Tag Archives: Nickel Brook

Vermicelli Salad & Nickel Brook Raspberry Über Berliner Weisse

Adapted from The Toronto Star

When I completed Level II of my Prud’homme Beer training a few years ago I was certified a Beer Specialist, which is a pretty useful designation if you know what to do with it.

My investment in beer education paid me back many times over with writing jobs and opportunities to educate clients about beer. It gave me a measure of credibility when I started RunTOBeer. Most importantly it taught me a whole lot about what’s happening in Ontario’s industry and connected me in a way online training could never do.

But Level III (certified Beer Sommelier) always sat just out of reach, somewhat teasingly. I didn’t register for Prud’homme planning NOT to finish all three levels, but the final course (at the time – a fourth level has since been added) placed plenty of weight on food and beer pairings, with a particular focus on cheese.

As a vegan, that complicated things for me. The beer world still generally dismisses plant-based diets, even though vegan cuisine is evolving quickly with plenty of experimentation producing outstanding results. Much like beer itself, increasingly focused on flavour and innovation, vegan cuisine is now far more appealing to a broader audience.

Vegan cheese is not only much more widely available, but flavours and textures have improved dramatically. If cheese is going to be my biggest obstacle to completing Prud’homme, it’s no longer insurmountable.

So I’ve registered to start Level III in October.

Now, with that on the horizon, it’s time to re-commit to blogging with a greater focus on beer and food pairings.

I’m starting with vermicelli salad because it’s been my favourite recipe lately. It’s so simple to make, uses easy-to-obtain ingredients and requires almost no clean-up. It’s brilliant as a meal for one or as a starter before the main course.

I paired it with Nickel Brook‘s outstanding Raspberry Über Berliner Weisse, the fruity tartness of which sits nicely with salad’s sweet chili sauce. The beer’s light, effervescent body is a very nice companion to the freshness of the vegetables.

2016-11-15-14-21-48Vermicelli Salad


About 15 minutes.

20160909_172150Stage 1 – Dry vermicelli noodles.  Just cover with hot water and wait for them to get soft.


Stage 1

1 handful dry, thin rice noodles (vermicelli)

Stage 2

1 tsp olive oil

1 cup smoked tofu

1 handful chopped green beans

Stage 3

1/4 cup grated carrot

Sweet chili sauce, to taste

Stage 4

8 – 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, sliced

Fresh mint leaves

Smoked tofu, tomoatoes, fresh mint, green beans, grated carrots and avocado.


  1. Place uncooked vermicelli noodles into a large, heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir occasionally, until soft.
  2. In a non-stick pan (I use a wok), heat Stage 2 ingredients (oil, green beans and smoked tofu) until the beans begin to brown.
  3. Strain vermicelli noodles and add to a large salad bowl. Add green beans and smoked tofu.
  4. Stir in Stage 3‘s grated carrot and enough sweet chili sauce to achieve your desired flavour.
  5. Top with Stage 4 ingredients (halved tomatoes, avocado, fresh mint leaves
  6. Serve with Nickel Brook Brewery’s Raspberry Über Berliner style Weisse.




The Biggest #RunTOBeer Yet!

A few weeks ago I was asked to host the introduction of three breweries (Liberty Village, Great Lakes and Nickel Brook) to the membership of Toronto’s SOHO House. That’s where I got into a beer-fueled brainstorming session with Tej Sandhu – who coordinates the SOHO House craft beer launches – and his very astute wife, Andrea.

Tej, you should know, is the co-founder of #RunTOBeer. When I put out a series of tweets last March for others to join me in a jog to Mill Street, he was the only one to show up on a punishingly cold Sunday morning, to putter along over 5km of ice and misery. Since then, he and I have been working together to build a running club that’s both enjoyable and rewarding (we have a few big announcements to make in the next couple of months).

Tej & me, following our February run to BarHop
Tej & me, following our February run to BarHop

But Andrea suggested we could grow the club even more if we added a shorter route, for those that aren’t quite ready to do 5km.

And yeah, she nailed it. I think it’s pretty safe to say ours is now the fastest growing running club in Toronto, if not Canada.

For our May 18th run to the Brewer’s Backyard, for the first time we have three (3) distance options. As soon as we announced that, the numbers began to swell.

Then blogTO caught wind of it and suddenly everything blew up. We went from expecting 30 Victoria Day runners, to possibly north of 200!

Brewer's Backyard, Queen Victoria's Secret
Brewer’s Backyard, Queen Victoria’s Secret

We’ve had to make a few adjustments, like shifting the start times earlier so we arrive as the event opens. I’m already dreading the ticket lines, but I’ve been in touch with the event organizer and we’ll do what we can to make things move a bit more smoothly. As for the brewery reps — I can’t even imagine how they’ll be able to pour fast enough, with everyone arriving at once.

But as far as we’re concerned, the more runners the better.  If you’re interested in joining what will likely be Toronto’s biggest free run this year, the details are on our Facebook event page.

Your Advance Guide to Toronto’s Festival of Beer

Originally published in the Toronto Standard
Toronto's Festival of Beer
Toronto’s Festival of Beer

Five years ago I made my first trek to Toronto’s Festival of Beer, full of hope for a day full of hops. Not-so-inexpensive ticket purchased, I wandered down to Fort York and started the sampling.

First impression: Too many frat boy types

Second impression: Too little shelter from the sun

Third impression: Way too many frat boy types

The next year, I didn’t go back.

By 2011 however, I was contributing beer related articles to a magazine, so my tickets were comp’d. The venue had moved to the Exhibition Grounds, and several new breweries had popped up around the province. Things had improved considerably and by the following year – last year, from whence these photos originated – my biggest complaint was drunkenly losing my lens cap.

Yeah, jackasses still show up and it’s not a cheap way to pass an afternoon, but without a doubt this is a quality day out. The site is open, much easier to navigate, and offers a range of other beer-related experiences that enhance the sampling.

Big Wreck
Big Wreck on the big stage (Photo: Dan Grant)
Big Wreck
Loving Steam Whistle, loving Big Wreck (photo: Dan Grant)

TFOB used to hand out an “Enjoyment Guide” to enhance the guest experience, but this year’s edition opted for an app instead (it goes live July 17th). This year’s fest is July 26 – 28, but to help you pre-plan and really get the most of your big day out, I offer this:

  1. Don’t wait to get your tickets. Saturday is already sold out.
  2. I wore a Vitamin B1 patch, which is widely thought to prevent hangovers, to the 2012 event. Whether or not its effectiveness was all in my head didn’t really matter because my head was fine the next day.  It worked for me the same way milk thistle does wonders for others. If you want to minimize the next day’s suffering, purchase your hangover preventative ahead of time (surprisingly, last year, nothing of the sort was sold on-site).
  3. I’m also a big fan of bringing travel-size hand sanitizers to events like this. There’s a whole village of portable toilets and no way to police who else is using the handwash stations. Drinking lowers your defences. This is an easy barrier to apply.
  4. Sunscreen… trust me, the novelty Steam Whistle hats are a special kind of greatness, but they aren’t magic.
  5. Bring a bag. There’s plenty of swag to be had. Have it!
  6. This has been an especially wet spring / summer.  If your Vitamin B1 patch isn’t repelling the mosquitoes you should probably have something else that will.
  7. Plan your route.  The 2012 guide boasted more than 200 brands of beer to choose from, and they were very spread out.  It’s worth noting that money buys position, so it’s going to be easier to find beef jerky than a Berliner Wiesse.
  8. Be prepared for the smell.  It’s right near Lake Ontario, so that’s one thing. Portable Toilet Village is another experience altogether.  Then there are unexpected treasures the younger set tend to leave behind when they become light struck.
  9. Work within your limits.  Your ticket gets you in the gate and a taster size cup that goes with you from booth to booth (don’t lose it… replacements are not free). From there it’s up to you how much you will drink, and it’s your wallet that decides.  Tokens are $1.00 each (non-refundable), and drinks are either one or two discs each.
  10. Get it into your head that when it’s done, it’s done.  Toronto’s Festival of Beer is under a special licensing agreement which allows the event to be held in a public space.  Respect last call and don’t shout at the staff who have no control over the matter. Vendors can’t keep serving when the licence runs out.

If you’re really planning ahead, hang on to the tokens you don’t use. Last year I collected  a bunch that other people threw away at the end of Sunday, and added them to the few left in my pocket.  According to TFOB’s website, the same tokens get used year after year.

Great Lakes
Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale Hearse (photo: Dan Grant)


Last week I wrote about the barrel-aged trend that is becoming increasingly popular.  In addition to Sawdust City’s, also be on the lookout for barrels from Nickel BrookFlying MonkeysGreat Lakes and Beau’s Fellow beer specialist Sam Gould (@TheBarleyBabe) and I took the initiative to try a couple of them. Here’s a small taste of what you will be tasting.

Nickel Brook’s Old Kentucky Bastard (10.0%)

Started as: Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout

Pours: black, with a creamy, mocha head

Nose: Bourbon, dates, dark cherry

Look for: Ruby Port-like aroma

Palate: cold coffee, chocolate, booziness, Christmas cake, vanilla

Finish: long, smooth and slightly bitter

Flying Monkey’s The Matador Imperial India Pale Ale (10%)

Pours: hazy, burnt orange with an eggshell, foam head

Nose: wood, almost exclusively

Look for: grapefruit pith

Palate: pine, pineapple, toffee

Finish: Long and nicely bitter

Is Sour Beer the Next Big Brew?

(Originally posted in The Toronto Standard)

Is Sour Beer the Next Big Brew?


Photo: Dan Grant (@BrewScout)

There are some trends that scream to be embraced.  Television on demand, following R.A. Dickey  on Twitter (@RADickey43), tomato paste in a tube… they just make sense.

But sour beer?

This area has exploded with malty goodness in recent years.  Trying to keep track of the local brew scene is a bigger head spin than an IIPA keg stand.  Craft beer guide Mom ‘n Hops just listed its 100th Ontario brewer in February (breweries, brewpubs, contract brewers, nanobreweries) and LCBO sales of this province’s craft beer increased by nearly 30% in the last annual reporting period.

The good news story doesn’t end with the brewers, either.  Consumers are seeing an influx of new styles and events aimed at getting beer on a more even footing with wine, in terms of prestige, without sacrificing its competitive price advantage.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, wine is a factor in one of the biggest beer trends in Ontario right now.  I spoke to four industry experts about what’s driving the current enchantment with small batch brewskis, and each raised their hand at the suggestion of barrel aging. “Right now, a lot of brewers in Ontario are experimenting with barrel-aged beers,” says Mirella Amato, Proprietor at Beerology.ca and Canada’s only Master Cicerone. “While there have been barrel-aged beers brewed in Ontario for a number of years, these were few and far between, usually brewed to mark a special occasion. Starting last year, a number of Ontario breweries have brought in barrel aging programs and these breweries are now releasing a range of barrel-aged beers, with rich vanilla, coconut and toasted notes.”

Chris Burek, managing editor at Moms ‘n Hops, adds to that, noting that Scotch, bourbon and wine barrels are all adding their characteristic flavours to different types of beer, and pointing out that Ontario is home to one of only two cooperages in Canada (The Carriage House, Prince Edward County).

Note: If you can get your hands on an Old Kentucky Bastard, from Burlington’s Nickel Brook, you won’t be disappointed.

Two styles that are peaking right now are porters and stouts, notes Roger Mittag, creator of thePrud’homme Beer Certification Program, and driving force behind the Ontario Brewing Awards.  Evidence of the their eminence was fully on display earlier this month at Dark WaterSeries – 2013, which featured 23 different porters or stouts of the 39 dark beers on tap.

Note: My favourite right now is Harry Porter & The Fair Grounds Coffee Bean, from Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brewery.

Robert Pingitore is the owner of Bar Hop, which hosted Dark Water. Since opening last spring, the King Street West venue has been one of the most supportive locales for furthering beer appreciation. “Pubs are doing their part by teaming up with craft brewers to hold specific events, showcasing a particular brewer’s beers,” he explains, describing what has come to be known as a Tap Takeover. “Within my own establishment it’s important that when patrons visit Bar Hop they get a unique beer experience. That usually revolves around patrons trying beers they’ve never had before and getting a bit more information on the background of the beer, who brews it, type of style and ingredients used, et cetera. I try to educate the staff the best I can so they can help the patron choose a beer that’s right for them, changing people to craft ales one beer at a time.”

A  movement he sees gaining traction is cask-conditioned ales. “Cask Days’ attendance tripled this year, and I can only see it getting bigger.” The annual event started by Bar Volo in 2005, was so popular in 2012 that many casks went dry during the third session and partial refunds had to be issued, according to Burek.

“More and more people are also seeking out beers that have a sour flavour profile, which would be created by some wild yeast they use to brew, or the aging process,” add Pingitore.

That’s right, sour beer, which as the name implies, has a tart profile that some people – like this writer – find refreshing (think of how lemonade cuts your thirst on a hot day) and others find entirely off-putting.  The style already boasts a cult following stateside, and is now not-so-surreptitiously taking its message to public houses here.

Note: Bier Markt on King Street recently hosted the first ever Canadian pour of Rodenbach (Flanders Red Ale), which is revered in Europe. This is completely unlike any other sour beer you’re going to find in Ontario, and is only available on draught. I highly recommend trying it.

Now try to picture Molson and Labatt collaborating on a recipe. No, right? In the craft beer scene however…  “A lot of our brewers are getting together and sharing ideas, which is fantastic,” says Amato.  Bellwoods Brewery is one of the leaders locally, having already teamed up with renowned Evil Twin Brewing (formerly of Denmark, now in Brooklyn, New York), then again with Luc Lafontaine, former head brewer at Dieu du Ciel!, in Quebec.

Note: Look for Bellwoods’ second collab with Evil Twin – a barrel-aged, sour stout – to be released before long.

If sour or winey beers seem a little unconventional, Moms ‘n Hops’ Burek figures you’re just seeing the start of it. “Great Lakes did an oyster stout, HogsBack (Ottawa) released a bacon-based stout, Beau’s (Vankleek Hill) released another edition of their gruit (an ancient style that uses herbs in place of hops). There’s no doubt in my mind that brewers will pushing and breaking past the limits of what ingredients can be used in brewing. With so many breweries in Ontario now, brewers will need to find a way to stand out. F&M Brewery (Guelph) did a smoked meat and Brussels sprouts-infused cask beer for Cask Days.”

So who is drinking this stuff?  Increasingly it’s women, and they’re also taking more of a leadership role in the industry.  When I mentioned Mirella Amato is a Master Cicerone, what I neglected to say is she one of only a half dozen on the planet, and another of the original six is Nicole Erny, from the Bay Area in California.  That’s pretty decent representation in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Mittag’s Prud’homme program currently features nearly equal gender enrolment. “I’m actually really excited about the fact that more women are getting into the industry, and more women are becoming interested in beer,” he says, noting “it opens up the perception of beer to a higher level as well as brings in a new approach to selling and serving.”

Says Burek, “Women are really starting to appreciate beer now more than ever. At many festivals or events they can account for 50 per cent or more of the attendees. Women are also delving into the world of homebrewing, and even taking brewmaster positions, like Mary Beth Keefe at The Granite (Toronto).”

As far as what to expect in the coming months, “I think you will see more small brewers focusing on paler lagers such as pilsners, helles or even Kölsch styles,” figures Mittag. “Cans continue to be pushed as well as large format bottles. High alcohol Trappist styles are also on the horizon. There’s a huge trend out West to go big on the draught offerings with 60 to 100 taps not uncommon.” More festivals? Mittag says yes, “but they will be small, one-day events.”

Amato, meanwhile, is also looking ahead to an increase in seasonal beers and special releases. “This is a very exciting time for craft beer in this province and, if the past two months are any indication, I think there will also be a dramatically increased interest in craft beer from the general public.”