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 #38: Ayoba Africa (Part 1)

Mrs. Sip and I are finally back from our month-long journey to southern Africa and there is much to discuss before we get back into the swing of things at home. Today, we’ll look at the mischief we got into over the first three quarters of our trip, with a second edition coming tomorrow, looking at all we accomplished in Cape Town.

The fun all began with our layover at Heathrow Airport. Although it was 6:30am Vancouver time, we were feeling pretty well and I couldn’t pass up samples of Gentleman Jack Whiskey and Remy Martin Cognac. Heathrow is one of my favourite airports around the world and when the Duty Free is handing out Gimlets (with Plymouth Gin) and Martinis (with Belvedere Vodka), it’s easy to see why. We were feeling pretty loose before having to board our next plane and the drinks definitely helped usher in our vacation, as well as prepare us for the next phase of our travels.

airport drinking

Zambia

Two more flights and many hours later, we finally arrived in Livingstone, Zambia. After a few hours of sleep, the owner of our accommodation, the Tasha Lodge, offered to take us into town to get some dinner, followed by some dancing at a Zambian club. At both stops, we enjoyed Mosi beer, which is the national brew of the country and your typical lager that each country seems to have at least one of. Our meal at Café Zambezi afforded us the opportunity to eat crocodile and even caterpillar, while splitting a bottle of wine. As for the bugs, I was a fan… Mrs. Sip was not!

Botswana

After a day enjoying the Devil’s Pool and Victoria Falls from both the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides, we joined our tour group and made the ferry crossing to Botswana. There, it was more of the same lighter beers (St. Louis, Hansa, Windhoek), enjoyed aboard a boat cruise on the Chobe River, viewing some spectacular scenes of wildlife, including hippos, crocodiles, and elephants, as well as numerous birds. This was followed by a game drive the next day in Chobe National Park, where lions and buffalo were among the animals spotted.

Before leaving Botswana, we spent one night bush camping in the Okavango Delta. In preparation for the complete departure from civilization, I picked up a six pack of Carling Black Label (my favourite normal beer of the bunch, thanks to its 5.5% alcohol percentage), while Mrs. Sip grabbed a bottle of Fat Bastard Chardonnay; a perfect wine for the evening, given its cartoon rhino logo. We were also finally able to crack into the first craft beer I had been able to locate in the region, Camelthorn Weizen, a delicious African-brewed Bavarian-style wheat beer.

hotel camping

Prior to leaving Botswana, our tour stopped at a shopping centre, which featured a Tops liquor store and it was here that I unearthed a plethora of craft beer enjoyment to be consumed over the next few days. This included Darling Brew Bone Crusher Wit Bier, which was a decent beer, but had copper taste to it; Darling Brew Silver Back Black Wit, a favourite for the Sip Advisor and the first black wit I have ever experienced; Cape Brewing Co. Krystal Weizen; Copperlake Hefe Weiss, with the slogans “Strictly a vegetarian meal” and “If God wanted us to filter Weiss, He wouldn’t have given you a liver!”; and Wild Beast Brewery Blonde Ale.

Namibia

On the last night of the first portion of our tour, where some travellers would be leaving our crew and others joining, we had a celebratory feast, which provided my first opportunity to have a Springbok shot (mixing Amarula Cream and Peppermint Liqueur – the colours of the national rugby squad). This tasty little treat isn’t for everyone, but I found it went down very well, as did Mrs. Sip.

After departing Windhoek, our next stop was two nights camping in the Etosha National Park. The highlight of this stop wasn’t the dusty roads or hot temperatures, but was the watering hole a five-minute jaunt from our campsite. Mrs. Sip and I were quick to bring drinks and treats with us each time we visited, enjoying the nature that would come in and out of the area to join us for a beverage. We enjoyed beers during the afternoon, sunset with a bottle of wine (La Capra Sauvignon Blanc), and bubbly at night, as rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and even lions treated us to a marvellous and unique viewing experience.

From Etosha, we were off to the German-inspired town of Swakopmund, where I achieved a feat that had long been on my liquor bucket list: downing a two-liter boot of beer. The event took place at Brauhaus and was a perfect topper to our day activity of riding ATVs around the sand dunes. The next morning we enjoyed a boat cruise where we were joined onboard by seals, chased by pods of dolphins, and stalked by giant herons (one of which even “blessed” Mrs. Sip with some droppings).

Our stay in Namibia closed with some very cool experiences, such as climbing to the top of Dune 45 in the Namib Desert. Prior to ascending the sandy surface, I made sure to grab a beer to be enjoyed at the peak. It was a great reward, in spite of all the sand flying around the place, thanks to unusually strong winds.

With our tour coming to an end, we finally crossed the border into South Africa and geared up for a final hurrah as a group. Between craft breweries Mrs. Sip and I never expected to find and a wine industry we hoped would live up to expectations, there was much more still on the horizon. Make sure to come back tomorrow and join us on the journey.