Sea Fever brings rum running back to Nova Scotia

“We’ve spent years tasting rums from all over. It’s been a tough job,” joked Glynn Williams yesterday at the launch of Sea Fever rum. Williams, owner of Authentic Seacoast company in Guysborough, is a real hands-on kind of guy. He’s used his investments to grow the village of Guysborough over the past ten years into a full-blown dynamic tourist destination. Williams and a small team are now importing, craft blending and bottling a line of rums called Sea Fever. Three kinds, Amber, Spiced (retailing at $34.99) and Maple Coffee ($35.99) launched yesterday and are already available in Harvest Wines and Bishop’s Cellar private stores, as well as about 40 NSLC locations.

“Rum is an integral part of Nova Scotia’s DNA.” -Williams

At the press conference we were treated to a tasting of the Coffee Maple, straight up, mixed with cream, or the seasonally appropriate egg nog. Williams addressed a small crowd in front of the large windows in Casino Nova Scotia’s Compass Room, with the appropriate backdrop of Halifax harbour. He then took multiple questions. There was an excitement about the product; it seemed to hit a chord with local media as both representative of Nova Scotia’s rum running history, and, delicious enough to foster our inherent taste for rum. As was discussed amongst the small crowd, rum is a cultural drink around these parts. The lore of our province’s lucrative rum-running past hits on the romantic, historical appeal of the spirit. There’s a connection there.

Kicking off the holidays at the Sea Fever launch with rum and eggnog.

Kicking off the holidays at the Sea Fever launch with rum and eggnog.

So how’d it taste?

Very, very good. The craft blend is made from three-year aged Caribbean and Canadian rums, Full Steam Coffee and Nova Scotia maple syrup. A perfect sipping rum (I’ve never said that before), with prominent notes of maple, coffee, liquorice and subtle notes of vanilla and fig. It was absolutely perfect with the eggnog. According to Jordan Dickie (The Viral Barman), mixologists are going to love using this rum to balance the booze in many bourbon, whiskey, rye or scotch based classic cocktails to add a “mature sweetness.” (Thanks Jordan for asking all the expert-level booze questions and letting me hear the answers.)

Soon after, arguably the two best mixologists in Halifax showed up early (to beat the crowd of the 3:30pm industry event), Shane Beehan of Field Guide and Jeffrey van Horne of The Bicycle Thief. It was then the conversation turned into real alcohol geekery, and I have to admit I couldn’t quite keep up. It was so invigorating to see the best local talent interacting and asking (very involved) questions to a producer. A true passion and interest.

Glynn Williams, owner of Authentic Seacoast.

Glynn Williams, owner of Authentic Seacoast.

Growing Nova Scotia’s Economy

Which leads me back to why what Glynn Williams is doing, and why it’s so important. Williams quoted the Ivany Report during his remarks, and how serious his company is about the goal of “tripling exports from the province.” Authentic Seacoast seems to recognize how important producing high-quality, sought-after consumer items is for the economy, as well as creating amazing experiences for tourists that capture the essence of Nova Scotia.

“Our products are becoming increasingly valued exports from our community.” -Williams

Authentic Seacoast Distillery Company will soon be distilling their own spirits, not just importing and blending. A major build is currently underway, with $7-10 million being invested in expanding the beer brewery operation and setting up the distillery. This new part of the operation, which Williams says “will be up and running very shortly,” should create 40 “meaningful and sustainable” jobs in Guysborough, where his company already employs about 22 people. Williams puts his personal touch on almost all products, including helping brew the beer, roasting the coffee, and blending the rum.

A rural empire

Since opening the first Authentic Seacoast business in 2005 Williams has expanded from, in the earlier days, running three properties (DesBarres Manor Inn, Rare Bird Pub and Skipping Stone Café and Store) to owning a rural empire. Companies that have been created out of Williams’ relentless expansion efforts include Authentic Seacoast Brewing Company, Harbour Belle Bakery, Osprey Shores Golf Resort, Mussel Cove Boat Anchorage, Authentic Seacoast Soap, Full Steam Coffee Company, a bottled water business called Glanbùrn Artesian Water, and now he’s cutting the ribbon on Authentic Seacoast Distillery Company Ltd.

Sea Fever Rum is also embarking on a multi-year project with Parks Canada  to age rum at the Fortress of Louisbourg. But that’s another story!

Devour! Opening Gala Food (and Anthony Bourdain)

The largest food film festival in the world, Devour! The Food Film Fest has, seemingly in the stab of a fork, come and gone. Luckily I made to Wolfville to kick things off Wednesday evening at the sold-out opening gala reception and movie screening. Not coincidentally, this was the much-talked about celebrity chef studded event, featuring the one and only  Anthony Bourdain. Also spotted in the crowd at the gala were recognizable faces like Chuck Hughes (The Food Network), Connie DeSousa (Charcut, Top Chef Canada Season 1), Jesse Vergen (Saint John Ale House, Top Chef Canada Season 2), Todd Perrin (Mallard Cottage, Top Chef Canada Season 1) and Halifax’s own Lauren Marshall (Envie, Top Chef Canada Season 2).

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Bourdain speaking to the crowd before the screening of Eat Drink Man Woman.

Bourdain did not disappoint. Hearing him speak was like reading his books: engaging, raw, genuine and funny as hell. Same voice. A real pleasure.

But enough name dropping. Here’s what I ATE.

I’ll go through a few highlights. If I can just point out that all the food at the gala was incredibly well-done, and that the Nova Scotia chefs pulled out all the stops to impress Bourdain create a wonderful event. There wasn’t one thing there not to be proud of.

Let’s start with the duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney by Mark Gabrieau of Gabrieau’s Bistro (Antigonish). This humble-looking bite absolutely blew me away. An hors d’oeuvre like this proves how not too much is needed to create the perfect taste balance. Three harmonious textural elements, and the sweet-tart chutney matched with rich, fatty yet gamey pâté. I could have eaten these all night.

Mark Gabrieau - Venison pate with maple cranberry chutney - SO DELICIOUS!

Mark Gabrieau – Duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney – SO DELICIOUS!

My first time eating sea urchin. This breezy little number was light and airy with an unmistakable taste of the salty ocean. The sea urchin was presented with cold-smoked scallop, citrus emulsion and pickled sea asparagus, by Frederic Tandy of Ratinaud French Cuisine. Everything about this bite felt elegant, delicate and well-done. I loved how representative of the sea it was in both look and taste. (Earlier in the night they were served on sea urchin shells.)

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

When you hear the description of Mark Gray’s dish, you’ll understand why there was no possible way it couldn’t be ridiculously delicious. Mark (of Brooklyn Warehouse) gave us “Rabbit in a Pig Blanket”, that is, confit leg of rabbit, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, with spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens and rabbit bone vinaigrette. Yeah. You can see mine has shoots though and not mustard greens. This was a sweet, rich, indulgent bite of tender meat, prepared with a lot of skill. And a gorgeous plate.

Mark Gray - Rabbit in a pig blanket: confit leg, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens, rabbit bone vinaigrette

Congratulations to the organizers of Devour! on an impressive and well-executed festival!

Full gallery below:

Sunnyside Mall gets more food

You might recognize a few of the names that recently opened up shop in Bedford’s Sunnyside Mall. Now in action is a second Middle Spoon Desserterie & Bar, who earned a reputation for designer high-end cocktails (by the likes of Jenner Cormier) and desserts at the first location on Barrington Street (also home to Halifax’s notorious underground bar, Noble). New to HRM is Saraj Bakery, whose flagship location is in New Minas, you may recognize them from shopping at farm markets in the Annapolis Valley. Liquid Gold and All Things Olive have launched their second location in HRM at the Sunnyside Mall, topping off their overall number of locations in the maritimes to five. World Tea House is set to open in the mall on November 15th; this will be the second location for the speciality tea shop, with the first thriving on Argyle Street in the heart of the downtown core.

Last month I was contacted by the Sunnyside Mall, who were interested in sending me a gift basket featuring products from these new businesses. I accepted, and was soon delivered a wonderful collection of breads, oils, balsamic vinegars, beautiful loose leaf teas and a gift certificate for two desserts at the Middle Spoon. While I haven’t a chance to consume everything in the basket, I certainly appreciate the gifts; it’s fantastic to have even more shopping for foodies in the Sunnyside Mall.

Below are some of the products that were sent my way. The rosemary and fig bread was lovely and aromatic, that’s already gone. Of course I’ve been using the olive oil and balsamic, already being a huge Liquid Gold fan. The Leccino Alonso extra virgin olive oil is from Chile, it’s very fruity with low bitterness… perfect for dipping.

Edited: Jenner Cormier still designs the cocktails for the Middle Spoon and is currently doing staff training.

 

The best food at Dine by Design East Gala

Overwhelming to the senses. In the best way. That’s my interpretation of the Dine by Design East gala this past Thursday night. My first experience of the event, at its second annual edition, served as a full body experience. What I would describe as a mishmash of food, drink, design and art, the gala is really just a whole lot of fun.

Stepping through the doors of the Olympic Community Centre to see it completely transformed into a gallery of beautiful spaces is impressive enough. With a large cash bar near the entrance, a champagne bar in the back, dimmed lighting and the DJ spinning ambient music, it had the vibe of “upscale night club turned art gallery”. While I was lucky enough to make a round on the media tour, before it got too crowded, the general admission to the event has a lot to offer. On top of being a fundraiser for the Amber Harkins Scholarship Memorial Fund at NSCAD (a cause to feel good about), the evening goes something like this:  stroll through the venue while tasting hors d’oeuvres dreamt up by some of Halifax’s most talented chefs, chat with local designers and architects who are excited to explain the inspirations behind their spaces, and sip on local beer and wine samples, all while surrounded by extremely well-dressed people.

There is so much to report on for an event like this, but I’m going to stick to what I do (and what I know): the food. Here are the best three things I tasted at Dine by Design East gala. For photos of almost all the food at the event, peruse the gallery at the bottom of the post.

My top three:

#3 – From Chef Luis Clavel, Atlantica Hotel Halifax: Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil. Served on a stick (who doesn’t love that), topped with the thinnest piece of crostini, drizzled with truffle oil; the juicy, tender texture of this chicken (done sous vide) was mind-blowing.  Luis isn’t known for doing simple food, but this is an example of how he changes your relationship with simple flavours: chicken, olive oil, basil, bread… elevated to the next level.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

 

#2 – Pictou Lodge Beach Resort’s chef Thomas Carey handed me this: cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly, lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. The rich, smoky, melt in your mouth salmon belly sang when combined with tangy flavours like lemon, radish and pickled sea asparagus. Put it all on a crunchy, hearty cracker, and this is my kind of eating.

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. ***In my top three!

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker.

 

#1 – Robert Reynolds of EDNA never seems to disappoint. His Garden Party inspired menu was spot-on, and my favourite taste of the night was his marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse. I’m a huge shellfish lover to start, but it was really the usage of harmonious flavours like tequila, citrus and avocado that made every well-balanced bite of this adorable little shrimp cocktail work.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.