Friday, 15 April 2016

The Outer Banks, North Carolina: In Pictures

Last year, my girlfriend, her sisters, brother and I all packed into a Ford Explorer and drove for 15 hours from Toronto, Ontario to The Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was probably the most relaxing vacation I've had in quite a while. Probably because instead of partying I made this trip all about unwinding from the day to day grind.

We would spend all day on the beach reading, cooling off in the water on our tubes or hunt down some of the best sea shells I've ever seen. We'd spend the evening watching sunsets, having some hearty meals and partaking in a few adult beverages by the pool or in the hot tub. We'd cap everything off with a few competitive games on the billiard table and then hit the hay to repeat it all over again the next day. The Outer Banks is a hell of a good escape if you just want to keep things quiet and relaxing.

Here are a select few photos of the hundreds I took on that trip:

The beach has a mix of small grassy dunes and flat spots to set up camp for the day.

I love the way the homes were painted to be bright and give off that beach town feel.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It's pretty crazy that they actually moved this lighthouse due to land erosion. 

Just one of the many different sunsets we experienced over the sound. The colours change so frequently and so quickly it is best to grab a seat and enjoy the entire process wherever you are.

One of the best reasons to visit The Outer Banks; the beach!

There is very little light pollution once you're off the main land, so all the stars come out to play!

Day or night, this is the spot to catch some fish!

Another sunset over the sound. 

With a proper permit you can drive and camp on certain sections of the beach. This has been added to my bucket list!

Stunning beach homes everywhere!

I spent the majority of my time lounging on the beach, sipping on some cold ones and enjoying my time off work and let me tell you, I cannot wait to head back next year!

If you've ever been, or are lucky enough to live there be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Drinking Beer in Niagara

Tourism and craft beer seem intimately entwined as the explosion in interest in the microbrewery marketplace continues. Aspiring brewers are tapping and cashing in to travel destinations where flocks of tourists seem to guarantee a market for their wares.

The Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada is a fascinating mix of tourism, spectacle and agriculture. Niagara Falls, long known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World, attracts millions of visitors each year who swarm to casinos, haunted houses, arcades and resorts; not to mention the falls themselves and the various adventure and exploratory activities offered both in and around them.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, in stark contrast, maintains a quaint, small town feel with a main street that offers wares-of-interest to the modern weekender. Less than 30 minutes from the falls, NOTL is surrounded by the area’s celebrated wine region, one of the prides of Ontario and another hotspot for tourism.

In an area awash in wine a burgeoning beer scene is emerging. I took a stumble around the area a few weeks ago in search of gems, here is what I found!

A beautiful brewery found along Niagara Stone Road, housed in “the Beer Shed.”  Everything about this brewery oozes quality and respect for brewing tradition, with even the name, oast house, being that of an old style kilning shed for drying hops. I consider Oast House a required destination for any trip to Niagara. I was fortunate enough to arrive just as they were finishing off an eisbock seasonal, a beer that is actually frozen in order to remove water and increase the alcohol content and associated characteristics. Quite an experience!

Saison Farmhouse Ale

Not the traditional session ale some expect from saisons, this 6.5-7% ABV offering brings surprisingly bready notes with a balance between citrus and pepper flavours most expect from saisons. A hint of bubblegum also comes through while the hops remain tame but present. Available at many LCBO stores in Ontario and highly recommended.

Barn Raiser Country Ale

A distinct, while slightly subdued, American pale ale, and the breweries flagship brew, Barn Raiser is made for social events like the one after which it is named. Flavours of straw and honey are quickly overcome by delicious sweet citrus fruit like tangerines from the hops. Due to the brewer’s dedication that it be served fresh, Barn Raiser is generally only available at the brewery and on taps at select bars throughout southern Ontario; though fortunately, we did catch wind that new cans may be available in stores soon.

Another lovely location along Niagara Stone Road, Silversmith is housed in an old church built in the late 1800’s. Like Oast, you can feel the passion for beer when you walk through the doors.

Bavarian Breakfast Wheat

Very light and effervescent, banana shines through this yeast-forward entry. Not heavy or overly filling like a traditional wheat, we could certainly see enjoying this with brunch on a sunny spring day.

Black Lager

A great entry in the schwarzbier category which is picking up steam in Ontario. This beer brings mild coffee and dark fruit flavours to the fore with woody hops backing them up. All this is wrapped in a light bodied, easy drinking package.

Dropping this nano brewery in the heart of the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was a bold move, a boldness that is matched by the stark, modern design and d├ęcor of the brewery itself. The Exchange has only been open for a few months and while they have their branding brilliantly forged, their beers are somewhat unrefined. I look forward to seeing what they put up as they mature.

#1 American Wheat Ale

This beer brings some nice tartness and spice to a style that can be, at times, a little hop forward. The Exchange manages a nice profile, bringing clove flavour with notes of grapefruit and tart kiwi.

Located at the base of Clifton Hill, the notorious tourism/entertainment district of Niagara Falls, Niagara Brewing is a lively location for beer and stylish pub food. There are a few misses on their beer menu, along with some so-so seasonals like their novel Ice Wine Beer and Peach Radler. Nonetheless, a neat stop when you are taking in the neon on “the Hill.”

Beerdevil IPA

Sweet caramel highlights the malt profile and gives this beer a somewhat non-IPA characteristic. Moderately hoppy with citrus and grassiness dominating.

You might think a teaching brewery would produce sub par brews, but with their focus on getting their name, and their beers, out there via festivals and other beer events, Niagara College actually has some wonderful products.

Butler’s Bitter

An exceptional example of this traditional style, NC manages to pack bold malt and hop flavours together to produce an incredibly satisfying experience. If you can find it, get it.