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: