Sip ‘n’ Shuck by Taste of Nova Scotia

Despite the pending storm on Friday, January 29, Sip ‘n’ Shuck went ahead that evening, in the panoramic Baronet Ballroom at the Delta Halifax. I arrived with frozen hair and a soaked jacket, having travelled a horizontal route through downtown from Grafton Street, in the very wet snow (which was blowing sideways).

The first half hour provided those on media passes (me!) with exclusive access before the crowd arrived. I took this opportunity to taste every oyster that was there, including Pristine Bay, ShanDaph, Malagash and Eel Lake.

Oysters and cider.

Oysters and cider.

When the doors opened for the masses, I was happy to see that the turnout was still quite high. Despite the forecast, ticket holders were not going to miss this delicious event. Partnering with The Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia and the Delta Halifax, this is a fantastic annual event put on by Taste of Nova Scotia that offers a massive amount of local seafood in one room, and the opportunity to pair them with an array of Nova Scotia beers, wines and ciders (a perfect match). In short, if you love seafood, this is heaven.

I sampled a diverse selection of items that night, from beer steamed mussels with Oulton’s double smoked bacon, to maple-glazed Atlantic salmon on potato latkes to cold smoked halibut. My favourite thing that night was ShanDaph oysters.  These were huge, meaty, beautiful briney things with such incredible flavour. They didn’t need any accoutrements. I enjoyed these with both a Bulwark Gold (an award-winning cider that’s finished with local honey) and Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay.

Browse through the gallery for more photos!

Beverage participants included:

Garrison Brewing Co., Propeller Brewing Co., Ironworks DistilleryBulwark CiderL’Acadie VineyardsAvondale Sky WineryBenjamin BridgeBlomidon Estate WineryDevonian CoastGrand Pré WinesLuckett Vineyards and Planters Ridge.

GLYNNEVAN Whisky Launch

It was a sunny and crisp autumn morning in downtown Halifax when I entered Lot Six on Argyle Street for the GLYNNEVAN Whisky launch. Produced by Authentic Seacoast Company out of Guysborough, Nova Scotia, GLYNNEVAN is another in a long line of products that were thought up and brought to life by serial entrepreneur Glynn Williams.

“About 27 or 28 years ago Mike [Nicholson] and I went on a fly fishing trip in Nova Scotia and ended up in northern Cape Breton and thought: ‘What a place for a distillery!'” Said Williams during his retelling of the extended history of GYLNNEVAN.  “We had had a few scotches at that point,” he added, making the crowd laugh.

Inspiration

On this day, a group of about forty people slowly trickled into the bright atrium space in Lot Six, quickly filling it with lively chatter and anticipation. Williams took the stage to briefly outline what he’s proud of accomplishing in the last few years in regards to Authentic Seacoast products, particularly Fortress Rum and its relationship with Parks Canada. Williams also took the time to introduce and thank his team at Authentic Seacoast, before telling the GYLNNEVAN story in greater depth.

“It’s a story about fathers and sons; it’s a story about the great nation that we live in,” said Williams. The whisky is indeed a tribute to Williams’ son, Evan, both in name and in the spirit of the journeys they’ve taken together all over the world. “It’s about sharing that spirit with someone you love,” said Williams. “It’s about creating new traditions.”

The Canadian rye whisky is made from prairie grain in Western Canada; it journeys across the country, then is second-barrelled on its arrival to the Maritimes. The second barreling is said to add depth and complexity. As described by Authentic Seacoast, GLYNNEVAN Whisky’s “well-balanced taste is sweet and creamy offering vanilla, spice, hazelnut, butter, toffee and caramel sensations.”

Manhattan.

The Fish Hook.

Whisky in Action

Lot Six mixologists Jeffrey Van Horne and Shane Beehan took the stage to describe the cocktails they’d created for GLYNNEVAN, giving the crowd a full demonstration.

“This is an exciting time,” started Beehan, offering some opening remarks. “There’s no other company in Canada right now with the ambition for growth that Authentic Seacoast has.” He then spoke of the creative process for creating cocktails that would showcase the nuances in the whisky. Beehan prepared a shaken cocktail and Van Horne a stirred cocktail, so that the crowd could understand the flavour differences between both methods.

“When I taste a heavy oaked whisky, the first thing that jumps into my mind is a classic Manhattan,” said Van Horne. “We’re going to add a little twist on this drink, called a Red Hook.” Named after the Red Hook neighbourhood in Manhattan, this variation uses a Maraschino cherry liqueur to sweeten the drink. Van Horne chose to use vermouth and also orange bitters. He called his version The Fish Hook; the drink strongly showcased the rich, oaky flavours of the whisky and didn’t mask the booze.

Beehan’s shaken cocktail, High Tides, was inspired by a classic sour. “During high tides, especially in Nova Scotia, you get to see the enormous power that our ocean has.” Said Beehan, “I think in the craft spirit world, Nova Scotia is at it’s first high tide.” High Tides also used fresh lemon juice and fresh honey, creating a light, citrusy, sour cocktail that didn’t overpower the smoky characteristics of the whisky — instead it balanced them.

IMG_6723 — Click to watch the video of Shane Beehan in action!

Last year I attended the Sea Fever Rum launch by Authentic Seacoast, and in my coverage, talked a little bit about Williams, how he ended up in our province, and his passion for growing the Nova Scotia economy and producing export-worthy products. Revisit that post here.

What I ate at Dine by Design East Gala

Two weeks ago today, a day of crazy rain showers gave way to a wonderful evening of food, drink and design at the third annual Dine by Design East gala event.  This fundraiser for the NSCAD Amber Harkins Memorial Scholarship is part of the overarching Dine by Design East, a four-day long affair of fashion, design and fantastic food, presented by East Coast Living Magazine. Read more about the event and it’s backstory.  I also attended a cooking demo by Diandra Phipps, vegan chef and owner of Envie: A Vegan Kitchen, on the Saturday afternoon following the gala.

Entering the Olympic Community Centre, this year I was again struck by it’s transformation. Talented and imaginative local designers and architects completely (from scratch) built their spaces (a 10×10 booth), making the hall completely unrecognizable. Each designer or design team is paired with a local chef — I was lucky enough to be on the media tour, so we had early access to the food and drink. Strolling through with East Coast Living’s editor Janice Hudson, and a food-writing colleague of mine Lia Rinaldo, we had the luxury of sipping on the delicious welcome cocktail, chatting with the chefs and getting descriptions of what we were eating. Along with a bubbles bar, a cash bar featuring cocktails made byJeffrey Van Horne of Lot Six (plus local beer and nice wine), music, an upstairs art gallery and silent auction — the Dine by Design East Gala really nailed the atmosphere and offering. Plus the crowd was well-dressed, enthusiastic and really into the food. My kind of people! Here are a few food highlights:

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King oyster”scallops” with charred pepper clay, hana nori, presented on oyster half-shells. By Diandra Phipps with Envie.

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Soy confit duck with curry crumb, five spice BBQ, kimchi foam and fresh cilantro. By chef Luis Clavel.

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Brown sugar-cured salmon, pickled cherries, creme fraiche. By Field Guide. Their food had a theme of Rolling Stones songs.

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Beef brisket with deep-fried gnocchi, curds. By Kitchen Door Catering.

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Dennis Johnstone serving from a chunk of ice. His theme was “no waste”.

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Mascarpone filled local cherry tomatoes with crispy basil, balsamic drizzle. Scanway Catering & Stubborn Goat Gastropub.

Check out the full photo gallery below:

No meat? No problem.

This is the second post in a series I am doing as an official #SausageFestHFX blogger.

I have to admit, I was excited to find out I was covering EnVie: A Vegan Kitchen as part of my official Sausage Fest blogging duties. I’m a big fan of vegetarian and vegan food (when it’s delicious and creative) and it was a way to squeeze a healthy day into my week of sausages.

Today I stopped by for lunch at EnVie, and owner Diandra walked me through the special Sausage Fest creation they put together. I chose the kale caesar salad as my side, and when the plate arrived it was a very generous size for lunch. I couldn’t even finish it all.

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So what we’re looking at here is a white bean and lentil sausage on a toasted white bun from Local Source. The sausage is made with ground miso, smoked paprika, caramelized onions, garlic, balsamic and fresh thyme and sage. The binder (the reason it doesn’t require a casing like a meat sausage) is vital wheat gluten. The sausage is on a bed of crunchy romaine.

On top, there is a grainy dijon “aioli”, a beautiful sweet apple chutney finished with Garrison IPA and crunchy fried green onions. A huge sausage! I had to fork-n-knife it after the first couple bites because of the size. Great flavours and textures coming together here; I thoroughly enjoyed. Shamefully, this was my first visit to EnVie, and I’ll definitely be back. The kale caesar was so garlicky, creamy and delicious, and the coconut “bacon” added a great little twist on the salad.

Vegetarians and vegans rejoice — you, too, can enjoy Sausage Fest 2015!

Pete’s Goes Whole Hog

This is a first of a series of blog posts I’m doing as an official blogger for #SausageFestHFX.

To get more sausage in a shorter period of time, I decided to tag along on Local Tasting Tours Sausage Crawl today. From 2 to 4 PM we hit up four Sausage Fest participants, learning lots of interesting facts about the stores or restaurants, and Halifax, while doing so. Led by the lovely and well-informed Emily Forrest, we were a small but cheerful group today (be sure to sign up for a sausage crawl this week!). Along with two American cruise ship passengers (husband and wife Carolyn and Mike), this tasty walking tour took us to Pete’s Fine Foods on Dresden Row, Durty Nelly’s Authentic Irish PubThe Five Fish Grill, and Stubborn Goat Gastropub.

This post is going to cover our time spent at Pete’s. I learned so much about the British Butcher operation there from the very informative managers in charge, Peter and Alex. First, we were served delicious, pan-fried toulouse sausage on a bun — nothing fancy about this presentation. Two condiments were provided on the table: Dijon and truffle aioli. (Yes and yes.) Peter then gave a description of toulouse and how they make it.

Turns out this was toulouse made from a heritage breed of pig, Berkshire, being raised in our very own agricultural heaven, the Annapolis Valley region. Canaan Lands Pasture raises a very limited number of Berkshire pigs, and Pete’s has been buying half-pigs on a regular basis to craft delicious sausages and bacon. It turns out the farmer (Aaron Hiltz) at Canaan Lands is the son of Randy, who owns Ran-Cher Acres goat farm, who you may know from the Seaport Market and for the best goat’s milk products EVER. Their feta? The best. These Berkshire pigs’ diets are made up from 80% foraged food and 20% whey from the Ran-Cher Acres.

Toulouse sausage is a simple, homestyle sausage (originated in Toulouse, France), in this case made with pork marinated in red wine, fresh garlic, fresh thyme and salt and pepper. They also added some pancetta to give a slightly fattier, richer flavour. Fantastic. I really enjoyed this simple sausage on a bun, with truffle aioli.

Next we visited the British Butcher section, where Peter showed us half the pig’s head (to remind us where meat comes from); he also spoke a lot about trying to use the whole animal and how customers in Halifax are slowly becoming more comfortable with lesser-known cuts of meat. Alex then showed us the hand-cranked sausage maker they still use at this location. I didn’t realize just how much local meat was coming through the doors at Pete’s. Now I know. On the walk out of the store Emily and I gave a serious shout-out to THOSE OLIVES, the chupadelos, telling our American friends that they’re the best, most life-changing olives EVER.

More about the other Sausage Crawl stops tomorrow. To purchase your tickets for a Sausage Crawl this week, visit the Local Tasting Tours website.

Fun fact: Carolyn and Mike’s son, who lives in Atlanta, is in a pretty serious CCR cover band called Fauxgerty (sweet name). I promised to check them out, and they sound kind of awesome:

Shout out to Carolyn and Mike for exploring Halifax on foot and NOT simply loading into a tour bus for the day. (They only had one day in Halifax.) We wish more cruise ship passengers were like you!

Devour! Dinner & a Movie… Cinema Paradiso

It sure is tough being a food blogger sometimes. Last night I was treated to a complimentary ticket (thanks Lia!) for Devour! Dinner & A Movie Series, inspired by Cinema Paradiso. Which meant a five-course Sicilian feast, paired with fantastic Italian wines. Yeah, it was a hard night’s work.

Executive director of Devour!, and chef, Michael Howell teamed up with chef Scott Colwell of Certainly Cinnamon to serve up flavourful Sicilian dishes, while screening the Italian film Cinema Paradiso. Lia Rinaldo, managing director of Devour!, explained to us before we sat down to dinner not to feel obliged to quietly watch the film, it’s about having fun and feeling relaxed. I’m not sure anyone at our table even glanced at the film, but it created a fantastic atmosphere to have it playing in the background while we enjoyed great food, wine and company.

The venue!

The venue!

The venue was Certainly Cinnamon’s new catering kitchen on the north side of Barrington Street, what was formerly a car wash. It has high ceilings and real industrial vibe, but felt cozy with the strung lights and added touches by the Devour! team.

While all the courses were delicious (I love Italian food), the boneless lamb osso bucco (pictured at the top) deserves to be singled out. This dish was amazing. Having been slow-braised, the lamb absolutely fell apart and melted in your mouth, the Primitivo-enriched demi brought out deep and complex flavour; the polenta was soft and supple, and the gremolata atop the lamb was just perfect, offering fresh acidity and bright parsley. I ate every bite. Including my helping of the family-style side dishes: perfectly cooked, lemony asparagus and roasted spring vegetables with fresh mint and eggplant caponata. The shrimp alla diavolo seared in saffron brodo, our first course, also stuck out for me; the sauce had a real kick (as it should), and really danced with the fresh parsley.

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

Sicilian shrimp alla diabolo with lemon couscous

The Dinner & A Movie series is a great idea, this was the first one I’d been to. There’s a real social, relaxed vibe, even with the service. It felt like a big dinner party with friends… and once again proved there’s something so comforting and satisfying about eating from-scratch Italian food. I have to give a shout-out to Jenny Gammon with Bishop’s Cellar, who nailed her pairings and did a great job explaining the wines before each course. Salute!

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!