Canal Park Brewing Co in Duluth

If you're up this far north you have to stop in Canal Park Brewing Company.  It's a big space right on the shore of Lake Superior with an outrageous outdoor patio and some awesome brew.  The menu isn't bad either with typical bar fare along with their own touches like Pickled Herring and Beer Can Chicken.

I went for their 40 Acre Saison right away, served in a tulip.  It's light and refreshing like a Farmhouse Ale should be, but watch the kick- it's 7.6% abv.  I also went for the Nut Hatchet, which is a World Beer Cup Winner.  It had aroma of roasted nuts and 7 grain bread and a smooth taste of brown sugar with toffee- I'd have liked it with a Black & Bleu Cheeseburger.

The bar crowd was pretty lively and I actually started up a conversation about sports with a local Minnesotan and a guy from LA.  If I visit again, I'll be sure to take the tour.  This is another place to mark on your list to visit in Duluth.

Holiday Wine Picks

So the end of the year is near, meaning we have alot of celebrating to do.  Whether you're buying gifts (wine makes the perfect holiday gift), having friends and family over for Christmas dinner or you need some bubbly for New Year's, these wine picks should impress. 

Gift Wines

I tend to lean toward full bodied reds for gifts.  They tend to age longer, pair well with meat main dishes, and simply put, most Americans like red wine.  So here's a few to choose from, in various price ranges:

  • 2007 Cosentino Cigarzin ($16.99).  The name is very macho and so is the wine.  It's full of interesting flavors like rhubarb, pomegranate, cherry cream and the signature cigar box aroma.  This is one to warm up to and enjoy with a holiday meal or some chocolate.  Also, a great value I found at CostCo.
  • 2008 Langmeil "Valley Floor" Shiraz ($22.99).  This wine is deep and rich, loaded with plum, dark cherry and berry flavor along with vanilla and cocoa.  Plus the fact that it comes from Barossa and has a screwcap makes this wine hard to resist opening!
  • 2007 Tinto Pesquera ($32.99).  Great Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero giving dark rich fruit, pencil lead, leather, minerality and nice acidic bite.  Will age gracefully.
  • 2007 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.99).  The all-American wine gift is a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and this bottle gives all that it should: full body, dark cherry, plum, coffee, licorice and a long finish.  This bottle should age gracefully and be a great part of the recipient's cellar.
  • 2007 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval ($52.99).  A great blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Yakima Valley in Washington.  Blackberry, cassis, flowers, spice and herbs are a part of the aroma and flavor profile.  The recipient will love you for this!
  • 2005 Giorgio Rivetti La Spinetta "Vigneto Gallina" Barbaresco ($79.99).  An awesome and present from northwest Italy.  This wine would be a great addition to any cellar and has lasting ability along with raspberry and plum, tar and truffle essence.

Food Wines

Here are two wines which match very well with most foods and are safe bets to pair with whatever dish you may run into.

The Bubbly

There is sure to be alot of celebrating and this calls for some sparkling wine.  Not only is it crisp and refreshing, but the foam, bubbles and fruity flavor will help you ring in the New Year in style.  I decided to leave out Champagne and only put in the value selections, but if you feel like it, grab a bottle of Duval-Leroy, Dom Perignon or any other Champagne.

  •  Gran Sarao Brut Cava ($9.99).  A great value with grannie smith apple, yeasty dough and lemon zest flavors.  They even added Chardonnay to the traditional blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, giving it more body.
  • Huber "Hugo" Sparkling Rosé ($9.99).  An Austrian blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt, this wine will wow you with its strawberries, raspberries, rose petals and minerality.  And the pricetag is just right.
  • Mionetto Organic Prosecco D.O.C. ($12.99).  If you're trying to save money and stay green, this is the wine for you.  They even used recyclables to make the bottle and label!  Golden apples and elderflower along with crispness and fresh bubbles. 
  • Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace ($19.99).  A lively sparkling wine made up of mostly Pinot Blanc and loaded with brioche, apples, meyer lemon and a hint of nuttiness.
  • 2006 Argyle Brut ($19.99).  Blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir.  Full of honeysuckle, melon, vanilla spiced pear, apple, biscuit, lemon meringue, well, you get the picture- a must buy!
  • L. Mawby Brut Cremant Classic ($21.99).  Straight from Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, made of 100% Vignoles (hybrid varietal).  Excellent fruit flavor, crispness, yeast and toasted pine nuts.

Holiday Beer

Yes, beer drinkers should not be excluded from the celebration, and here's a few to keep you happy:

Happy Holidays, stay safe and let me know how you enjoyed the recommendations!

Beer and Hearty Belgian Food at Hopleaf Bar

Hopleaf Bar

Just another night of casual dining in Chicago brought my wife and I to Hopleaf Bar on Chicago's North Side, close to the intersection of Foster and Clark.  It was an easy ride down Lake Shore Drive, and we found ample parking before heading in for some Belgian delight.

The entrance places you in a bustling bar, where there is open seating for food and drink.  We headed to the rear of the establishment, where there is a small bi-level dining room, an open kitchen, and an outdoor patio.  We put our names on a seating list, then went back to the bar to grab a drink.  This was my biggest challenge, as there are over 40 beers on draft, along with three meads!  I went for the Dogfish Head (one of my favorite breweries, out of Maryland) Festina Peche, a seasonal Berliner Weisse fermented with peaches.  It was dangerously refreshing, as I could see myself guzzling a six pack in no time, and full of slightly unripened white peach flavor.  The bar was unfortunately out of non-alcoholic beers for my pregant wife, but we were quickly summoned to our table anyway, so on to the food!

We started with the Sausage Plate- a plate full of a variety of organic sausages, bourbon pancetta, and white beans.  It was extremely and I could see myself eating it on a nightly basis.  All the flavor of the sausages with the crunchy pancetta fulfilled my meat lover dream.  I would need a beer with more power, so I moved onto the Surly Brewing Company's Bender, a full oatmeal brown ale.  Moving along, we decided to split entrees- an organic Montreal style brisket, and the CB&J, which was crunchy toasted sour dough bread sandwiching fig jam, house made cashew butter, and morbier cheese.  Both were accompanied by Stilton mac and cheese, along with the french fries and garlic mayonnaise gave us the perfect Euro touch.  The brisket was bright pink, and very tender and flavorful- making the ground mustard almost unnecessary.  The mac and cheese was creamy and had good flavor, but was not quite as rich or as much of a knock-out as I expected.  The CB&J, on the otherhand, was an awesome meadley of tastes, with some sweet fruit, rich nuttiness, and creamy cheesey bliss.  It would easily make for the perfect lunch.

As if all of that was not enough, we went for dessert.  The selection process was fierce, but we went with the apple fritters.  Breaded fried apple slices, topped with powdered sugar, and caramel crème anglaise was what the doctor ordered.  It might have been the most delicious ending to one of my favorite dinners. 

All in all, Hopleaf Bar settled my belief in the fact that Chicago has some of the best casual restaurants in the world.  Small neighborhood spots, like this, are spattered throughout the city, just waiting to please hungry patrons, only to turn you into regulars.  It is going to be hard to turn this guy into a regular, since I love to try all kinds of new spot, but I will be back if I love it!  Expect me back at the Hopleaf.Hopleaf on Clark

Cheese and Beer at Goose Island Brewery

Beer and CheeseRecently I was invited to a beer and cheese matchup being held at Goose Island Brewery.  Most people think of wine when it comes to a beverage and cheese pairing, but beer also makes a perfect compliment.  Beers have weight and efferevescence, and flavor profiles can vary from dry hoppy to sweet, along with spice components.  Now, onto some beer and cheese.

The cheeses were brought to us by Neal's Yard Dairy, a cheese vendor out of London, England.  They carry over 60 cheeses, most from the United Kingdom and Ireland, but also some from Italy, France, Greece, and the United States.  We were each presented a plate with two washed-rind cheeses, two cheddars, and four blues.  They were paired off with four different beers.  Here is how the pairing went:

  1. Goose Island Willow St. White Ale with Ogleshield and Ardrahan.  The white ale was light and refreshing, with a touch of orange peel and coriander spice flavor.  A fine pairing with the washed-rind cheeses.  Ogleshield is made near Cadbury and has a slightly sweet taste and finish of orange peel.  Ardrahan is made in Kanturk, southwest Ireland, and is full of smokey and nutty flavor.

  2. Goose Island Rye Pale Ale with two separate milk harvest Montgomery's Cheddars.  The Rye P.A. had full bitter flavor with some rye spice.  The difference in the harvests for the cheddars was apparent, as the first was grassy and light, while the second was sharper with a bit of horseradish taste.  Depending upon when and where the livestock eats, there can be flavor differences in any cheese.

  3. Goose Island Matilda with Strathdon and Colston Bassett blue cheeses.  The Matilda is a Belgian style pale ale with a full, dry, yeasty texture.  I do not think this was the best pairing to go along with the strength of blue cheese- could have used a weightier, darker ale.  The Strathdon was extremely flavor, with the distinct odor and flavor of corn.  The Colston Bassett was very smooth and mild, and made with a vegetable rennet.

  4. Goose Island Fleur with Colston Bassett and Stichelton.  The Fleur was made in the same style as the Matilda, but also infused with hibiscus, adding floral sweetness.  This was a pretty beer, but, again, a beer I would not ideally pair with blue cheese.  This Colston Bassett was made with animal rennet, and was easily my pick as the best blue of the day.  It was not just salty and intensely flavorful, but also had a touch of smoked pork on the palate.  The Stichelton was the only organic cheese we tasted, and was easily the most complex.  It had the sharpness of cheddar, salty flavor of blue, and a tasty outside rind.

This was a great experience, and I look forward to more cheese pairings.  I was also reintroduced to Goose Island's new local menu, comprised of awesome seasonal selections made mainly from local farm product and fresh seasonal components.  If you make your way out to the brew pub, let me know which pairings you went with, and how they worked together!