Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Driftwood, will you be my valentine?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a saccharine-laced posting about lovey-dovey valentine’s day.  Those of you who know me probably aren’t surprised to hear that I’m not a fan of the Hallmark holiday and my husband and I have a pact not to celebrate the day supposedly meant for lovers and stalkers. It’s the one day a year that a stalker gets to call him/herself a secret admirer and it becomes adorable. But come February 15th, that restraining order is back in place. I digress. This isn’t a rant about valentine’s, it’s all about Driftwood Brewery and the Alibi Room!

Time to set the scene, and I don’t mean the candles that adorned every table and high spot (although that was a nice touch).

The Alibi Room started tweeting a couple of weeks ago about having their first independent Brewmaster’s dinner on February 14th and that Driftwood would be the feature brewer. We love Driftwood and the Alibi Room so suffice to say, we wanted to attend. Getting tickets wasn’t an easy feat as the information was posted on Driftwood’s Facebook page advising people to email Alibi. It was going to be first come, first served and if they called and you didn’t answer, they would go to the next person. Guess who missed the call at 10:40am… d’oh! Stupid work got in the way and I missed Nigel’s call by about 10 minutes. He said he’d try calling back after 6pm and I thought we were out of luck. But low and behold, Nigel called me back around 6:15 that night and we reserved our spots. Not sure if my begging and pleading on Twitter had anything to do with us still getting tickets, but I’ll take it! Only 44 tickets were sold to the event and the Alibi closed down the entire restaurant for the evening. As Nigel said on the phone, and repeated to all last night, he wanted the night to be our night. Relax, don’t feel rushed and enjoy the evening – it was all for us. They succeeded on all fronts.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Alibi Room, it’s located at 157 Alexander Street in Gastown. Good food and an excellent beer selection with 50 rotating taps of local and imported beer as well as a feature cask. Rightfully so, their staff are very knowledgeable about the beers they serve. Nigel Springthorpe and Raya Audet have owned the Alibi since 2006 and head chef Greg Armstrong is the creative genius behind the scenes. Every time we’ve gone to the Alibi, it’s been packed. People wait, and relatively patiently, for a table or a spot at the bar. It’s a great place for a casual meal and an endless selection of craft beers. I highly recommend that you visit (just don’t take my spot at the bar, please).

As for Driftwood beer, I fell in love at first sip. Farmhand Ale, Fat Tug IPA, Crooked Coast Amber Ale, Sartori Harvest IPA, Singularity Russian Imperial Stout… love them all. They’re a relatively new brewery from Victoria, BC that started to create their dream in July 2008 when they took over an old industrial space and transformed it into Driftwood Brewery. They’ve been so successful that they’re now expanding. Owner Jason Meyer shared with us last night that they’re taking over the space next to them and this expansion will allow them to give tours, have a retail store and a growler station. We’ll definitely visit Victoria once they’re set up. Road trip!

I’ve been holding back. No, not that I have a secret stash of cinnamon hearts, but why this dinner was extra special. Nigel was down in the cellar and eyed the 2008 – 2011 Old Cellar Dweller that they had in their own cellar. They’ve been putting away a number of bottles of this every year and Nigel was dying for an excuse for a vertical tasting. Voila, February 14th dinner. This was very enticing to us as we had only had the fortune of trying the 2011 Old Cellar Dweller. To get the chance to try four years of this amazing barleywine was indeed a treat. More about that later, though.

First course
House made duck liver pâté with pickled Asian pear, house-made crackers and crostini.
Paired with the Driftwood Ale.

The pâté was very flavourful, but not too strong. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find liver pâté can be overwhelming if the liver is too pungent. Not the case here. A very nice dish and when eaten with the picked Asian pear, it gave the dish a refreshing zing. The pickled flavour was masked when eaten with the pâté but when you had it solo, the flavours rang out. A great dish indeed. The Driftwood Ale paired well with this dish. We found this amber coloured ale to have earthy aromas/flavours, nice lacing and a good balance of hops. A solid choice for this first pairing.


Second Course
Salad of ambrosia apples, walnuts, goat cheese, shaved fennel, dried cranberries, chevre, frizee & radicchio with a wild flower honey ginger vinaigrette.
Paired with Bird of Prey Flanders Red

When we saw ambrosia salad on the menu, we were taken back to our childhood when someone’s mom always brought that gross ambrosia salad to the barbeque. You know the one, the giant fruit salad with marshmallows. Grim. But that was not the salad we had at Alibi. It was as a lettuce based salad with wonderful toppings. Very good! The Bird of Prey is a sour and I wondered how it would pair with a salad. I found that the goat cheese gave this dish that extra punch and allowed the Bird of Prey to shine. Sours aren’t my favourite, but they always grow on me and especially with a good food coupling.


Third Course
Roasted breast of yarrow meadows duck with stewed cherries service with duck confit turnip & potato perogies, braised onions, sweet & sour jus
Paired with Fat Tug

This main dish was amazing. The duck was cooked to perfection (medium) and was very tender. The skin was in tack with just a bit of fat for additional flavour. A bite of the stewed cherry and duck together made my mouth sing. Ahhhh. And shall I say, yum.  The giant perogie was a wonderful compliment to the duck.  All of the portions were generous and I had to bow out half way through my dinner. Lucky for me, and him, my clean-up crew was on hand. Yep, that’s my husband Kelly. He polished off my dinner and I’m glad as I wouldn’t want that delicious course to go to waste. Then there’s the Fat Tug. This IPA is one of my absolute favourites and, in fact, I had one at lunch as well. Kelly thought that since I’d already had one that day, I should give him my serving. FAT CHANCE! If you like IPAs and really hoppy beer, this one is a gem. The citrus, grapefruit and pine exudes from this ale and it leaves wonderful lacing. I’m a walking (and drinking) commercial for this IPA. Just love it.


Fourth Course
2011 Singularity Chocolate Truffles
Paired with 2012 Singularity Russian Imperial Stout

I was so full by this time that I only ate one of my truffles. Which reminds me, the other three are wrapped in a napkin in my purse (snack time!). No way I was going to leave these babies at the table. Beautiful chocolate and stout goodness that leaves a slight bitter aftertaste. As for the pouring, this stout was a much anticipated release. Twitterland was all a buzz on Monday when Singularity was released in Vancouver. All of us beer nerds were clamoring to get a couple of bottles (and some stores limited purchases to two bottles). The stout didn’t disappoint. A very smooth concoction with great aromas of chocolate, coffee, bourbon, oak and malts. We’ll definitely have to pick up a few more bottles and perhaps store one for a later date.

Fifth Course
Benton Brothers cheese plate featuring Abondance Fermier, Idiazabal and Montgomery’s Cheddar
Paired with…. drum roll please… a vertical flight of 2008/2009/2010/2011 Old Cellar Dweller Barleywine

I’m anxious to start talking about the vertical tasting but I can’t ignore the fabulous cheese plate. The Abondance Fermier is from France (cow: raw) and started as my favourite. After a few bites of each cheese, my palate decided that the Montgomery’s Cheddar from England was the winner (cow: raw). The Idiazabal from Spain (sheep: raw) was also divine so really, it was difficult to choose. The cheese plate came with a fig, hazelnuts and grapes. The grapes tasted marinated and all were great accompaniments.


2008/2009/2010/2011
Now for the pièce de résistance… the vertical tasting. I was a good girl and waited (somewhat patiently) for all four glasses to arrive. The colours of the four years varied greatly. 2008 was cloudier, 2009 the darkest and 2011 the lightest. Each year had its own distinct aroma and taste and it was abundantly obvious that this is a great bottle to age. The maturity of the 2008 and 2009 is amazing whereas the 2011 is just a baby. My favourites were 2008 and 2010 – both distinctly different and powerful. All years exuded pine, citrus and hop flavours but as the barleywine aged, the flavours became enhanced and more aromatic. We will definitely be aging at least one or two bottles now. I was a little concerned that with all of my beer check-ins at Untapped, they’d be awarding me an Intervention Badge (along with a ride to rehab) but I’m sure they understood these were just tastings. And sadly, we couldn’t finish the flight.


I personally think the word epic is overused and thus, I don’t utter that word but I will break my rule on this one occasion. The dinner, pairings and vertical tasting was truly epic. We feel fortunate to have experienced the four barleywines and added a new level to our beer taste buds.

Each course was served at a nice pace and with Nigel being the ever so gracious host, he checked in with his guests to ensure that no one was rushed, or hungry for that matter. I doubt anyone left hungry as the portions were generous and filling.

Jason and Nigel hamming it up for a valentine's hug
We had a conversation with Jason and Nigel prior to our departure and complemented them both on the evening. I told Jason that I wasn’t blowing sunshine up his butt, but that we truly loved all of their beers. They just can’t go wrong in our books. He’s a humble guy and stated that he brews to his taste. Like it or not, he only brews what he likes. Good for him – don’t fall into the trap that some brewers do when they try to put out a craft beer that mimics a macro beer (hint to all you craft brewers that have a lime ale). The Driftwood brewers truly have the magic touch and we’re definitely looking forward to when they have their expansion completed so we can come for a visit. Thanks Nigel, Greg, Jason, Ian and the Alibi/Driftwood team that were responsible for making this evening such a memorable event. I guess valentine’s day isn’t so bad after all.

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