Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Inspired by my friend Martin who did something similar last year, I decided to attempt the goal of trying a new beer every week for the whole year! This is a six-month recap of what I’ve tried so far. I’ve had to stick to what’s available in BC of course, so haven’t had a chance to try many American craft beers. There’s lots of local stuff here though!
- Red Racer IPA – The first beer I tried is from the local Central City Brewing Company, and won a few awards in 2010. Easily my favourite IPA and one of the best beers of the year so far overall.
- Red Racer Pale Ale – More bitter than the IPA, not as memorable.
- Red Racer Lager – Has a bite, almost apple taste, not for me.
- Tuborg – Unremarkable, inoffensive but forgettable.
- Bavaria – Don’t remember much about this one, didn’t dislike it but it didn’t stay with me.
- Chimay Blue – I like strong Belgian beers a lot, and this is one of the classics.
- Innis & Gunn Highland Cask – An interesting beer finished in whisky casks. VERY sweet, not my thing really despite the whisky connection!
- Steam Whistle Pilsner – From Ontario, really liked this one, easily available in Vancouver.
- Red Baron – Very forgettable, not great.
- Russell Lager – Ditto!
- Double Decker IPA – From a Victoria brewery, nowhere near as flavourful as the Red Racer.
- Estrella Inedit – Sold in 750ml bottles for $6, I really like it! It’s closest in flavour to a wheat beer and is great for the summer.
All of these were in an “Ontario Craft Beer” multipack I found at the great Legacy Liquor Store in the Olympic Village.
- Wellington SPA – Not bad, nothing special.
- Black Oak Pale Ale – Ditto.
- King Pilsner – Pretty good.
- Stone Hammer Pilsner – Didn’t taste like a pilsner, disappointing.
- Flying Monkey Hoptical Illusion – Wasn’t a fan.
- Cameron’s Cream Ale – Another forgettable entry.
- Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale – Not bad but unlike the name, no bite! Also very expensive.
- Phillips Hefeweizen – I’m not a big fan of the Phillips Brewing Company normally, but this is probably my favourite beer of theirs. It’s a great-tasting wheat ale.
- Efes Pilsner – This was a really good, authentic-tasting pilsner.
- Lighthouse Deckhand Saison – Awesome Belgian-style beer by the Victoria-based Lighthouse.
- Stanley Park Amber Ale – This isn’t normally the kind of beer I like but for some reason I love this one. Lots of flavour yet light and crisp.
- Stanley Park Pilsner – Not as good as the Amber Ale sadly; there are many better pilsners out there.
There’s lots more to come later in the year; I’ve already found some great stuff for July!
I first found out about the Victoria Whisky Festival, as is the usual way of things, right after the ticket sales had concluded. I was at a Hopscotch event (the Vancouver whisky festival) when the host mentioned that “the biggest event in Canada is of course in Victoria, but it’s sold out now”. Simultaneously excited and horrified, I emailed the contact address on the website and waited in hope.
I did eventually get in touch with someone, of course, otherwise this would be a short and pointless piece (and thereby differing not at all from my usual output). After a month I got a blessed email from Lawrence, the organizer, telling me that there had been a small number of cancellations, and would I like a couple of tickets? I had to pay a bit more than I’d have liked as the tickets were all packages, but that meant I had an excuse to try more whisky so it wasn’t all bad.
This year the festival was held from January 21st – 23rd. I got the opportunity to try a lot of new and exciting products and attend some great seminars. Here’s how it went. By and large I won’t get into tasting notes of the many whiskies I tried, partly because there were just so many and also because I don’t really believe in the usefulness of a lot of the notes you read – taste is so subjective. I’m no professional and will leave that to people like Jim Murray and the various distillery ambassadors who actually know what they’re talking about!
The Grand Compass Box Tasting and Blending Course
The first event on Friday night was one of the best. John Glaser of Compass Box took us through his company’s products, and then we had the chance to blend our own whisky using up to five ingredients (all cask-strength, and mostly single malts from name-brand distilleries). It was the first time I’d tried any Compass Box stuff, and found that I really liked the Spice Tree. John explained the difference between a “true” blended whisky and a vatted blend (blended uses some grain whisky), and while I didn’t choose to use any grain whisky most people seemed to do so. My blend seemed to turn out well from a sip, but on John’s advice I’m letting it sit for a couple of weeks before trying any more, to let the different flavours blend.
The Morrison-Bowmore Distillery Masterclass
Onto the Saturday; I was a bit worried about this event, as the start time was 11.15am! I found that as I got into it though, the earliness of the hour didn’t bother me. Jamie MacKenzie is really entertaining to listen to and the whiskies were really good. This was another distillery I wasn’t too familiar with and I was happy to find out that I really enjoyed all of their samples, especially the Glen Garioch (pronounced “Glen Geery”) 12 year and the Bowmore 15 year. I’ll probably pick up a bottle of both at some point. Later that night at the Consumer Tasting, Jamie had a couple of special bottles literally under the table for masterclass attendees to try; a Bowmore Tempest, and a quite rare Bowmore Maltmen’s Edition which you can only buy directly from the distillery. The Maltmen’s Edition is finished in sherry casks and was particularly good. The class and the bonus drams at the Consumer Tasting were well worth it!
The Macallan Distillery Masterclass
J. Wheelock took us through Macallan’s lineup in this educational session. Now, amongst my friends I’ve been quite vocal in the past for my dislike of Macallan’s Fine Oak 10 year; I haven’t changed my mind on that at all. To me it’s bland, with little or no complexity. Whisky is so subjective though, so I’m sure many others have a different opinion. Anyway, the lineup gets much more interesting very quickly! The 18 year is my favourite by far but as it costs $250 for 750ml in BC I’ve never bought myself a bottle, so it was great to get reacquainted with it here. We also tried the 21 year old, the cask strength and like Bowmore, a special treat in the form of a duty-free-only bottle. I managed to leave my notes behind after the session, but I think it was a Whisky Maker’s Edition. I enjoyed it a lot. And J, I’m one of the people who LIKES to try stuff you can’t buy, so please keep bringing it along!
The Amrut Distillery Masterclass
From their appearances at the Hopscotch festival, I knew that I liked what I’d tried of Amrut, and couldn’t wait to experience more. I wasn’t disappointed! Seven top-class whiskies were shown off by Jonathan Bray in a nicely laid-back and friendly presentation. I seriously liked everything we tried in this session, though I admit to feeling a bit of whisky fatigue by this point (a rarely-diagnosed condition). The standouts were the Fusion, the cask strength single malt and the cask strength peated malt, but all of it was great. Like a lot of people, I imagine, as I first got interested in whisky I was very much snobbishly dismissive of anything non-Scottish, but Amrut is one of the distilleries that showed me that great talent, process, passion and ingredients can be found anywhere that people put their mind to it. A great presentation and great, great whisky.
The 40 Creek Canadian Whisky Masterclass
Just a quick mention for the Forty Creek masterclass – I didn’t actually attend this as it clashed with Amrut, though Louise did. She said it was great; fantastic whisky and it was inspiring to hear of John Hall’s successes. This was brought home for me at the Consumer Tasting later when I tried the Barrel Select whisky – it’s amazing. I got the chance to chat with John about how it’s made and it was a real highlight of the festival. I liked it so much that when I got home I decided to buy a bottle, and was stunned to find out it’s only $25 here in BC! It’s a STEAL at that price. I encourage everyone to try it – it has a phenomenal smoothness, reminding me even in some ways of a good Irish Cream.
The Consumer Tasting
After attempting to line our stomachs with some dinner in the hotel restaurant, we headed for the main event.
I liked the setup here; it costs quite a bit more than the Hopscotch Grand Tasting, but it’s larger and there’s no need to pay individually for the samples like you have to in Vancouver. I guess in theory you could camp out all night by expensive whiskies and just drink those, but then you’d rob yourself of the amazing quality that you can find everywhere you turn.
The list of whiskies I tried over the available three hours is embarrassingly long:
- Johnnie Walker Gold (Blue is so passe)
- Tullibardine Sherry finish
- Highland Park 18 (a perennial favourite)
- Ardbeg Uigedail (this is AMAZING. I love all Ardbeg’s stuff)
- Bowmore Tempest
- Bowmore Maltmen’s Edition
- Nikka 12 (my first Japanese whisky. I liked it but found nothing in the flavour to make it essentially Japanese)
- Nikka “from the barrel” (better than the 12, cask strength)
- Springbank Hazelburn
- Springbank 15
- Sullivan’s Cove cask strength
- Forty Creek Barrel Reserve (amazingly good. My find of the festival as I mention above)
- Forty Creek Confederation Oak
- Gentleman Jack
- Balvenie Signature
There were a LOT more that I didn’t get to try; the long, indulgent day had taken its toll and I was wiped out.
A few more notes on the Consumer Tasting…
The rooms were PACKED with people, more so than Hopscotch. A mixed blessing obviously; you want a large crowd but not too large. I imagine Hopscotch avoids this by holding the event over multiple nights and selling slightly fewer tickets for each individual night.
The food that was supplied was great; in fact had we known it was going to be so good we probably wouldn’t have bothered with dinner.
I kind of wish some of the masterclasses had taken place during the tasting, maybe with the hours extended from 6pm-10pm so as not to lose any time in the main room. They make for a nice break during Hopscotch; the Vancouver seminars are much more informal and low-key though.
And on that note, packing the lion’s share of the festival into one day makes it a little bit of an endurance test if you do more than a couple of classes. It’d be great if there were more to do on the Friday, but I understand most people use that day to arrive, and leave on the Sunday. Not an easy situation for the organizers, I’m sure. It’s a good problem to have though! The sheer number of classes shows how much support the festival has, and it’s easy to see why; it’s amazingly well-run and well-attended.
So overall a fantastic time. I know for the 2012 festival I’ll be sitting refreshing my web browser as I wait for the ticket information to go up! Thanks to Lawrence for being so good as to reply to my seemingly-hopeless email and giving me the chance to attend this world-class event. It was truly a memorable experience!
Last weekend saw the holding of the annual Abbotsford Airshow. It’s my one-and-only opportunity for airshow photography these days, and luckily sunshine was predicted for the first time since I’ve been going. Yep, for the last four or five years it’s been heavily overcast every time we attended. We actually had the opposite problem this year; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature got up to 33C, and with no shade it was a bit uncomfortable.
The unrelenting sun made photography difficult too. The crowdline faces south at Abbotsford, so you’re shooting into the sun all day. That has several unfortunate side-effects:
– The light is coming from above and behind the aircraft, so they can look flat in photographs.
– And the most difficult to deal with, the available light can change by over 2 stops as you pan the camera to catch all of a pass. The aircraft are constantly changing the direction in which they make their passes and it’s very challenging to adjust the camera as you follow them and fire away. I ended up using shutter-priority mode rather than my usual manual, though I don’t think it really made it easier as I still had to continually change the exposure compensation. I got some decent shots of the flying acts, but I think some of my favourites this year were of the statics.
Still, they always put on an impressive show at Abbotsford, and the day passed quickly even in the wilting heat. The highlight for me was the Lancaster bomber, one of only two flying in the world. It went up near the end of the day and it was great to see it in the air, but they’re obviously pretty careful with it and it only made three or four passes, none of which were especially dramatic (no photo pass for instance, where the plane flies an arc while banked toward the crowd, which makes for a more interesting shot than the usual profile angle). The announcers made some references to mechanical problems while it was taxiing out (without tying them to the Lancaster specifically, describing them as “some mechanical issues on the ramp” or something vague), so I wonder if that had anything to do with it. I’ve seen B-17 displays where they throw the plane around a lot more so I don’t think the age of the plane is the only factor. Anyway enough complaining, it was awesome just to see it flying and I’m grateful they made the effort. I’d love to see it visit again!
Other highlights included the WW2-era Corsair, one of my favourite warbirds (not as all-out-awesome as the P-38 though, which I’d love to see again – last time was 2002 or 2003 in Texas); an F8F Bearcat; the F-15E and F/A-18F which are always great; the Thunderbirds and of course the Snowbirds (which I sadly missed as we had to leave). There were a few no-shows which was disappointing; neither of the helicopters scheduled to perform showed up, and neither did the B-25, Hurricane or Sea Fury which had been mentioned on the website (though I just checked again and the fighters aren’t there anymore, so maybe they cancelled ahead of time).
One interesting thing that happened was after the combat demo with ground forces and two CF-18s. The combination of the heat, the pyro effects and the turbulence left by the aircraft led to an actual twister forming out on the airfield. It was at least a hundred feet high or more and maybe a meter across at the ground, and was pretty impressive. I was fiddling with the camera and wasn’t quite ready to take a picture when it appeared (of course!) but I managed to get this one as it lifted off. I’ve deliberately gone a bit further enhancing the colour than I would ordinarily to make it more visible. Really a cool and unique event.
Overall Abbotsford was a good time, though I’ve seen some of the same acts over and over now and I’m really wanting to visit a different airshow. Still haven’t seen an F-22 display, and I really miss the shows we used to go to in Texas with some amazing lighting (Wings over Houston and the Central Texas shows in particular, where you shoot with the sun behind you). Maybe next year!
Wow, I’m doing a remarkably bad job of this blogging thing. One post in two months makes it look like either nothing is happening, or I’m incredibly lazy. It’s definitely not the former; let’s see what’s happened in June and July:
– Visited Montreal for the first time, for the Canadian F1GP, which was a fantastic trip. Had some amazing food, walked around an beautiful new city, and of course watched the race and all the super-entertaining support events. An old man tried rather transparently to steal my camera through trickery, but it was done so badly that I didn’t really begrudge him the attempt. Best of all, I got some pictures that made me very pleased (you can see them on Flickr here). Not sure why taking a photo that doubtless hundreds of other people are taking makes me happier than almost anything else, but it does, so there you go.
– A vacation in Disneyworld and Universal in Orlando. I love theme parks in summer. We’ve been to DW quite a few times before so while we had a really good time on this trip, it wasn’t quite as magical as previous trips here (maybe I should have taken an iPad). I also deliberately de-emphasized photography over travelling light and just concentrating on having a good time. I think this worked pretty well, and I still ended up with some shots I liked. Haven’t actually worked anything up for public consumption or anything yet, due to the laziness mentioned above.
– Work held their annual summer day out, at Playland in Vancouver. The weather was spectacular and I was pretty weary of theme parks at this point so I just took the camera and avoided the rides (still making time of course for the holy “mini” duo – mini-golf and mini-donuts). I put a handful of shots on Flickr.
– Been BBQ’ing like crazy with the exceptional stretch of good weather; lots of burgers and brats, grilled asparagus and potatoes and so on. Haven’t done anything new in a while though. We made a sundried-tomato-pesto-stuffed pork tenderloin that was really good, but just a derivative of the olive-stuffed one I’ve been making. I need some new ideas!
– I’ve been obsessed with Minecraft for a couple of weeks now. It’s a wonderful sandbox where you can mine and build anything you like (as long as you like square blocks that is). It’s amazing how pure it is in its design, and is updated constantly. Everyone who plays games should at least try it out.
I’ve been a Muse fan for a couple of years now, getting into them quite late when I found some random Youtube video with a kicking soundtrack that happened to be “Map of the Problematique” from Black Holes and Revelations. Since then I’ve listened to most of their other albums and was super-happy last year when they announced their first Vancouver concert since 2004! Last night was finally time for the gig, and it didn’t disappoint!
We had really good seats, maybe 60 feet from the stage right at ground level in row 1. Pacific Coliseum used to be where the Canucks played, and our seats were actually in one of the the bullpens.
The support band was the Silversun Pickups, who despite a bit of a crappy sound mix I thought were pretty good. After they’d finished their set there almost 45 minutes went by before the headliners finally made their appearance, but when they did it was more than worth the wait. The lights went down and the 40ft tall video towers came on, with a display of figures endlessly climbing stairs. Then the covers around them dropped, “Uprising” kicked in and Muse appeared!
It was an amazing concert, Matt Bellamy especially was on top form and the light show was incredible. During “Plugin Baby” they dropped inflatable eyes from the ceiling; when they popped while people bounced them around, ticker tape and glitter showered out.
All in all, a fantastic show and well worth waiting for (although don’t leave it another 6 years please!). This is the last shot I took all night (on my iPhone, didn’t have another camera with me) while the band were saying their goodbyes.
My PC is three years old. About 6-8 months ago I upgraded the video card (to a GTX 275, keeping the old 8800GTS in the second slot), and I’ve thrown in another hard drive since I bought it, but other than that it’s as I bought it. Apart from the dust, that is
I’d planned to replace it but I actually had a hard time identifying why exactly, apart from “it’s just time”. I’ve never had a PC that’s able to remain current for more than a couple of years tops, but this one, while lagging a bit in the CPU department, has never felt slow and runs most current games just fine.
So I still have it. I’ve had W7 RC running for a while and it was going to deactivate itself in the next week or two (starting March 1st, it shuts down every two hours without saving open documents etc) so I needed to install a real version of it. Seemed like a good time to upgrade to an SSD for the main drive!
Here’s my installation process.
The story doesn’t quite end there… after dinner I came back up to the computer and it’d rebooted itself, and I got the “Windows has recovered from an unexpected error” dialog. So the saga continues! It survived the night however, maybe it was just a glitch… yes… just a one-time glitch…
We’ve been doing a “Scotch Club” with people from work for a while now. We hold it roughly every other Friday night, and your membership dues are a bottle of Scotch (of your choice) when it’s your turn. It’s a great way to experience a lot of different whiskies for a low investment.
Well, this week was the Vancouver Hopscotch Festival, which is an annual celebration of Scotch (and now other spirits and beer). They have a few events like whisky seminars, hosted dinners, and finally the two big tasting nights. A group of Scotch Club regulars headed down there last night, and it was a TOTAL blast.
Things started off with the most insane cab driver I’ve ever met, this guy deserves a whole post to himself but highlights included his idea of duct-taping tinfoil to his girlfriend so she’d be struck by lightning, having some kind of ray to zap passing cars with that would disintegrate them and allowing him to step in as the savior for now-carless people who’d need a cab, and random insults towards us, his customers (to my bald friend Neil: “hey that guy looks like a penis!”). Mixed in with this hilarity was evidence of a darker side, with random threats to other drivers and his extremely dubious rape jokes. We should have realized that he was insane and/or high when he stopped the cab in the middle of a very busy Seymour Street when we hailed him, almost causing a pileup!
Anyway, we made it there in one piece. General impressions of the festival were very good. It was well-organized, with tons of staff and inconspicuous security (who we saw in action, more on that later).Some observations:
- Some of the more rare/expensive whiskies run out fairly quickly so get there as early as you can and start with the good stuff! The Ardbeg Uigedail and Johnnie Walker Blue Label both ran out in the first hour or so, luckily I was able to try both. The food was almost all gone a couple of hours in as well.
- The music sucked. It was just a standard lounge band and was way too loud in the main hall (the stage was off in the food tent and they piped the music into the main area). I’d have preferred something more in keeping with the theme of the show, which is of course mostly Scotch whiskies, and Dr Hook covers don’t really seem to fit. The pipe band they had walk around at one point was fantastic though.
- I love beer too. I felt that merging beer and whisky tastings into one night isn’t a good idea. I would have loved to walk around tasting all the different beers but only have enough money and alcohol tolerance to stick with one thing. It would be amazing if they did whiskies and spirits one week, and beer the next.
- Security, like I said before, was discreet and when we saw them intervene they handled the (minor) situation very well. Some guy was drunk off his face and started trying to conduct the aforementioned pipe band, and a security guy appeared from nowhere and very gently got him to back off. It ended up with an awesome drunken high-five (which Ryan got on video!) so even he seemed to appreciate it!
- That dude’s the exception to the rule, you don’t get that drunk at these things. Don’t plan on driving or anything, but the amounts they give you are pretty small and by the end of the night I think I’d had the equivalent of 4 or 5 full-size shots of whisky, spread over 4+ hours.
- Take a camera! I can’t believe I forgot one.
Ah yes, the whisky Here are my impressions. Keep in mind I know nothing. If this list looks a bit pedestrian, it’s because there are still some famous and basic whiskies that I wanted to try before I jump into the lesser-known and foreign drinks.
Highland Park 18 years old – The first one I tried was one of my favourites of the night. Very smooth, with a delicious almost creamy scent. Extremely classy. Later on in the evening I tried the Highland Park 15 years old as well, and it was nearly as good. I’d never tried Highland Park before but they’re one of my favourites now.
Macallan 18 years old – My first ever bottle of Scotch whisky was a Macallan 10 and I found (and still find) it to be extremely bland and flavourless, basically it’s just a bottle of alcohol to me. Macallan has such a huge reputation though that sometimes I find myself really WANTING to like it (ah, the power of marketing!), so I made sure to try the 18 year which has probably the best reviews of their lineup. And again I was disappointed… it’s SO light, more flavour than the 10 year for sure but just too insubstantial for me.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label and Blue Label – I only tried my first JW (green label) recently and really liked it, so was looking forward to trying the more expensive varieties. They’re both wonderful, with their own characters. I think if I’m honest I might have enjoyed the gold label a bit more than the blue.
Ardbeg Uigedail – Strong medicinal scent to this one, didn’t really come through in the taste though happily. Has a big impact when swallowed! Very good.
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban -Quite sweet and fruity, a little too sweet for me I think.
Bruichladdich Waves – A surprise, one of my favourites of the night! Peaty with a strong flavour and very spicy. I liked this one a lot.
Bruichladdich PC7 -A lot like Waves, just turned up a notch. Very good, but difficult to find and expensive; Waves gives you most of what the PC7 does for half the price, and there’s no old guy in a baseball cap on the packaging as an extra benefit!
Connemara – The only Irish whisky I tried. I didn’t like it; it had an underlying hard-to-identify unpleasant taste that I found got in the way of the other flavours.
Ileach Cask Strength – This was good stuff! I added a few drops of water (the only time I added water to anything for the whole evening) on the advice of the kilted chap behind the desk who poured it for me, and it was very good; hot and spicy with a strong kick to it as you’d expect.
Amrut Indian Peated Single Malt – I’ll be honest and say I don’t recall much about the Amrut; I remember thinking it was flavourful without standing out so much from the crowd.
Glenkinchie 12 years old – This was a freebie in the entertaining seminar given by Michael Nicolson at the end of the night, and this was a nice surprise too! I guess it shouldn’t have been, this is one of the “classic six” after all and after tasting, it’s reputation is well-deserved. Light in flavour but with a hot finish, I liked this one a lot.
Whiskies I wanted to try but ran out of time/money/capacity: BenRiach Curiositas, BenRiach Tawny Port Finish, Bowmore 18Yr Islay malt, Miyagikyo 12YO, Oban 14YO, The Tyrconnell, any of the Isle of Arran scotches.
Not just a vacation from blogging, a real vacation! Louise and I went to Hawaii (14 days in Oahu and Kauai) and had a wonderful time. I’ve put some photos online at Flickr.
I found a new delicious type of food while we were over there – poke (pronounced “poke-eh” or “pokey”). It’s marinated raw or rare seafood, usually mixed with spices, soy, vegetables or other seafood. My first and favourite version was the ahi poke rolls we had at Duke’s in Waikiki. I found a picture of them on Flickr here, but that’s from Duke’s Malibu and I remember ours looking better (less drenched in sauce). Whatever, they’re raw ahi (yellowfin tuna) and Maui onion, wrapped in rice paper and fried, served in some kind of vinaigrette with wasabi rice. Damn good. We also tried some more traditional poke, with soy-marinated ahi served over lettuce, and tako (octopus) poke mixed with cabbage.
Can you believe I didn’t eat seafood at all as recently as a couple of years ago? Now I love sushi and most white fish (halibut, cod, basa, mahi-mahi, snapper…). Still not into salmon or tuna so much though. And no sign of poke in Vancouver; sadly, apart from the Duke’s chain of restaurants it doesn’t seem to have made its way outside of Hawaii yet.
I’ll be back soon, there’s tons of stuff I want to blog about, from continuing the airshow series, to a new recipe, new PC stuff, and maybe more Hawaii.
I added some photos to the blackened halibut post, as we did it again last weekend. Tasty!
The irony! After making a jokey post about how I was slacking already, I then go 9 days without posting. I’ve been sick though. Winter is totally kicking my ass this year; not only have I just had the flu, but in early January I fell over hard on some ice on my way into work one day, at around 6.30am in pitch blackness and (obviously) freezing conditions. I had a huge bruise on my right hip which is only now almost gone. I still can’t lie on my right side in bed.
Anyway enough complaining, onto a real post!