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 #45: Hip Hopscotch Hooray

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.

sharing food

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.

crowds people

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.

groupon expensive

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!