Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chill Filtering: The Circumcising of Scotch

I apologize for the provocative title of this blog entry, but I needed this heading to reflect how outrageous the chill-filtering of single malt scotch whisky is. Chill-filtering is a process used during the production of spirits that removes any natural oils and proteins in the liquor, thus preventing the drink from becoming cloudy when cold liquids or ice are added. This superficial process has been used for decades, beginning with the mass export of single malt whisky to North America. It is a cosmetic and unnecessary process that is becoming less and less popular as consumers smarten up and demand whisky from the cask.

This sucky process is quick and simple. It involves lowering the temperature of aged single malt to zero degrees and then straining it through a series of extremely fine metal mesh filters. Everything but the pure alcohol hardens slightly and can be removed by the filters.

In addition to removing vital oils and flavours, this irritating and deceitful process also extracts colour. Most people do not realize that the vast majority of whiskies (not just single malts) are coloured with caramel dye E150a after production and filtration is complete.   

There are several unchill-filtered single malts that BC Liquor Stores carry regularly:

Arran (Non-Islay Island) - 10 Year
With a light body and short, citrussy finish, this whisky provides a drinkable dram that would be suitable as an aperitif. It is also one of the more affordable unchill-filtered single malts at $70.00CAD.

Macallan Cask Strength (Speyside) - 10 Year
Cask strength whiskies are not for the novice scotch drinker. After distilling the wash (beer) in those classic copper stills, the new-make spirit (at an alcohol content of between 60-70%) is pumped into Oak bourbon casks to mature. During maturation, the spirits take on characteristics from the casks, and also evaporate by about 2% per annum. As you can imagine, the alcohol that emerges from these barrels after 8-10 years of aging is potent; therefore, pure spring water is usually added to the whisky prior to bottling. Some distilleries, however, bottle their product straight from the cask, so hardcore enthusiasts can sample their product in an unadulterated, unchill-filtered fashion. At 58% alcohol, this 10-year Macallan often requires a dribble of water before it is consumed. This estery, spicy firecracker of a scotch is priced at $95.00CAD.

Springbank Longrow (Campbeltown) - 10 Year    
I am actually impressed that BC Liquor Control is carrying this scotch because Campbeltown whiskies are rare to begin with. This is not only a Campbeltown whisky made by one of the last hand-malting distilleries in Scotland, it is also one of the most authentic tasting single malts being produced anywhere, due to its pure-peat smoking process, lack of filtration, and small batch production. Again, this is not a dram for the faint of heart, but it is one of the most unique and manly scotches available in BC. It will make you want to start smoking a pipe, and it is priced at $90.00CAD.

* Keywords: Vancouver Scotch, "Alexander Dawkins Vancouver", Chill-Filtering 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vancouver Craft Beer Week - 2010

It is a shame that I am writing a blurb about one of the city's coolest new festivals/events as it is ending. This year marks the first annual Vancouver Craft Beer Week, which runs from May 10-16. It will likely run in early May in years to come, and it will never catch me off-guard again!

I went to the Women and Beer night at the Refinery on Granville and was very excited to try two local craft beers (of six) I had never even heard of, let alone tried. As anyone who reads my blog will know, I am passionate about local business and local products, so I was extremely hoppy to discover Saltspring Island Ales and Cannery Brewing from Penticton. The other breweries included in this event were R & B Brewing, Turning Point, Howe Sound, and Crannog Ales. Female brewmeisters from each of the six breweries were in attendance and did a great job of introducing their products. I always like being able to place a person or face with a company or contextualizes the consumer experience and helps solidify the fact that these breweries are a part of British Columbia culture. To make this heady and effervescent evening even more enjoyable, the Refinery's Mike Carter created nibbles to accompany each beer that was offered during the night.

Highlights for me consisted of Howe Sound's Three Beavers Imperial Ale (appropriate name, considering the evening's theme!) and Saltspring Island's Heather Lager. The Howe Sound Ale was robust and intimidating at 7.2%, but it was estery, smooth, and malty. The Heather Lager reminded me of several cask beers I had while studying in Scotland, where heather is a fairly common ingredient in small-batch brewing. It was light, crisp, and pleasantly honeyed. I was upset to hear that this beer is not yet available in bottle...only draught, at a select number of BC bars and restaurants.

A big yawp-out to Yelp Vancouver for running the contest which enabled me to attend this event. I will be more organized next year and actually purchase tickets to some of these outstanding dinners. It's about time oat soda was on equal standing with wine. The creation, fermentation, and aging of silly seltzer is just as complex as the production of vino.    

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vancouver's. Best. Deli.

I have been to New York twice, and frequenting the legion the Jewish and Italian delis in the Big Apple is one of my favourite things to do. Other cities that I have visited, including Montreal and (surprisingly) LA, also contain an impressive spattering of shops selling charcuterie, coffee, tea,  artisan breads, sumptuous salads, sandwiches and snacks which provide the public with a cosmopolitan alternative to sit-down restaurants and grocery stores. The delicatessen concept appears to have befuddled Vancouver entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, as the city seriously lacks this essential dining establishment.

Vancouver didn't always used to be this way. Prior to the city's conventional, "No Fun" persona that was inexplicably embraced in the early Nineties, Vancouver's small town feel, commercial diversity, and multicultural roots were amplified by the various Italian, Jewish, Greek and Asian delis...many of which were along West Broadway and 4th Avenue. While Starbucks, Blenz and Quiznos have replaced most of these independent, idiosyncratic eateries, a few do still exist, including Max's Bakery & Delicatessen on 15th and Oak.

I think that Max's (which also owns the stellar Stuart's Bakery on Granville Island) is the best deli in Vancouver. From BBQ'd ribs to crema-clad espresso to seasonal baked goods, Max's is a comfortable and casual deli with a huge array of fresh dishes and items. While I frequent Max's about once a fortnight in order to read my Library Studies texts (yes, Library Studies) over a 16oz Americano and a peach-raspberry tart (made with Okanagan peaches), I also adore their mini pumpkin pies, their caramel-apple cheesecake and their mille-feuille. As you can see, I am a sweet-tooth, but they also have dozens of savory dishes to choose from, including an invigorating broccoli salad, a hearty butter chicken and traditional cabbage rolls.

As if the outstanding food weren't enough, Max's also offers Wi-fi and outdoor seating. I urge everyone to seek out these types of places. Max's is the best, but there is also Ploger's German Deli at 1st and Cypress, and Parthenon Greek Deli at Broadway and Balaclava. It is important to support the small businesses of any city, and to punish those peddlers of corporate mediocrity, such as Starbucks and Blenz.

Keywords: "Best Vancouver Restaurants" , "Chinese Food Vancouver"     

Friday, May 7, 2010

Les Faux Bourgeois, Les Faux Service

It was my dad's 65th birthday last week and I wanted to plan a meal out with his friends. He and his posse get together on the first Friday of every month to drink, laugh, carouse and - of course - eat! In addition to planning a nice dinner out with the family, I thought it would be cool and memorable to plan a night out for the dudes - a Boys Night. With assistance from one of my dad's epicurean pals, we created a shortlist of restaurants that could accommodate our group of 12 and that we have both wanted to patronize. In the end, the winning restaurant was the highly-touted Les Faux Bourgeois, which I had been rejected by twice over the past year due to its popularity and small capacity. I really like Jules too, which is also owned by Stephan Gagnon.

I  want to give this restaurant a good review because I love the space, the food was well-prepared, and they *tried* to provide good customer service. To clarify, it will not be the food that I remember from this night, but rather the inflexible service. I believe you will sympathize with me, my fellow foodies, when you consider the following examples of mulish, uncompromising management.

When I originally looked at the menu online, the two dishes that caught my eye were the Cassoulet and, of course, the Duck Confit. To my surprise, I received a call from Les Faux two days before our reservation with a request that our party select one of the two prix fixe menus. I said that we wished to order a la carte, and then the maître d’ - en faire tout un fromage - rebuked my stated preference by explaining that groups over eight *must* order from a set menu. I described that the set menu would be problematic for our group due to allergies and inclinations toward the standard menu. Even with this appeal, the maître d’ (who I disappointedly discovered was Stephan, the owner) rejected us.

I was further disenchanted when we were at the restaurant and were informed that they had run out of a bourbon requested by the Birthday Boy, as well as the only dairy-free dessert on the menu. I know that I cannot condemn a restaurant for lacking Buffalo Trace or lemon tarts, but it was very disappointing considering the importance of the evening and the poor effort of the wait staff to make this let-down up to us.

Lastly, every other restaurant I have (ever) been to has provided groups of 10 or more - who are easily going to spend over $600 - with a freebie of some sort. Whether it be an aperitif, digestif, or dessert, most respectable restaurants offer a culinary bonus as a thank-you for accumulating such a massive bill.

From the set menu that was forced upon us, we consumed Lamb Bourguignon, Scallop Mornay, Saumon à la Poêle, Beef Tenderloin and a Tarte Flambée Alsacienne. As mentioned above, all of these dishes were flavourful and skillfully made, but the Confit at Jules was better.

To end on a positive note, you will be hard pressed to find a better French meal for the price in Vancouver. With most entrees in the $16-$20, we all agreed that the prices were more than reasonable.

* Keywords: Les Faux Bourgeois, Alex Dawkins, "French Restaurants Vancouver"