St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

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Win Free Tickets To Mill Street Oktoberfest!

Howdy, St.John’s Wort Junior Rangers!

Are you like me? Do you wake up to Jazz 91.1 on your clock radio? Is one of the first things you hear in the morning, aside from the contemplative cool jazz guitaristry of Pat Metheny the dulcet tones of brewmaster Joel Manning explaining why the Cascade hops somehow make Mill Street Tankhouse different than another style of beer which also uses Cascade hops? Has it affected your subconscious mind to the point where you periodically wonder what Joel Manning is doing during the idle moments of your day?

No?

Well, fine. Do you like free stuff?

There we go. That’s better.

St. John’s Wort is giving away two tickets for Mill Street’s Oktoberfest party on Thursday October 17th! It is taking place at the Mill Street Beer Hall, which is a really appropriate place to have such a party! There will be dancing! There will be souvenir beer steins for you to take home! You will drink bierschnaps, which is, to be honest, something of an acquired taste due to the hoppy bitterness in some versions of it! You will eat a Schnitzel Teaser! I don’t know what a Schnitzel Teaser is or what part of the schnitzel it comes from, but man oh man is it good eating!

This is a great opportunity to go and see the Mill Street Beer Hall if you haven’t already! Not only will there be Mill Street Beer, there will be beer from nine other Ontario Craft Breweries! You and a friend (or heck even an enemy) can attend this year’s Mill Street Oktoberfest for free and all you have to do is take part in the following contest!

Tweet to me @saints_gambit your favourite thing about Mill Street using the hashtag #MillStreetOktoberfest! It could be about their Organic Lager! It could be about their ESB and be followed up by a bitter nine tweet screed about how that’s only available at the pub and should be available on a wider distribution! It could be about Joel Manning! I bet he’s checking a hydrometer at the moment!

Entries will be judged by a panel of me! A winner will be announced on Tuesday, October 15th at high noon! The winner will be initially overjoyed and then subsequently stuffed full of beer and sausages!

Beer And Food: Jamaican Curry Chicken and Nightmare on Mill Street

A large number of people like Pumpkin beer, and this is very largely because it tastes like fall. It has those pumpkin pies spices in it that make it reminiscent of coming in from raking leaves before Sunday dinner. That being said, it can be a little difficult to find something to do with Pumpkin beer, since it already tastes like dessert. They’re typically fairly sweet and they contain a mixture of allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and any number of other things depending on the brewery.

The obvious thing to do is to serve it alongside pumpkin pie. If you’re particularly adventurous, you might even want to try it alongside another dessert like ginger cake that has a selection of the same spices. This might be alright for home consumption, but if you’re at a beer dinner, that sort of double barreled approach might not really be welcome after about five courses. At that point, it’s a whipped cream topped overload.

Since I’m always looking for something interesting to do with beer and food, I googled the ingredients that go into pumpkin pie. Sure enough, if you throw those ingredients in to google, you come up with jerk chicken.

Initially, this seemed like an ideal solution. I checked through a bunch of online recipes and then dug through The World Cookbook for Students in order to find something that would give me a reasonably effective version that I could try at home. I failed pretty badly, but mostly on the basis of equipment. I don’t have a grill that I can use for this kind of thing.

That’s when I realized that I know a professional cook who might be able to furnish some insight into my problem. I’m lucky enough to know La-Toya Fagon from Twist Catering from another life. At the time, I had no idea that I would end up writing about beer, but she had already managed to secure some pretty promising weekend gigs as a cook. After I left that job, I lost track of her, but cut to three years later and she’s on Marilyn Denis’s show doing a cooking demo. It turns out she’s doing Mediterranean inspired Carribean food.

Talk about a stroke of luck.

The Beer

The beer I’m working with in this case is Mill Street’s Nightmare on Mill Street. It’s a good candidate for pairing as a pumpkin beer for the reason that it is restrained. First of all, the base recipe is a wheat beer, so it’s not a high alcohol beer. It clocks in at an even 5% and is brewed with actual pumpkin. The orange colour and head retention are good. Plus, the spice blend is nicely balanced. Some of the pumpkin beers out in the LCBO overbalance in favour of cinnamon or ginger. That’s fine if it’s to your taste, but if you want to talk about a prototypical pumpkin beer, this is it. The spice blend was inspired by brewmaster Joel Manning’s wife’s recipe for pie, which is a nice thing. Well done, Mrs. Manning.

They sent over some sample bottles for me to play with, and on my recommendation sent some to La-Toya.

The Recipe

I got in touch with La-Toya about jerk chicken, but she played around with a couple of recipes and had a better idea. The problem with jerk chicken is that because the spice blend is so similar, you’d be pairing it with beer on a complimentary basis. That was more or less what I wanted to avoid by skipping the pumpkin pie and dessert angles. I’m sure it would work, but she came up with a pairing that’s a great deal more interesting.

JAMAICAN CURRY CHICKEN

1lb boneless skinless thighs

4 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

6-7 pimento seeds crushed

1 medium onion diced

1 bell pepper diced

1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper

6 spring’s fresh thyme

4 medium size potatoes

2 c. water

 

Heat oil in pan till smoking level. Cut up chicken in bite size pieces, place in a bowl. Add in all ingredients except potatoes and water. Place chicken mixture in pot, stir, and cook on high add water. Cook, till it comes to a boil, stir, lower heat until chicken is almost cooked. Add in potatoes. Cook until water is thickened.

 

Serve over steamed white rice or with roti.

 

The Pairing

This is what your food looks like if your professional cook friend takes the pictures and sends them to you.

Now, this is a vastly different flavour profile than what I started out with, and in terms of cooking curry at home, I’m lost at sea. What better way to learn than by doing?

The reason that this works is because of the pimento seeds (which I discovered are allspice after 10 minutes of standing in the spice aisle) and the thyme. The thyme plays with whatever earthiness is in the beer as a result of the hopping as an aroma, while the allspice comes through in the heat at the back of the palate. Now this makes a great deal of sense as a pairing because the heat from the Scotch Bonnet is just enough to make you want a mouthful of a cold beer. The spice mix from the Pumpkin beer chases the heat with the carbonation, but from a sensory standpoint it lends even more depth to the curry by suggesting spices that it doesn’t necessarily contain. Salting slightly higher than normal is not a bad idea because of the steamed rice and the constrasting sugars in the beer.

Now, when I mentioned I might be doing this on facebook, Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn suggested that you’d probably want quite a sweet pumpkin beer if you were going to pair with Jamaican food. I can certainly see how he would have been right if we’d gone with jerk chicken. Because we went with curry, I think that the slightly wheaty finish on the Nightmare on Mill Street works pretty well. Also, from the standpoint of personal preference, I have to suggest that you really want a lighter alcohol pumpkin beer than some of the monsters out there. The dish is spicy enough that you are likely to want more than one beer with it. Safety first.

And this is what it looks like when you do it at home and are not interested in plating. Still tasty.

WHAT DID WE LEARN

1)      The proper soundtrack for this dish is Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come

2)      La-Toya Fagon knows what she’s doing, which is not exactly a surprise since she always struck me as extremely competent. She managed to steer me to a more complex pairing from a less complex one. Good eye, and I think a good appreciation of what I’m trying to do.

3)      If it says ½ scotch bonnet, don’t go adding a whole one, especially if you’re new to the flavour profile.  I know you probably won’t have anything you can use the other half in, so just discard it. I mean, it cost you 10 cents, so this is no time to be miserly.

Ontario Craft Beer Week – Belgontario @ Bar Volo

One of the things that tends to define Ontario craft beer is the history of the province. While Toronto may currently have one of the most diverse populations in the world, it’s worth reminding ourselves that for a long time we were wall to wall redcoats. You don’t need to look very far for reminders. The annual beer festival in Toronto is held at Fort York and, as Alan McLeod points out in the Ontario Craft Beer Week editions of his blog, Kingston spent a long time as an edge of the empire garrison town.

We were British and Quebec was French. It almost certainly accounts for the fact that Quebec craft brewers have traditionally been more willing to experiment with European styles. France is bordered by several nations with distinct brewing traditions, and as such their descendants are more comfortable with their styles. England is an island, and they were content with ale. So symbolically was Ontario beer an island for many years. I don’t mean to oversimplify. There have been lagers and pilsners (Kitchener used to be Berlin after all, and there’s a lot of history between Queenston Heights and the banishment of the stubby bottle), but the mainstays have been English style ales.

That’s one of the reasons that the Belgontario event at Bar Volo is so fascinating. It’s a showcase for the experimentation of Ontario craft brewers in traditional Belgian styles of ale. It’s really only in the last five years that this kind of expression has been possible in Ontario, and many breweries have been experimenting with these styles for less time than that. Bar Volo has put together an interesting lineup that includes products from: Amsterdam, Beau’s, Black Oak, Duggan’s, Grand River, Mill Street, Nickelbrook and Publican House. It’s a great opportunity to see what these breweries have come up with.

One of the problems that you run into in attending an event of this nature is the fact that unless you’re very careful and order small samples of everything, it’s basically impossible to try all of the beers on offer. This is not a series of low alcohol milds. Belgian ales tend to be pretty high octane, and the styles on offer vary wildly. I eschewed the Black Oak Summer Saison because I had tried it fairly recently; It’s a tasty pint of beer, and it suits a hot summer night very nicely. It’s not so complex as to be inaccessible to people trying it for the first time, but it’s a success within the style and is one the only Saisons in Ontario. Black Oak produces cask varietals of this beer using various fruit flavours. I avoided the Grand River Ploegers Vlaams Rood for the reason that I find sour ales can have unpredictable effects on my stomach when mixed with other styles. To highlight this point, I should mention that one of my friends chose a food pairing of sour patch kids. I’m not sure you’ll find this as a suggested pairing in any instructional book.

I tried the Amsterdam Oranje Weiss, which I suspect clocks in at around 5% alcohol. It’s a drinkable wheat beer flavored with orange. I found that the flavor was reminiscent of a slightly watery freshly squeezed orange juice and that masked any banana or clove flavours typically associated with a weissbier. It’s a little bit like a beer mimosa, if that makes any sense. I’m not sure I would order a full pint of this one, but I have to hand it to Amsterdam for stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to produce it.

I found Duggan’s #10 Trappist Dubbel to be slightly disappointing, but mostly for semantic reasons. It’s not exactly cricket to use the term “Trappist” for beers produced outside a select group of monasteries. Technically, I think it falls somewhere between copyright violation and heresy. The beer itself is pretty good, but I went to it straight from the Amsterdam, so my tastebuds were shocked a little by the roastiness and coffee flavours on the first sip. It’s a well made Belgian brown ale, and in truth it’s impressive that a Belgian Dubbel can come out of a brewpub that has been in operation for such a short space of time.

There are two Belgian style trippels on offer. The Publican House Eight or Better Trippel is a good approximation of the style, but I was distracted by the presence of the alcohol within it, which made it seem downright boozy. The Mill St. Betelgeuse was overly sweet. It’s practically like candy, and I can’t claim that this particular brew run is their best version of this beer. I had it on tap last year in a blind tasting with Urthel Hop-it and Delirium Tremens and it was nuanced enough to stand up to them. It feels like a recipe tweak gone awry.

By far the most interesting beer on the list is a collaboration brew: Vrienden from Beau’s and De Koningshoeven. It’s the first collaboration for De Koningshoeven, which you have to admit is a heck of a get for Beau’s who are relative newcomers in Ontario craft brewing. Fortunately for me, Steve Beauchesne was at the bar drinking a pint of it and was pleased to explain how it came to be:

Vrienden

Freedom from oppression for tulips and beer. Good trade.

The Dutch have always been grateful to the Canadian troops who liberated the Netherlands in May of 1945. In order to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the event the Dutch Embassy approached Beau’s and asked them to brew a beer as part of the celebration. They could have done just that, but in order to make it authentic and also to engage in the spirit of the celebration, they wanted to collaborate with De Koningshoeven. After a small amount of exhortation on the part of the Dutch government, an agreement was reached. Unfortunately Lodewijk Swinkels, the brewmaster for De Koningshoeven, was unable to make it to the brew day because of the cancelled flights in the wake of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Matt O’Hara, the brewmaster for Beau’s, kept in touch by phone and email and proceeded anyway. Eventually, Lodewijk managed to cross the Atlantic and gave Matt his blessing. Matt has apparently been walking around with an elated grin on his face ever since.

It’s not like Belgian style Witbiers that I’ve seen in Ontario before. It’s not just citrus and coriander; there’s subtlety here. It’s relatively light in alcohol and very refreshing. It contains maple syrup and juniper berries in order to reflect the input of the respective countries involved.  It’s a pleasing colour and nicely opaque. I guess that technically this beer could actually bear the label Trappist since it involves De Koningshoeven, but that would be showing off. This isn’t about showing off. It’s about the mutual past of the two countries and exploration of common ground.

I can’t say that Vrienden is the best beer on offer at the Belgontario event (It’s actually edged out in my mind by Beau’s Belgian Imperial Stout). What I can say is that it captures the spirit of the event very nicely. If the event is about pushing past the ale styles traditionally associated with Ontario, then Beau’s has achieved that goal admirably, using as their inspiration the legacy of one of Canada’s greatest triumphs.