Category Archives: Toronto

Best beers to convert wine lovers

There are a lot of oenophiles out there — and it’s sometimes tough to convince them that beer can be just as complex and sip-able as a glass of their favourite vintage. In my experience, especially, a lot of those drinkers are women who got wasted off six-packs of Labatt Maximum Ice in high school and have since sworn off beer for life.

OK, so I don’t have any pictures of wine. Instead I’ll show the sophisticated side of beer-dom, food pairings! Here’s one from a Hacker Pschorr dinner at Toronto’s Beer Bistro, I wrote about it here:

That’s frustrating because the world of beer is as wild and wonderfully diverse as that of wine (I swear)! So to help convert wine-lovers into beer-swilling diehards I decided to recommend six very different craft beers to a series of wine styles for the August issue of ELLE magazine.

But then I realized I knew very little about wine, so I asked my curling buddy, and talented sommelier, David Black, who runs the Italian Wine Academy, to help me match some of my favourite Canadian craft beers to certain wine styles.

And the most sophisticated beer event on the Toronto scene, the annual Brewer’s Plate, my take on that is here:

I chose Paddock Wood’s Czech Mate Pilsner from Saskatoon, Montreal’s St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Propeller’s Extra Special Bitter out of Halifax, Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale from Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Red Racer India Pale Ale from Vancouver’s Central City and Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue in Quebec. To see which wine styles we matched to each of these brews, click on the pdf of the story.


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Beer and barbecue pairings

Jason Rees, Pork Ninjas

A couple of weeks back, The Grid had to cut my Hopped Up column, well, pretty brutally. I was writing about how to pair beer with barbecue, so I spoke to two men that love both things deeply: Ryan Donovan, the butcher at Marben, and Jason Rees, pitmaster of barbecue team, Pork Ninjas.

Sadly Rees was cut from the story (I’m sorry Jason!), he spends a lot of time smoking meat, and drinking craft beer, and I wanted to share his expertise here. I also gave both Donovan and Rees the challenge of pairing beers you can buy or drink in Toronto with their favourite BBQ — and I asked them to comment on one another’s suggestions — most of these were cut too.

So I’m pasting the entire article here for your barbecue-and-beer-pairing pleasure:

Ryan Donovan has the ultimate man cave: a brand-new walk-in keg fridge, its walls lined with barrels of craft brews like Muskoka, Beau’s and F&M. And in the centre, hanging from the ceiling, there’s usually one huge cut of meat or another—loin, ribs, flank. King West restaurant Marben (488 Wellington Street West) is known for its monthly pig roasts conducted under resident butcher Donovan’s watch, and he says the merger is fitting—any carnivore knows that ale and barbecue is a natural pairing.

Donovan, who ran the Healthy Butcher and worked at Cowbell before moving to Marben, learned what beers to match with barbecue from practice, and by talking to the brewers who supply his restaurant.

Donovan reccomends Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA to cut through the rich, pink meat of a roasted pig. For lighter fare, like grilled fish or chicken, Donovan likes Muskoka’s Weissbier for its sweet banana character, or Duggan’s zingy, No. 5 Sorachi Lager. “When it’s hot outside it’s tough to drink a lot of beer,” he says, “so a lighter, effervescent lager is best.”

Some beers are better than others to drink with barbecue. And while there are some rules of thumb: go for brews that compliment, contrast or cut your food; a sweet taste should be paired with even sweeter beers, tart with tart — brewers, butchers and beer nerds don’t always play by them.

Jason Rees, for example, never serves lager with barbecue. The pitmaster for Pork Ninjas, a Toronto-based competitive barbecue team, Rees spends upwards of 16 hours over a cooker. And that’s when he relies on lager. “I love my double IPAs and imperial stouts but if I was to drink those for 12 to 16 hours, my palate would be completely polluted, and I wouldn’t be able to tell if my spicing was correct.” His go to? Anything by Muskoka, preferably in a can, or Yuengling Lager, which he picks up at Walmart in the States.

Like Donovan, Rees likes the IPA’s ability to cut through sweet, rich barbecue. But he also likes the complimentary pairing of a sweeter brown ale, like Neustadt 10W40, with spicy ribs smothered in brown sugar. What to serve to your Coors Light loving Dad? Try Black Oak Pale Ale, says Rees, “it doesn’t offend anyone.”

At your next dinner party, Rees advises, choosing six kinds of Ontario beer, giving everyone a small glass, and trying different beers throughout the meal, starting with lightest and moving to the heavier, more alcoholic beers.

“Beer is so much easier to pair with barbecue than wine, because when you serve the real spicy stuff, some wines can taste like vinegar. But even a poor beer pairing is still going to be drinkable,” he says.

Jason Rees’s beer and barbecue pairings, Ryan Donovan weighs in

Denison’s Weissbier with burger with goat cheese
Donovan: “I would pair this as well, but only if I could have two beers.”

Sweet and tangy baby back pork ribs with Muskoka Cream Ale
Donovan: “Mmmmmm tangy”

Smoked sausages with Kozliks German Style mustard with Church Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale
Donovan: “Church Key is one of my favourite breweries, great choice.”

 Jerk Chicken with Muskoka Mad Tom IPA
Donovan: “British + India + Jamaica = Bracebridge.  A classic pairing.”

Grilled chocolate pound cake with scoop of chocolate ice cream & hot cherry sauce with Black Oak Double Chocolate Cherry Stout
Donovan: “I’ll bring the beer if you take care of cooking this.”

 Rib-eye steak rubbed with coffee, salt and pepper with Muskoka Dark Ale or Wellington County Dark Ale
Donovan: “Wellington County Dark is one the best beers I’ve ever had.”

Orange marmalade glazed duck breast cooked over Basques Charcoal, (made from sugar maple) with Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze
Donovan: “Orange?????Duck Breast???????? can I have a beer now?”

Note: Most of these recipes are Rees’s and are on his website at

Ryan Donovan’s Beer & Barbecue Pairings, Jason Rees weighs in

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA with Patio Pig Roast
Rees:I absolutely love the Muskoka IPA, but I think it lends itself better to spicy food, and a whole hog has a lot of different delicate flavours. I’d rather see that paired with a pilsner.”

Muskoka Dark with fermented Thuringer
Rees: “The marjoram spice in this sausage would be very tasty with the Muskoka Dark Ale.”

Anchor Steam with BBQ Brisket from West Side Beef
Rees: “I think I would enjoy Anchor Steam with a brisket, but I usually pair it with raw oysters.”

Creemore with anything BBQ’d outside at The New Farm
Rees: “My theory that you need something easy drinking while bbq’ing seems evident from his pick of Creemore. I’ve done the same thing when I can’t find cans of Muskoka, I enjoy Creemore’s Kellerbeir more than their lager.”

Tsing Tao with #76 at Pho Phuong
Rees:I can barely get my nose into a Tsing Tao beer, so it must stay in the bottle and be served extra, extra cold so I can barely smell it. It’s just another large batch adjunct beer that I wouldn’t normally consume… but I will admit to consuming it as a last resort beer on many occasions in the many amazing Asian restaurants in the city.”

Beau’s Lug Tread Ale with a porchetta roast from The Healthy Butcher
Rees: “I have not tried the Healthy Butcher’s porchetta as I make my own, and mine has lots and lots of fennel seeds in it, is cooked over apple wood, and injected with apple juice brine. It would marry well with the Beau’s Lug Tread, but I have a serious love of pork and apple, so I usually drink my porchetta with Wapoos Cider from the County Cider Company.

Rogue Dead Guy IPA with Pulled Pork
Rees: “The Dead Guy IPA is a very well-balanced beer, and I’ve enjoyed it with pulled pork on several occasions.”

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TV, beer and Aldo Lanzini

Three of the things I’ve been up to this month.

My fiance, Conor McCreery, a comic book creator and screenwriter, has been appearing on the Charles Adler show as a commentator on all things pop culture. Last week they wanted a female talking head to comment on Bridesmaids, a movie that I love, so I decided to give it a shot.  The day of I got super nervous, forcing Conor to play Adler and throw out all sorts of possible questions, over and over. I went to the studio armed with facts, and then, when we did the interview the questions were mostly personal opinion. No rehearsal on those, and no chance to show off all of my R&D. Once we got going, the nerves subsided (it’s easy to talk to a camera that doesn’t look back at you) and I was surprised by how much fun it all was. Now all I need is my own beer travel show.

My first two beer columns have been published in the Grid, and I have plans for more.  There is so much happening in craft and commercial brewing, so lots to talk about. The best part of this new gig has been how welcoming the beer community is — experts, writers and brewers all love what they do and don’t mind sharing their intel. In my latest column, on Barley’s Angels, I looked at women in the craft brewing industry and discovered that the act of making beer is totally girly. Unfortunately I couldn’t squeeze this fascinating history into the column, so I’m sharing it here:

Women parted ways with beer around the industrial revolution, when brewing ale, once the sole responsibility of the female, was moved into factories and drinking shifted from the home to the male-dominated pub. It’s a travesty, because beer is utterly feminine. High status females were the brewsters of chica in pre-Inca and Incan cities high up in the Andes, of Hekt in ancient Egypt, and in charge of the prestigious brewing trade in Babylon and Sumeria (modern day Iraq). Beer deities were always goddesses, never gods. Even the hyper-masculine Vikings favoured brewsters — Norse society law dictated that only women could own brewhouse equipment. Today, things are different. A 2004 Health Canada survey found that a quarter of men ages 19 to 50 drink beer, compared to eight percent of women, and men guzzle, consuming about 80 percent of all beer.

Anthropologist Alan Eames uncovered the female-dominated history of brewing — and more evidence is being unearthed every few years, like a recent discovery that high-ranking females were the brewmasters in pre-Incan societies.

Finally, I just finished up a piece for ELLE’s September issue exploring a fashion and pop culture trend — it was fun to research, and I’ll remain mum about what it is until publication, but I had the pleasure of discovering the work of Italian artist Aldo Lanzini.  His crocheted masks are mesmerizing and all about the construction of identity.

Check out this profile by Crane TV:


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Royal Ontario Museum Sleepover — a scary experience

Taking my 4-year-old nephew to the Royal Ontario Museum’s dinosaur-themed sleepover seemed like the perfect plan to win me the Favourite Auntie Award.  Not so, it turns out, if your nephew has an unnatural fear of just about every animal (dead or alive).

Still, we survived.  You can read the article I wrote about it here. Hot tip: Bring or make a fast friend the same age as your niece/nephew, and suddenly the “I want to go home to Mommy’s” dissapear.  It’s magic.  For more photos from the night, check out my ever evolving flickr page.

For those of you into such things, this event occurred about a year ago — but I just stumbled upon the article and thought I’d post it.

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Filed under family, journalism, love, thrifty, Toronto, travel

Work, work, work

That’s what 2011 has been all about for me so far.  Well, that and a big fat engagement ring. (Yeah!)

But seriously, apart from shoving the gold and emerald band on my fat knuckle (thanks recreational basketball) I’ve hardly felt time to breathe work wise. So I’ve retired all of my public relations work to focus on writing and editing (almost) full time.

I’m just finishing up my first feature for Reader’s Digest (it’s a meaty story, and I can’t wait to get my edits back as I think I did a kick ass job, fingers crossed). I wrote a service piece for them earlier this year on Allergies, which opened the door to the editors taking my feature idea. In December, I landed my very first profile in a national magazine — it was on Lynda Powless, the editor and publisher of Turtle Island NewsMore nominated it for Best Profile for this year’s National Magazine Awards, which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

I also acted as a judge for those awards – in the always glamorous and exciting “How To” category.  There were over 50 pieces to read, from How to Make a Wreathe to How to Stalk a Deer.  As a new editor, (I started as Managing Editor at Precedent last June), I found the discussion with the other judges highly instructive — my opinions were sometimes wildly variant from theirs, and I even admitted that I was wrong on some fronts — but not all.

On the non-work front, I’ve been taking a photography class through the Native Women’s Resource Centre — as a Board Member it’s given me a chance to spend time with the women who use the centre everyday — and get to know my new Panasonic DMC LX5.  I love you camera. I love you. We were tasked with a photo essay, so I chose the Business of Weddings, documenting visits to three wedding venues in one morning. You can see those pictures, and more on my Flickr page.

And now the second big season of my walking tour company — Walk T.O. — is ramping up. And it’s a busy one.  We’ve hired four new guides (all amazing teachers, eco-geeks, artists and/or a combination of all three) and we’re in training mode. Today and tomorrow we have 300 students from North Toronto Collegiate on our Toronto the Green Tour — that’s the entire section of Grade 9 Geography.  And it takes a lot of energy to keep one step ahead of them. One thing to be thankful for: the weather forecast was wrong today, no thunderstorms, just light rain.

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Mike Holmes, sex researchers & St Clair West

It’s great when articles you filed back in May finally come to fruition.

Last spring, contractors across the country kindly answered my very basic questions about building closets, knocking out walls, and all things hot water tanks (winning hed: Go Tankless) for two service features I wrote for Mike Holmes’s magazine, on newstands now.  I also wracked my Dad’s construction brain for the basics.  He was delighted to help.  In three years of journalism, my parents have never been more excited over any gig I’ve had.  What I learned working for this magazine: everyone loves Holmes.

I also interviewed longtime residents of St. Clair West – one even took me on a bike tour in the rain – to find out all about the neighbourhood for this month’s Toronto Life. Sadly, my juicy, gossipy tidbits got cut — if they’re not posted online next month, I’ll share them here.

I also chatted with ten leading sex researchers, wizards, therapists and teachers across Canada and the U.S. who swear that pilates, eating liver and watching porn designed for ladies will up women’s libidos.  That should be in the October issue of Glow.

Finally, a story I’ve been thinking over and working on for a (sadly long) two years is in October’s Walrus.  It’s about the fur trade, told from a visit to the North Bay Fur Harvester’s 19th annual convention this April.   I love this story – and hope you will all read it.

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50 km later…

Conor McCreery

Originally uploaded by Ride VIP

This year’s Ride for Heart was plagued by pouring rain, so by the time we got to the start line, we were soaking. My parents – 10 year veterans of the ride – joined us on their amazing tandem and they were interviewed by a TV crew! OMG. We pedaled through the drizzle – and made it to the VIP tent thanks to Conor’s spectacular fund raising efforts.

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