Big Lew invades Canada
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 09, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts Sud Stud Lew Bryson
I really love your beer.
I'll come up North and drink it for a year.
I got an invite from the good people at Brown-Forman, the folks who make things like Jack Daniel's and Southern Comfort, to go up and visit their Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario. Now, Collingwood is waytohellandgone on Nottawasaga Bay, about 75 miles northwest of Toronto ... even people from Collingwood will admit that there's not much going on there.
So Brown-Forman decided to give us a demonstration of the new Canadian Mist "Mistology" cocktails they'd worked up down in Toronto (that's the city's iconic CN Tower pictured here). They put us up in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, which was just fantastic: forget the chocolate on your pillow – at the Royal York, you get a fresh fruit plate.
As for me, I decided to come in a day early with my friend John Hansell, who is one of the world's most knowledgeable whisky writers and the publisher of Malt Advocate, and hook up with Stephen Beaumont, who is one of the world's most knowledgeable beer writers and a long-time resident of Toronto. It was a very good decision, because while the trip was about Canadian whisky, I wanted to take the opportunity to get some fine Canadian beer. Not only did I succeed, I got some real good Canadian food, too.
The first night, Steve took the two of us to dinner at beerbistro (pictured below), a Toronto restaurant he works with on beer cuisine. We sat at the bar, watched women's curling (and Beaumont's right: where else can you watch mid-30s women publicly scream "Hard! Hard! Harder!!") and sampled beers: big and creamy St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, a classic from Montreal; the espresso punch of locally brewed Mill Street Coffee Porter; and a slightly over-sweet Dennison's Weissbier, another Toronto beer.
But my lord, how they fed us! Some little teasers at the bar: a duck confit "corndog" (dipped in cornmeal batter and deep-fried on a stick) with a delicious pineapple mustard (brilliantly simple, by the way: sous chef Jesse Vallins told me he just took ripe pineapple, roasted and pureed it, and added it to dijon mustard, which I am definitely trying real soon); a "screaming oyster," which was a Blue Point topped with habañero sauce and a small button of chorizo sausage; and some nicely charred Kobe beef with Quebecois bleu cheese.
And that was just starters. We adjourned to the chef's table, a bar which opened right on the kitchen, where Jesse really turned on the chow. As you might expect from a beer place, the food was pretty robust even when Jesse was at his most artistic. I ordered up a big glass of Dennison's Dunkel (smooth, dark and just a bit rich) and enjoyed a bacon-wrapped shrimp, steak tartare with fresh-grated horseradish and green peppercorn mayonnaise, foie gras with onion jam and chocolate jelly (which sounds more like sex toys than an appetizer, I agree, but it was damned good), and cured salmon with little porter pancakes. Everything was excellent, and the only reservation I have is one I noticed elsewhere in Canada: the fresh grated horseradish tasted more earthy than I'm used to and was not very hot. Bummer for someone who considers himself a horseradish aficionado.
Bring on the main courses! We passed around John's glass of Unibroue's Maudite (Quebec French for "Damned," and you'll be saying that when you taste how good this big dubbelish beer is) for the Maudite beef stew, big chunks of tender beef in a beer-blasted sauce, full of pearl onions. Jesse presented a "coq au biere," chicken in weissbier, which was very good, but I have to admit, no coq au vin (chicken in wine).
There was a delicious and delicate pulled pork in crepes with creme fraiche, and a dish of roasted pig knuckles, which were frickin' mind-blowing. "You are a sick man of the pig," I toasted Jesse, and he loved it. "I really work with pork," he said.
We had a few more beers and a weird beer cocktail – an imperial stout mixed with Talisker whisky – and then called it a night ... as the waiters put the chairs up. Steve had drawn us a map for the next day's excursions.
Read about Lew's Day Two in Toronto, which includes an inside look at the Canadian delicacy called peameal, something Americans know better as ...
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