Taste Ontario

Sandwiched in between all these Project FiftyBrew excursions Nellie and I found ourselves on a wine mission last week: the Taste Ontario event at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was three hours in which to sample a few wines from more than 30 of Ontario’s producers.

By the time we arrived the crowd was at full throng, making my tasting experience somewhat more claustrophobic than I’m used to. Luckily there was food…piles and piles of food. We filled our plates with meats and veggies and sausages (mostly sausages), and didn’t even make it over to whatever risotto they had cooking, and whatever was making that lobster smell (lobster risotto??) as it was too crowded. Anyway, we were there to sip wine, not eat.

We’d already planned out what we were going to do (of course we did!): in the limited time we would ignore the wineries we knew and loved (Fielding, Hidden Bench, Tawse, Southbrook, Stratus) as well as the wineries who’ve just never impressed us (e.g., Jackson-Triggs, Colio, Angel’s Gate) and those which offend our snob sensibilities (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Weir). This was our chance to try something new. It was also a good chance to try some wines from Prince Edward County, which we’d not had much exposure to yet.

Our favourites on the night were:

  • Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2007 and Equuleus 2007
  • Creekside Estate Laura Red 2007
  • Konzelmann Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2008 and Reserve Pinot Grigio 2009
  • Megalomaniac Cabernet Franc 2007 (surprising, since I didn’t like anything I tried at the winery)
  • Reif Estate Gewürztraminer 2008
  • Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2008
  • Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 and South Clos Chardonnay 2008

Nellie also liked the Reif Estate Silver Meritage 2007, the Malivoire Musqué 2009 and the Grange Of Prince Edward Sparkling Brut 2007, but none were really my thing.

We ordered a bunch of those, and planned to buy a few more in the LCBO when they hit the shelves.

All in all, a pretty enjoyable event. We eventually ran out of a) wine to try, and b) patience the crowds, and decided to get a proper meal. We stopped at reds on the way home, pleaded with the sommelier to let us have the Norm Hardie County Pinot by the glass (no dice) and got some advice on a New Zealand side trip when we visit Australia next year.

Right, that’s done. Back to beer then.

30/50

Over the past few nights I’ve knocked off six (!) Project FiftyBrew entries. Volo has been, as expected, a goldmine of Canadian beer. Over two visits I had:

  • Dieu du Ciel Route des Epices
  • Scotch Irish Sgt Major IPA
  • Scotch Irish John By Imperial Stout
  • Dieu du Ciel Dernière Volonté
  • Central City Red Racer IPA
  • St. Ambroise 20th Anniversary Vintage Ale

Lots of interesting stuff in there. I don’t like IPAs that much, but I’m developing a taste for them, and especially liked the Sgt Major. The Route des Epices was as advertised (like there was cayenne in it) and the Dernière Volonté was pretty normal (but tasty) by comparison. The St. Ambroise Vintage Ale was, unfortunately, a barley wine and not to my liking. But I have a job to do, so I drank it down. Hopefully I’ll gain some kind of taste for them; I believe there are two or three more on the list.

Happily, I’ll be back at Volo this Monday. They have at least six more that I have to hit.

13 Assassins

On Sunday we saw our fifth and final TIFF film, 13 Assassins. I won’t say much about it other than that if you like Samurai movies, even a litle bit, you should go see it when it comes out. Seriously, people, it was directed by Takashi Miike and it ends with a 45-minute battle scene. What other incentive do you need?!?

A-

"Just kidding."

I didn’t survive this week at work so much as I climbed out of it. Pushing through this cold (again? seriously? dammit!) I suggested a pub near the Ryerson before our second-last TIFF film. Much to my surprise they had several Unibroue bottles behind the bar, including #9 on the Project FiftyBrew list: Don de Dieu! Kickass. It was very nice, by the way…tasted much smoother than a 9% beer should.

We had time to kill and full bellies, so we walked home, dropped our stuff and then walked back to the Ryerson. I was so wiped that I needed coffee; our barista at Starbucks mistook my ‘sticks of shame’ t-shirt for an indication that I actually speak Japanese and tried to converse with me. My blank stare pretty much answered that question for her. We strolled up to the Ryerson and the oh-so-familiar line-up spot: the concrete wall running along church, a tired movie-goer’s best friend. Oddly enough we were shown in to the theatre 35 minutes before the scheduled start time. That never happens.

Speaking of Japanese, many of the people in the audience spoke it. That’s because we were there to see Confessions (tiff | imdb), aka Kokuhaku, Japan’s submission for best foreign film Oscar. I think I like it more now than immediately after I watched it…it felt a little long at the time, but now I appreciate all the story threads it had to pull together. The filtered slo-mo was beautiful for a while, as was the droning soundtrack, but it wore a little thin in the second hour. Still, very good. It deserves a B, says I.

Tonight is all about relaxing. I could only get about 3 hours of coherent work in at the office today, and tonight — while Nellie is off doing girly things with other girlies — I plan to do nothing more strenuous than write this blog post to the following soundtrack:

  • Ida Maria . “Oh My God”
  • DevotchKa . “How It Ends”
  • Uncle Tupelo . “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down”
  • We Are Scientists . “Pittsburgh”
  • The Tallest Man On Earth . “Graceland”
  • FemBots . “Count Down Our Days”
  • Vampire Weekend . “Ottoman”
  • Rogue Wave . “Electro-Socket Blues”

Those last two were from the closing credits of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, playing in the other room, and about as highbrow as it’s gonna get around here tonight. Peace.

"I'm a lot stronger than you think I am."

I’ve been so busy all week I’ve not had a chance to write about TIFF films #2 and #3: Blame and Let Me In.

Blame (tiff | imdb) was a decent, uncomplicated little thriller from Western Australia, filled with pretty young actors in fancy clothes (for reasons explained as the film goes along). Thankfully never falling back on the crutch of a hidden twist, instead slowly revealing hints about who and how and why we are where we are. Unfortunately the ending just felt forced, which poisoned the whole thing. C+

Let Me In (tiff | imdb) was the North American remake of Let The Right One In (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which I admit sounded like a recipe for disaster. I saw the Swedish original last year and loved it, as did many other people, and we all assumed a North American remake would rob it of everything that made the story great: the sweetness of children mixed with the savagery of a desperately hungry vampire (not some sparkling moon-eyed twat), the atmosphere of the housing block, the feathery snow, the brilliant swimming pool scene. But then I read that it had been programmed at the festival by Colin Geddes, he of midnight madness. There’s no way he’d pick a shit remake of a film he must have loved as much as the rest of us. So we picked it. And we got it. And it was amazing. A scene-by-scene, nearly shot-for-shot remake, as true to the book (apparently) as the original Swedish film was. The biggest difference was that the violence was more brutal, more effect-laden; it didn’t hurt the film, it just made the schism between the sweet 12-year-old girl and the vicious monster seem all the more jarring, and interesting. It’s not just me who liked it, either; early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are running at 100%. Highly recommended. A

Corne du Diable / Noire de Chambly

I’m making a surprising amount of progress on Project FiftyBrew. Last night I met some colleagues in town from Chicago and took them to Volo. Both big beer fans, luckily for me, as that place is a FiftyBrew gold mine.

I started with a Noire de Chambly, #39 on the list. A nice light dark (if that makes any sense), if not quite the equal of their Blanche.

My second glass was a Dieu du Ciel Corne du Diable, #10 on the list. As I’ve said before, I’m not the biggest fan of IPAs, and this one was no different. Drinkable, but not something I’d order again.

Dieu du Ciel Aphrodesiaque / Mill Street Coffee Porter

Yesterday, on our way to TIFF10 film #2, we stopped in at Beerbistro. They had two Project FiftyBrew beers on their list: Dieu du Ciel Aphrodesiaque and Mill Street Coffee Porter.

The coffee porter was okay…what can I say? It tasted like coffee, and I don’t really like coffee. I was also very full from lunch and my previous beer. I should probably give it another go some other time, but…meh.

The Dieu du Ciel Aphrodesiaque, on the other hand, was fan-freaking-tastic. As in, one of the best stouts I’ve ever tried. It somehow tasted like chocolate AND vanilla simultaneously. It wasn’t heavy or chalky, it was just…tasty. This will not be the last time I drink this beer.

Trust

This film festival hasn’t felt like a film festival yet. I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t seen or heard or read anything about the start of TIFF10, and by the time we attended our first screening yesterday morning, all the excitement that comes with the first two nights of screenings had worn off. It felt to me like we were joining something late, rather than really being a part of it.

What did feel kind of nice was being back in the VISA Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre. It was our first ‘home’ at TIFF when we started attending, but lately it’s become more and more off-limits to simple movie-goers (and not celeb watchers) like us and the Ryerson has become the new core of our TIFF experience. Yesterday we were able to sneak in because the screening of Trust (tiff | imdb) took place at 11AM; the gala screening had taken place the night before. Even so, David Schwimmer showed up to introduce his second film, and at least gave us a preview of how difficult it would be.

I don’t want to give away much, but if you read the synopsis on either of those links or watch the trailer you’ll get the gist: that a 14-year girl is lured by a sexual predator online and…well, bad things happen. Schwimmer donates a lot of his time and money to a rape crisis centre in L.A., and heard the stories of victims and their families, and a lot of that showed up on the screen. The emotional responses of the girl (played disturbingly well by Liana Liberato) and her father (Clive Owen) seemed more believable to me than anything I’d expect to get from a Hollywood movie.

There was also a subplot: the ubiquitous sexualization of teens. Clive Owen plays an ad exec who did a big campaign, and threw a big party, for a barely-disguised American Apparel. Middle-aged executives talk about what they’d do to 19-year-old waitresses if they weren’t married. The mall is plastered with pictures, appearing barely in-frame, of girls in lingerie. Schwimmer nearly beats us over the head with this, but manages to keep it on-track.

I also can’t describe how important it was that the star really was a 14-year-old girl when this was shot. Again, this is probably not what would have happened had this been a typical Hollywood film. Typically a better-known actress in her early or mid-twenties would be cast, and the audience would never have felt that visceral reaction one has to a child being in danger. They would never have accepted that her emotional response would be naive and childlike. We would know she’s a young adult, and expect her to react accordingly. Tragically, in the end, this commitment to realism may be what keeps the film from a wide release, or even US distribution. As of this writing there’s no American distributor.

B-

St-Ambroise Pale Ale

Last night, after dinner at REDS, we popped over to Smokeless Joe for a beer. Or four. Happily I was able to knock off another Project FiftyBrew entry: McAuslan Brewing’s St-Ambroise Pale Ale. I was hoping to do more than that, but they were all out of Hockley Valley Dark, Mill Street Coffee Porter and Scotch Irish Sgt Major’s IPA.

No matter. Kaylea suggested a Traquair Jacobite Ale (which happens to be rated #10 among UK/Irish beers) and it was so good I had a second bottle. I circled back to Canada for my final drink, a Unibroue Fin du Monde. Which is on the list, but lord knows I’ve had it before.

Time to speed this up. I think brunch at Beerbistro is in order.

Project FiftyBrew

About a month ago Troy Burtch — author of the Great Canadian Beer Blog — reposted a speech by Steve Beauchesne, the co-founder of Beau’s Brewery entitled “What If Ontario Had A Beer Revolution?“.

What if Ontario had a beer revolution?

What do I mean by a beer revolution? Well revolutions usually involve overthrowing tyrants, and instituting a new form of governance, but my revolution is maybe a little less violent than that, although by no means is it less radical.

Right now in Ontario, 1 out of every 20 beers drank came from an independent, Ontario brewery. By beer revolution, I mean, what would happen if Ontarians chose to drink an Ontario-made independent beer 1 out of every 2 times they drank beer?

Mr. Beauchesne goes on to make an economic argument for Ontario craft beer which doesn’t actually work all that well, but no matter: there are benefits to supporting local — if not necessarily independently owned — brewers. Besides, no living human should be made to drink the likes of MolsonCoors CanadianLight or its ilk. I felt, after reading the transcript of his speech, that I should try to drink primarily local beers. But it was the summer, and it was boiling hot, and goddammit I love me some German weissbier.

Then, this past Thursday, Nellie and I ducked into Smokeless Joe on our way home from the TIFF box office. There we met the charming and gracious Kaylea from WineNotOntario who recommended the Dieu du Ciel foursome on feature. I was no stranger to DdC, having enjoyed their Rosée D’hibiscus and struggled through their Péché Mortel (seriously, man…it tasted like a peach fucking ashtray) but I wouldn’t have noticed them all tucked away down there on Joe’s chalkboard had she not pointed them out. So I tried. I liked. And I decided: I should do with beer what we’ve been trying to do with wine: drink Canadian whenever possible. Uh, this October trip to SanFran/Napa/Sonoma notwithstanding…vacations don’t count. Aaaaaaaaanyloophole, I needed a plan. It wouldn’t do to swear off all non-Canadian beer, that’s just too drastic. But I figured I should make an effort to at least try the best local stuff, especially those I might not normally try. Hence: Project FiftyBrew.

Here’s the project plan:

  1. Go to BeerAdvocate.com and download the list of what, according to their users, constitute the top 50 Canadian beers (DONE!);
  2. Mark off the ones I’ve already tried (DONE!);
  3. Vow to try the remaining 33 (subject to availability) over the next…oh, I don’t know. Whenever. No rush, right?

I’m looking forward to scouring the LCBO, Volo, Smokeless Joe, Beerbistro and C’est What for the unconquered bottles. I’m sure we’ll also plan a trip to Quebec ’cause, uh, they’re nearly all from there…Unibroue, Dieu du Ciel and McAuslan alone make  up more than half the list.

Also, by the time I finish these fifty I’m sure the list will have changed, but I look forward to trying the new entrants too. I may be coming at this from a somewhat different angle than Mr. Beauchesne, but I do hope one of his bottles of Beau’s climbs into the top tier.

Wish me luck.