Wednesday, 24 July 2013


An Ottawa brewery:  Beyond the Pale is a small brewery near the Parkdale market and is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to the public. I had first heard of the Beyond the Pale at the Morris Street block party in the Glebe in June. There, I tried "The Darkness" - an oatmeal stout with a hint of burnt sugar, dark chocolate and espresso flavours.  So I asked some friends who prefer beer over wine to join me for a visit to the brewery.  We were able to try a number of the brews (all with interesting names) and purchase others to try at home.

Pink Fuzz:  If you like a pithy citrus flavour this wheat beer is for you. Beyond the Pale uses hops and grapefruit to make this distinctive citrus brew. Grapefruit zest is added during the boil and then pulp is mixed in after fermentation. I bought a bottle to take home to enjoy on a hot day. And indeed there appeared to be pink fuzz at the bottom of the bottle!

Rye Guy IPA:  This IPA uses rye malt and American hops from the West Coast of the U.S. The server told me 11 pounds of hops are used. American hops account for the citrus and pine notes and the slightly bitter aftertaste. Interestingly the IBU (International Bitterness Units) of Rye Guy is 52 while Pink Fuzz has only 20 IBUs.

HOYF:   Hop on Your Face! With 33 pounds of hops used, you have to love hops to drink this beer! Centennial, Amarillo and Simcoe hops provide the bitter citrus flavours.

Half in the Barrel: This is a Belgian style beer made with Belgian yeast, German malt and New Zealand hops. The batch was then divided and half aged for 6 weeks in an oak barrel previously used for aging Merlot and the other half in a Cabernet Franc barrel. I purchased a bottle of each and while both were delicious I preferred the Merlot infused brew.  The beer has a rich red-brown hue.  There was a slight acidity to the beer but it was not bitter. I detected interesting flavours of dark cherry and a subtle smoky or tobacco taste on the palate. On my return visit I purchased the last two bottles of the Half in the Barrel Merlot and was disappointed to learn that this brew was a one time production.

Imperial Super Guy:  On my second visit to Beyond the Pale I purchased this powerful brew. While it was not available for tasting at the counter it was worth taking a chance.  I shared it with my friends who joined me on my first visit and we all agreed it had toasty and woodsy aromas (due to the malt and hops used) and flavours and was not as bitter as Pink Fuzz or HOYF (despite the fact it has 90 IBUs).  It was well-balanced and enjoyable. All of this in a beer that is high in alcohol at 9.1% sharing is important!

Where you can enjoy Beyond the Pale beer: The brewery is open to the public on Friday and Saturday from noon until early evening and on Sunday in the afternoon.  On my two visits I was cheerfully served by two of the three owners and offered additional helpful information on the brewing process by another employee.  Beer lovers can now enjoy Beyond the Pale on tap at various pubs and restaurants in Ottawa, including some of my favourites: the Manx, Wellington Gastropub, Juniper, Absinthe, Town, and Black Tomato, among others.

Friday, 5 July 2013


Wineries in Texas: Although I'd visited my long time friend in San Antonio in 2007 (pre-sommelier days), I wasn't aware of the thriving grape growing and wine making industry in Texas until my recent visit when we went to a quaint restaurant (The Creek) in Boerne, north of San Antonio. Given we both ordered fish we tried a delicious white blend (Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier) from the Lubbock area.

There are four geographical regions in Texas with San Antonio in the Central Region, at the edge of the Southeast Region.  I found to be the easiest website, among several, to navigate. The site shows the four major regions and the eight approved viticultural appellations. On our visit to Gruene (pronounced Green) I learned that while many wineries are located north of San Antonio in Hill Country, grapes are generally grown near Lubbock and Fredericksburg, both recognized viticultural areas.

Tasting at Vineyard at Gruene: The name Vineyard at Gruene is a bit of a misnomer as their grapes are grown in the Lubbock (Becker) area in the Central wine region and wine production occurs in Fredericksburg. We tasted 6 wines including two dry white blends, a sweet rosé and three dry reds.  The server did a great job answering my questions...even though she quietly admitted that it was her first day serving. 
 Tasting Notes
Comal Springs: a dry citrus forward Sauvignon Blanc/Viognier blend ($21 bottle)

Blanco Dulce: a chardonnay/viognier blend that had a red grapefuit, pineapple and vanilla/oak aromas and flavours. This was our favourite white blend. ($24)

Gruene Rosé: a sweet wine (19% residual sugar) suitable for dessert ($20)

Guadalupe Valley Red: aged 6 months in barrel (propietary blend) with jam, cedar and red berries aromas ($24)

Landa River Red:  a syrah/petite syrah blend. Toasty vanilla on the nose but more acidic than you'd expect for a shiraz with sour black cherry, licorice, and spice flavours ($25)

1190 Gruene Road Reserve 2010: our favourite was this cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend;  black furit, baking spices, vanilla, smoky aromas and similar tasting notes; label description:  aged in barrel 8-10 months, integrated tannins; black berry, black current($32 bottle)

Grist Mill Restaurant
After a stroll through town, a refreshing stop at Oma's Secret Garten for a local beer, and visits to shops we finally decided we needed to eat lunch. The Grist Mill is on the edge of the Guadalupe River behind the Gruene dance hall and beside Gruene's landmark water tower.  It is built on the site of a grist mill which was later (in 1878) transformed to a cotton gin. In 1922 the structure burned and all that remains now is the three story brick boiler room which provides a rustic dining backdrop.  I ordered ribs, the house specialty, and decided to pair my meal with red wine rather than beer.


Dry Comal Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon had rich aromas of leather, plum, cedar, smoky/cigar box and the taste was more complex than I expected: dark fruit, eucalyptus, tobacco, and a hint of vanilla and burnt sugar on the finish.  It was a surprisingly good accompaniment to the ribs. This wine is locally produced in New Braunfels:

Friday, 21 June 2013


San Antonio Area BreweriesRecently I visited my dear friend Wendi in San Antonio, Texas and she happens to be a beer-aficionado. Unfortunately I was not able to enroll in the beer course in the Algonquin College sommelier program this spring as anticipated so my knowledge of beer knowledge isn't extensive...and my tasting notes are very basic. My introduction to locally brewed Texan beer began at her home with Alamo (Golden Ale), Lobo (Lager), and Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale) during the first few days of my visit. The beer "tasting" continued until the last day of my visit with Lost Gold IPA ("a Hill Country favourite"). We enjoyed the plentiful hops in this IPA from the Real Ale Brewing Company (Blanco, Texas).

Socially Responsible Brew in Oma's Secret Garten:  On a cloudy but warm Saturday we drove to Gruene, a charming town along the Guadalupe River, about 45 - 60 minutes from San Antonio. After working up a thirst (from our midday wine tasting and stroll through this small town!) we stopped at Oma's Secret Garten.  There we each tried a different beer from the small, socially responsible Guadalupe Brewing Company (  I enjoyed the Honey Ale and my friend tried her favourite style: IPA. The Honey Ale (7.32% alcohol) was a golden colour and had a foamy white head.  It had a creamy, smooth flavour.  Proceeds from this ale support bee research in Texas. The Guadalupe IPA was stronger in flavour and alcohol (7.52%). It had a distinctive citrus (I picked up grapefruit) flavour, due to American citrus hops, and had a darker hue from the rich malt.  The IPA is a seasonal product and proceeds support Big Ben State Park.

Guerne is Great: After a relaxing dinner at the Grist Mill restaurant (see an upcoming post on Texan wine) and visits to various shops and community gathering spots in the village (all well maintained in their original architectural form) we went to nearby New Braunfels to see the band Redd Loves Blue perform (see their facebook page or check them out on you tube).  Wendi's son, who was receiving daily radiation treaments while I was visiting, performed energetically in the opening number with his friends in Redd Loves Blue.  It was a fun and inspiring end to a wonderful day in Texas Hill Country! 

Friday, 31 May 2013


Palestine Fair Trade AssociationOn my visit to Jenin City in the northern governorate of Jenin in the West Bank, I strolled through the historic center to look for the offices of the Palestine Fair Trade Association (see: The coordinator explained how the association supports over 1700 local farmers who are committed to sustainable and organic farming methods by providing technical advice and facilitating organic certification.  They also promote collective farming methods traditionally used in Palestine (such as communal and extended family practices). The PFTA helps fair trade cooperatives (village cooperatives and women's cooperatives) link to international fair trade and ecological organizations.  The principal crops are olives, thyme, sesame seeds and almonds for the production of olive oil, soap, za'atar, tahini, and sweets.

Canaan Fair Trade: Canaan purchases certified fair trade and organic olives from the cooperatives of the Palestine Fair Trade Association and processes olive oil in their facilities.  After a visit to Jenin City I stopped in the village of Burqin to tour Canaan.  There, the olives are cold pressed and filtered, although Canaan does bottle raw olive oil immediately after harvest in November.  Canaan also packages and distributes other fair trade products, such as almonds, honey and tapenades made from olives, nuts and/or sun-dried tomatoes. Canaan and the Palestinian Fair Trade Association collaborate to organize alternative tourism programs during the olive harvest season.
Canaan products are sold in Canada by Zatoun at Ten Thousand Villages stores and the United States by Canaan-USA.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


Salesian Monastery/Winery: The Salesian order has managed the winery, located in the Cremisan valley near Bethlehem, since 1891. Wine sales support the educational and charitable work of the Salesians in the Holy Land.  I tried to arrange a tour through the winery but individual visitors do not seem to be accommodated by the monastery or their sales agent.  Tour groups are able to arrange visits and tastings. The  reluctance to receive visitors may also be due to the recent attention given to the winery and surrounding land because of Israeli plans to extend the "Separation Barrier" through the village.  The planned route would separate the monastery from the convent; the Catholic school from the community; and Palestinian farmers from their land.   En route to meetings in Bethlehem I stopped at the winery and was allowed to visit the store but I could not walk around the grounds or take photographs.  I tasted a number of single varietal and blended wines and decided to purchase wines made from local grape varietals. 

Baladi: This  refers to indigenous grapes found in the Middle East.  The Cremisan Baladi wine was red, but in some articles baladi is used with other varietal names (Hamdani-Baladi for example).  The red Baladi from Cremisan Cellars is a dry red wine with pleasant leather and dark chocolate aromas and flavours. I found it a nice change to "fruit-intense" reds.  

Hamdani Jandali: My internet research yielded little information regarding these grape varieties, with the exception of a study on the success of root grafting by scientists at Hebron University in the West Bank.  The district of Hebron is the center of viticulture in the West Bank.  As I drove between Bethlehem and the city of Hebron I was able to view commercial vineyards.  Once in the Hebron city I noted most houses grew grape vines for household consumption.   Given that the majority of the population in the West Bank is Muslim, wineries are in Christian communities. Cremisan and Taybeh are the only two Palestinian wineries. There are other wineries in the West Bank but they are operated by Jewish settlers in occupied territory and are the subject of campaigns to boycott products originating in West Bank settlements, as suggested by a United Nations fact-finding mission. 

The Hamdani Jandali wine had an aroma of green apple, grapefruit and a hint of sweet white flowers. The flavour was similar to the aroma; and reminiscent of an unoaked chardonnay.  At Cremisan I was told that oak is not used in any of their white wines.  

Saturday, 9 February 2013


2011 Cabernet Sauvignon - Petite Sirah:   It is the end of my second week of work in the West Bank and a good time to open one of the bottle's of wine produced and bottled by the Taybeh Brewing Company to accompany a local lamb dish (fukhara).  The wine's aroma is a wonderful mix of dark berries, cedar, spices, eucalyptus and vanilla and the flavour is reminiscent of berries, jam and a hint of bitter chocolate.  I found it to have good balance and a smooth finish due to the slight acidity and medium level of tannins.  The wine would pair well with chicken as well as red meats. After tasting the wine I called Nadim Khoury to ask if he used oak barrels given my tasting notes implied some oak ageing but I had not seen any barrels at the new winery under construction at the hotel (expected to be open by Oktoberfest 2013).  Nadim explained that he used oak chips in the vinification process but is importing oak barrels for future use. The wine is a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% petite sirah.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon:  I tried the 100% cabernet sauvignon  at a dinner with friends in Ramallah.  This wine is a deeper more opaque ruby colour and has rich aromas and flavours of bittersweet chocolate, leather, spices, black licorice and dark berries.  The tannins are more apparent than the blend described above and the wine would pair well with the  lamb dishes popular in the region.

A vineyard as both an economic and political strategy:  At present Nadim purchases grapes from local Palestinian producers.  Grapes are the second largest agricultural crop produced in the West Bank (olives being the number one crop). It is important to note that many Israeli wineries are either located in the occupied West Bank or use grapes grown by settlers in the West Bank.  The Taybeh Brewing Company is preparing land behind the brewery (terracing the hill as you can see in the photo above) in order to plant its first vines. Not only will the vineyard contribute to new white wine production but the vines will be planted to strategically contain an Israeli settlement (one of the three settlements close to Taybeh) that is situated on the hill to the west of the of the brewery.    

Settlements in Occupied Territory: Given that Israel facilitates the transfer of people into the occupied West Bank in order to change the demographic composition of the territory international legal scholars consider the settlements a violation of international law. Israel claims settlements are based on historical territorial rights. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention deals with transfer of people in an occupied territory.  The article ends by stating:  "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."   On January 31, 2013 the International Fact Finding Mission, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on Palestinian rights, found that the settlements violate international law but stated that the International Criminal Court is the appropriate body to adjudicate the issue.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Historic Taybeh: After a tour of the microbrewery in the West Bank town of Taybeh (Et-Taiyiba) the master brewer, Nadim Khoury, took me to see the ruins of the el-Khadr Greek Orthodox Church located near the town hall. The ruins date back to the Byzantine period (325-638) but the town itself dates back to the Bronze Age.  The town was called Ephraim in the New Testament and is referenced in John 11:54 as the place where Jesus and his disciples retreated from threats of violence. The current name (meaning good, delicious or fertile) was given by Saladin on his way to conquer Jerusalem in the 12th century.  Mosaic tile floors remain despite being open to the elements. Today villagers continue to make offerings and light candles at the ruins. From the church ruins and along the roadway one looks out to the Jordan River valley.   

From the ruins looking west toward the town.
Taybeh Tourism:  Nadim and the Khoury family are passionate about investing in Palestine to support the achievement of its political and economic self-determination.  This national vision is based on their roots in Taybeh and the agricultural products of the area.  Once in Taybeh I discovered that the brewery organizes an annual Oktoberfest with the municipality and that Nadim has been making wine, exporting olive oil from community producers to France, Germany and the United States, and is building a boutique hotel on the road overlooking the Jordan valley not far from the church ruins.  The hotel will house the winery and a brew pub.

Taybeh Products:  After my tour of the church ruins and the hotel I returned to the brewery for "one-stop shopping".  I left the brewery loaded down with two types of red wine, fresh pressed olive oil, beer, t-shirts and mugs with the brewery logo, and olive oil soap. I also left with a keen desire to return to stay at the hotel and explore the walking trails, the historic sites, the upcoming vineyard and enjoy the Taybeh landscape and hospitality.    
(See a youtube video on the annual Oktoberfest in Taybeh)

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Taybeh Brewing Company:  After the signing of the Oslo Agreement in 1993 (the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements), Nadim Khoury returned to his historic hometown of Taybeh in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory, in 1994.  Nadim had studied engineering in Boston and then went to California to UC Davis to study in the master brewers program.  Taybeh Brewing Company ( was formally established in 1995 on the Khoury family property and is the first and only Palestinian brewery.   Nadim's daughter, Madees, is the first female brewer in Palestine.

Tour of the Brewery:  Nadim explained each step of the brewing process, which follows the German Purity Law of 1516, as he showed me the equipment used at each stage.  Malted barley imported from France or Belgium is ground (mashed) on site and heated with water to convert the barley to malt extract. The "spent" barley is given to local farmers for animal feed.  Hops and then yeast are added prior to the 30 day fermentation process.  The beer is clarified , bottled and ready for shipping.

Taybeh beer is enjoyed locally and exported to Japan, Sweden, Germany, Israel and Belgium.

Tasting:  Taybeh beer is unpasteurized and has no added fillers or preservatives which presumably explains the refreshing, crisp taste of the  Golden and the Draught styles of Taybeh beer I have tried.  I must confess that I have yet to study the beer course in the sommelier program so I will have to do a more "professional" tasting on my next trip to Palestine!  I did note an ever so slight bitter (but pleasant) flavour on the finish of the Golden beer.  I have yet to try Taybeh's Amber, Dark and non-alcoholic styles. 

From Ramallah to Taybeh:  I notified Nadim and Madees of my intention to visit the brewery via email and they kindly accommodated my visit during my first weekend in Ramallah.  I took a taxi from Ramallah to Taybeh (a 30 minute journey) passing by Jalazone, one of 19 refugee camps in the West Bank.  The camp was established in 1949 and has more than 11,000 inhabitants today.  Jalazone lies to the west of the road and immediately east, behind the usual fencing, is an Israeli settlement.  The taxi driver named each village we passed through (and quizzed me on the return trip to ensure I remembered the names) as well as the Israeli security points along the way.  

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Munro's Dry Mead:  The idea to share my wine adventures was a result of my trip to Alvinston, Ontario in search of mead.  I finally opened a bottle of mead recently.  "Stuyding" for tasting and written exams during the September - December term of the Sommelier programme at Algonquin College left me with little time to try some of the wines I've been collecting over the last several months.

With a residual sugar designation of 2 this is the driest of the meads from Munro's Meadery.  The label describes it as having a crisp finish but I did not detect sufficient acidity to use that descriptor.  I found the mead to have floral and honey aromas; flavours of cinnamon, ginger and citrus peel (a very slight pithy bitterness); full body (some oiliness) and a long finish with some spices lingering on the palate.  This mead reminded me of a gewurztraminer and in fact it paired well with foods I would generally pair with that varietal.   

Food Pairings:  After reading the label I tried the mead with fish but it was not a good pairing due to the lack of acidity.  I then prepared a cheese plate and, like a gewurztraminer, the mead complemented blue cheese very well.  Finally, I paired the mead with pork tenderloin roasted with a glaze made from pomegranate jelly and the wine proved to be a complementary match to the pork. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Domän Sånana in Skillinge:  After visiting Hällåkra winery in North Gronby I drove south toward the sea and followed the picturesque road along the water to the village of Skillinge on the southwest coast of Skäne.  Percy Månsson is the owner of Domän Sånana and known as a pioneer in Skåne winemaking. He is a self taught viticulturist and winemaker, first cultivating grapes in his garden as a hobby in 1995. He then planted a small vineyard at the end of the 1990s on a rural property owned by his family since 1874.  

Domän Sånana produces only 900 litres of wine annually given not only its small size but also due to the fact that only half of the grapes grow to a size sufficient for winemaking. Rondo makes up more than 80% of the vines at the vineyard.  Percy explained that he follows some biodynamic viticultural practices to control pests and diseases in the vineyard.  For example, white clover is grown between the rows of vines as a cover crop given that it provides habitat for predatory insects and nitrogen to the soil.
Wine & Cheese Tasting:
When I arrived at Domän Sånana in the mid-afternoon I found Percy preparing for a wine tasting course he was hosting that evening.  After a short tour in the vineyard Percy graciously offered a sample of some of his award winning wine and various locally-produced cheeses.  The Rondo that I tasted had vibrant red fruit flavour (cherries and strawberries) with high acidity, as is typical of the varietal.  It paired well with some of the softer, creamier cheeses.