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It takes a village to raise a beer festival

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According to Benjamin Franklin, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Benjamin may have been on to something.

According to Benjamin Franklin, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Benjamin may have been on to something.

 

A cultural experience, not a chug fest, is how Liam Peyton describes this weekend’s second annual Whistler Village Beer Festival (Sept. 11-14). That’s not to say the four-day celebration is solely for purists: Far from it.

“There’s something for everyone,” says Peyton, who organizes the festival, which features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Along with Saturday’s main tasting showcase from 1 till 5 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza, there are a broad range of events to immerse guests into beer culture, including beer dinners, seminars, parties and cask showdowns.

The latter particularly appeals to the expat Brit, who hopes his responsibilities hosting more than 4,000 visitors still allow him to attend a showdown or two.

Saturday’s main tasting showcase, from 1 till 5 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza, features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries.

Saturday’s tasting showcase at Whistler Olympic Plaza features more than 150 beers from 50 breweries.

“The cask showdowns feature one-offs, rare brews created for the event,” says Peyton. “You meet the brewmasters, sample the ales and vote on what you like.” The festival hosts three showdowns – Best of the Island, Best of the Mainland, and Best in West (U.S. West Coast breweries).

Cask showdowns are among several new additions to the festival, which is significantly bigger than the 2013 edition.

“Last year we had six events between four venues. This year there are 31 events spread over 11 venues,” says Peyton. He credits several reasons for the growth. “Last year we went from scratch to a sold-out festival in 10 weeks. Some people were skeptical to begin with but then participating venues saw their revenues jump 40 per cent and the 31-degree weather didn’t hurt either.”

Just one of the many interesting T-shirts I'll be wearing at this weekend's Whistler Village Beer Festival.

Just one of the many interesting T-shirts I’ll be wearing at the Whistler Village Beer Festival.

Now familiar with navigating B.C.’s quirky liquor laws and with 12 months to organize this year’s festival, Peyton says he’s confident he’s ahead of the curve. “It’s a little unnerving at times, but we’re far ahead in organization and in ticket sales now compared to where we were this time last year.”

At 27, the transplanted Birmingham native comes by his love of both Whistler and beer honestly, having worked as doorman, barman and manager of The Longhorn Pub before joining Gibbons Hospitality Group in 2009.

The company represents many of Whistler’s best-known pubs and created the annual beer festival to drive more business to the area, as well as forge new partnerships. Top placing breweries in Saturday afternoon’s Best in Fest voting, for instance, win one-year draught contracts to supply local venues. Local hotels are participating, including the Westin Hotel, (westinwhistler.com) which is hosting beer seminars and the Summit Lodge and Spa, (summitlodge.com) which presents nightly beer tastings. The festival also offers a food voucher program, allowing festival-goers to get $5 off meals in local restaurants.

As for Peyton’s favourite brews, IPAs are a good start. After a birthday pilgrimage in April-May to brewing hot spots in Washington, Oregon and northern California, he returned a dedicated fan of Deschutes, Lagunitas and Pyramid breweries.

“For my 27th birthday we stopped at Deschutes Brewery in Portland,” recalls Peyton. “They made me a Black Butte Porter ice cream float as a birthday cake!”

You’ll find all three breweries at the second annual Whistler Village Beer Festival, Sept. 11-14.

  • For festival tickets and a full schedule of events, visit wvbf.ca
Stay thirsty my friends.

Stay thirsty my friends.

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Las Vegas: The beaten track and the single track

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red rock

For a city synonymous with late nights, Late Night Trailhead just outside of Las Vegas is decidedly different. There are no buildings besides an outhouse, no meandering pedestrians or neon, and certainly no noise. Instead you’ll find about 200,000 acres of desert known as Red Rock Canyon, home to tarantulas, rattlesnakes, burros, bunnies and wild vegetation that can either harm or cure you.

More than 80 miles of trails lure another desert creature, namely the mountain biker – about 2,000 of them locally, according to Brandon Brizzolara. Brizzolara is a guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery. He grew up in Vegas and fondly remembers when even The Strip had its own biking scene.

“From Tropicana to Fremont we’d have BMX sessions on The Strip like it was a skate park in the 90s,” he says. “Vegas is a pretty active community, it’s just The Strip that’s a little out of shape.”

In his element, Brandon Brizzolara, guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery.

Brandon Brizzolara, guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery.

We’re here for The Strip and the desert – the beaten track and the single track: Neville and Leah and their teenagers, Ryan and Emma, all of us with contrasting wishes and expectations for our three-night stay in Las Vegas.

Shopping had been my kids’ idea. For hours we’d lost ourselves in high-octane consumerism at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, a consumers’ paradise with 170 stores, 15 restaurants and several entertainment venues. Britney Spears has her own store here where Britney merchandise exhorts shoppers to “Work it, Bitch”.

It’s a legitimate vice in Sin City, but shopping – and Britney Spears – make me uncomfortable so I stood with a crowd and watched a guy get his belly tattooed at Club Tattoo. Leah got a manicure at Original Diva and had nails “to die for” long after returning home. Ryan and Emma blew their entire budget.

On all of our wish-lists was a Vegas show. Britney had taken March off so we chose Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana, a celebration of circus traditions set in an abandoned theatre (but in reality at the Aria Resort and Casino). The show blends anarchic humour with the precision and grace of aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, high-wire and trapeze artists. The clowns made Ryan uncomfortable but he’s only 16; otherwise we left well entertained.

At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly retail, dining and entertainment neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31. Denise Truscello photo

At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31. Denise Truscello photo

The spa treatment was Leah’s idea, but I was happy to tag along. For the Vegas rookie it can be tricky finding places on foot and ESPA at the Vdara Hotel was no exception. We could see it set back off The Strip, but The Strip has a way of keeping pedestrians on The Strip. We eventually got there by walking through another hotel, The Cosmopolitan. Any stress I might have felt at being late for a spa treatment soon melted away under the sensuous heat of volcanic stones, body brushing, exfoliation and a scalp massage. Beats shopping any day of the week!

Great food was on everyone’s list and the following three restaurants more than delivered. The Yard House enjoys an enviable location just a few feet from the High Roller, the world’s biggest observation wheel. At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly (hallelujah!) retail, dining and entertainment neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31, two weeks after our visit, but we were content to admire it illuminated in green for St. Patrick’s Day from the deck of the Yard House. The beer list alone would entice me back to the Yard House, but the St. Louis-style ribs and truffle fries had me at hello.

Chayo chef, Ernesto Zendejas.

Chayo chef, Ernesto Zendejas.

Just a short stroll through the LINQ brings you to Chayo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, a two-storey fiesta in the making, anchored by a mechanical bull. Mexico City-born chef, Ernesto Zendejas, draws upon classical training in France to present an exquisite mix of flavours: Lobster tacos, bass ceviche, cilantro cream soup, shrimp fajitas – it’s tough to pick a favourite, but none of us were lining up to ride the bull afterwards. (Portions are decidedly North American – not French!)

Plates are meant to be shared at Crush, one of many dining options at the MGM Grand, but our family came close to making a scene over the sea scallop benny, comprising sunny-side quail egg, chorizo and chipotle hollandaise. Some meals are too good to be shared. The shrimp risotto and lamb sirloin with bacon brussels sprouts also didn’t last long.

Between the shopping, the show, the spa and the dining, we savoured afternoon pool time. In downtown Las Vegas, we mingled with celebrity lookalikes and body-painted models at the Fremont Street Experience, five city blocks of high-tech wizardry featuring a 550,000-watt sound system and a music and light show broadcast from an LED canopy 90 feet above the ground.

Sea scallop benny at Crush, MGM Grand. Don't even think about sharing.

Sea scallop benny at Crush, MGM Grand. Don’t even think about sharing.

And we ventured a little off downtown’s beaten track. Further down Fremont Street, past El Cortez, the city’s first casino, we found The Beat Coffeehouse and Records, the hippest little joint for breakfast and heaven to a 16-year-old who’s just discovered vinyl.

Nowhere though seems quite so off the beaten track as the Mojave Desert and the single track of Red Rock Canyon. The mountain biking had been my idea. Only 17 miles west of Las Vegas Boulevard, Red Rock’s Mustang Trails might have been on another planet, such is the contrast with The Strip.

For two hours we mostly coast on easy trails, stopping occasionally for impromptu descriptions of the vegetation. Brizzolara says he hasn’t taken a pill in more than 10 years, and why would he with nature’s pharmacy on his doorstep? There are seemingly cures for all ailments in the numerous sage bushes and plants like Mormon’s Tea, a species of Ephedra, which is traditionally used to treat asthma, hay fever and the common cold.

Ryan Judd in his element at Red Rock Canyon.

Ryan Judd in his element at Red Rock Canyon.

If inducement to remain on the bike were needed, there are no shortage of plants that could make for a painful landing: cacti, whose barbs expand after piercing skin, and the Joshua Tree, whose bayonet-shaped leaves feature serrated edges – handy for cutting barbecue wieners, according to Brizzolara. We stay on our bikes. My daughter, Emma, who’s never mountain biked, struggles gamely and mostly ignores her dad telling her to relax.

It’s the same advice she gave me at the Britney Spears store.

If you go:

  • Las Vegas Cyclery (lasvegascyclery.com) and Escape Adventures (escapeadventures.com) offer year-round tours (half day and full day) for mountain bikers and road cyclists, as well as hiking tours. If mountain biking, you’ll ride full suspension Santa Cruz 29ers and tours start at $129. Call 1 800-596-29531 800-596-2953.
  • We divided our accommodation between the Downtown Grand Las Vegas (downtowngrand.com) and the MGM Grand (mgmgrand.com). Formerly the Lady Luck, the Grand recently reopened after a $100-million renovation. It’s steps away from the Fremont Street Experience and features PICNIC, a wonderful rooftop pool. The MGM Grand more than holds its own on the pool front with four to choose from and a lazy river. It also offers Stay Well rooms, which comprise more than a dozen health and wellness features, including aromatherapy, wake-up light therapy and Vitamin C-infused shower water.
  • For more on ESPA at Vdara, visit Vdara Hotel and Spa.
  • For more on Las Vegas, visit vegas.com

Brewed Awakening: A tale with a hoppy ending

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From left, Matt Cavers, Amos Harding, Monte Staats and Matt Thomson of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network are tireless in their pursuit of the perfect brew.

From left, Matt Cavers, Amos Harding, Monte Staats and Matt Thomson of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network are tireless in their pursuit of the perfect brew.

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Benjamin Franklin

Jeff Hay-Roe’s brewery is a tribute to improvisation. On a long dining room table adjacent to the family kitchen sit a mash tun, a plastic fermentation bucket, a glass primary fermenter, a copper manifold, a grain mill, a strainer and a few packets of malt and hops. Outside is a kiddie pool, but we’ll get to that later.

“My set-up is pretty ghetto, but it works,” says Jeff, who estimates his brewery cost about $200. He started brewing from kits 10 years ago, but switched to brewing from scratch about three years ago. “My family is very supportive of me in my hobby. It’s only a couple of the kids that seem to not like the smell on brew day, but my wife likes it and most of the kids don’t mind it.”

That’s probably just as well. Jeff has nine kids.

Perhaps inspired by a wider appreciation for craft-brewed beers across B.C., (or perhaps because of the price of them) Jeff is among a growing number of homebrewers here on the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere. In an interview shortly before his death this summer, Dan Small – an icon of Vancouver’s homebrew scene and owner of Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies – had this to say about homebrewing in B.C.

“Man, in the early 90′s people just didn’t know or care anything about beer. It was tough trying to convince Kokanee drinkers to make stout. Things are much, much better now.”

On the Sunshine Coast, a thriving homebrewers’ network has quickly formed ties with the Coast’s newest craft brewer, Persephone Brewing Company in Gibsons. Persephone allows homebrewers to meet and brew on the premises and employs some of its members.

To understand the appeal of homebrewing, Jeff Hay-Roe’s two-storey Gibsons home is a good place to start. Brew day comes around once a month. For about six hours, the kitchen and dining room are requisitioned and the stove is monopolized to boil 30 litres of fluid; that’s the fluid previously separated from a porridge-like mix of grains and water with the copper manifold Jeff designed himself; the same fluid that’s been held at a high temperature for an hour so the enzymes in the grain can convert the starches to sugars. That would be the grain Jeff grinds from kernels in a converted mill operated with a drill connection, not a handle.

Prolific homebrewer Jeff Hay-Roe with his award-winning London Town Brown Ale.

Prolific homebrewer Jeff Hay-Roe with his award-winning London Town Brown Ale.

“We’ve got a stove-type burner on our barbeque, so I often boil kettles for people out on the barbecue on brew day,” says Jeff.

Hops are added to the fluid boiling away in two pots on the stove, starting with bittering hops then flavor and aroma hops towards the end. An hour of boiling turns 30 litres of fluid into 24 litres of wort. “Six litres evaporate in my kitchen each time,” says Jeff.

“After the boiling’s done it’s important to cool it down immediately,” says Jeff.

A lot of people use coiled immersion chillers, says Jeff. “I put mine in a kiddie pool of cold water.”

Once cool, the wort is poured into the fermenter where yeast performs its magic and fermentation occurs. About 10 days later, Jeff bottles his brew, usually a batch of 70 bottles (each 350mls).

“I always have about eight varieties in the fridge,” says Jeff. “I always like to have a pale ale, a Belgian Blonde ale, a southern English Brown Ale …”

Jeff’s resourcefulness is by no means at the expense of quality. Earlier this year, his London Town Brown Ale won a contest run by Vancouver’s Alibi Room, Howe Sound Brewing and VanBrewers, a non-profit group of homebrewers in the big city. He won a night at the Howe Sound Brewery, participated in brewing a 2,300-litre batch and saw his beer sold in Sunshine Coast private liquor stores.

He’s won prizes for his Belgian Blondes, too. But he readily admits that he’s entered beers in other competitions without success. Winning’s satisfying, says Jeff, but so too is the brewing and the tasting.

“The process I really do enjoy,” he says. “I love the creativity; it’s interesting to see it all happen. You start with something resembling porridge; then there are the different smells all the way along and it ends with something sweet.”

So this horse walks into a bar ...

So this horse walks into a bar …

Sharing the fruits of his labour is rewarding, too.

“On Fridays I’ll take some to work and at 4:30 we stop working and have a beer. For a while, I was bringing it to church and we’d have a drink afterwards.”

Matt Thomson and Matt Cavers of the Gibsons Homebrewing Network can relate to those motives. I meet them on a sunny October Saturday at Persephone where they’re brewing barley wine with fellow homebrewers Monte Staats, Amos Harding and Dion Whyte.

The group converge around a stainless steel mash tun where maintaining a specific temperature is vital.

“This is industrial chemistry,” says Matt Thomson, who gives me a crash course. “In the mash, enzymes in base grains convert starch to sugars. At the lower end of the temperature spectrum – 148 to 149 Fahrenheit – you’ll get more fermentable sugar, meaning a dryer, crisper beer.

“At the top of the mash range, close to 158 Fahrenheit, are more sugars that the yeast cannot eat – non fermentable sugars. Higher mash temperatures mean more sugars left and a sweeter beer.”

After a few minutes with the guys, I’m reminded of Jeff’s enjoyment in the process. Besides evaporation there’s enthusiasm and camaraderie in the air. I get the feeling that even a failed barley wine wouldn’t deter this group from trying to brew another. (For the record, it was a delicious success.)

“I produced my first batch, using a recipe from John Palmer’s How To Brew, in March 2007,” recalls Matt Cavers, who’s a full-time brewery assistant at Persephone. “It was miserable stuff. I boiled the specialty grains and extracted loads of astringent tannins from them. I fermented it way too hot, and as a result it tasted like bananas. Still, I drank every bottle, and my beer has only been getting better since.”

Trial and error, it seems, is part of the appeal. So too is pride in one’s own work, says Matt Thomson.

“Homebrewing is growing because it’s part of a natural reconnection to wanting to make things,” he says. “Making beer is satisfying, both in terms of process and product. It helps that most people love it, and certainly it helps that there are cost savings.

“But a really strong driving characteristic that I observe in homebrewers is wanting to be able to share something of value that they have made with a basic tool kit in their own kitchen, or backyard because they believe in it. It’s that sense of pride in something you’ve made on your own.”

Jeff Hay-Roe sees parallels in other crafts. “My wife Jacquie is more of a beer sampler than a beer drinker, but she can appreciate brewing because she’s a knitter,” he says. “Both have a long and rich history of making beautiful things from scratch.”

I’ll drink to that!

  • The Gibsons Homebrewing Network is happy to welcome new members. For details, email Matt Thomson at mthomson@gmail.com

 

Beer's good for you. My Dad told me so.

Beer’s good for you. My Dad told me so.

Written by nevjudd

December 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Delicious cycle

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Emara Angus talks us through our tea and chocolate options at Silk Road, part of The Pedaler's Beans and Bites bike tour.

With caffeine already coursing through our veins, Emara Angus talks us through our tea and chocolate options at Silk Road, part of The Pedaler’s Beans and Bites bike tour in Victoria.

It started as a compromise. With a few hours to see Victoria, the idea of a bike tour came up. According to Stats Canada, Victoria is the cycling capital of Canada. Any beer drinker knows it’s also the craft-brewing capital of Canada. The Pedaler, a new bicycle tour-company in town, offers Hoppy Hour, a three-hour guided tour of Victoria’s best breweries and brew pubs with some tasting thrown in.

“What about the kids?” my wife asks.

Ryan and Emma are teenagers, I point out. This doesn’t seem to answer my wife’s question.

“When my parents stopped at a pub, I got a packet of crisps, my brothers and the car radio for company,” I explain. “Sometimes there was a pub garden to play in.”

Apparently times have changed.

Cafe machiatto at Tre Fantastico, part of Victoria's burgeoning coffee scene.

Cafe machiatto at Tre Fantastico, part of Victoria’s burgeoning coffee scene.

So we end up on The Pedaler’s Beans and Bites tour, a leisurely three-hour ride punctuated by frequent stops for great coffee, indulgent baked goods and a tea-and-chocolate tasting. As compromises go, this one turned out to be great.

We’re staying at The Parkside on Humboldt Street and walk just a few blocks to The Pedaler on Douglas. Within a few minutes of being fitted for bikes and helmets, and meeting our co-riders, we cycle right back to The Parkside. Tre Fantastico is on the ground floor of the hotel and it’s our first stop.

Coffee is very much integral to the ‘Tre’ part of the name – the other drinks being ale and wine. With floor-to-ceiling windows and salvaged wood tabletops, the décor is simple, rustic, but elegant – much like the menu, which features fresh pastas, a charcuterie board and a Red Devil ale sausage for which I’d really like to return.

I’m served a caffe macchiato and I photograph the pretty leaf design in the foam. Sitting across from me is Jazelin Maskos, a coffee aficionado and Pedaler-guide-in-training who will soon be leading the very tour we’re on. I tell her that coffee never seems to be quite hot enough for me. Pretty soon she’s taking me into uncharted coffee territory.

“Ordering an extra hot latte, along with the milk and the sugar, changes the chemical breakdown of the coffee,” she says. That can border on sacrilege if the beans happen to be Ethiopian Tchembe, which apparently has a red wine and blueberry pie aroma, or Guatemalan with its hints of chocolate and raisin.

Cycling through Victoria's Beacon Hill Park on the Beans and Bites Tour.

Cycling through Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park on the Beans and Bites Tour.

A trained barista, Jazelin is part of Victoria’s burgeoning coffee scene. That scene includes ‘barista throwdowns’ in which contestants must prepare espresso, latte/cappuccino art and original drinks in timed performances and be judged on everything from their knowledge and creativity to the taste of their drink.

“Victoria is the best coffee city in Canada,” says Jazelin, without hesitation. For a place with such great beer, that’s fitting, I think to myself. I wolf down some of Tre Fantastico’s excellent banana bread and soon we’re back on the road, cycling through Beacon Hill Park. We briefly ride along Dallas Road and enjoy the ocean breeze before heading inland again to Fernwood. Maybe it’s the cool graffiti or the piercings and tattoos per square foot, but Fernwood feels a bit like East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, and like Commercial Drive, excellent coffee is here.

The Fernwood Coffee Company is a small roastery and café, serving great locally-sourced food and coffees fine-tuned over numerous samplings. With bikes locked and helmets in hand, we troop into the back of the café with resident barista, Rek Feldman. Surrounded by sacks of beans from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, Rek serves us some of Fernwood’s Cold Brew. It takes eight hours to brew with ice water through a drip in a glass tower that looks like a science experiment. It tastes unlike any iced coffee I’ve had because it’s not really iced coffee – just cold. As Rek explains, most iced coffee is brewed hot first then left to cool and chilled with ice – diluting the coffee’s flavour and altering its chemical makeup.

Fernwood Coffee's Rek Feldman.

Fernwood Coffee’s Rek Feldman.

Fernwood’s Cold Brew tastes sweet even without sugar. For those who like a little bitterness, Rek adds tonic water, which completely alters the flavour and the aroma. It actually smells like lemon or green tea. We finish our visit with an espresso and now, three coffees into the tour, I feel ready to cycle to Nanaimo. Instead we head back downtown to Silk Road, a tea store on Government Street.

Tea expert Emara Angus has our settings arranged at the tasting bar and because there aren’t enough stimulants already coursing through our veins, there’s chocolate paired with each tea. The sight of chocolate almonds, Ecuadorian dark chocolate and Ginger Elizabeth milk chocolate thrills Ryan and Emma, for whom chocolate is an essential ingredient with any hot beverage.

Emara starts us off with Silk Road’s Angel Water tea, a blend of mint, rose, lavender and elderflower. We let it melt the milk chocolate on our tongues and there’s a chorus of “mmmmms”. That’s followed by Japanese sour cherry tea that smells so creamy and is so good with the dark chocolate from Ecuador. We finish with Vanilla Plantation from Sri Lanka, which apparently makes a great chai tea latte and certainly tastes good with chocolate almonds.

Silk Road’s teas are all organic and have won numerous awards. We cycle away with small store bags of tea swinging from our handlebars, but we don’t have far to pedal. Bon Macaron Patisserie on Broad Street is our final stop, which given the level of indulgence on offer here, is probably just as well.

Bon Macaron Patisserie's David Rousseau with some very versatile pastry. Resistance is futile!

Bon Macaron Patisserie’s David Rousseau with some very versatile pastry. Resistance is futile!

David Rousseau is behind the counter and guiding us through an eclectic mix of flavours available in sweet, bite-size macaroons: curried mango chutney, white chocolate-wasabi, bacon-creamcheese and goat cheese-fig catch our eyes. Prior to this I’d only ever eaten my mum’s coconut macaroons, so I’m somewhat in a state of shock. A tiramisu-salted caramel macaroon helps me recover.

“It’s a very versatile piece of pastry,” says David, who makes about 1,000 macaroons a day and clearly enjoys inventing new flavours. (He was busy making a bacon-maple syrup batch for Father’s Day.)

Thankfully it’s a short ride back to The Pedaler and even shorter walk to The Parkside. We agree that Victoria reminds us of one of our other favourite weekend  getaways – Portland, Oregon: cool people doing innovative things with food and drink in stylish settings.

Must get back for that beer tour though!

If you go:

The Beans and Bites tour leaves daily from The Pedaler on 719 Douglas St. at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It costs $79 per person. Also on offer is the Hoppy Hour guide to Victoria’s brewing scene ($79; leaves daily at 1:30 p.m.) and Castles, Hoods and Legends, a tour of Victoria’s historic neighbourhoods and landmarks. Visit www.thepedaler.ca or call 778-265-RIDE (7433).

Victoria’s Parkside Hotel and Spa is a short walk from the Royal B.C. Museum. It offers a family package from $179 a night, including family admission to the museum, two-hour rental of the hotel’s private movie theatre, plus a snack basket with pop, popcorn and candy. Call 1-866-941-4175 or visit parksidevictoria.com.

B.C. Ferries offers numerous summer package deals to Vancouver Island, including a Victoria Getaway from $109 per person, based on double occupancy. The package comprises one night at the Chateau Victoria Hotel, round-trip ferry from Vancouver for two adults and a car, plus complimentary parking. For more information on this and other deals, visit bcferries.com/vacations or call 1-888-BC FERRY.

For all other matters-Victoria, visit tourismvictoria.com

Bright lights, big city

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Hong Kong can feel like a science fiction movie: From the airport, set adrift from Lantau Island on a strip of man-made land, to the steep condo blocks that sprout like weeds on even steeper hillsides.

Hong Kong can feel like a science fiction movie: From the airport, set adrift from Lantau Island on a strip of man-made land, to the steep condo blocks that sprout like weeds on even steeper hillsides.

Rush hour in Mongkok starts at about 4 a.m. Or maybe that’s when it finishes.

It’s hard to tell in this Hong Kong neighbourhood, which has the dubious distinction of being the most densely populated place on earth.

With 130,000 people for company in one square kilometre, you stop saying “excuse me” after a while. You also learn that outside of Mongkok’s air conditioned malls and hotels, deodorant is a waste of time. So is sleep. There’s far too much to see.

Langham Place in Mongkok stands as a bridge between two very different worlds. From the rooftop pool, 42 storeys up, to its spas, bars and restaurants, the hotel exudes opulence. But within a block you’ll find markets selling everything from snakes and frogs, freshly skinned and dismembered, to sea cucumbers and dried pig skin.

Such extremes are everywhere in Hong Kong.

Mongkok's street markets cater to a wide variety of tastes.

Mongkok’s street markets cater to a wide variety of tastes, including freshly skinned snakes.

From the moment we landed, everything about the place felt like a science fiction movie: From the airport, set adrift from Lantau Island on a strip of man-made land, to the steep condo blocks that sprout like weeds on even steeper hillsides.

Before Mongkok, we stayed two nights in Central on Hong Kong Island, which faces Kowloon from across Victoria Harbour. As our cab driver raced from the airport through a blur of neon and thundershowers, 13 hours aboard Cathay Pacific suddenly didn’t seem so gruelling.

Especially when we arrived at 38 Elgin Street, a third-storey condo we’d booked through airbnb.com. (See sidebar.) After driving on such modern highways and tree lined city boulevards, Elgin Street was a shock. Steep and winding, it barely fit one-way traffic between sidewalks buzzing with bars, restaurants and late-night shoppers.

Within 50 yards we could choose from Thai, Japanese, Moroccan, and Italian, yet we fought off fatigue at The Globe, a pub with as extensive a beer list as I’ve ever seen. With a pint of Old Speckled Hen, a scotch egg and tandoori chicken skewers, midnight came and went.

Aided by jet lag and adrenaline, we were up six hours later on Hollywood Road, eating breakfast at the Tsui Wah 24-hour restaurant. Fried beef in noodles with scrambled eggs and buttered bun set us back about $2 each and set us up for a morning of walking through cobbled streets as chaotic as the numerous signs competing for space above us.

It's not just people jostling for space in Hong Kong: signs are everywhere!

It’s not just people jostling for space in Hong Kong: signs are everywhere!

With 150 square feet to call home, the average Hong Kong resident clearly prefers to live life outside. On first impressions, shopping, socializing and worshipping all seem to shape those lives. At the Wong Tai Sin Temple, we found respite from Hong Kong’s hustle. Dwarfed by high-rise apartments to the south and hills to the north, the temple’s pools and waterfalls consoled us in the 35-degree heat and 100 per cent humidity. Followers of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism worship at the temple where they pray for spiritual answers beneath hundreds of hanging lanterns in a haze of incense.

Dwarfed by high-rise apartments to the south and hills to the north, Wong Tai Sin Temple's pools and waterfalls consoled us in the 35-degree heat and 100 per cent humidity.

Dwarfed by high-rise apartments to the south and hills to the north, Wong Tai Sin Temple’s pools and waterfalls consoled us in the 35-degree heat and 100 % humidity.

One temple for three different religions and open to all sums up tolerance in Hong Kong. During five sweltering, crowded days and nights in Hong Kong, I did not witness even a hint of anti-social behavior – even during an afternoon at Hong Kong Disneyland! And this is an exceptionally easy place to get around quickly. On Hong Kong’s MTR (Mass Transit Railway System), we didn’t wait longer than two minutes for a train and above ground, less than five minutes for a bus. Star Ferries across Victoria Harbour operate about every 10 minutes and are a cheap way to see Hong Kong’s skylines up close.

To see those skylines from above, we rode the 124-year-old funicular Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak – at 552 meters, the highest point of Hong Kong Island. It’s the best place to definitively gauge your bearings of Hong Kong and witness the magnitude of its growth. Forty years ago, few buildings here rose more than six storeys. Today, legions of skyscrapers bounded by ocean, islands, and forested hills stretch to the horizon.

If you can’t catch a breeze atop Victoria Peak, you should get one on the 30-minute ferry ride to Lamma Island. With quiet walking trails, sandy beaches and a coal-fired power station, Lamma is a surreal escape from the city. Within sight of the power station’s towers, we swam at Hung Shing Ye, a beach with life guards, changing rooms and cabbages floating in the ocean. A thunderstorm chased us from the waves and we took cover at the Bookworm Café in the village of Yung Shue Wan – one of two ferry stops on Lamma. The Bookworm epitomizes the village’s bohemian vibe, with good vegan food and indifferent service.

There’s a surreal air about the Ngong Ping 360 experience on Lantau Island, too. From the MTR’s Tung Chung Station, Ngong Ping’s cable cars ferried us 5.7 kilometres over Tung Chung Bay, past Hong Kong International Airport and high above the Lantau North Country Park – all with a glass bottom to look through. The 25-minute cable car ride alone is worth the price of admission, but so too is what awaits at Ngong Ping village, the Tian Tan Buddha, otherwise known as the Big Buddha. Despite being a popular tourist attraction, it’s possible to find a little serenity at the 34-metre bronze statue, or on any of the 240 steps to its base. And it’s not all tourists here. I watched an elderly lady stop and pray on every single step.

Take it one step at a time to the base of Tian Tan Buddha, otherwise known as the Big Buddha

Take it one step at a time to the base of Tian Tan Buddha, otherwise known as the Big Buddha

Ngong Ping’s ‘Chinese-themed’ village, complete with fast food and souvenir stores, were of little distraction. All the consumerism we could handle was back in Mongkok. By mornings we’d shop the markets close to the Langham for fresh oranges, bananas, persimmons, mango, pears, lychees and cherries. By night, we immersed ourselves in Mongkok’s night markets. Nothing quite prepares you for the human tide that flows back and forth down Mongkok’s streets full of merchandise and vendors waiting to haggle: unless you’re a teenager with cash burning a hole in your pocket.

While my wife and daughter disappeared into Tung Choi Street (aka Ladies Street for its clothing and cosmetics), I watched my 15-year-old son Ryan buy soccer cleats and a Liverpool jersey on Fa Yuen Street (aka Sneakers Street, where you’ll find all sporting goods), Dre Beats headphones and iPod case on Sai Yeung Choi Street (an electronics mecca) and two watches on Temple Street (men’s fashions).

“You should buy something,” Ryan told me.

He was right. About 50 cents later I was eating fried squid and spicy fish balls from a food stand. And I didn’t haggle.

Serenity now with the Big Buddha in Ngong Ping village.

Serenity now with the Big Buddha in Ngong Ping village.

If you go

Langham Place (http://hongkong.langhamplacehotels.com/) might be the only hotel with a pillow menu, (scents include rose and lavender) such is its attention to whims and wishes. It also offers free guided walking tours to acquaint guests with nearby markets, culture and history.

Airbnb.com is an online marketplace for people to list and book unique accommodations worldwide. We followed instructions to text a housekeeper upon landing, and she was there to let us in to our home away from home. It came with everything we needed, including the use of a computer and several of the owner’s local restaurant reviews.

Disney-lovers will find most of their favourite rides at Hong Kong Disneyland, including Grizzly Gultch – similar to Big Thunder Mountain and newly opened this summer. (hongkongdisneyland.com)

For more on Ngong Ping, visit www.np360.com.hk

For more on Hong Kong, visit www.discoverhongkong.com

No one in the history of Hong Kong tourism ever thought to take the same photo atop Victoria Peak - seriously!

No one in the history of Hong Kong tourism ever thought to take the same photo atop Victoria Peak – seriously!

 

 

Written by nevjudd

February 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Brighton Breezy: Supping by the Seaside

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“By all means visit Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace, but if you want to see what real life in Britain is all about, you have to go to the pub.” — Passport To The Pub: The Tourist’s Guide to Pub Etiquette, by Kate Fox

The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers liked to party.

Fond of singing and loud spontaneous toasts, this motley collection of community-minded drinkers frequented numerous pubs around the British coastal resort of Brighton in the 1920s.

Back then close to 700 licensed premises catered to thirsty customers in Brighton, about 100 kilometres south of London

My brother Trevor calls to order another meeting of Book Club.

And although “lubrication in moderation” was the group’s rallying cry, it eventually succumbed to the moral pressure of the temperance movement and the economic reality of the Depression.

My brother Trevor has lived in Brighton for about 20 years. His loosely affiliated group is called Book Club. Not quite ancient, but usually orderly, the club comprises men whose wives attend a book club. On the ladies’ book club nights, their husbands meet at a pub.

They have about 300 pubs to choose from these days. The oldest, the Black Lion, started life as a brewery about 450 years ago. Its founder, a Flemish Protestant brewer named Deryck Carver, was later burned at the stake in a beer barrel for this faith.

John Peel adorns the exterior of The Albert in Brighton.

The religious authorities had loosened up a bit by the time the Prince of Wales began visiting in the late 18th Century. Inns sprang up to cater to the increased stagecoach trade and wealthy Londoners flocked to the fashionable resort for its supposedly curative seawater, which was piped into bathtubs in waterfront hotels.

Now visitors come for Brighton’s dynamic cultural scene, much of which begins and ends in the city’s pubs.

Whether they’re serving from former churches, converted warehouses or transformed Georgian living rooms, pubs provide a unique perspective on Brighton’s history and culture.

To document a pint-sized snapshot of Brighton’s pub scene might prove to be a tall order. But with lubrication in moderation in mind, I set off with the Book Club on a perfect summer evening in July.

Pubs had been carefully chosen to be no more than four minutes walk apart; some quiet, some noisy and all with great beers.

Our entourage included Geoff, who was infamously banned from a pub in neighbouring Hove for pointing out to sensitive bar staff that he had been under-charged.

“I wouldn’t want to go in there now anyway,” he tells me. “Someone got stabbed in there last week.”

Besides myself there’s also a couple of honourary Book Club members: My friend Neil, a diabetic, who insists that cider actually lowers his blood sugar level; and my other brother Keith, a Crohn’s sufferer who should probably be at home with a good book.

Our journey starts at The Battle of Trafalgar, just uphill from Brighton’s railway station, on the edge of a maze of Georgian terraced houses. We settle in over pints of locally brewed Harvey’s Best. It feels a bit like we’re in someone’s living room, despite the presence of “Rebel Control”, an ominously named band setting up by the fireplace.

“All these houses were originally built for railway workers and the pubs were here to serve them,” Trevor tells me. “This pub actually knocked into the house next door to extend the bar.”

London commuters who can afford the half-a-million pound price tag for a few hundred square feet of floor space tend to live here now. Pubs have had to diversify to survive. The Sussex Yeoman across the street, for instance, is a gastro pub specializing in sit-down meals. None of us are ready for baked Camembert or stuffed trout so we proceed to the Duke of Wellington.

You'll find the Battle Of Trafalgar still raging in Brighton.

Unlike the Battle of Trafalgar, which actually advertises the fact that it has no TV, the Duke of Wellington entices drinkers with the promise of cricket in high-definition. (Even in HD cricket still takes five days and usually ends in a draw because of rain.)

Bob Dylan’s on the jukebox and the Christmas lights look conspicuous amid the bar stools and high tables. I consult my Definitive Guide of Brighton’s Best Pubs for its assessment of the Duke.

“Average local boozer,” it reads. “Completely middle of the road.”

This seems harsh until I flick through the guidebook and come across its critique of a pub called the Bow Street Runner: “Small, smoky, mediocre … Entertainment is a charity book sale. Dogs welcome!”

Things liven up at the Caxton Arms, which is full of students. They don’t appear to be there for the books shelved floor-to-ceiling along the walls. Amid the library setting a bout of spontaneous dancing breaks out. The Specials, a UK ska band hugely popular in the late 70s, are booming out Monkey Man over the sound system and others take to what little floor-space is left.

We all calm down a little at The Basketmakers Arms, “possibly the best pub in Brighton,” according to the Definitive Guide. Beneath eight-foot ceilings are walls chock full of trinkets such as cigarette cases, biscuit (cookie) tins, business cards circa 1920. “Yes, I always use Thompson’s Manures,” proclaims an old poster next to a framed Hank Williams picture.

Mussels cooked in cider are on the menu, but we stick with locally brewed Gales Seafarers Ale. Such is the cross-section of clientele — from ESL students to old men with canes — the mood inside The Basketmakers feels like a family party. I’m beginning to think I could happily spend the rest of the evening here (if not my life) when Trevor orders us onwards.

Why the urgency?

A glance at the free Brighton What’s On guide reveals legendary Brighton band The Long Tall Texans are playing at The Prince Albert. According to Trevor, there’s time for two more pubs before catching the show.

You'll never be caught short at The Pond.

At The Pond it’s hard to miss more than a hundred porcelain chamber pots hanging from the ceiling. Once kept under beds for emergencies in Victorian times, the pots make a low ceiling feel lower and induce several trips to the bathroom.

We leave for The Evening Star, one of only two microbreweries left in Brighton from the 10 that thrived here in the late 19th century. The pub’s more interesting brews include an Espresso Stout and Delhi Beli, a tandoori curry-flavoured beer. I order the latter but the din of conversation is so deafening I get a Dark Star Pale Ale instead. It’s probably for the best.

We join crowds of drinkers gathered around picnic tables outside on the sidewalk where conversation becomes audible and somewhat more coherent again.

Later still, the same cannot be said upstairs at The Prince Albert where “psychobilly” band The Long Tall Texans are presiding over a writhing, sweaty mosh pit of mostly middle-aged men.

A cozy night in with Mark Carew of The Long Tall Texans.

“We don’t play in Britain much anymore,” the trio’s lead singer Mark Carew tells me at the bar later. “We’re in Hollywood next month [the Henry Fonda Theatre, Sept. 6, to be exact] and we play a lot in Europe.”

The Prince Albert’s owner Chris Steward used to run Brighton’s foremost music venue, the Concorde, where the late Amy Winehouse started out and bands such as Martha and the Vandellas make their comeback.

Steward took over the Prince Albert a few years ago, providing its first lick of paint in 47 years as part of a £100,000 facelift.

“I’ve seen some amazing gigs here,” says Chris’s stepson Ollie. “There’s never a night without a band. And there’s some really weird stuff.”

How weird?

Olli thinks for a while.

“We’ve got a Metallica tribute band coming on the 24th,” he tells me.

Before I can say “So what”, Ollie adds, “They’re two women who play Metallica covers on harps.”

“You’re kidding,” I reply.

“I’m not, they’re called Harptallica!”

Just as I’m contemplating such weirdness, I’m distracted by something infinitely more strange propping up the bar.

So this horse walks into a bar ...

It’s close to last orders now and among the revelers downing the last of their pints is a man wearing a latex horse’s head. The fact that he’s alone and actually drinking through the horse’s mouth appears to bother no one.

“If it’s weird, it’s here,” Trevor says with a smile.

Welcome to Brighton.

  • Top 10 best Brighton pub names
  • The Pub With No Name
  • The Leek And Winkle
  • The Joogleberry Playhouse
  • The Ha Ha
  • The Geese Have Gone Over The Water
  • Brighton Rocks
  • The Bees Mouth
  • The Babalabar
  • Three Jolly Butchers
  • Sumo
  • Suga Qube
  • Snafu 23

Written by nevjudd

December 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Brighton, Pubs

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