Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Michigan, for Easter!

Easter weekend, 2010. In the Great Lakes area, it'll go down in the books as a mostly sunny weekend, weather-wise. Spring seems to have made an early appearance in this part of North America, and the always-iffy prospect of traveling over a long weekend in early April ended up being no problem at all!

I made an early start on Good Friday, and was at the Ontario-Michigan border by 9:30am. By 10:15, I was starting my first Rail Trail walk of the season.

This is the Wadhams to Avoca Rail Trail, and it can be found just west of Port Huron, MI. It was a super walk on a day that topped 70 degrees F (perhaps 22 C). I was very happy to manage 7 miles of walking, although the blisters that were born that day are still visible! I'm hoping to do lots of healthy walking this year, and have mapped out a series of interesting trails to try.

This is the Gallup Park Trail in Ann Arbor. It took me two visits over Easter weekend to complete this one (lots of limping by this point!). This trail goes alongside an active Norfolk Southern line for part of its length, although I sadly missed being able to capture any trains for posterity.

A nice drive, a family visit, some pleasant walks, and! MICHIGAN beer!

Yes, it's something of a Golden Age for the beer industry in Michigan. And I was eager to find out a little about what our next-door neighbours have been up to. A good place to start my research was a visit to the fine folks at
Ratebeer, who have some very nice things to say about Michigan beer, what to try, and where to buy it. That led me to a very fine place indeed, Champane's Wine Cellars.

Yes, that's how it's spelled! Champane's is at 7007 Chicago Road in Warren, MI, just a bit north of Detroit. It proved to be my first-stop shop for a grand introduction to the beers of Michigan. I met up with the manager of the "Beer Department", Michael, who was quick to offer some advice as to what to choose. And there is a lot to choose from! After explaining that I was allowed to bring a total of 24 bottles back to Canada, we quickly went to work. I spotted a newly-arrived Hofbrau Maibock (yes, we get to drink the stuff even before the Muncheners do!), so a 6-pack of that was a MUST. That left eighteen bottles of beer for my wall.

Michael noted that as I was spending a few nights in the state, I really ought to pick up a couple of extras for consumption while in America. He brought out two singles from the fridge with the warning NOT to leave them on a shelf for any length of time. Keep them cool! I did just that, and here are the two in question.
Both are from Bell's, out of Comstock, Michigan, and I should note that most of the beers that Michael recommended came from either Bell's or Founders (from Grand Rapids).

This is Bell's Consecrator Doppelbock, a very dark red beer, smooth and exceptionally easy to drink. It's up there in alcohol content at 8%, but it didn't taste overly strong or bitter. Absolutely delicious!

The "Keep It Cool" Beer #2 was Bell's Lager of the Lakes (referring to the Great Lakes, of course!), a very light-coloured lager of 5% strength. This is one of those perfect backyard BBQ beers. Very pleasant...but I think that Consecrator with those dudes with the horns is our winner!

Well, it's time for a break from all this local brew sampling, so why not head off to Bay City for a Saturday evening? The place seemed mostly closed for the Easter weekend, but here's a find (thank you again, Ratebeer!) It's the Stein Haus at 1108 N. Water Street, and wow-we-wow! Look at all those steins hanging up there! And what's this? Hofbrau helles AND dunkel...ON TAP? Yum!
A friendly chat with patron Beth was a highlight of my visit, and she was quick to suggest I try another Bell's offering, Oberon. "It's like a Michigan summer afternoon", she smiled, and the label on the back of the bottle backed her up! It was also one of the beers that Michael at Champane Cellars chose for me (17 left to go!), and here's what an Oberon looks like. It's a 5.8% wheat ale, a very refreshing cloudy beer with perhaps a hint of orange, or is it just that nice bright label with the sunshine? Whether in a Bay City bar on a Saturday night, or back home on an April Friday night, it was very enjoyable. Even if (at the bar) they serve it with a slice of orange. Is that a sneeze I feel coming on? Ahhh....ahhhh. CORONA!

NEXT: "My Other Beer Is A Stout"!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Peterborough For Beer

Peterborough, Ontario. It's a Junior A Hockey powerhouse, a passionate supporter of its Lacrosse team, and the gateway to the Kawartha Lakes cottage region. I was surprised recently to learn that it's also becoming something of a beer hotspot, both for home-grown craft brewing and for imports. I had a chance to pay a couple of visits to Peterborough (approximately 130 kms. north-east of Toronto) in the past month, and I'm glad I went!

My first stop was 300 Charlotte St., the home of the Publican House Brewery. Not so flashy on the outside, but inside they were sampling and selling three tasty products. A stout and a "west coast style India Pale Ale" were available only in 64 oz. Growlers, or big glass jugs for the uninitiated.

I went home with several cans of a very pleasant House Ale, which I found to be quite robust for a 4.8% light beer. It would find a place of honour on my cottage deck this summer, and now all I need is the cottage and the deck! There's a patio next door to the actual brewery on Charlotte St, so perhaps that'll do once the weather warms up a bit.

Now it was time for the main event, a visit to the St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Bar at 129 Hunter St. West. What a nice building. What a great restaurant! WHAT A SUPER BAR!

It's hard to tell from the photo, but four out of the five draught taps are for Belgian beers, and the fifth is for Stiegl from Austria. This would be big news in Toronto, or any other Canadian city, but is really quite spectacular for Peterborough. The fridge in the background protects at least a dozen Belgian offerings that would be very unusual to find pretty much anywhere in this country.

I met up with my friends Rick and Cathy, and it's thanks to them that I even found out about this wonderful place! (By the way, you Yarning Fans out there may enjoy visiting Cathy's Project Fleece blog.) The food menu is as true to Belgium as the beer list - mussels, frites and stoemp all make an appearance. I opted for a Carbonnades Flamandes, a sandwich featuring a ribeye steak stewed in Leffe Brune beer, in a sourdough bread. One of the finest sandwiches I have ever tasted.

However, for us it was all about the beer, and here's a look at our round. Wow!
A nice Bavarian Weihenstephaner for Rick, a lovely Leffe Brune for me, and a cherry flavoured Mort Subite for Cathy. All served in their appropriate glasses. A Leffe Brune, on tap, in Peterborough! Yum. On that particular day, St. Veronus was offering, as their speciality draught, a Russian Imperial Stout from southwestern Ontario's Wellington brewery. Our server assured me that he was able to sample quite a lot of it!

I was able to sample one more Belgian beer that day, and I liked it so much that I came back two weeks later to try it again! It's a 9% from the Brasserie de l'Abbaye des Rocs, another Brune that seemed a tad more bitter than the Leffe version. Hey, I'm not supposed to even like dark beer much, so what's the deal here?

Here's my other treat from Visit #2, an 8% Gouden Carolus Ambrio. I've never even heard of this, yet there it sits in a fridge in Peterborough. Yum! I found it perhaps a bit more sour to the taste than the l'Abbaye, but it sure grows on you with each mouthful.

I'm told that St. Veronus regularly rotates their selection of Belgian brews; indeed, their "recently acquired" beer menu insert was quite different two weeks after Visit #1. This is all very impressive!

There is yet another Peterborough beer spot to try out, and it'll mean another visit from me, hopefully in the near future. It's the Olde Stone Brewery, just around the corner from St. Veronus, and it will be interesting to try their products and compare them to the Publican. Roll on, summer weather weekends!
NEXT: Meanderings in Michigan!