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CANMORE UNCORKED 2016 Insider’s Blog: PART 3

Karen Fennell Posted In: Dining Posted On: April 11, 2016

Some people choose to make bread with grain…

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th April
16 venues experienced, 36 to go...

There is a very memorable quote from the 1991 version of Robin Hood where Friar Tuck says “This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker and glory to his bounty by learning about... BEER.” I have always laughed at Mike McShane’s wonderful grizzled delivery of the quote – as well as believing there to be a lot of truth to the sentiment.

When reading about the history of beer you will find out all kinds of interesting facts. For instance, it was being drunk as far back as 7,000 years ago in the Middle East. In the middle ages, newborn babies were washed in beer because it was cleaner than water. The UK’s first-ever registered trademark was the red triangle of Bass Ale – paving the way for modern branding. During the Industrial Revolution, foundry workers were rationed up to 20 pints of beer a day to keep them hydrated (OK, it was very weak beer, but still…!). And since 1985 the biggest selling beer in the UK is in fact a Canadian brew (!) that gets very little traction here at home: Carling Black label.

As rich a history as all this might be, there are still those who would frown on wasting grain on such a soft watery libation supped by those who can’t clearly cannae take a real drink; you guessed it – those fire-breathing Scots! Now there is some argument about whether distillation came to Scotland with Christian monks in the 11th century, or whether in fact it was the Ancient Celts who started distillation in the region during production of their "uisgebeatha" (water of life). Either way, the Scots soon become the world leaders in production of quality whisky, and by the time the first written record of whisky appeared in 1494, production and consumption of whisky in Scotland had already reached mass appeal.

So, what does this have to do with a blog about Canmore Uncorked? Well quite simply, people here love their grain being used for the honourable purposes of both brewing and distillation, and every year our craft beer and whisky tasting events are some of the most popular tickets of the entire festival.

Friday night saw the return of the Whisky Festival – and in a new/improved format that also included other spirits. Partly this was because we are always looking to innovate, and partly it was because last year there were a number of whisky distributors who attended the event and snuck in bottles of other spirits – notably gins and rums – which rather than being shunned by what was a very discerning audience actually received some of the best reviews. So why fight with what people are looking for!

The venue was switched for this year to Canmore’s wonderful Cornerstone Theatre. We partner with Cornerstone on many events throughout the year as it lends itself to many different types of function (weddings/banquets/conferences/concerts) – for this year’s festival alone it is hosting the Launch Party, the Whisky Festival and the Culinary Symphony. The all-wood barn-board finishing gives the venue wonderful warmth and a sense of both western heritage and real Canadiana. Arriving at the venue I was as always amazed by the set-up, the décor changes for each event we run, and with whisky and spirit tables lined up all around the outside of the room and a succession of sumptuous hot and cold hors d’oevres in the centre. The lighting was soft and the whole place looked extremely classy – until I walked in anyway!

I have always been impressed at the audience these events seem to attract – people are not attending to pound back drinks, and our patrons appear an educated and interested crowd that talk to the distributors and carefully make notes along the way. The expansion of the event to include Gins, Vodkas and special cocktails being mixed by Grizzly Paw Brewery that incorporated their own sodas seemed to be a real hit. As much as I love single malts and fine gins, I had elected to give my liver a well-earned rest and spent the evening in conversation with attendees and media who were highlighting the event. And while I have a very good sense of how everyone was enjoying it I don’t think that anything I write will give as good an explanation as this clip from our friend at Cowboy News Network.

As an aside these events are fabulous, but make it very difficult for me to go and experience what was happening in the Uncorked restaurants.My good wife did however go out to the Drake, which had become a family favourite during the first incarnation of the festival with their excellent three-course special for $20. I hadn’t looked at the menu, but judging from my wife’s text she rather liked the main course brisket, even if her spelling needs a little work!

So along came Saturday, another beautiful sunny day in our mountain paradise, and it was time for our beer festival. I did think about racing out to try and sample a couple of local experiences, but knowing I had to be at the festival shortly after 11am and that it was going to be an 8-hour day on site, I went for the green smoothie option at home and hopped on my bike for the 7.2km ride to Stewart Creek Golf Club. I have tried to pretty much cycle everywhere during the course of the festival in a perhaps-futile attempt to stay fit and healthy during the festival, and this futility was hammered home to me by the climb from the highway up to the golf course. Still I made it, and will pretend I was only mildly out of breath!

In the meantime my family very kindly went out to Mad Dog Café in Deadmans Flats for breakfast, with the explicit instruction to get takeaway for the team working the beer festival, myself included. I think something may have been lost in translation, as half of what they brought back seems to have been consumed in the car by my children, but that is another story. Mad Dog specialized in curries and samosas – either to eat on site conveniently pre-packaged to take home for the freezer. It is always worth a visit on the way into town from Calgary, and especially during Uncorked where in addition to Lunch and Dinner specials they are offering a $5 experience of a coffee and a Spiced-Candied-Bacon-Cinnamon-Bun. Yes, you read that correctly! Those last couple of buns that made it back to the team were devoured in piranha-like fashion and were every bit as good as they sound.

But back to the beer… Stewart Creek has been host to the beer festival for all three years of the festival now, and is a beautiful building overlooking the mountains and golf course. On a fine day like Saturday the rooms are bright and sunny which always gives the festival a great energy. Because of the demand we had split the beer festival into two sessions, each giving the guests three hours to sample from the dozens of craft beers on display from 16 different distributors including our own local brewery, Grizzly Paw who co-hosted the event. Once again the clientele was a wonderful group who were genuinely interested in what they were drinking rather than how much they were drinking. I took great delight in wandering around listening to conversations about hoppiness, fruitiness and the differences between stouts and porters. These were often conversations that were happening within groups of ladies, which reflects an ongoing comment we get from the vendors – the very high % of women attending this festival compared to other locations. Both sessions of the festival went very smoothly and everyone seemed to be having fun. Once again I will let our friends at Two Cowboys tell the story.

Finally it was time to head out and meet friends & family for dinner at the Iron Goat. Those of you who know Canmore will know that it is a fair old haul by bike from Stewart Creek to the Iron Goat, and at this point I would like to put out a big thank you to Pam from Discover Banff Tours who very kindly took me and my bike to a discreet drop-off point a short block away from the pub, allowing me to impress my friends by arriving in super-quick time and barely out of breath at all. Amazing how fit I really am isn’t it…

The Goat was packed out and had a fabulous atmosphere – and of course some of the best views anywhere. I have written in the past about patios around the world and how the Iron Goat could proudly stand alongside pretty much any of them in terms of stunning scenery. The food was also a hit – the Uncorked special was a three-course meal consisting of 3 Coconut Shrimp Po Boys (a meal in itself), a BBQ platter featuring pulled pork butt and BBQ chicken, and sweet potato cheesecake. My daughter is still laughing about the fact that anyone would eat pork butt, but all jokes aside it was very tasty, and having watched people drink beer all day it was extremely nice to sit back and have a couple of my own.

Yes, you can choose to make bread with grain, but I am pretty satisfied that the Mesopotamians and the Scots did the world a great service with their own innovations…

About the Author
Andrew Nickerson
President and Chief Foodie
Canmore Business & Tourism