I won’t lie, the idea of an outdoor beer festival in the middle of winter did not seem appealing; I hate the cold, but this was a part of my “event-every-month-xmas-gift” and I’m trying to get as much outdoor enjoyment as I can until sock-free weather returns, so off I went.
The two year old Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival is everything I love about these kinds of events: local craft brew, food trucks and beer loving Torontonians gathered in the heart of the city to taste the latest offerings from the growing list of local beer entrepreneurs. I was surprised, not only by my own winter embrace, but by the quality of beer at this small festival. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Oregon or Vermont Beer Festival, but things are happening in our Ontario craft beer world despite the difficulties of making and selling beer here, and I, for one, think it’s pretty fantastic.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Prince Edward County, in fact I just wrote about it this past April. PEC has become a birthday tradition for me, and also a right-of-spring-passage at the time of year we really need to unravel work and winter stress. So why write more? Well, lots of reasons actually. First, shockingly many many people I know haven’t even heard of the wonders of the County, much been there for a visit. Second, the wine keeps getting better and better, and everyone knows it. Finally, there is a new kid in town; the Drake Devonshire, which after much fanfare, is finally open, and everyone keeps asking me “how was it”, so here’s what I thought.
I was little suspicious of a trendy and stylish Toronto hotel setting up a resort-like space in Wellington, which like the other small towns in the County (Picton, Bloomfield) are exactly what you picture a small Ontario town to be, and hardly need to be “cityfied”. But I love the Drake Toronto and when I lived in the area, spent many, many evenings dining, drinking, and dancing in the various spaces of the hotel, so I was game to give the Devonshire a try.
The Devonshire is up and running despite the fact that the official opening is not until spring of 2015; a little more time to finish up an outdoor deck in time for the season, and work out the kinks in running what is already a very popular operation. We booked the Winter Warrior package, and let me just say that this is the best deal around right now; for $377 -$397 (Price for two people, based on double occupancy) you get:
-One night’s accommodation
– Breakfast (coffee, juice, choice of entrée)
– Dinner – Seat at the Chef’s table (appetizer, main course, dessert)
– Packed lunch (including mini bottle of wine)
– Complimentary pick up and drop off from choice of hiking trail
– Winter warmer cocktail upon return
And they don’t skimp like some places that create special meals/drinks for such packages; we enjoyed entrees and beverages from the “regular” menus. They weren’t quite ready for the hiking part of the package (we were actually the first people to book this package) but that worked out fine, since we had a busy two days of winery-visits planned, so I’m not sure when we would have squeezed in a hike anyway.
The building, a century old building with a very interesting history, has been beautifully renovated. I loved what they did; modern country (if that’s such a thing in the design world) is evident everywhere. The addition (which houses the sun-filled dinning room overlooking the lake) was also beautifully integrated into the already breathtaking surroundings. If you’ve visited Drake Toronto, you’ll recognize some quintessential elements: the photo booth, the art, and the locally crafted Canadiana accessories.
The service was excellent everywhere except for the dinning room, which (in their defence) is moderately acceptable in this “working out the kinks” stage. They were clearly understaffed for a full house (during this “low” season), and for some reason, inexperienced in some areas of service. We went over twenty minutes, between plates, without water or wine despite having ordered a bottle when we arrived. Only after inquiring were we told the wine was “chilling”. Note: letting us sit there without explanation, without an opportunity to select something else, or without bringing us something else while we wait is not good. Like I said, hopefully they’re just working out these kinks.
Other than our mediocre dinner service, I really enjoyed everything about this place. The setting was beautiful, the food excellent, and the accommodations very comforting. We we left, they sent us on our way with a delicious lunch (soup, sandwiches, scones, fruit, and wine); perfect to sustain us during our winery visits. This year we went to our perennial favourites to restock the wine racks for the holidays, and add some more to the cellar collection: Exultet Estates, Rosehall Run, The Old Third, Stanners Vineyard, Hinterland Wine Company. I find that the more I visit our Ontario wine regions the more I gravitate to the same wine makers who I know are making high quality, estate grown wine.
It’s been three years since I’ve visited Boston, and the last time we drive through as part of a longer road trip; this time we’ve giving this charming place five days of our undivided attention.
The flight was short and got us here at 11am. After dropping off our bags we headed to the Parish Cafe, whose menu boasts sandwiches created by famous chefs; a very clever concept and good start to our week.
After a short stroll through our Back Bay neighbourhood we checked into The Lenox Hotel to find we’d been upgraded to a corner room with a wood burning fireplace. Chocolates, champagne and all kinds of wonderful touches make this the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at.
Our evening saw the beginning of my goal to eat local lobster at every possible meal; an incredible seafood dinner at Neptune Oyster.
So what does one do in Stowe once you’ve done all the skiing? Lots!
Sample beer at a local craft brewery:
It always makes me so happy to see people playing and exercising in the glorious outdoors, especially families. I am most impressed by little kids because they don’t care how much they suck, they just want to play and they don’t care how many times they fall, they just get up again. I think I’ve embraced the not-caring-how-much-I suck part, but after two injuries (knee and shoulder) I’m a little more fearful of falling, especially since both injuries, which took two years to recover from (still working on the shoulder recovery), came from relatively minor falls. However, I did “give ‘er” the best I could this weekend on these beautiful mountains, and the best part was being surrounded by so many people who also wanted to play outside regardless of ability. It’s worth noting that this is hardly a place for beginners; I cross country skied the “flat” loops ever time, and as you can see from the photo, Vermonters have an interesting definition of flat, but the spirit of sport and love for outdoors are the most contagious of all.
Of all the places I’ve been, nowhere celebrates the local goodness made by neighbouring farmers, brewers, and cheese-makers as much as Burlington Vermont. I’ve been here yearly for the last five years, but always in the summer when crops are plenty and it’s easy to eat/buy local. I wasn’t sure the same would be true in February, but I was dead wrong. The pride of food and drink can be seen everywhere.
There are very few things as enjoyable as “getting away from it all”. Punctuate this already innately human desire with the company of friends and loved ones, and you have the recipe for a fulfilling experience; another addition to the repertoire of memories in the library of my brain. This weekend some of “lady” friends joined me at the cottage for a weekend of snowshoeing (and chickadee feeding!), eating, drinking and jovial female camaraderie. These moments of reminiscing and laughing operate to recharge the batteries in a way only a “girl-get-together” can.