Tooth And Nail Brewing Co.

20150919_000518Brewery openings have become a fairly regular occurrence in Ottawa. This year, we’ve ballooned to over 30 breweries in the city, the vast majority of which have opened in the last two years. So why am I devoting my first post to the opening of Tooth and Nail Brewing Co. two weeks ago?

Tooth And Nail Brewing Co. is the first brewery I’ve personally been excited about in a long time, and it lived up to my expectations. Matt Tweedy, the owner/brewmaster is a well traveled brewer, having experience in both home experimentation and in production brewing. He has worked in many breweries, from Beau’s in Vankleek Hill and King Brewery just north of Toronto, to a guest spot at Cantillon in Belgium.

The long and short of it is, he’s been training for YEARS to gain the proficiency to open a brewery he could call his own.

He’s there. With wife and partner Dayna – former owner and manager of Beer Bistro in Toronto – at his side and managing the front of house, Tooth And Nail is poised to make a big splash in the Ottawa beer scene.

apologies for terrible photography, I don't usually do this
Apologies for terrible photography, I don’t usually do this

The interior of the bar is clean and rustic, while still stepping a toe into the modern world. A road map of the city is painted along one entire side of the seating area – immediately opposite the bar – while the taps are mounted in minimalist fashion on simple black switch handles atop large stainless counters. The “kitchen” consists of a small prep fridge and a meat slicer, and each charcuterie plate is designed to be paired with a specific beer.

Yup, that's a homegrown hop cone on my plate!
Yup, that’s a homegrown hop cone on my plate!

At the back end of the restaurant, you can step right up to large windows with the brewing space immediately behind. A gorgeous 15 barrel system beckons from beyond. Seating is designed in communal fashion, with few small tables and many large tables designed for friend making.

Well, this beer geek is drooling
Well, this beer geek is drooling

Now to the beer!

Matt is dedicated to brewing classic styles with slight twists to make them truly unique. While decidedly skeptical about “culinary beers,” he is more than happy to brew outside the parameters of tradition.

My first ever pint of Tooth And Nail beer was the Stamina, a Belgian “session” ale at 5.2%. It pours a brilliant yellow/gold, with a big billowy white foam cap on it that persists well down the glass. Aromas are very true to the Belgian styles with some banana, pepper and clove, and mild hints of citrus tending towards lemon. On the palate, carbonation is crisp and the banana-like flavours of Belgian yeast are fairly subdued, with light bready malt character up front, and a lemon/orange citrus, light grassy bitterness and coriander that bites only slightly into the finish.

Tenacity Pale Ale was also a treat, with bright orange, pineapple and biscuity/caramel tones showing on the nose. Flavour is medium caramel malt with resinous and grapefruit/orange fruity notes. With only slight bitterness showing on the back end, this is a juicy, fruity pale ale full of fun for the whole family!

The one beer I wasn’t particularly a fan of was the collaboration with Beau’s Brewery. While the early collaboration speaks volumes about their respect for their former brewer, I can’t say that Housewarmer made me feel particularly welcome. In addition to barley, Housewarmer was brewed with rye and wheat. While this did give a very complex malt flavour, it all seemed to be a bit muddled with orange pith and mild spicy notes, without a clear personality or direction to it.

Rabble Rouser in all it's glory!
Rabble Rouser in all its glory!

I returned a few days later for the release of TnN’s “Rabble Rouser” IPA (don’t get it confused with Sam Adam’s’ Rebel Rouser). A fairly big beer at 6.8%, it is deceptively easy drinking. Not your standard IPA hop profile with grilled pineapple, mango and orange making appearances on the nose. The taste carries a medium malt profile tending towards biscuits and toast. The hops make a splash in a big way with pineapple, orange and pine resins. The finish is nowhere near as bitter as one would expect with the massive hop character throughout but gives enough of a kick to balance it out.

While decidedly a brewpub, Tooth and Nail does offer wine for those firmly stuck in the “I won’t drink beer” camp (or the Celiac camp, for that matter). For the gaming crowd, they have a few boards of “Pucket,” a game I never knew existed until getting frantically enraged by it.

Seriously, it’s super fun and addictive.

Also, they have promised to show all the Senator’s hockey games this season, which is a huge plus for me (really though, I might just move in).

Tooth and Nail will be releasing a pilsner and an imperial stout in the coming weeks, and you had better believe I’ll be there to try them! If  you’re in town, you certainly should, too.

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The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 4: The Main Event

(This is the final post in a series detailing my recent trip to Bell’s Funvitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 if you want to read more!)

Three days of driving from brewery to brewery had led us to this point; standing in a winding line in a football field, anxiously waiting with our recently issued tasting glasses and beer tickets. After a long trip, it was finally time for Bell’s 30th Anniversary Funvitational! Although we were an hour early, the line was long ahead of us. It grew even longer behind us as we waited. I was so excited I could hardly stand still.

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Finally, just before 4pm, they allowed us to enter the baseball stadium where we were to spend our afternoon drinking and reveling in the celebrations of a Kalamazoo institution. I appreciated the few minutes head start we were given; these are people who understand that we had so many beers to try (almost 100 breweries showed up!), and only five hours to do so. IMG_1083The atmosphere was incredible. You could feel the excitement in the air, even from the security staff. People pumped their fists high into the air to show their entry bracelets, and I got at least three high fives from the volunteers as we entered. We were greeted by a multitude of beer tents and a small marching band, all decked out in birthday-wear. IMG_1091We threw ourselves into the line for Russian River Brewing Company right away, and definitely weren’t the only ones. This California-based brewery is quite the name in the beer world, with their focus on small-batch, intensely hopped styles. Due to the small batches, some of their beers – like the Pliny the Elder and Supplication they had brought – are very rare. Since we live so far from California, we weren’t about to miss our chance!IMG_1122

My expectations were high, but Pliny the Elder definitely met them. I mean, what else can you expect out of a beer that has a 100% rating on Beer Advocate? This imperial IPA delivered on the hops, proving to be complex, fresh and balanced throughout – totally living up to the hype. The Supplication, a sour brown ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries, was also delicious. Again, well-balanced, with quite a bit of wine character. I hope to have the chance to drink both of these beers again someday!

I’ll have to keep the rest of my reviews short, considering we split 45 samples total! If I wrote about all of them, you’d be here all day. So let’s dive right in! While waiting in line for Russian River, I sent Beer Nerd Boyfriend on a mission to get two more beers on our list. He returned with Terrapin Brewing Company’s Liquid Lunch (a peanut butter & jelly porter made with real raspberries) and Brewery Vivant’s Paris (a red wine barrel-aged imperial saison). Both kicked off our festival in the best way – delicious, sour, rich and tasting like berries.

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In no particular order, here are my top picks for MVPs of the day:

B. Nektar Meadery’s Ciders – I had wanted to stop here on our way to Warren, but they were closed. So I was delighted to discover them here! They brought two ciders, a Raspberry Ginger and the Zombie Killer (made with cherries). Both really captured their respective flavors, and made them shine as ciders.

BraVo! Restaurant & Café, Funfetti Cake Cream Ale – Who doesn’t love Funfetti? Even better, who doesn’t love a beer served with real sprinkles? The beer itself wasn’t exceptional, but it was refreshing and the presentation was a lot of fun.

How can you drink this without smiling?
How can you drink this without smiling?

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Hopsavant Citra Brettanomyces Pale Ale & Petite Sour Blueberry – I loved the Hopsavant because Citra is one of my favorite hops, and it had a nice tartness without being too sour. Nick preferred the Petite Sour Blueberry for its true blueberry notes.

Just look at that color!
Just look at that color!

Jester King Brewery, Wytchmaker – We really leaned towards the sour styles, didn’t we? This was a remarkable farmhouse rye IPA. Lots of delicious pine, funk and citrus.

Maui Brewing Co., Imperial Coconut Porter – This was one of my surprise favorites. The line in front of this tent was long, and I didn’t understand why until tasting this porter. It was all coffee and chocolate up front, with the coconut appearing near the end and lingering. It was like drinking a chocolate-covered macaroon. Yum!

I like to call this one "Beers in the Wild."
I like to call this one “Beers in the Wild.” That’s the porter to the right.

Saugatuck Brewing Company, Barrel Aged Neapolitan Milk Stout – This one is a Beer Nerd Boyfriend pick. The vanilla, chocolate and strawberry were all present and the texture was indeed reminiscent of ice cream.

The Bruery, Autumn Maple and Rueuze-Gueze – Okay, we cheated here. We’d already tried both of these beers before, but they were so good we couldn’t help but indulge. The Rueuze-Gueze remains one of my favorite sours ever, and the Autumn Maple seasonal nicely showcases all the spices involved without tasting like your typical pumpkin beer.

Bell’s Brewery, Mango Habanero Oberon – Here’s an embarrassing admission: we didn’t try much of what Bell’s had to offer at their own birthday party. Oops. By the time we made it to their tent, many of their special kegs had already been kicked. Not to mention I was a little tipsy and forgetful at that point, having been drinking for almost four hours already. However, I am happy we managed to get a taste of this special Oberon, which definitely shows that mangoes and chilies belong together, forever.

I found a party hat and things started going downhill from there.
I found a party hat and things started going downhill from there.

Overall, it was a great birthday party. Everyone was happy to be there. A man accidentally spilled his beer on me and apologized by giving me an extra beer ticket. The food was delicious and affordable and there was giant jenga and cornhole for when you wanted to take drinking breaks. I’m still super impressed with the organization of this festival as well; everyone knew what they were doing and Bell’s even made a huge effort to reduce any waste materials. All your utensils, plates, napkins, etc.? Those could all be tossed in the compost bin.

They even had sharks! (Not really)
They even had sharks! (Not really)

I have to admit that we left before the final fireworks. Embarrassingly enough, I was pretty toasty by the end and extremely insistent that we return to Rupert’s Brew House so I could pet the giant Great Dane some more. Since Nick is the best, he patiently obliged. IMG_1149

We had a blast, and I sincerely hope that Bell’s will be repeating this event at some point in the near future.

With that, our time in Michigan was done! I started classes that Monday, and this trip was absolutely worth the exhaustion and two-day hangover that followed it. Hopefully, we’ll be back soon – although there are still so many states, and so many beers to explore.

Those of you who have been reading through all of these, thanks! Stay tuned because I’ve got big plans for The Beer Intern. Starting next week, I’ll be putting up new posts EVERY THURSDAY to quench your beer curiosity. Beer Nerd Boyfriend, AKA Nick, will also be joining me from time to time for monthly articles.

There’s a whole world of beer out there! Stick around with me and we’ll go on an adventure.

The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 3: The Literal Big Dog

(This post is part of a series detailing my recent trip to Bell’s Funvitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 if you enjoyed this!)

After two and a half days full of beer and driving, we were quite tired by the time we arrived in Kalamazoo. However, we weren’t too exhausted to embark on a mini pub crawl! We rigorously planned our trajectory, since we were staying a little bit outside of town and would be cabbing in.

Our first stop was actually a total accident. Before our arrival, we had pulled into a gas station down the street and noticed a large sign that read “BREWERY” leading to One Well Brewing Company. We decided we had to go back, and I’m very glad we did.

Note the creative flavors!
Note the creative flavors!

We ordered a sampler of all the beers listed on the right of that board. Much like our stop at Kuhnhen, this turned out to be a surprise highlight. The Xalapa was my personal favorite, a jalapeno beer that managed to showcase all the flavor of the pepper but just a touch of its spice. Beer Nerd Boyfriend’s personal choice was the Root Beer Float stout, which tastes exactly like – well, a root beer float. Also in the stout range was the Sweetwater Street, brewed with doughnuts from Sweetwater’s Doughnut Mill. One Well excels at extracting flavors, as this beer tasted just like a chocolate doughnut. Meanwhile, the Professor Nutbutters had a little too much earthy peanut for BNB’s taste, but I liked it just fine. That jalapeno beer, however, was so good that I insisted we return the next day for lunch.

Still impressed. And wishing I was drinking it right now.
Still impressed. And wishing I was drinking it right now.

After that, we jetted off to downtown Kalamazoo, knowing we still had four bars left to visit – thankfully, all within walking distance of each other. We started the night at Rupert’s Brew House, which turned out to be another delight. To be honest, I’d added them to the list because I’d found out that they had a Great Dane named Captain Stooby who just hung out in the taproom. And hang out he did, although he was mainly more interested in pizza than humans!

You can tell I wasn't the only one excited by the GIANT DOG!
“Yeah this is nice and all but can I have some noms please?”

The dog isn’t just a gimmick to make up for the beer because the booze is delicious. We managed to taste two cream ales, two ciders, a peanut butter porter and a double IPA. I’m not usually a fan of cream ales, but the dry hopped one they had on tap was delicious. Fruity and tropical, with a big pineapple taste and some distinct notes of corn husk. The raspberry cider was also a big hit with us. It was sweet with just a bit of tang, and some definite apple still present among the raspberry. The peanut butter porter smelled like a melted Reese’s but didn’t quite deliver on the taste. The winner, however, was the Double High PA, which was just juicy and intense, with lots of mango, lemon zest and orange. Absolutely one of the best Double IPAs I’ve ever had.

Artfully shown here as the best of the pack
Artfully shown here as the best of the pack

Since we were hungry (and following a dog theme, apparently), we walked to Gonzo’s Bigdogg Brewing next, where we’d heard the food was delicious. The crab flatbread in particular really won my heart. Their kale slaw was also probably the best slaw I’ve ever had. I’ll be throwing sunflower seeds in all my future slaws, thank you very much. We took it easy on the beers here, since we were both starting to tire (as I write this, I’m noticing that BNB’s beer notes got noticeably sparser over the evening). Gonzo’s did have some very drinkable beers, such as Melons on a Blonde, a blonde ale that captured a cantaloupe-like flavor. The Shoddy Lock Stout was also quite nice, with lots of coffee and milk chocolate (direct quote from the beer notes: “super dark, yo!”). IMG_1054

Next stop was Tibbs, a charmingly small pub with some rather tasty beers. Once again, I gravitated towards the lighter fare, particularly the Citra and Take It IPA. Oh, did I mention that Tibbs is all about the puns? With beer names like the Hell Raisin Saison, I was delighted. Uncharacteristically, I really enjoyed the Auslander Hefeweizen, which had a nice balance of spice and bitterness, just enough to counteract the usual overwhelming Hefe taste of bananas.IMG_1059

Our last stop was Bell’s, where we got lazy with the notes. Can you really blame us? After all, it was our seventh brewery of the day. The brewery itself was incredibly cavernous. Since it was a Friday night, it was also packed to the brim with tipsy students. There was quite a bit to try here, as they were trying to kick a lot of their kegs to make space for things they would serve at the Funvitational the next day. IMG_1064The two highlights here included Le Bretteur, an American Wild Ale, and the Coffee Mustache, known as a California Common or an American-style lager. This style was common in the late 1800s when refrigeration was rare, since it uses a strain of yeast that responds well to warmer temperatures. Le Bretteur had a lot of white wine character, along with a lot of tartness and lemon. Meanwhile, the Coffee Mustache tasted like a real, good, robust, earthy cup of coffee.

The beers. They never end!
The beers. They never end!

We finally returned to the hotel after this, completely exhausted. And maybe a little drunk. Don’t worry, mom, we took another cab home!

Next time, I finally get to the main event: Bell’s 30th Anniversary Funvitational! Join me again as I tell you about the fanfare, the fun, the surprises and, of course, the beers.

The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 3: The Big Dogs

(This post is part of a series detailing my recent trip to Bell’s Funvitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 if you enjoyed this!)

On our third day in Michigan, we had an unprecedented amount of beer. If you think we enjoyed a lot of samples yesterday, hang on to your hats: this is where it gets intense. Since this was a driving-lite day, we filled up every nook and cranny of time we had with beer samplers.

Heading out from Ann Arbor meant that we finally had a chance to sleep in, since our next destination was only about two hours away. We arrived in Holland around lunchtime, and made a beeline towards New Holland Brewing Company – one of the few breweries whose beers we’d tasted prior to this trip. The beer we’d had was The Poet, an incredible oatmeal stout that blew our minds. From the size of the restaurant and its location right in the center of town, it was easy to see that New Holland was already an institution. IMG_0984My first note about New Holland: they make great beer cheese. Made with their Mad Hatter midwest IPA, it’s nice and rich with a lovely mustard tang to give it a bit of a kick. Their beers were also quite delicious. My favorite here was the Paleooza Michigan pale ale, a beer brewed with MI-grown cascade hops. It was a pale ale just the way I like it; grassy and herbal, juicy and tropical, dry without being chalky or unpleasant on the palate. Our great waitress also gave us a small sample of the Blue Bradberry blueberry wheat ale, which managed to retain a ton of blueberry flavor without being overwhelmingly sweet. IMG_0990The thing that surprised me the most, however, was The Poet. Although it was still delicious, the chocolaty intensity that makes it so drinkable wasn’t as present as when it’s bottled. New Holland does have a great way with darker beers. Their Sticky Fingers sweet stout had a wonderful molasses flavor. I’m not typically a fan of sweet stouts, but I really dug this one. Sadly, we didn’t get around to trying the Dragon’s Milk, their bourbon barrel stout.

"Please stop taking pictures and let me drink this beer."
“Please stop taking pictures and let me drink this beer.”

We continued on to Grand Rapids for a stop at Founders, another brewery more widely distributed outside of Michigan. You may have heard of them based on the controversy surrounding the label of their Breakfast Stout featuring a baby.

This brewery is HUGE, taking up its own block in Grand Rapids. There’s not one, but two bars within the taproom and an enormous terrace with some beautiful outdoor fire places and drunk-proof safety warnings. IMG_1012The beers were impressively diverse, and extremely vibrant in color. Seriously, I snapped a million pictures of these samples and felt like a professional for a few minutes.

The Founders-clad man in the background was merely a happy accident

These gorgeous beers were definitely as good as they looked. The Untombed Ancient Egyptian Ale was a unique starter, brewed to celebrate the arrival of King Tut to the Grand Rapids Public Museum.  As a history nerd who grew up with a fascination for this boy king, it made me so happy that Founders commemorated this occasion with such a special beer. The brewers used traditional ingredients such as honey and dates, and replaced hops with spices and herbs. The result is a beer that is deep ruby in color – Nick and I both settled on asp’s blood as the exact descriptor. There’s a lot of berry and honey in it, and it smells just like strawberry jam on toast. The taste is mostly wildflower honey, with some of the berry notes in the background, some rose and cumin. Definitely wonderfully creative.

Seriously, just look at that color!
Seriously, just look at that color!

Of course, we also had a taste of the aforementioned Breakfast Stout, which was intensely chocolaty and creamy with some surprising notes of tobacco, leather and molasses. Our hands down favorite of the day, however, was the Rubaeus raspberry ale served on nitro. It was another strikingly colorful beer, full of red and orange and amber. It was amazingly complex when tasted; starting off with a slight creaminess, bursting into full tart raspberry in the middle and finishing fairly sweet, with pure raspberries and cream. Even among the very strong line-up we tasted, the Rubaeus stood head and shoulders above the rest. IMG_1011We did try many more beers while at Founders; they had many IPAs and Imperial IPAs on tap, and while those big, hoppy beers weren’t my favorites, they were all excellently made. They also tapped a cask of their Dirty Bastard Scotch ale aged with cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup. Since the Dirty Bastard is already quite sweet, we were afraid that it would be way too sweet with the addition of maple syrup. However, the effect was more like maple syrup on French toast. The maple stays front and center but it’s seriously tempered by the vanilla and cinnamon. Clearly, Founders is a brewery to be reckoned with; they know what they’re doing and they’re not afraid to jump off the deep end to do it.

These are the faces of two very satisfied beer tourists
These are the faces of two very satisfied beer tourists

We set off from Founders totally content. We couldn’t stop there, though, knowing that Kalamazoo itself is chock full of an impressive amount of breweries. Tune in next time to read about our Kalamazoo pub crawl!

The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 2: The Road to Ann Arbor

(This is part 3 of an ongoing series about my trip to Bell’s Brewery’s Funvitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Read part 1 and part 2 as well!)

We only had about an hour of driving left until we arrived in Ann Arbor, our destination for the night. But we couldn’t just drive straight through – no, there’s too much beer to drink in this world! First, we stopped in South Lyon to visit Witch’s Hat Brewing.

Beer waits for no man!
Beer waits for no man!

We were ravenously hungry when we walked in and absentmindedly ordered the first food item we saw. Pro tip: if you’re about to taste a bunch of beers, don’t get the spicy salsa. So please keep in mind that the following beer reviews were impacted by a fiery spiciness, since I am a total wimp.

We still managed to taste 10 more beers, including two variations on a milk stout named Sweet Lou – one aged in a bourbon barrel and one made with cinnamon, chipotle and ginger (called The Angry Ginger). The Sweet Lou itself was a little too sweet for my liking, like a sugary mocha drink. The amusingly-named Angry Ginger did a lot to temper that sweetness. Even though it wasn’t spicy, the chipotle added a nice savory twist, the ginger came through nicely and the cinnamon was a lovely accent.IMG_0960

My favorite was the Apricot Hyppie Girl, a blonde ale brewed with coriander and apricots. It tasted just like I always wish apricot beers would taste; fruity but not too sweet, with lots of citrus character and just a twist of berry.

Although I really enjoyed the beer, what I loved even more was the communal vibe of the taproom. This was also my first encounter with a mug club. As soon as I walked in to the taproom, I was struck by the large wall of glass mugs that made up the majority of the decoration. Curious, I asked about them, and was told that the mugs could be purchased by members of their club, who also had access to special events and discounted beers for their membership. These mugs were all hand crafted and hand paint, and were left at the brewery for specific drinking only purposes. I’d never heard of a mug club before, but it’s a brilliant idea.

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This flame-covered one was my personal favorite

Finally, we trudged off to Ann Arbor to settle for the night. Our last brewery stop for the day was Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, a brewery specializing in the production of sour styles. Ann Arbor itself is a lovely university town; a nice downtown core is filled with hip bars, stores and a very impressive comic book and board game store. Fun fact: Ann Arbor is actually the hometown of Iggy Pop!IMG_0968

Jolly Pumpkin is delightful in many ways, featuring not just their beers but food and delicious cocktails as well, made with their own spirits. Nick and I split a flight of beers, all with varying degrees of sourness. Even though Nick doesn’t usually go for pumpkin beers, we both really enjoyed La Parcela. The pumpkin flavor was very present but wasn’t too sweet an was complemented well with some spices and orange. The Bam Noire was also exceptional. This dark farmhouse ale tastes strongly of berries, with just a hint of coffee and plums.IMG_0972

Even though we were in it for the beer, my cocktail was a definite highlight. The Thai Boxer is rum-based, with creamy coconut milk, ginger beer, lime, mint, cilantro and basil. All these flavors meld together to create a tropical vacation in my mouth.

So tasty, I just had to pose with it
So tasty, I just had to pose with it

(Side note: I wore my Jolly Pumpkin shirt yesterday, and never have I made more friends in New York City. There were three separate occasions when complete strangers told me it was their favorite brewery. Jolly Pumpkin, you’ve got lots of fans in NYC!)

We stopped by an impressively stocked bar that whipped up a mean Old Fashioned, and promptly collapsed into bed as soon as we returned to the hotel.

Drinking all day is hard work, guys.

NEXT TIME ON THE GREAT MICHIGAN BEER JOURNEY: It’s a new day, and our journey to Kalamazoo takes us on a detour. We visit New Holland and Founders, two big dogs in the Michigan beer scene.

 

 

The Great Michigan Journey, Day 2: Kuhnhenn Brewing Company

(This is part 2 of an ongoing series. To read part 1, click here!)

We set out nice and early from Toronto, ready for a beer-filled journey to Ann Arbor, Michigan. After enjoying a lovely cup of cocoa yerba mate and some delicious vegan muffins, we were on the road again!

Like any other trip to the USA, I was afraid we’d get stuck at the border for a while. I began to fret even more when it seemed like our line was moving more slowly than others. Finally, we pulled up to the window, faced with a serious-looking man holding a travel coffee mug. We only got two questions from him: “where are you going?” and “what do you do?” So we told him.

He was intrigued when I said I was a TV writer, and asked me what exactly that meant.

I launched into my usual speech, saying that I wanted to join a writers’ room someday and write a great show like, say, Breaking Bad.

Oh crap. THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW
Oh crap. Ohhhh Crap. THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW THINK OF ANOTHER SHOW!

Yes, I mentioned a show about crystal meth to a border guard.

He laughed. “I love that show!” He went on to describe how much he enjoyed its five-season run as Nick and I avoided looking at each other incredulously. “Man, it just made me want to quit my job and start selling meth, you know.”

After that unexpected comment, he handed back our passports and waved us off. As soon as we were on the highway, we both burst out laughing. The day was off to a good start!

Our hot streak continued at our first brewery stop in Warren, Michigan. I had never heard of Kuhnhenn Brewing Company when I found it on a bunch of must-visit brewery lists. It turned out to be so fantastic, I’m giving it its own post.

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They even let me borrow a glass and appropriately clad bar staff for picture-taking purposes!

We were immediately thrilled to find 16 beers on tap, and were even more shocked when we were presented with a list of 10 or so meads. We did the best we could to try everything, so we got two flights. What we thought was going to be a quick stop turned into a couple of hours as we were surprised to find that all the beers were excellent. Even better, most had kooky, often pun-filled names; Shandy Koufax (for you baseball fans out there), The Fluffer, Penetration Porter and more. IMG_0921Speaking of The Fluffer, it had to be my favorite, hands down. A light (only 4.5%) West Coast Session, it had those awesome citrus, peach and pine hop notes that I love.  I could have just enjoyed it all day long, if there wasn’t so much other beer to try.

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So refreshing, so hoppy, so yummy!

Another stunner was the Roaster Cider, made with cinnamon, toasted pecans and vanilla. It tasted exactly like a boozy apple pie, with the notes of vanilla and cinnamon appearing very strongly. I could imagine myself sitting in front of a fire mid-winter, enjoying this cider under an enormous, fuzzy blanket.

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Guys, I’m so excited for real autumn to be here.

Their cask for the day, the Coco Thumpin’ Good Time IPA, was also a definite highlight. Basically, the brewers took one of their regular brews and added coffee and cocoa nibs. This was a surprising one – you don’t expect the coffee punch and tons of earthy chocolate from the gold color. Also impressive was Kuhnhenn’s Double Rice IPA, their award-winning flagship beer. That award was definitely justified. There was a ton of citrus along with some pine, just a touch of pepper spiciness, not much malt at all but instead a ton of lemon pith and zest. Just so, so good.

At this point, people starting noticing we were taking notes, and we chatted with a delightful man who turned out to be Eric Sr., the father of the founders/brewmasters, Bret and Eric. He cracked open Kuhnhenn’s cellars and offered us tastes of two unique beers. The first was an aged Simcoe Sillier Belgian golden strong ale, which had lots of sweet maltiness and delicious simcoe hop character. It was the second beer, however, that blew my mind.

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The special brews, in all their glory!

There were only four bottles left of the 2 year bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, and I feel honored that Eric shared one of those with us. It will live on in my memory as not just the best stout, but one of the best beers I have ever put in my mouth. The texture was unctuous in every sense of the word. Both the aroma and flavor were wonderfully complex. Milk chocolate, vanilla, oak, caramel and booze on the nose mixed with figs, coffee and deep toffee in a mouthwatering combination that I never wanted to end. Seriously, I’m drooling now just thinking about it.

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Just look at that. It’s like chocolate milk for adults, but somehow even better.

The deliciousness didn’t even end there – we threw ourselves into three last meads to round out our total to 15. We went the flowery route, opting to try the jasmine tea mead and the lavender mead – both very pleasant. The standout, however, was the cedar-aged, which had just enough woodsiness to cut down on the sweetness of the honey.

IMG_0953All those beers, and our day wasn’t even close to being over! Tune in next time for the rest of the journey to Ann Arbor, some sensational sours and the discover of Michigan’s mug clubs.

The Great Michigan Beer Journey, Day 1

Phew. What a weekend.

Just about a week ago, Beer Nerd Boyfriend and I embarked on a magical four-day trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our goal? Get to the 30th anniversary of Bell’s Brewery and taste as many beers as we could along the way.

Our trip through Michigan went a little like this: 4 days, 11 breweries visited, 136 beers sampled, close to 1,500 miles covered, only a couple instances of getting horribly lost, too many delightful surprises to count and a good time had by all. It was one incredible journey through a state where people seem to follow their own rules. The speed limit on the highway is 70 mph and no one uses their turn signals to merge. It’s a jungle out there on the roads.

But let’s start at the beginning – our first road stop, Toronto. It was a day of extremes. For example, while I was having the best duck fat fries of my life at WVRST, our car was getting towed.

I must say that the fries were kind of worth it.
I must say, the fries were kind of worth it.

That wasn’t even close to being the start of the day. We began our journey around brunch time, when we stopped at Starving Artist for waffles. I’d seen it on an episode of You Gotta Eat Here, and immediately told Nick we needed to stop. I mean, a café that puts everything in waffles? Sign me up!

I really dig waffles, guys.
I really dig waffles, guys.

We started off with waffle bacon – literally, they just take some bacon and put it in a waffle, cut it into sticks and serve it with maple syrup. Then, because we needed to have all the waffles, we tried two mains; the benedict, served on what was essentially waffled mashed potatoes, and the Monte Cristo on a french toasted waffle. It was a whole lot of waffle. A whole lot of delicious, amazing, fluffy, flavor-packed waffle.

Look on my waffles, ye mighty, and despair!
Look on my waffles, ye mighty, and despair!

We managed to roll down the street back to the car and went off to meet one of Nick’s friends, with the intention of going to Bellwoods Brewery. Here is where fate intervene: it turned out they were closed until 5pm. So we wandered around the neighborhood, and eventually made our way to WVRST, a charming place to get excellent sausages. They also happen to have a seriously extensive beer menu and an impressively well-versed staff.

Those certificates on top? All their bar staff are certified beer servers.
Those certificates on top? All their bar staff are certified beer servers.

We shared a big bottle of Session White, a Chardonnay barrel aged saison made by The Local 7, a collective of Toronto area bars. But the duck fat fries. Oh, those duck fat fries. Just salty enough, with a nice amount of crunch, and two delicious dipping sauces to go along with them. If you are anywhere near Toronto, go now and try them. I’ll wait. 20150909_160114
And that’s when we wandered back to Bellwoods, only to realize that our car had disappeared, replaced only by a parking cop who informed us that we had to travel to a towing lot across town. So Bellwoods had to be left for another trip.

Thanks to the friendliest Uber driver in Toronto, we did get the car back. We then met with some delightful friends who helped us drown our troubles at Indie Ale House, a fairly new brewpub that served up some lovely beers and tasty food. They so thoroughly distracted us that I forgot to take pictures! Indie Alehouse really did have some terrific beers. The Broken Hipster Belgian wit was my particular favorite, despite having some notes of that banana-like Belgian yeast character I’m usually not crazy about. With beer names like Cockpuncher and Zombie Apocalypse, I will definitely back.

Here's an adorable meme to make up for my laziness.
Here’s an adorable meme to make up for my laziness.

Come back tomorrow for a full report of day two, in which we slowly made our way down to Ann Arbor’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. Don’t worry, the upcoming entries will have a lot more beer!