Posts in Bar Towel Radio

Aaron Spinney and Cass Enright

Bar Towel Radio with Aaron Spinney

March 4th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

This week we sat down for a beer and a chat with Aaron Spinney, the brewer of the soon-to-open Merit Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario.  Aaron is one of the many nice dudes in the Ontario beer scene, and it is exciting to see his new venture take shape alongside Tej Sandhu and (OG Bar Towel Forum member) Jesse Vallins, two other well-known players in the local beer and food world.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:

 

Bar Volo - Outside Tap Board

Memories from the Last Days of Bar Volo

October 11th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature 1 comment

On October 1st, 2016, Bar Volo, one of Toronto’s most revered beer bars, closed its doors due to a future development on the property. Bar Volo has been one of the most influential beer bars in the local beer scene, as they have hosted numerous tap takeovers, beer events and tastings over the years, perhaps most notably Cask Days, which is now a stand-alone festival at the Evergreen Brick Works.

Bar Volo’s final day coincided with this year’s Zwanze Day, an international, simultaneous beer festival of sorts, whereby numerous bars around the world all tap a special keg from the Cantillon Brewery of Belgium.

Being Volo’s last day, I took this opportunity to chat with the many brewers, beer lovers and other members of the beer industry who attended to celebrate this momentous beer bar, and look forward to Volo’s new beginnings on College Street and Church Street.

This episode of Bar Towel Radio consists of personal memories recorded live over the final two days of Bar Volo.  Some of the stories recounted included the first Cask Days, the Beau’s tap takeover Beaulo, the Stone Brewing feature, the Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel launch event and the first Funk Night, amongst others.

Thanks to the participants which included Maz Brereton, Nick Pashley, Ken Woods, Doug Shoemaker, Russ Burdick, Jason Fisher, Ryan Morrow, Robin LeBlanc, Rob Morra, Mike Lackey, Cody Noland, Michael Hancock, Sam Corbeil, Zack Weinberg, Matt Tweedy, Jason Tremblay, Iain Mcoustra, Luc Lafontaine, Julian Morana and Ralph Morana.

You can listen to the episode below or on iTunes or Google Play:

 

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A Fireside Chat with Muskoka’s Gary McMullen

October 8th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Earlier this week Muskoka Brewery hosted a beer dinner at Café Belong at the Evergreen Brick Works, to promote the launch of their new winter seasonal, Shinnicked Stout. Around the outdoor campfire which concluded the dinner, I was able to have a quick chat with Gary McMullen, founder of Muskoka, about their history, the evolution of the Ontario beer scene and the current state of their brewery.

Give a listen to the latest episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:

 

Please note: as the episode was recorded outdoors, at times there was some wind noise. Hopefully that will not interfere with your enjoyment of the episode.

jimandcass

A Beer with Jim Koch

September 27th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Jim Koch, Founder and Brewer of the Boston Beer Company, known for the legendary beer brand Samuel Adams, was in town last week for Toronto Beer Week. During that time I was fortunate to record a podcast with him, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my beer drinking lifetime.

Samuel Adams has had a long history in Ontario and with my own personal beer experiences. I recall Samuel Adams Boston Ale hitting the LCBO shelves in the 1990s and how delicious it was. Of course how could I forget the appearance of Triple Bock, a beer so different I don’t think anyone of my generation had tried anything like it before.  I remember interesting seasonals like Old Fezziwig coming to Ontario which were unlike what we were seeing locally at the time, and spent early travels in the United States seeking out others. And I was grateful to Samuel Adams (and their local partner Moosehead) for entrusting me to the scoop of their initial release of Utopias and Infinium to the Ontario market back in 2010.

It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Jim, a charming man who has been a pioneer in the microbrewing and craft beer industry and an extremely astute and successful businessman, but a humble and friendly individual generous enough to spare some time for a long-time fan. Give it a listen below, or via iTunes or Google Play.

Give it a listen below or on iTunes or Google Play:

Pizza Port in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

San Diego’s Beer Paradise

September 10th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

San Diego is one of my favourite beer drinking cities, and generally just an amazing place to visit all-around. Recently I was able to spend a couple of days there enjoying the always delicious beer, and was fortunate to be able to chat with Jill Davidson, President of the San Diego Brewers Guild about the region’s dynamic and thriving beer scene.

In this podcast we chat about the early days of San Diego beer, where the local beer scene is headed, some of the great breweries and neighbourhoods to check out, San Diego Beer Week, and all about Pizza Port, where Jill works full-time and one my most loved beer spots anywhere.

Give it a listen below or on iTunes:

Father's Office, Los Angeles

A Torontoian Beer Lover in Los Angeles

September 1st, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

Recently I was fortunate to spend a couple of days checking out the beer scene in Los Angeles, California. Although it’s one of the largest cities in North America, the beer scene does not have a long history compared to other beer spots around the continent. But that’s changing quickly, with the emergence and rise of numerous new craft brewers in L.A. making waves with delicious and interesting beers.

While I was in there, I recorded a podcast with Aaron Champion, a former Toronto resident who moved to L.A. a few years ago, launched the excellent craft beer website Cask Ale LA and has been helping Cask Days coordinate some of the American beers available at the festival.  On the podcast we chat about Aaron’s move to L.A., the local beer scene and some of the great spots and great beers to check out, and a little bit of the Ontario beer scene and Bar Towel Forum reminiscing. Plus, he gives us some inside information about what to expect from California at this year’s Cask Days.

Please give it a listen below or via iTunes:

 

This episode was recorded live at the awesome bar Father’s Office, at the  1018 Montana Avenue location in Santa Monica. To find out the latest that’s on tap at FO, text ‘Beer’ to 424-234-2337. Also, have the burger.

 

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Golden Tap Talk with Ben Johnson and David Ort

August 29th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, Golden Tap Awards No Comment yet

The Golden Tap Awards voting season is upon us, and during this time beer lovers in the province get talking. And this year is no different, so Ontario beer writers Ben Johnson, David Ort and I decided to record a podcast to discuss some of the issues of the past, present and future of the Awards.

Please give it a listen below or via iTunes:

 

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Warm Smiles and Cold Beers at Cruz Blanca

July 19th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

The bar on the main floor of Cruz Blanca.With so many breweries opening up nowadays (620 did in 2015 according to the Brewers Association), it is sometimes hard to get excited for a specific one to debut.  But there was much excitement this summer when Cruz Blanca, the new brewery from Rick Bayless, the restaurateur behind Chicago’s Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, opened its doors.  Mr. Bayless is a legend in the Mexican cuisine world, a Michelin-starred chef known for creativity, accessibility, authenticity and passion.  And when we learned that he and his team were going to get into the brewing world, we began tracking the progress of his new venture with great anticipation.

Cruz Blanca is located in the West Loop neighbourhood of Chicago, an incredibly lively food and drink haven already home to The Publican, brewpub Haymarket, famed restaurant Girl and the Goat and its sister Little Goat Diner, the Three Floyds-focused pub Lone Wolf and the delicious Green Street Smoked Meats.  The area has transformed from a meatpacking district to a day and night playground for the senses with no indication of slowing down.  And with the simultaneous openings of Cruz Blanca and its adjoining neighbour Leña Brava (also by Rick Bayless), the area became even more of a magnet for food and drink lovers.

2nd floor taproom is usually open.Upon entering the attractively designed space one is immediately greeted with two options: the Cruz Blanca “Cervecería” or “Taquería”.  Beers are available directly from the 10-seat-long bar located on the left hand side of the room, and tacos are available from the counter located to the right.  Numerous communal tables (no reservations here) fill the space along with a front patio on Randolph Street.  A second taproom sits above the main room, featuring another long bar adorned with TV screens, although the large windows overlooking Randolph are equally if not more interesting.  Bar or counter service is the rule of the house, which means less waiting for a delicious beer which is very much appreciated.

There’s a story to this new brewery, one rooted in Mexican brewing history.  Emil Dercher was a European who left France to Mexico City in the 1860s and opened one of the first breweries there, naming it Cruz Blanca.  With this inspiration, the new Cruz Blanca brews interpretations of German, French and Austrian styles as would have been present in Mexico City during the original incarnation, but with a modern twist and featuring unique ingredients from the present day.

A view from Cruz Blanca's brewhouse.The three-level establishment integrates the brewery throughout the space.  On the upper floor lies the grain mill, feeding the 10 barrel Newlands brewhouse located behind the bar on the ground level.  From there bright tanks live in the basement directly feeding the main bar, as do a few more behind the bar on the top floor.  A immaculate cold room is also present on the lower level for kegs and guest brews.  Coming soon to the brewery is a bottle filler and a barrel program to even further the capability of this impressive new operation.

Cruz Blanca’s house brews are anchored by a trio of bière de garde styles under the La Guardia banner: Rubia, Ambar and Morena.  With consistent yeast and hops across all three brews, each beer has a unique malt bill and featured ingredient.  The Rubia, the lightest of the three clocking in at 6.8% is a sweet, orange coloured brew with local Illinois honey; Ambar features Mexican hominy at 7.5%; and the boozy Morena packs a punch at 9% with Mexican Piloncillo sugar resulting in a lingering sweetness.  A common theme amongst Rick Bayless’ restaurants is their commitment to local farms, and their beers follow this philosophy, as malts in their beers are from the Sugar Creek Malt Co. in northern Indiana.

Communal seating on the main floor of Cruz Blanca.Other beers in the house lineup include Smoke Alley, a 4% delicately smoked wheat ale inspired by Oaxaca’s taco corridor of the same name, Winnow, a rich and delicious 6.9% American porter made with cocoa bean husks from sister restaurant Xoco, and Básica, the hoppiest beer of the bunch, a crisp 6% wheat lager made with Chinook and Cascade hops.  The beers of Cruz Blanca are unique and interesting, accessible but flavourful.  It is clear that they do not follow the traditional pattern of new brewpubs today, but have carved their own path of originality with stories behind each recipe and the quality to match.  The remaining taps featured guest brews from local breweries that helped with the pilot batches as Cruz Blanca was getting up and running, including Perennial, Penrose, Revolution, Half Acre and Metropolitan, but in recent days more house brews have been coming on the line (a Vienna Lager and Hoppy Kolsch were in the works during our visit).  After only a few short weeks from visiting there is already more new to try.

Cruz Blanca's taco counter for delicious bites.

Cruz Blanca also features a daily radler, with a rotating agua fresca flavour mixed with Smoke Alley (and a mezcal option to turbocharge that), along with beer-to-go in freshly-poured growler (64 oz.) or howler (32 oz.) form.  And what would a Rick Bayless restaurant be without Mexican cuisine, and Cruz Blanca delivers with an all-fire kitchen (no gas lines in the building) featuring steak, pork, chicken, chorizo and mushroom tacos, alongside other snacks and sides.  As Todd White, Lead Bartender and Assistant Manager put it, “Come in, find a spot and make it your own”.  This encouraging rule is evident at Cruz Blanca: it is a welcoming spot to try many delicious varieties of beer and food where one could easily settle in for an entire day exploring the many tastes of this dynamic new brewery and taqueria.

After the visit, I was thrilled to be able to chat with Jacob Sembrano, Head Brewer of Cruz Blanca about his beers and brewery.  Please give it a listen below or via iTunes:

 

Cruz Blanca is an excellent addition to the already dynamic beer scene of Chicago.  Its beer list breaks the mold for most new breweries with a lineup full of unique beers made with interesting stories and ingredients.  The design is top notch, the beers are delicious and the experience is friendly and memorable.  As complex of an operation as Cruz Blanca is, their mantra was described to us as “warm smiles, cold beer.”  And here, there’s nothing else we’d rather have.

Cruz Blanca is located at 904 W. Randolph Street in Chicago, Illinois.  The brewery and taqueria is open from 11am until 11pm from Tuesday-Thursday, until midnight on Friday and Saturday, until 9pm on Sunday, and closed Monday.  Special thanks to Head Brewer Jacob Sembrano and Lead Bartender and Assistant Manager Todd White for their generous participation in this feature.

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A Beer At…The Publican

May 15th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports 1 comment

The Bar Towel is proud to present a new series entitled “A Beer At…”, where we feature a single bar or restaurant, have a beer there and get a feel for what makes them special. Our first visit is to Chicago’s famed The Publican, a shrine to beer and pork in the city’s hot Fulton Market/West Loop area.

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The Publican’s European beer hall feel is unmistakeable.

The Publican in Chicago is a beer destination in every sense. It is grand, it is unique, and the beers are always interesting, delicious and selected with an evident sense of great care and appreciation. It’s a place where I make it a point to stop in for a beer every time I’m in Chicago, so it’s a fitting to be the first feature of our new “A Beer At…” series, where we visit special beer spots and find out what makes them great. And in this first feature we are also fortunate to have a live chat with Adam Vavrick, Beer Director of The Publican for a complementary Bar Towel Radio podcast.

Upon entering The Publican you know you’re somewhere different. It’s a large, open space with numerous large communal tables lining the floor and rows of grand, bulbous lights hanging from the ceiling, reminiscent of a European beer hall. You can’t help but notice the massive murals of pig artwork adorning the walls – they love their pork (and more) here and aren’t shy to feature this fine animal throughout.

The Publican can be a place of juxtaposition. Although meticulously designed and refined, there is a definite casual and fun air to the place, with classic cheese rock jams from Journey, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi emanating through the bar on an early evening on Saturday. It’s a place where fun and fine come together seamlessly.

Local food is important to The Publican, and across their menu highlights of pork, oysters, fish and cheese, farmers or location are identified to provide provenance. And local beer is also important, but a wider reach is featured on the beer menu. Within their twelve draught taps alone five states are featured from the U.S.A., alongside Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Breweries represented on tap at my visit included The Bruery, Stone, Left Hand, Half Acre, Allagash, Lindemans, Krombach, Andechs, Hirt and Koningshoeven. An extensive bottle list also includes the U.K., Japan, Canada and vintage offerings such at Aventinus, JW Lees and Orval. The beer list changes regularly, and every visit will provide a new experience when browsing the excellent menu.

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The delicious Lambic Doux, served in a clay pitcher.

Now we’re here to have a beer, and the beer we’re having is Lambic Doux. This is one of the most unique beers you’ll find in Chicago, as it is literally one-of-a-kind at the Publican. The Lambic Doux is The Publican’s house blend lambic that features a unique mix of added flavours in small batch quantities. Served in a clay pitcher, having the Lambic Doux is a delicious and special treat, almost a sensory teleportation taking you from the bustle of the city to the farm table of Belgium. At this visit the Lambic Doux was flavoured with blackberry, mint and lemongrass, an orangey-pink hued beer with a light head and a rich sourness, with the added flavours evident. It’s simply delicious and a beer I find time for during every Chicago visit – and so should you.

The Publican is a dynamite place for a beer, and luckily during my visit I was able to have a quick chat with Adam Vavrick, the newly hired Beer Director of The Publican, which we are happy to present as as Bar Towel Radio podcast here. The podcast complements this feature, as you’ll hear from Adam about his background, The Publican’s beer philosophy and other interesting tidbits about this wonderful place. Give a listen below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes:

 

The Publican is located at 837 W. Fulton Market in the Fulton Market / West Loop area of Chicago. Formerly an industrial and meatpacking district, this area has transformed in recent years to house some of the city’s most renowned restaurants and bars. Across N. Green Street facing The Publican is their offshoot Publican Quality Meats, a delicious casual spot with sandwiches, beer and meat and food to go. The Publican will also be opening a location at O’Hare Airport in the near future.  The Publican is open afternoons and evenings seven days a week, with daytime brunch on weekends.