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!

Sip Trips #22: Festivality

The 6th annual Vancouver Craft Beer Week (VCBW henceforth) has arrived and with it comes a host of great events to welcome summer and get your brew on. Mrs. Sip and I were busy with a full slate of activities. Here’s how it all went down:

On Saturday, we had tickets to the What the Hop? Beer Trivia, which turned out to be incredibly good value. The cost was $60 to enter a team of four and this included a sleeve of beer with each of the four trivia rounds, from one of the breweries sponsoring the event, as well as a couple appetizers per team. It was originally advertised as one starter dish per round per team, but turned out to only be two of the four. That was really the only disappointment of the day.

Beer Trivia

The beers included the Red Truck ISA, Fuggles and Warlock White IPA, Parallel 49 Jerkface 9000, and Central City IPA. Our team, ‘Beer Today, Hung Tomorrow’, made a good showing, placing in the top five of 30 or so squads. We missed out on the grand prize of an all-expenses paid trip to the Whistler Beer Festival in September, but I was rewarded in other ways, as any beer my fellow team members didn’t like or had enough of, seemed to float my way. I have to mention that the venue, Colony on Main Street, and the host of the game, IQ Trivia 2000, were also great and made for a very fun afternoon.

After the trivia, we wandered down the street for our first visit to Main Street Brewing. There, I grabbed a flight of their beers and continued the drinkfest. Not ready to pack it in just yet, our next stop was the nearby Brassneck Brewery, where it was one more pint for the night. By 11pm, we were back at our temporary accommodation and it was nighty-night for the Sip Advisor. Heck, I had to rest up for Sunday’s sandwich pairings!

The next day brought the This Sandwich, That Beer Throwdown at The Portside Pub, in Vancouver’s historic Gastown. This place is neat in that you actually kind of feel like you’re aboard a ship… or at least I did! Before the festivities got underway, Mrs. Sip was thirsty for a beer. This provided a chance to try the Campfire Kolsch that was made specifically for VCBW 2015. We both liked the brew, but it was time to get our eat on, with nine sandwiches and nine cask beer accompaniments on the menu for the afternoon.

cat sandwich

There was a lot of food and beer to consume and we feel we got good value, once again, with a price point of $45. My favourite sandwich was the Duck Confit with Pancetta from The Tasty Torpedo, while my beer of choice was the Steel & Oak Smoked Hef. Not surprisingly, these two items were paired together and it’s amazing how a nicely paired beer can improve a sandwich and vice versa. There were no duds in this competition.

That said, the winners of the day were the aforementioned Tasty Torpedo for best sandwich; Townsite Brewing’s  Sour Saison for best beer; and the combo of Calabash Bistro’s Braised Jerk Chicken sandwich, paired with Dageraad’s Sri Lankan Dubbel, for the best total experience. This event sells out quickly every time it is run, so don’t delay when the opportunity for tickets comes up.

Wrapping up our busy week of commitments (although these are the best kind of commitments!) was the Beer Cocktail Competition at Blackbird Public House. After a great weekend of events, we had high hopes for this one, as well, but it kind of failed to deliver. On the cons side, we had trouble finding seating for our group, as the venue chose not to close down and run a private event or reserve a section for the production, meaning we were battling with the after work rush of customers for a spot. The table we eventually landed at made us feel disconnected from the festivities. Worse yet, we didn’t get to try all of the beer cocktails and while this was mentioned in the event’s details, what’s the point of having the competition at all, if those who paid to be part of it, don’t get to try each entry? For that matter, what’s the point of handing out samples if there’s not enough to share with everyone? This is a kindergarten lesson that still applies in the adult world!

sharing was caring

It wasn’t all bad, though. The pros included the pint of Driftwood New Growth Pale Ale everyone received, which was really nice, the $20 ticket price, and the few glasses of Jameson Irish Whiskey we managed to get our hands on. In the end, we had a good enough time (making the best of it), but when the winner was announced, we just didn’t care anymore. I don’t mean to crap on the hard work of people who put on the event, but some lessons could be learned from a similar cocktail competition, such as Made with Love.

In wrapping up, I still have to say that VCBW has treated the Sip Advisor, Mrs. Sip, and members of both the Sip Alliance and Sip Syndicate (that’s a lot of sips!) very well. Just wait until future installments when I launch my own event: the salty snack food and beer pairing, plus trivia competition, all rolled into one!