A Taste! of Ottawa

Last Friday, the Arthritis Society hosted their annual Taste! fundraising event at Sala San Marco in Little Italy. As a first time attendee, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for.

The website was a tad vague, giving me a general sense of what to expect, but not much more than that. From what I could infer, it at least promised to be a night of food, drink and fun. When the evening came, my expectations were far surpassed. The atmosphere was lively and the hall was filled with such enthusiasm. There was no shortage of entertainment, with silent and live auctions, great music and indeed some of the best food and drink that Ottawa has to offer.

Local breweries: Beyond the Pale, Bicycle Craft Brewery, Cassel Brewery and Waller St. Brewing, as well as ‘honourary local-brewery’ Mill St., showed up ready to pour at Taste! Ottawa, with no shortage of styles to choose from. This was a good thing, given the diverse selection of hors-d’oeuvres and other snacks that were on hand; as the participating Ottawa-area restaurants set about not being outdone by one another.

Over the course of the evening, it proved too difficult to sample everything, but I nevertheless came across some great beer and food pairings. Standouts included the Senate Tavern‘s tangy pulled pork sliders with Beyond the Pale’s Breaking Bitter, Central Bierhaus‘ deliciously briny raw oysters with Mill St. Cobblestone Stout and Graffiti‘s mouthwateringly good risotto balls with Waller Street’s Speak Easy Red Ale (sorry, Belgian-American-Red-Rye-Session IPA™). My absolute favourite pairing of the night, however, earns quite a few points for originality.

Cheese, Meat, Chocolate

Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut set themselves apart thanks to their very unique approach to one of my favourite beer-foods; charcuterie. Cheese, check. Meat, check, Chocolate? Wait a second… They offered up two interesting variations, one with milk chocolate, brie and German salami and the other with dark chocolate, aged cheddar and chorizo. Both tasted great, but I was especially fond of the dark chocolate one. This flavour-packed bite offered up a lot to get excited about. It was a combination of great textures and a showcase of how assertive flavours can play together harmoniously in a case study of salt, sweet and spice. I have every intention of stealing this idea the next time I’m hosting a party – if not sooner.

What about the beer? Well, at the midpoint of the evening Waller St. tapped their Moonlight Porter, a American-style Robust Porter. I immediately, and enthusiastically, described this beer as tasting like an Oreo cookie without the cream; and meant it in the best possible way. Rich biscuity and roasty flavours are abundant in this one; chocolate, coffee, nut and just a little caramel. The heavier grain character is lightened, however, by the resin and citrus hop notes achieved by a nice mix of late addition hops – capitalizing on flavour without going overboard on bitterness. Moonlight Porter both supported and contrasted the chocolate charcuterie; smoothing out the richness of the chocolate and cheese as well as coaxing out a bit more spice from the meat.

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With, or without the chocolate, you really couldn’t go wrong with Moonlight Porter, or Waller Street itself, for that matter. This was the first time I was able to speak with the folks behind their beer, let alone try it, and I only have good things to say. Their passion and dedication came across in the way they described their craft as much as the personality of the beers themselves. I’m very much looking forward to more great things to come from these guys.

If you’re a foodie and love a good beer, wine, scotch (or any or all of the above), Taste! surely wouldn’t have disappointed. For the price of admission, it’s great value – and not to mention it helps a worthy cause. But at the same time I found that in the sensory overload of dueling pianos, culinary indulgence, craft beer, new friends and so on, it wasn’t difficult to lose sight of why we were there in the first place.

The night wasn’t all lighthearted. A couple sobering testimonials underscored the importance of this event. I admittedly didn’t, and still don’t, know all that much about arthritis. I never thought of it as something that often touched younger people. Naturally, I was surprised to learn that 60 percent of all those afflicted with arthritis are working-aged. A good friend of mine, who was also in attendance, falls into this category. The stories that we heard hit home for many. It was an evening as much about generating awareness as it was about raising money and, from what I could tell, it certainly appear to succeed on both counts.

For more information about the Arthritis Society or to donate visit www.arthritis.ca.

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