Thursday, January 30, 2014

Black Rook Bakehouse

There are a few consumables that I am always on the lookout for: new craft beer, awesome sandwich shops, cinnamon buns, diverse 5¢ candy collections, and worthwhile pies. While the concept of pie is simple - filling inside of a pastry shell - there are many factors that can make or break one of these universally-popular baked goods. There are runny fillings, there are cheap fillings, and there are bland fillings. And there are lardy crusts, there are dry crusts, and there are tough crusts. It is very difficult to find a pie with the perfect filling, regardless of whether we are talking savory or sweet, and a rich yet delicate crust. 

Black Rook's Bumble-Rhubarb
Black Rook is pretty close to making a perfect pie. A generous co-worker purchased a whole pie for my going away on one of my last days of work and everyone in my department was thoroughly impressed. I have tried Savary Island Pie in West Vancouver, and I live near Aphrodite's on 4th, but both of these touted pie producers are overpriced and only just above average. Representing everything that Black Rook creates, this pie had a rustic crust that was supple and looked as though it even contained some whole wheat. This pie was custom and contained rhubarb, raspberries, and blackberries. The filling was dense and didn't budge once cut into. It was also a perfect balance of berry-sweet and rhubarb-tart.

I have yet to try the range of items at Black Rook, but this one pie experience ensured that I will be a repeat patron. Thanks Rory! 

Keywords: "Best Vancouver Pies", "Black Rook Bakehouse", "Alex Dawkins"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chai Beer Bungle

It is no secret that beer has reigned the beverage scene here on the West Coast for the past four or five years. Coffee was all the rage during the 1990s, fueled by the ubiquity of Starbucks and the promotion of single origin roasts. Residents of the Pacific Northwest went gaga for superfruits around the turn of the century, with pomegranate and blueberry juice hitting the shelves. And the 2000s saw the rise of an increasingly lavish trend in mixology develop. The second decade of the twenty-first century has been all about wobbly pop, and the countless ways in which this pop can make one wobbly.

I am the first person to become inappropriately excited over new beers, and I have a particular fondness for seasonal beers. I like pretty much every pumpkin beer I try, and I am also partial to ginger and unusual saisons. But every year these seasonal beers just keep getting more and more outrageous. This year, for the first time, I started dismissing many beers for being too interesting, and criticizing breweries for alienating their fans with over-the-top concoctions. New Belgium's Coconut Curry Hefeweizen was a spicy failure, and Wynkoop Brewing's Rocky Mountain Oyster Ale just shouldn't have been made.

Unnecessary Testicle Beer
While chai-flavoured beer is more understandable than curry or testicle, it still put me on the defensive. I really do like chai tea though, and we all know I love beer, so I wanted to try (and like) both Big Rock's Life of Chai and Whistler's Chai-Maple Ale. Neither of these were "bad" but they definitely didn't work. The Life of Chai was a dark copper colour and was essentially an amber ale with a bouquet and subtle finish of cardamom and rose. It was a fairly light ale though, and was also highly carbonated, which helped with drinkability. The Chai-Maple Ale was a dark oxidized bronze colour with an unpleasantly sweet aroma. It also tasted more like chai than the Big Rock ale, which was perhaps due to filtering the beer through tea after fermentation rather than adding ingredients to the boil, which is the approach Big Rock took. In both cases, I found the initial few sips interesting and then wanted to move on. This seems to be the case with many seasonal and experimental beers. In my opinion, the consumer should be able to drink a pint of most any beer (yes, including barley wines), but I didn't want to do this with either of these tea-based brews...and I definitely don't want to do it with a beer made from bull balls.

Spicy, Interesting, and Undrinkable

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins", "Life of Chai", "Cheakamus Chai-Maple", "Chai beers"

Monday, January 13, 2014

Glenora Distillery on Cape Breton

I really want to like this whisky. I lived in Scotland for two years, I really love malt whisky, I am proud of my Scottish-Canadian roots, and the concept of an authentic single malt distillery in Canada is truly exciting. But like whole roasted barley in the grist mill, my expectations were crushed due to poor customer service and a below average product.

I visited Nova Scotia this past summer to meet my girlfriend's family and to enjoy my first tryst with bawdy Maritime culture. I loved Nova Scotia. In fact, the more time that passes the more fondly I look back at those two and a half weeks. We essentially drove around the entire province: visiting Lunenburg on the South Shore, then up to Cumberland to see Advocate Harbour and Cape Chignecto, then through the apple-filled Annapolis Valley for a stay in Bear River (the Venice of Nova Scotia), and then east to Cape Breton. Cape Breton was a highlight because of its insular character, Acadian quirkiness, outstanding hiking, and gastronomical attractions. Cape Breton has a large number of farms, great access to seafood, and a surprising number of boutique liquor producers. We stumbled upon an emerging craft brewery in the middle of nowhere (just outside of an intersection known as Nyanza) called Big Spruce, and the celebrated Nova Scotia winery Jost is known to use grapes from Cape Breton on a regular basis. Another aqueous attraction on this little island is Glenora Distillery.

Established in 1989 and perhaps best known for its court case with the Scottish Whisky Association, rather than for its scotch, Glenora is one of the few distilleries in North America that is producing a single malt whisky; that is, a whisky that is made from 100% barley from a single distillery. We took a tour of the distillery, which was very short and restricted for $7 per head, and then checked out the gift shop which was run by a brusque middle-aged termagant. Glenora basically makes two products: Glen Breton Rare 10-Year Single Malt and Glen Breton Rare Ice. The Ice is very similar to the regular 10-year except for the fact that it is aged in Jost ice wine barrels. We tried both while at the distillery and found the standard Breton Rare to be unconcentrated, harsh, and bland. The alcohol was very evident as well, and the use of absolutely zero peat did nothing to improve this whisky's lacklustre character. The Ice was better, however. One of my favourite single malts in the world is Edradour's Port Barrel whisky and the Breton Ice has a similar multi-layered profile and honeyed finish.

I am glad that I have a bottle of North America's top selling single malt whisky in my liquor cabinet. It is an okay dram, and I enjoy buying consumables from the source, but Glenora needs to do a lot of work before it can compete with any of the operations in Scotland.

Keywords: "Edradour Port Finish", "Jost Ice Wine", "Alex Dawkins"