Sip Trips #53: Best of 2015

2015 was a great year for Sip Advisor adventures, many of which were documented in our new feature, ‘Sip Trips’. Here are the Top 15 experiences of 2015, in chronological order because it would be way too hard to rank so much awesomeness:

#1: Valentine’s Day Beer Tour

Is there a better way to celebrate you and your partner’s love than boarding a bus with other beer nuts and travelling around to a selection of breweries and other stops? Dubbed the ‘For the Love of Craft’ tour, this route featured stops at Strange Fellowes Brewing, Storm Brewing, Schokolade Chocolate Café, and finished at Odd Society Spirits. Best of all, the tour still allowed for some one-on-one time that night, so you could enjoy each other’s drunken splendor in private.

Valentine's Beer Tour

#2: Portland Beer and Wine Fest

This annual Easter treat is a favourite festival for the Sip Advisor. It’s just so well done, with options for beer, wine, and spirits connoisseurs alike. We especially enjoy the educational presentations, which allow for samples of drink, mixed with food, such as the tequila and chocolate truffle session. After a full day of drinking at the Portland Convention Center, we returned to our hotel for the manager’s reception and then things really got fuzzy.

#3: Bacchanalia

What happens when you drink wine all day and all night… you end up in a bar with a pint of beer as a nightcap! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy wine quite a bit, but I love breaking things up with some brews. It helps keep the palate refreshed. Bacchanalia is a very fun event, featuring countless wineries from around the Okanagan wine region. Best of all, it’s an excuse to get away and spend the weekend at a nice resort (also the site of the wine event)… until you return to a flooded apartment.

#4: Beer Trivia and This Sandwich/That Beer

This was another great weekend of sipping, as we combined Beer Trivia, followed the next day by This Sandwich/That Beer, all part of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Our team fared well during trivia, which included a number of beverage servings, while the food and drink at This Sandwich/That Beer were both amazing and the venue (The Portside Pub) was a perfect place to host the extravaganza. I’d recommend both events to all beer fans.

Beer Trivia

#5: Tip N’ Taste

This is the only event on this list that did not include Mrs. Sip, who was gallivanting around Europe at the time. I’ve been a supporter of this festival for years and will continue to go back. The drinks offered are joined by great food from a number of local restaurants. You know a night of drinking went well when I wake up before Ma and Pa Sip – who I was sharing a hotel room with – the next morning, nearly missing the location’s continental breakfast.

#6: Galiano Beer and Wine Festival

I’m still amazed that this festival was occurring for the 23rd year in a row and yet most beer aficionados (people more connected than even I) hadn’t heard of it. Arriving early in the morning and having to kill a few hours before the event began was totally worth it. In future years, we may try to stay on the island longer and partake in the party bus transporting attendees from the event to a local pub afterwards for more boozing.

#7: Disneyland 60th Anniversary

Trips to Disneyland for Mrs. Sip and I have evolved from being all about the rides and attractions to being about the rides and attractions… while intoxicated. With each holiday, we find new places to enjoy drinks and new experiences to conquer, while under the influence. On this trip, we visited The Cove Bar for the first time, splitting lobster nachos and sampling drinks from their secret menu. Then, it was off to the Animation Building to try our hand at illustrating Disney characters.

Disneyland 60th

#8: Brewery Bike Tour and Brew Cruise

With a friend visiting from Toronto, I had to share Vancouver’s burgeoning craft beer industry and the best way to tackle the ‘Yeast Van’ region is by bike. We managed to visit eight different locations around the city. As if we hadn’t had enough beer, the next day we were back at it, boarding the S.S. Booze Cruise (okay, that wasn’t the real name of the vessel) for some debauchery on the open seas. In total, over the weekend, I tried over 60 different beers!

#9: First Night in Zambia

After 36 hours of travel, all Mrs. Sip and I wanted to do was crash and acclimatize ourselves to our new time zone. Following a six-hour nap, we hoped to see some of Zambia’s city core during our brief stay. The owner of our accommodation invited us to have a couple beers and offered to take us into town for dinner. What followed was a meal that included fried caterpillars, bottles of wine and beer, and a visit to a local club for a truly Zambian music experience.

#10: Chobe River Cruise

Floating down Botswana’s Chobe River, with beer in hand, was a ‘Welcome to Africa’ moment I will never forget. Everywhere the eye could see provided views of animals in their natural habitat, behaving (rightfully so) as if we were foreigners to their land. A meal shared with our boat’s crew, while watching the sunset and sipping wine made you feel more connected with the universe than ever before. Mrs. Sip has ranked this as her top moment of 2015, and I can’t really blame her.

Timon and Pumbaa Real

#11: Birthday Bus Party

My 32nd birthday was spent in amazing fashion, waking up to the sounds of thirsty elephant, heading to the man-made watering hole at Elephant Sands in Botswana. The festive day ended in similar fashion, aboard our tour bus with bomber-sized beers. The only hiccup was receiving a room without a fridge (while many of our tour compatriots had one), so I couldn’t keep chilled the beer I wanted to enjoy that night, as well as the cake I was given that morning.

#12: Etosha Waterhole

Watching elephants, rhinos, and giraffes come in and out of the waterhole, while jackals ran around wildly and even a lion could be spotted surveying the scene from a distance, as we sipped beers, wine, and bubbly, is an experience Mrs. Sip and I will never, ever forget. We did the waterhole right, developing our own schedule over our visits. Beer and chips in the afternoon; wine, cheese and crackers for sunset; and bubbly paired with dessert through the twilight.

#13: Last Night in Cape Town

We chose to spend our last night in beautiful Cape Town, bouncing around the city and exploring its beer, wine, and food culture. Cape Town is renowned for two of those things, but we found their budding craft beer industry to also hold some gems. When your day starts with breweries and taphouses and finishes with wine in a crypt beneath a church (with an amazing three course wine pairing meal in between) you know you’re living the high life.

Fine Dining

#14: Bellingham Tap Trail

As a belated birthday gift, Ma and Pa Sip treated Mrs. Sip and me to a fun-filled weekend in Bellingham, Washington (just across the Canadian-U.S. border). Bellingham has a great craft beer community and we made sure to completely immerse ourselves in it. Over the weekend, we visited eight different breweries and taphouses along the town’s Tap Trail and have plans to return early in 2016 for another go round.

#15: Unibroue Dinner

Mrs. Sip and I have been to a number of great beer events this year, but this dinner, featuring the beers of Quebec’s Unibroue Brewery and the food of the Devil’s Elbow Ale and Smokehouse might go down as the best. Set during the Vancouver Hopscotch Festival week, the meal featured generous pours of Unibroue’s fantastic line-up and servings of some amazing food. The gifts didn’t stop coming, though, as upon leaving, we were given a souvenir glass as a memento.

I probably could have filled this entire list with experiences from our trip to Southern Africa (missing is dinner at Mama Africa and wine tasting through the famed Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions). Even outside of Africa, this list is far from complete, as I am neglecting a number of amazing days, nights and entire weekends. For those out there that played a role in my enjoyment, I humbly thank you and hope we can do it again in 2016!

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Sip Trips #39: Ayoba Africa (Part 2)

Part two of my and Mrs. Sip’s adventures in South Africa… for part one, go here.

South Africa

Our arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, provided another opportunity to immerse ourselves in both the craft beer and winery worlds, while taking in one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever visited. We quickly grabbed a few bottles of brew to have with our lunch, including Boston Brewing Johnny Gold Weiss Beer and Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale, as well as Jack Black’s Brewing Skeleton Coast IPA. The two Boston Brewing selections were better, but we would come across Jack Black’s again later.

Our dinner that evening was at Mama Africa, which featured some absolutely amazing entertainment, with the band doing things with xylophones that I never imagined was possible. They would also break into extended drumming acts, which were completely mesmerizing. It was here that I took on another drinking challenge in the Flaming Ox Wagon (Olmeca Edicion Black Tequila with Galiano, Sambuca, and Stroh Rum, set on fire and doused with a Springbok shot). I also enjoyed a Robben Island Iced Tea (similar to a Long Island Iced Tea); Cape Brewing Co. Amber Weiss, as the African brewers seem to be doing things with Weiss and Wit beers that North America isn’t willing to experiment with; and Darling Brew Black Mist, advertised as “A blacker than black ale with an inviting creamy head”.

Flaming Drinks

Over the next couple days, we tackled the cities Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour, which featured four different routes, including one that took riders to three wineries. Of course, Mrs. Sip and I were game, starting with Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in South Africa. There, we split a chocolate and wine pairing, as well as a regular set of vino, giving us access to each of the 10 wines they had available. The chocolate pairing was fantastic, prompting us to buy a bottle of Shiraz and its accompanying secret spices and vanilla chocolate bar.

We also stopped at Eagles Nest Winery on this diversion, where we enjoyed samples of Rose, Viognier, Merlot, and Shiraz in one of the most peaceful, quaintest settings I’ve seen a winery put together. It should also be noted that the pours received at wineries throughout Cape Town were very different from what we’re accustomed to at home, where a sliver of nectar is sometimes all that is available to taste.

A few days later, we were off on another wine tour, this time to the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions outside Cape Town. Our first stop was at Anura (formerly known as Frog Hill), where Mrs. Sip delighted in a wine and cheese pairing and even the anti-cheese Sip Advisor got into the act. After sampling their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Pinotage, Malbec, and Syrah (the latter two being my favourites), we were leaving the estate when our guide pointed out they also brewed their own craft beer. Given we were lucky enough to be the only people on our tour, we asked if we could stop for a tasting there too and were treated to Wagon Trail Brewery’s Long Road Lager, Settlers Weiss, Wagon Trail Pale Ale, and Ox Blood Amber Ale (coming in at a whopping 14%).

wine all day

Next up was Eikehof, which is a small family-owned winery set among another beautiful vineyard. While chatting with one of the owners, we sampled Rose, Sauvignon Blanc (my favourite among the whites), Chardonnay, Merlot (my pick for best red), Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With two wineries down, lunch was on the horizon and that meant a chance to change things up and avoid palate fatigue with some brews at Elephant and Barrel. Here, we tried two Jack Black’s beers, the Lager and Pale Ale.

Taking advantage of our “private” tour, our guide offered to take us to the Cheetah Outreach, where we were able to have close encounters with a meerkat named Sebastien and a cheetah named Joseph. The long day wrapped up with a visit to Marianne Winery, where a wine and biltong (beef jerky) pairing was on the menu. The pairings were as follows: Pinotage with Springbok, Cabernet Sauvignon (an amazing 2006 wine) with kudu, and Desirade with beef. Mrs. Sip also requested a sample of their Floreal, which had been selected by Gordon Ramsay for Queen Elizabeth’s celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. I, personally, thought the Cab Sauv was better.

Our last full day in the city was left open, but quickly filled with some great booze experiences. We made our way over to Devil’s Peak Brewing in the afternoon, arriving just in time to order a taster pack, before they closed for a private event. The set included their Lager, Golden Ale, American Pale Ale, Blockhouse IPA, Black IPA, of which, I liked the ales and IPAs… not that there’s anything wrong with lagers!

when I drink

Not to be deterred by the one brewpub closing, we ventured to the Beer House, where I constructed a set of tasters for Mrs. Sip and myself, comprised of Jack Black’s Lumberjack Amber Ale, Woodstock Hazy Daze Wit, Woodstock Californicator IPA, Cape Brewing Co. Mandarina Bavaria IPA, Red Sky Vampire Porter, and Apollo Stout. While each of the beers was pretty good (save for perhaps the stout), I absolutely loved the Lumberjack Ale, ordering a full serving, while Mrs. Sip tried their featured beer cocktail Give Bees a Chance (Apollo Blonde Ale with vodka, white rum, and honey).

For dinner, we had reservations at Aubergine, where we ordered their three-course meal with wine pairings, and gorged on the feast of fine foods and drinks. As if the day hadn’t been full enough, we wrapped things up with a bottle of wine at The Crypt, which featured jazz music and is located beneath the St. George’s Cathedral. This was a very unique setting to culminate our Cape Town foray… a place I can see us returning to sometime in the future!

dogs fine dining

London

Our incredible journey wrapped up with a long layover in London, so with friends in town, we decided to leave the airport and have a little fun in the city. Sadly, many of the spots Mrs. Sip and our friends wanted to take me weren’t open until we had to be back in the air and we spent a fair bit of time on the underground, searching for a good location. Over lunch and another stop for drinks, I was able to sample a few of the U.K.’s craft beer options, including Kernel Mosaic IPA, Greene King Black IPA (a cask beer), Brewdog Dead Pony, and Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA. The brews were good and the only issue was currency conversion, which is always a pain for us Canadians. The beers were more expensive in London than at home and that’s before doubling the price we will eventually have to pay when the Visa bill comes in.

Regardless of cost, I wouldn’t trade this vacation in for anything. A couple quick final thoughts: I’ve been to 42 countries now, around the world, but you could call me an ignorant traveler for not knowing what to expect from southern Africa. I knew there would be typical lagers, as every country has them except the dry nations (Egypt and Morocco, I’m looking at you!), but I never expected the craft beer gems that would greet me in this part of the planet. I also think that over the years, I’ve proven myself to be a well-rounded and experienced drinker.  Somehow though, I had to go all the way to southern Africa to have my first Black Wit and Amber Weiss, among others. This, despite the booming craft beer industry in North America… I guess you can never judge a book by its cover!