rest of their product line is still getting the stink eye from me.
on saturday, i decided to try their Éphémère Apple.  (see – fruit beers – told you!) and found it to be quite a delight.
so purely through the powers of sampling, i was sold back on a product i’d vehemently avoided and often trash talked.

the world of sampling also is a business maker for the up and coming breweries.
all of us agreed that the favourite beers of the day came courtesy of Parallel 49 brewery.
a company that not a single one of us had ever heard of before.  and we all left with business cards and promises to visit and drink much of their product.

their fruit offering is the seed spitter watermelon ale.  and i can admit, it left our group divided.
myself and the other ladies absolutely loved it.  the men were about 60/40 on it.  some really liked it and others thought it was gross.

their booth was also by far the most popular at the festival.  their secret; a great product, friendly staff and not charging.
they freely admitted they didn’t care about getting tokens for the beer, they just wanted people to try it.
and i don’t think there was a single person in attendance that didn’t try at least one of their beers.
this, is a marketing success, so kudos to them.

all in all, the day was pretty solid.
great weather & great people.  no lines, pretty much free beer… and real washrooms – no porta potties!
the only real downer on the organization was that you couldn’t smoke inside and they didn’t allow ins and outs.  so all along the outskirts, people were forced to power smoke in hopes of finishing before security came by.  which is just silly.  i don’t know why they wouldn’t have just made a little fenced smoking pen or allowed the smokers to leave and come back.  so stupid.
its the same as venues not allowing in and outs for concerts.  all you’ve done is pushed the smokers into the bathrooms.  which is kinda gross, as anyone that frequents the commodore ballroom knows.
because i can tell you that at an outdoor beer festival, people are going to smoke whether you allow them to or not.

anyways… fun times were had by all, i discovered some rad new beers and i got to work on my tan.
so i give the canada cup of beer a hells yes!

food: chicken & fennel stew

i’m getting great mileage out of the primal blueprint cookbook.
i must say, their recipes are really good.

when i initially bought it and flipped through, this chicken & fennel stew jumped out at me.
it’s not that different from dishes we usually make… chicken thigh in some sort of vegetable heavy sauce is a pretty normal meal for my husband & me, so this was definitely nothing out of our comfort zone…
nope, it was just pure comfort food.  (see what i did there?  i know, mad writing skills)

anyways, as usual… this recipe met all my criteria for making it.
ingredients i liked, pretty healthy… and stuff that i had on hand.  mostly.
it was also filled with green loveliness.

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so here’s the ingredients:

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, chopped (i used 1/2 a large)
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed (called for 2, but i like garlic)
  • 1 tsp fennel seed, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • 2 cups beer or chicken broth (i used beer – harp)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or heavy cream (i used coconut milk)
  • 2 cups kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley chopped

additions – i added some chili flake and a pinch of salt, since i used beer instead of chicken stock.  and black pepper.  also i had a leek end, so i threw that in too with the vegetables.

first off, brown the chicken thighs on both sides and remove from pan.

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then saute the fennel, onion & mushrooms in the chicken fat.  add a little oil if needed (i use coconut oil).
when they’re getting soft, add beer to pan and bring to a boil.
add saffron and spices.

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add the chicken thighs back into the pan, put the lid on and left cook for 25 minutes or so.
when the chicken is cooked through, remove from pan.
at this point, i put mine on a rack in the oven for a few minutes to crisp the skin back up.
this totally optional but lets face it, no one likes soggy skin.

remove the pan from the heat.
stir in kale, parsley and coconut milk or cream.

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and serve…

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once again, can i mention how much i love my ipad for cooking?
the cover that doubles as a stand is the best idea ever.

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beer: winter ale (love letters to granville island)

truth be told, i’m not much of a winter girl.
i’m a sun lover and i hate being cold… and in a lot of places winter = sun, but not in vancouver… it usually means grey weather.  now, grey weather i can dig when it’s not freezing, but combine the two and i’m fucking out.
which is why i’m spending 15 nights in hawaii in december.  i like to call it “the great winter escape!”

one of the things that i really do love about winter is the seasonal return of winter ales.
in particular, this one:

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granville island’s lions winter ale is the first one i had ever tried and still remains my absolute favourite.

now, if i may back up… i have a long and healthy relationship with granville island beers.  i have been drinking them faithfully and at times exclusively for about 10 years now.  they have never done me wrong.
and my personal palate leans me towards full flavoured beers on the darker scale, and GI definitely had my back there.

i first fell in love with their pale ale.  it was rich and not hoppy like a lot of pale ales and oh-so easy to drink.  believe me, i tried to stop (no i didn’t) but it’s just too tasty to resist. and it was local & independent (at the time), so wins all around.

then they wowed me further when they introduced their kitsalano maple cream ale.  oh the maple cream… i honestly do not have the capacity to count the number of bottles of this beer that i drank over a solid 5 year period.  this was my absolute go-to beer.  rain or shine, this one went with everything.  and i know, because i tried to pair it with everything.  and it all worked.
i would say that this beer was a signature item in my fridge.  i always, and i mean ALWAYS had at least a 6 pack on hand… usually more. one time i had a keg of it on my balcony, lol.

now, around this time, the robson hefeweizen came out for the summer.  and it was a delight.  i remember when my work teamed up with GI to promote it and i spent an entire summer drinking this for free at various bars with rock stars… ah, good times.

and my beer soaked memory fails me, but i believe it was the same year that the hef was introduced, the winter came out in the fall.  and wow.  if i thought i had swooned before, it was nothing to my mad lust for this beer.
and at first, it was hard to find… certain liquor stores would carry it and when i’d see it, i’d buy all of it.  no jokes, like 6 or more 6-packs at a time.  i was obsessed.  when i found out it was to be a seasonal release, i started hording.
then bars started to carry it.  the first place i recall was the cambie… and they served up super cheap ($8 was it?)  pitchers of it on mondays.  -as a sidebar, drinking draft at the cambie is a terrible idea, but that’s a whole other blog-

there was something about the vanilla symphony in my mouth hole that made my taste buds sing.  it was like they had taken my favourite beer -the maple cream- and turned up the volume on it.  it was darker, heavier, more flavourful, but still had the qualities that made me fall in love with the maple in the first place.

now this beer… well, to me, it pairs perfectly with winter nights… hockey games, fireplaces, couch forts, movies… you know… all those things that you want to do with your winter.  stay indoors.
but i’ve also roadtrip’d this beer and found that it also pairs well with playing in the snow and outdoor ice rinks.  and hot tubs in whistler. in short, it’s the booze soundtrack to cold weather.

winter beers are pretty common nowadays… most of the indie breweries make one, and even some of the larger breweries… and i’ve tried a number that i’ve enjoyed, but none that i love like the granville island lions winter ale.
it’s like it’s set the gold standard for my tastebuds and everything else is just a weak imposter in my mouth.

the winter showed up a few weeks ago in liquor stores and my fridge is fully stocked.  in fact, i’ve already gone through 4 6-packs of it.  *note – they now sell it in cans – don’t do it. it’s best out of the bottle, no glass required*
and last weekend we had a guest over in the form of captain charles and i gave him his very first GI winter ale.
he opened it, smelled it, looked up at me with amazement and said “WOW, this smells incredible” and took his first sip and just smiled.  and that’s how you know a beer is good.

…and now i’m going to drink one, because it’s my day off dammit and it’s all i can think of…

pumpkin beer tasting

hey.  do you know what’s *awesome*?

PUMPKIN BEER!

when done correctly.
a disappointing pumpkin beer can be a downright disgusting experience.
so, in order to save you from the aches & pains of sub-par beers, moonbeam and i took one for the team and tried all the pumpkin beers that we could get our hands on.  (and by *we*, i mean her. because i’m more of an ideas drinking girl)

so, here was our final collection on friday night…

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beautiful, isn’t it?

now, it came to our attention later that those whores at phillips also make a pumpkin beer, but we could not find it.  and since pretty much everything phillips brews is like unicorn cum in your mouth (that’s good, i think), i can only imagine it’s a pretty magical experience.

sorry.  back to business.

we decided to start with the st ambroise – the great pumpkin ale.  it was… pretty freaking great.  nice amount of spice to it and a decently strong pumpkin flavour.  this beer doesn’t fare so well on beer advocate, but we quite liked it.  and just to be sure, we drank 2 bottles.  i enjoyed that it was a little more cinnamon & ginger and a little less clove.  the clove thing is so hit or miss with pumpkin beers.  too much and it’s just gross, but you have to have it in there.

next up was the granville island – pumpkin beer.  no clever witty names, just a straight up beer.  now, i am a huge fan of GI, but this one was a bit of a disappointment.  the pumpkin flavours were weak at best to me, in fact, if you gave me this beer blindfolded and asked me to describe it, i definitely would not use the word pumpkin.  but it was a tasty little beer and i enjoyed it overall… but not pumpkiny.  i got earthy, a little spice… and… GI beer.  not so much on the pumpkin.

number 3 was fernie brewery – pumpkin head brown ale.   tasty, definitely… and i love a brown ale, so i was excited about this.  it was a delight, but again, not heavy on the pumpkin taste.  it did have a nice mouth feel and went down really quickly. i would buy it again.

last but not least was the howe sound – pumpkineater.  the thing i like most about this beer?  the size.  and the swing top bottle.  because sometimes you don’t drink it all at once.  or so i’ve heard… weird, i know.  anyways, this beer was also on the darker side, which again, works for me.  it’s also billed as a “strong beer” so it’s around the 8% alcohol mark.  we found this one to have a nice spice & pumpkin flavour and for a strong beer, it was nice and smooth.

at this point the “notes” kind of start to slide… it’s hard to remember what the first beer tasted like… but we’re pretty sure we liked it best.  so we had to drink the last 2 bottles of it to be sure.
and we were.  the st ambroise won for us.