The annual Hopscotch Festival recently took over Vancouver and Mrs. Sip and I were more than happy to embrace the week of special events. Here’s what we got up to:
On Tuesday, Nov. 17, we went to the Unibroue Pairing Dinner at The Devil’s Elbow. I can’t say enough good things about this event. Mrs. Sip and I attended the same Hopscotch dinner last year (at The Abbey) and this year’s rendition was so much better. First, we lucked out with a four-person table, but the beer and food distribution was executed much better this time around. Last year, you were required to share a plate of whatever the food pairing was, as well as pass a bottle of beer between not only your table, but also an adjacent one, as well. This year, it was individual dishes and a bottle of Unibroue split between four people, on average.
The cost was $63 each and I’d say it was worth every penny. The pairings included: mussels with La Fin du Monde; arugula salad, goat cheese and duck breast with Ephemere Apple; duo of crostini (pulled pork and foie gras) with 17 Grande Reserve; smoked brisket with Trois Pistoles; and a trio of tarts (pecan pie, chocolate mousse, and salted caramel) with Maudite, for dessert. We also received a bonus serving of La Resolution to wrap things up. My favourite dish – a tough choice to narrow down – was the pulled pork crostini.
Unibroue sommelier Sylvain Bouchard is an amazing storyteller and full of knowledge about not just Unibroue, but beer in general – and he clearly enjoys his own product. The venue this year provided a better space for Bouchard to speak to the group, as last year, he felt he was always speaking to only half the restaurant at each time. Like the year before, each guest was given a complimentary Unibroue cookbook, as well as a beautiful Blanche de Chambly glass.
After a few days off, we went to the Grand Tasting Hall – Beer and Food edition. I’ve been hesitant in past years about the Grand Tasting Hall because of its high price and crowds. This was the first year to feature a beer only tasting experience in the afternoon and when a Groupon came out, cutting the entry price in half (only $19, including a glass and five sample tokens), I was quick to jump on it.
The beers I tried, included: Okanagan Springs Chili Porter, Boxer Watermelon Lager and Apple Ale, Moody Ales Smouldering Smoked Porter, Stanley Park Sazerac Porter, Granville Island Dunkelweizen, Big Rock Winter Spice, Mt. Begbie Cold Smoke Porter, Bridge The Grinch, Deep Cove Double Trouble IPA and Luminescent Chocolate Coconut Porter (likely my favourite of the festival), Four Mile Pale Ale and English Strong Ale, Fernie Sap Sucker Maple Porter, Coal Harbour Smoke & Mirrors and Blackwing Baltic Porter, and Maui Coconut Porter and Mana Wheat.
Given the timing of the event, there were a number of dark beers to be had, as many of the suppliers brought along stouts, porters, and winter ales. Despite being on my wish list, I didn’t get to try Bravo Peche Mel and Muskoka Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, as I couldn’t even locate the Muskoka booth. I also didn’t see Bad Tattoo Brewing, although they were advertised to be there. I was impressed that so many exhibitors brought unique beers to be sampled and not just their flagship brews. Only a few of the options available cost more than one token and two was the maximum.
While none of the liquors were available, their booths were set-up from the night before and you could see which companies were exhibiting their wares, giving me an idea of what the full event would be like. According to the Official Tasting Guide (also available online), some samples would cost as much as nine tokens, with an average of three tokens needed per tasting. If a Groupon comes out again next year, I would return to the beer event, but am still hesitant to do the full gala.
Mrs. Sip and I wrapped up our Hopscotch activities with the Whiskey and Chocolate Tasting at Legacy Liquor Store. I was surprised when Mrs. Sip grabbed tickets to this, given her bad experience with whiskey, many moons ago in Scotland, but I think the chocolate won out here.
Among the whiskeys we sampled and chocolates they were paired with were: Forty Creek with Cacao Barry BIO Milk, Rebel Yell with Cacao Barry Zephyr, The Balvenie with Cacao Barry BIO Dark, and Aberlour with Cacao Barry OCOA. We also got an extra chocolate, the Cacao Barry INAYA. Each chocolate, from Cocoa West, was delicious and you really got a sense of how well the two products accentuate one another when paired.
With tickets priced at $30 each, I’m not really sure the event was worth it price wise, but we did have fun together and it was good to see Mrs. Sip get back on the whiskey train… even if that means I didn’t get to finish her glasses!