Great Lakes Brewery: Pumpkin Ale

PumpkinAleIt’s fall! My favourite time of year.  I love the changing colours in the trees, the approach of Thanksgiving, cozy warm sweaters, boots, and pumpkin pie.  My love of pumpkin is pretty deeply rooted – it has been my go to request instead of cake at my birthday for as long as I can remember.  Conveniently, my birthday is right around Canadian Thanksgiving so pumpkin pie is usually easy to come by.

In recent years there has been a bit of an explosion of pumpkin spice or pumpkin flavoured things.  Hot and cold pumpkin beverages abound – though I’ve found they often miss the mark in taste and pumpkin qualities.  Despite former letdowns I recently picked up a Pumpkin Ale by Great Lakes Brewery.

The beer poured a slightly orange-red colour with minimal head. It smells like a great mixture of pumpkin and spices – namely nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. The taste wasn’t bad, it didn’t fall into the common pumpkin beer problem of being a mouthful of way too many spices.  The pumpkin wasn’t all the prominent but it was a good tasting beer with a slightly pumpkin note.  This was surprisingly light and subtle a good beer if you’re looking for something fall inspired but not hit you in the face pumpkin.

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Beer of the Month: True South of 7

The True South of 7 beer from 4 Degrees Brewing is the final of the four different selections Andrew and I received in the latest beer of the month shipment.  This beer is the counterpart to the North of 7 beer that was also included in the shipment.  And similar to the North of 7 beer I really enjoyed the can design and the linking of the beer name to a geographic region (namely Hwy 7 in Southern Ontario)

This was a fairly standard pale ale that poured a pale amber with minimal head. This was definitely a sessionable beer that was smooth and fairly standard.  There was a slightly citrus note and a very subtle amount of hops.  A step above your generic beer but not anything world shattering in terms of taste.

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Beer of the Month: Peace Wheat and Longwoods Lager

The most recent beer of the month delivery included two beers from Strathroy Brewing.  We’ve had a few beers from this particular brewer in the past as part of the beer of the month club and didn’t mind them.  This month’s selections were a similar experience — they were decent but didn’t stick out in my mind as fantastic.

The 1915 Longwoods Lager poured a pale yellow with minimal head.  It had a clean taste to it with a slightly citrus note and was very smooth for a lager.  No harsh aftertaste or bitter notes.  Fairly run of the mill but perfect on a sunny day.  Andrew and I enjoyed the first sample of this beer under a shady tree in Muskoka chairs – perfect drink for that kind of afternoon.

The 1815 Peace Wheat ale was a much darker colour than I would have anticipated.  It was also slightly bitter which is a bit unusual for a Belgian style ale.  There was a malt note and a very flight bit of hops in the taste.  Similar to the Longwoods Lager this was a very smooth drinking selection that was good but not exceptional.

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Listening – Torchwood: Fall to Earth

26024075Ianto Jones! On a spaceship! Fall to Earth is the second release in the first batch of the Big Finish Torchwood audios. The basic premise of the story – Ianto is stuck on SkyPuncher, the first private spaceflight, and he is the last surviving passenger trying to navigate the spaceship back to safety.  And his only point of contact with Earth is via Zeynep an insurance call center agent. 

I loved this as a solo Ianto story it is packed with adventure and humour.  Gareth David-Lloyd does an excellent job of conveying Ianto’s personality in the audio medium.  He’s slightly awkward, funny and full of curiosity and creative solutions. The flirting between Ianto and Zeynep seemed more in line with Jack’s personality than Ianto’s but seemed to fit if you looked at it as Ianto trying to lighten the life threatening situation.

The plot and setup of the story revolving around a phone call is surprisingly simple but it the story still manages to have some twists and turns that make it edge of the seat listening experience.

If you like Torchwood, particularly the second season, or are a Ianto fan you will really enjoy this story.  Well worth a listen.

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On the Road Again

Part of my daily work routine includes spending two hours in a car.  I am a commuter and I drive one hour each direction as part of my work day.  I commute from rural to urban and public transit isn’t an option.  I have carpooled in the past but I’m currently driving solo.  The drive is in Northern Ontario so I actually cover about 100 km of road in an hour, it’s mostly highway and other than the occasional snow storm it is generally an easy drive.  I sit on cruise control and listen to a lot of podcasts, books, and CBC.

Office Space Commute.  Not an accurate representation of my commute which has no traffic.

Office Space Commute. Not an accurate representation of my commute which has no traffic.

I know that many people commute, sometimes for their entire working career.  It’s fairly common in urban settings that commuting is an accepted part of life. That’s a less common mentality in Northern Ontario and I occasionally strange looks when people find out where I live.  And I do love where I live – it’s rural, we have a huge amount of space for gardens, forested trails, and I like the laid back pace of the small community we live in.  It’s 15 minutes to the cottage and family is a short drive away.  In some ways I can’t imagine living anywhere else – we got married in a field at our house and there already so many memories attached to this space.

In November I will have been doing this drive for six years.  On the conservative side this means I’ve spent over 2,600 hours in my car, driving on the same chunk of the trans-Canada highway. I struggle with the cost, the time, the environmental impact and whole range of other factors associated with the drive (animal run-ins included).  On the other hand, I do like the decompression and listening time I get in the car. But I’ve been struggling a lot recently with a sense of disconnection from community that seems to be aggravated by commuting.

At times I feel like I don’t spend leisure time in the city where I work and I also don’t spend quality time in the rural community/small town near where I live. It’s a bit like living in between spaces, being part of both but while simultaneously feeling like you’re on the outside of both communities. Partially it has to do with exhaustion and there only being so much time in the day.  I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling this more so since Little Miss was born. I want to spend time with her and she currently goes to bed crazy early, if I come straight home from work I get about 1.5 hours a day with her — which is a drop in the hat on the grand scale of things, but is better than nothing.  If I do errands after work, have coffee with friends in the evening, or anything else in the city there’s a good chance I don’t see her at all that day.  I know this will change as she gets older but I imagine things also have the potential to be complicated in terms of juggling my commute, after-school care, and her extra-curricular activities (especially if those activities take her into the very city I’m commuting from).

I also struggle with participating in evening activities in the small town, mostly because of the burned out feeling that comes with the drive. There’s a much more limited selection of activities in that small town, so staying in the city is the only option is you want to do something like catch a movie or eat takeout pizza (yes, really – the nearest pizza place is an hour away from my home).  A similar thing often happens on weekends – there may be an interesting culture based activity on the city, but by that point in the week I have zero desire to get back into the car and drag the whole family on a drive that feels all too familiar.

I’m genuinely curious about how other commuters bridge that connection gap and how they find balance in their driving/work/leisure/family lives.  Perhaps I’m simply not doing a good job of seeking out meaningful connections in those two different communities (or picking one to focus on) and using exhaustion is an excuse – I don’t know.  And I’m not sure what the right answer is to finding balance and I’m sure it’s different for everyone and might change depending on life circumstance.  Back in the car I go.

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Beer of the Month: True North of 7

Two the most recent beer of the month club selections were from 4 Degrees Brewing Company, a small craft brewer in Smith Falls.  One of this month’s beers was the “True North of 7” lager.  The beer was alright, a standard lager that was smooth drinking but nothing special.  I did some reading and apparently the beer was brewed by Jason Cook, who was responsible for creating Bud Light Lime.  He brewed the “True North of 7” selection on a contract.  I suppose that explains some of the blandness and my unimpressed feelings around the beer.

The beer is branded to appeal to cottagers, campers, and hunters.  The graphic design on the tall can was well done and had a bit of a Canadian redneck northern feel.  But a nice looking container doesn’t makeup for poor tasting beer. The beer was described as having subtle hoppy notes, however that seemed pretty much none existent.

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Canadian Ice Wine Black Tea Blend

Iced_WineWhile in Traverse City recently I visited a wonderful tea shop – the Spice & Tea Merchants shop.  It’s a cozy little store with wonderful smells of spices and teas.  I probably could have spent hours just gawking at all the tea.

I bought a couple of teas while there, one of which was a “Canadian Ice Wine” black tea blend.  The tea blends ice wine, black tea, white tea, and freeze dried grapes.  I’ll admit I bought it just because it seemed very different and it was Canadian based even though it was being sold at a shop in the US.

The tea really smells strongly like grapes. The taste is a bit more subtle – the black tea is fairly prominent and is complimented by a fruity undertone.  It’s an interesting combination.  I’m not sure it would start buying it in bulk but I’m definitely glad I tried it.

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Paddle for Pints

First beers of the day at the Filing Station

First beers of the day.

Last weekend Andrew and I went on an adventure to Traverse City.  The main reason for this trip was so that we could participate in Paddle for Pints, essentially a wonderful combination of kayaking and craft beer.

It was a rainy day but we still had a wonderful time kayaking and sampling a variety of tasty beers.  The event took us to four separate breweries/brewpubs where we each sampled a range of tasty beer.

The Filing Station Microbrewery

Registration and the first brew stop of the day.  After registering for the day and receiving our t-shirts and swag bags we had some food and a couple of drinks before starting the kayak adventure.  The pizza we ordered was a delicious thin crust treat.  On the beer front Andrew tried the Salem Raspberry Pale Ale and I had the Ironwood Amber Ale.  Both were a good start to our day – not overwhelming and subtle enough to be enjoyable when paired with food.

Right Brain Brewery

Artwork at the Right Brain Brewery

Artwork at the Right Brain Brewery

The first brewery we paddled to was Right Brain.  I loved the atmosphere of this brewery, it was a community space, art gallery, and beer hall all mixed together.  It was also surprisingly kid friendly with a toy area, board games, and lots of cool stuff to look at.  We saw a number of families hanging out in the space during our visit.

I tried the Irish Goodbye red ale to start and Andrew has a pint of the Flying Squirrel Brown Ale.  I really enjoyed the Irish Goodbye, it was a dark amber colour with a bit of sweetness mixed in with subtle hops.  We also split a tall can of the Northern Hawk Owl.  Andrew picked this one out but it was one we both enjoyed and one I wanted to try just because it had a cool sounding name.  The Northern Hawk Owl was a bit more generic than the Irish Goodbye, it had some malt and very subdued hop notes but was pretty smooth drinking.

Rare Bird Brewpub

Rare Bird was the smallest location we visited – or at least it felt pretty small with all the paddlers plus the regular lunch crowd packed into the pub.  There was some really interesting woodwork in this brewpub – the tables were made out of single slabs all cut from really large trees and one of the walls included reclaimed wood from industrial packing crates.

Andrew tried the ‘Dam Paddlers’ beer which was crafted especially for the Paddle for Pints events and I sampled the Hopricot.  As you might guess my beer was hoppy and made with apricot.  It was a surprisingly good and layer combination.  The Dam Paddlers beer was also a bit of a surprise, it had a lot of lime and despite being labeled a cream ale it was surprisingly light.

The Workshop Brewing Company

Workshop Brewing Company

Workshop Brewing Company

Another really interesting physical space – the Workshop had an industrial feel but had a surprisingly warm touch to it.  It was also fairly family friendly with games, books, and lots of space.  We saw a number of families with small children enjoying some food and just hanging out in the space.

Andrew tried the Plumb Bob and the Pipe Wrench.  I ordered the Plumb Bob for him – and had I read the description more closely I probably wouldn’t have picked it, it was very coffee flavoured.  I had the 20-pound Sledge IPA and the Bastard Rasp.  As one would expect the IPA was on the hoppy side and was a fairly standard IPA.  The Bastard Rasp was surprisingly good – it was a wheat ale with a raspberry kick.  I had fears that it would be overly sweet but it was well balanced and easy drinking.

Overall this was a great day filled with kayaking, delicious local beer, and visiting new places.  The event itself is a bit expensive but it was a really unique experience that I’m really glad we took the time to do.

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All the mead? Yes, please.

A few years ago Andrew and I went to Traverse City for the first time.  During our weekend in the city I discovered mead.  It was cheery mead and it was one of the best things ever.  Since that trip I’ve been scouting local stores for all the mead varieties and stocking up at Christmas time when they seem to have more options.  I’ve also been telling everyone about the long history of mead making and lots of other random mead facts. Basically I really like mead and think more people should make it.

When Andrew and I were getting ready for our trip to Traverse City a couple of weeks ago I started googling to try to find out where I had the cherry mead years ago.  Googling resulted in me finding the Acoustic Tap Room.  Essentially a meadery –I didn’t know these even existed!  They specialize in making all kinds of mead and their ‘tap room’ has a cozy living room feel. There was live music, board games you could play if you wanted, and communal comfy seating.  We tried a flight of all the mead they had on tap, nine samples which were served in ukuleles. Yes, ukuleles. Basically it was the best thing ever.

Of the nine offerings on tap I think the cheery mead is still my favourite but I also enjoyed their more traditional honey variety and Andrew seemed to enjoy the blueberry mead. We brought a few bottles of the mead back with us and I’m already trying to think of excuses to make another trip to Traverse City.

Mead

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Neys Provincial Park

Cross-posted from Historical Reminiscents, Krista’s public history focused blog.  

Following a great trip to Pukaskwa National Park I kept up the natural history and camping adventure by spending a few nights at Neys Provincial Park.  I was struck by the difference in landscape between the two parks despite them being less than an hour away from each other.  Pukaskwa had very hilly, cliff views of Lake Superior and the shoreline was a rugged .  In comparison Ney’s had long open beach shorelines, sand dunes, and forested areas.

Prisoner of War Camp

Star embedded on lawn from POW era.  It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.

Star embedded on lawn from POW era. It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.

Prior to becoming a provincial park the land now encompassed by Neys was used as a Prisoner of War Camp known as Neys 100 during the second world war.  The camp housed high ranking German officers and others and was primarily staffed by veterans from the First World War.  There are bits of this history scattered throughout the present day park — building foundations, bits of embed stone, and other physical remnants are all interpretation points in the Park today.  Additionally the physical landscape was fundamentally changed by the POW camp, they flattened sand dunes and used many of the trees for lumber.  Trees were later replanted by the Boy Scouts but in standard plantation rows, leaving evidence of how the land has changed.

Point Trail

Boats on Prisoners' Point

Boats on Prisoners’ Point

We didn’t do nearly as much hiking at Neys as at Pukaskwa, but I did manage to explore a couple of the trails.  The Point Trail is a short 1 km trail that follows the shore of Lake Superior and ends at a rocky outcrop known as Prisoners’ Point.  The trail then connects to the Under the Volcano Trail that explores the shoreline stretching from the Point.  I explored a bit of this trail as well.  The trail was a relatively easy walk, albeit a bit wet when I walked it and it was well worth the puddle jumping to reach the views of the lake at the end.  There was a few interpretive signs but they were relatively sparse.  I did enjoy the one that talked about the remains of old boats located on the point– the boats were left over from the Prisoner of War camp era and the logging days of the region.

Dune Trail

This easy loop hike included an interpretive handout that visitors could take with them on the walk.  The handout included numbers which matched specific points on the trail and provided interpretive details about that area.  The handout included a bit of information about the role of the POW camp on the landscape but primarily focused on flowers, the dunes, trees, and the impact of local animal life on the landscape.  Unsurprisingly, I liked the fact that there was a physical thing to hold during the walk and that the interpretation was a bit more developed on this trail.

Visitors’ Centre

Beach at Neys Provincial Park

Beach at Neys Provincial Park

The Visitors’ Centre was only open during the last day I was at the park.  Despite this we managed to make a short visit to the Centre and check out some their primary interpretive space.  The displays were fairly standard for a provincial park, a lot of focus on the natural landscape with most material geared at families and including a number of touch and feel stations focused on children.  There was also a substantial section dedicated to the history of Neys 100 which included a model which demonstrated what the POW camp would have looked like.  The staff at the Centre were very friendly and seemed to know a lot about the history of the Park and were happy to answer questions about the way the landscape had changed.

 

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