Pray Tell

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Walking in the door of Pray Tell at College and Ossington I think I’m in a wine bar.  Dimmed lighting, 80’s modern decor and an abundance of greenery defy the snack bar concept I’m about to explore.

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The idea of a restaurant where you can have a few drinks and some nibbles instead of a full-fledged meal is not embraced nearly enough in the city. After the success of sister restaurant Track and Field owners Nickie Minshall and Dustin Keating decided they wanted something more food related and brought in Chef Sonia Mondino (Note Bene, Patois, Home of the Brave, Porchetta and Co.)

Travelling across Asia at the time Mondino had yet to star in a kitchen as head chef and knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.  Passionate not only about the food, Mondino cares just as much about her staff who she considers family. Her travels play a huge role in her seasonally changing menu.

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Crispy Dumplings are served with an au jus (from the braised short ribs) and they are exactly how you want your dumplings to taste. The crispy addition of the potato starch is both addictive and mind-blowing.

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Roasted Garlic in a Clementine oil, with honey and olives requires multiple requests for more sourdough bread as you want to devour every last drop.

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Mondino’s signature dish is by far the perfection that is her pizza pockets.  This college student staple has been updated using lemon herb oil alongside meat Bolognese and lot’s of melty cheese. A vegetarian option is also available.

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While at first glance it appeared wine bar-esque, Pray Tell is actually a brilliant spot to get a killer cocktail or pint of beer. Bar manager Max Brunke has created a perfect accompaniment to Mondino’s ever changing, outstanding menu. Soups, heartier mains and more are slowly finding their place.

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Pray Tell is one of those places that draws you in time and again.  A spot for a first date, late night snack, after work tipple or even a moment of peace on your own the warmth Mondino exudes to everyone through her hospitality and food makes everyone feel at home.

Pray Tell

838 College Street

Around the World in 12 Plates: China

Chinese Feast

Anyone who followed along when I made a new cookie every week for a year knows I love projects and themes. Partly because because it satisfies my mild OCD and also because it makes me cook more at home.  Despite having a food blog I struggle every week to cook at least 5 nights out of 7. My husband is an extremely picky eater and atrocious cook and the same dishes get rotated day after day.  And it’s boring. Really f$%@ing boring.  Which is why I’m more of a restaurant profiler than home cook nowadays. And as tempting as it is to order in or go out instead of cook it’s expensive and unhealthy. 

When I stumbled across Gabby Peyton’s blog post about her Around the World in 12 Plates adventure (read more about it here) I couldn’t have been at a more dejected place in my home cooking.  Could a challenge like this help me get back into the kitchen more and feel better about my talents? Whether I accomplish either of those things to the smallest degree I know I’m a step further than I was before. 

China is a perfect start. Or so I thought. At first glance you think you know all about Chinese cuisine.  Sadly what we really attribute to their culture has been westernized out the wazoo. What is assumed to be one style of cooking is actually broken down into eight modern cuisines based on where in the country you happen to be. Those are further broken down by towns and counties with unique ingredients and flavours that highlight both the dishes background and geography. It’s almost overwhelming when you think of the possibilities. 

Erase all ideas you have about what is “authentic” Chinese food.  A quick google search will educate you that you are in fact thinking about American-style.  Traditional dishes are not full of sweet, sticky sauces or oily, deep fried battered things. It’s fresh vegetables, quick cooking techniques and family style plates. It’s vibrant flavours and biting spice. 

Scallion Pancakes

Rumoured to be a favorite dish of Marco Polo and a possible inspiration for pizza (a loose rumour to be noted), scallion pancakes are a unleavened fried dough consisting of five simple ingredients; flour, water, salt, oil and scallions.  What can set this flatbread apart from others is your choice of dipping sauce. I used this foolproof recipe from The Kitchn and a simple mixture of teriyaki, soy sauce, honey and rice vinegar to create a sweet and sour dipping sauce. These savoury pancakes are perfect for sopping up sauces from main dishes and are extremely addictive.

General Tso Chicken

In my research to find some dishes to try I was surprised to see one dish, General Tso Chicken as being loosely authentically Chinese.  While North America has adopted it and adapted to our more basic tastebuds it is still a very simple dish to pull together at home. It has long been argued how this recipe came to be; whether it was named for a Hunan General or by a chef in one of the many municipalities in the country. Either way it is a wonderfully spicy dish using ingredients that are easy to find and may already be in your cupboard. I used the recipe from The Kitchn and substituted chicken instead of tofu and by not deep frying the chicken and bumping up the vegetables you have a flavourful and healthy dish.

I am not the only one who was drawn to this intriguing challenge.  Not knowing the next country until it is announced  at the beginning of each month obviously sparked the adventurous side of some other great bloggers as well.  Check out their links below and see what they discovered on their voyage through China.  And I look forward to you guys following along each month as I discover my inner culinary traveller.

Dish ’n’ the Kitchen: https://dishnthekitchen.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/chinese-red-cooked-beef-around-the-world-in-twelve-plates/ 

My Organic Diaryhttp://my-organic-diary.com/2017/01/crispy-tofu-rice-bowl/

All Things Nice! https://lifeisaboutallthingsnice.blogspot.ca/2017/01/asian-stir-fry-quinoa.html 

SugarLovesSpiceshttp://www.sugarlovespices.com/eggplant-asian-salad/ 

Korena in the Kitchen: http://korenainthekitchen.com/?p=9409 

The Food Girl in Town: http://thefoodgirlintown.com/2017/01/30/around-the-world-in-12-plates-china/  

Top 5 Soups for The Winter

Whether your climate is dry and cool, wet and damp or cold and snowy the winter months just screams cozy, steamy soups. Creamy, spicy or hearty no one soup is the same.  Here are my top 5 recipes to keep you fed and warm these next few months.

Creamy Potato Soup

This soup is perfect for kids who like to top ANYTHING with cheese and bacon.

Creamy Potato Soup (3 of 3)

Mushroom Wonton Soup

This meat free recipe provides you with lots of extra dumplings. Meaning soup for weeks!

Mushroom Wonton Soup

Italian Wedding Soup

Meatballs in soup is brilliant! With a light broth and small little slivers of pasta you will want to make a big post of this soup.

Italian Wedding Soup

Mushroom Coconut Soup with Leeks and Paneer

While not technically a soup there is nothing to say you can’t eat this curry like one. Usually when I eat soup my nose starts to run. This is a whole box needed type of dish.

Mushroom Coconut Curry with Leeks and Paneer (3 of 5)

Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

The addition of cream at the end of this recipes is what makes this velvety soup shine.

Squash Soup (1 of 2)

2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 24

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Wow! It’s really done. Twenty four days of some of my favorite beers.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have.  Is there any I missed that you think should have been on the calendar or would be in your own? Comment below I’d love to hear your choices.

I leave you with the best beer for Christmas Eve. A smooth, creamy vanilla porter from Mill Street.

Merry Christmas everyone and a happy New Year. 

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 23

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The holiday season is all about food and drink.  Good food and drink. Gluttonous food and drink.  While family obligation usually make me a slave to other people’s dishes I still like to stock up on a few recipes of my own to give me a break from leftovers.  I’m just beginning to explore the world of cooking with beer and wow are there endless possibilities. Stay tuned in the New Year as new and delicious beer based recipes hit the blog. 

In the meantime let me introduce you to one of my favorite beers to cook with. This nut brown ale from Black Oak has totally changed my recipe game. I’ve used it in meat pies, desserts, as a gravy base. It’s only 5 percent and it’s deep roasted coffee and chocolate notes highlight any dish it is in.

Cheers to 24 days of craft beer!
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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar- Day 22

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Only a couple more days until Christmas and right now all I want is to be somewhere warm, like a beach in Mexico.  I wish I was back at Spring Sessions from a few years back where the day was cool but the sun so bright and warm that my friend and I didn’t even realize we were getting burnt to a crisp in April. Ahhh the warmth I remember from that day.

A beach would be the perfect place to sip this pilsner from Double Trouble. Prison Break is light and crisp and refreshing. And only 5 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of craft beer.

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 21

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You may have noticed that most of my beer choices are local to my area of Ontario or at least available at The Beer Store or LCBO.  I did that on purpose to make it easier for anyone wanting to try any of my choices.  In everyday beer life I like to try beer from everywhere.  That’s why it’s great to have friends all over the place that equally enjoy beer. I usually pack up a sampler of local beers to give and they return the favour.  The beer community is tight!

This Earl Grey Porter from Royal City is one such gift.  I love all things this Kitchener-Waterloo Brewery is doing. This porter is smooth with a light scent and flavour of bergamot. At 5 percent this beer a wonderful winter sip.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 20

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2016 brought an amazing new advancement for craft beer and really all beer drinkers. Beer in the grocery store. I know there is a lot of debate on the subject from both sides but quite honestly for incredibly selfish reason I love it.  I’m a very busy person and if I can pick up my beer at the same location as I can pick up the rest of my groceries I ‘ve just scored  a huge win in my find more time to do more stuff strategy.  Now I have to just try this LCBO delivery service.

It’s beer like Lake of Bay’s Spark House that I grab from my grocery shelf. This roasted and nutty flavour red ale is a beautiful copper hue. A really perfect holiday drinker. 5 percent ABV and 29 IBU’s. 

Cheers to 24 days of craft beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 19

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I am a late bloomer when it comes to beer.  I was a wine and hard liquor drinker until I realized my body just wasn’t reacting well to it. Wine gave me headaches, and the hard stuff hit me way to0 hard and I usually would get very hungover.  I was getting older and past the drinking to get buzzed part of my life.  But I still wanted something to enjoy in a social aspect; something that was a reasonable sipper with great flavour. My previous experience with beer was not with anything of great quality (remember my England story) so when I went to a food and drink event one year and tried Nickel Brooks Green Apple Beer I realized that not all beer tasted the same. Yes it was a weird entry into the massive flavour profile of beer but it gave me hope and bravery to keep experimenting. 

Fast forward many years later and I am a proud craft beer drinker.  Don’t let one beer set you off the whole group. I have a friend who says it all tastes like burn but in the past year have shown her some that she has surprisingly enjoy. 

So thank you Nickel Brook for your help in my beer loving discovery. Thank you for great beers like this Naughty Neighbour APA. With only 4.9 percent ABV and a moderate 38 IBU’s it falls perfectly into my beer loving criteria.

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 18

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Funny and slightly TMI story for you folks.  Every year I participate in the Toronto International Film Festival. I go to three different movies, each with a red carpet and star Q&A.  It’s usually with one particular friend of mine however last year scheduling issues required me to bring along my beer friend instead. We hit up a downtown pub, put back some frothy beverages, lamented my previous day bee sting and subsequent infection before heading to see the movie.  It was not going to be a happy movie, child soldiers in Africa never are but the main actor Idris Elba was going to be there. Yes Luther, DJ extraordinaire, further James Bond (we hope). The movie was outstanding, sad of course but when the man himself came out in his tight black jeans and massive bulge we were gobsmacked. And glad we fortified with beer beforehand.

The beer? It was this easy going Barking Squirrel Lager from Hop City. An amber lager it has a IBU of 24 and 5 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 17

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All or Nothing Brewery is starting small. By crafting one beer and one only they are perfecting one thing at a time.  My beer friend and I like to get to beer festivals just as they open.  One off’s haven’t sold out, no lines and generally a great experience with lesser crowds.  One such festival we were also fortunate to find a comfy bench positioned right in front of All or Nothing.  For the first hour our tokens basically went to these guys. Not complaining though as their hopfenweisse is both refreshing and delicious.

4.1 percent ABV and 25 IBU’s we did pretty good staying in one spot that day.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 16

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The community that is small craft brewers is a tight group. While it may exist competitiveness is light and fun.  As a writer and drinker of all things beer I have had to reach out and communicate with many breweries and each and every time they have been gracious and quick to respond to any of my requests. They are so enthusiastic about their product and at every event they are the perfect people to engage with if you want to learn more about processes and beers.

Some of my favorite exchanges have been with the people over at Creemore Springs. They are doing great things over there and it’s my pleasure to include them in my calendar.  This Lot 9 is light and lovely czech-style pilsner. 4.7 percent ABV and 20 IBUs.

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 15

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When I initially started thinking about creating this advent calendar I was a bit concerned I wouldn’t be able to find 24 beers to profile.  You forget over 365 days how many different beers you have tried. Standing in front of my fridge or at the LCBO I suddenly wished it could be 35 days long. Man I had some tough decisions to make. Beers needed to be cut. That’s where my beer bestie came in.  This friend has been my festival goers, photo shoot drinker, beer bar partner for a long time now.  We have very different tastes when it comes to our favorites but one thing is for sure she is just as enthusiastic to try anything as I am.  We have had many adventures together and there will be many, many more.

So this Detour from Muskoka Brewery is for her. She made the decision to keep it in the running and for that I dedicate this beer to her. 4.3 percent and 30 IBU’s with big hoppy flavours.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 14

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You can clearly see the dents in this can.  When I was taking all the photo’s I briefly thought about going a buying a newer and prettier sample for the advent. But you knw what? These are beers in my cooler, fridge or holding box (until it gets to fridge or cooler). They are dented cause I knock them around.  It’s not a model it’s a beer I plan on drinking. Today in fact. Dents and all.

Nickel Brook Brewery has come a long way and this blonde Cause and Effect is a great drinking beer. ABV of 4.7 percent and 19 IBU’s.

Cheers to 24 days of beers!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 13

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Saison’s are my favorite style of beer to try.  While wheats are my go to brew this style is one that brewers can have the most fun with experimentally.  More carbonated, fruity, herbal, spicy tastes, saisons are fun.  However with this much room for variety they all can’t be perfect.

I drink every beer I order.  Some are stellar; other’s not so much. There has only been two instances where I didn’t finish a beer and one saison that I drank but it was a cringe worthy event from start to finish.  My table mate was dying at all the faces I was making at each sip.  They actually became natural; myself not realizing I was doing it after half a glass. The things we do for beer.

This saison from Collingwood Brewery is amazing right to the last drop. Sweet and tart it’s a beautiful pour with a mild 20 IBU but leg wobbling 7.0 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of beer! 

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 12

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The above photo is a bit deceiving.  Don’t get me wrong I  love me some Dead Elephant from Railway City.  It’s a fruity and hoppy pour with a ABV of 6.5 and IBU of 46. Such a strong and robust IPA to drink. What I really wanted to showcase however is their Double Dead Elephant. It’s a double smoked IPA with a kickass 7.5 ABV and 90 IBU’s. These style of beer is the least of my favorite but this beer in particular blows my mind. (I partially blame the ABV). Unfortunately it has a small brewing window and is only available late fall. And as you can tell by my lack of photo I missed it again!

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 11

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I’ve talked previously about the how much fun craft brewers have with names but let’s talk briefly about can design. Gone are the days of labels with the brewery’s name and beer moniker.  Graphic designers and artists alike are having a hell of a time creating eye catching and creative wrappings. There was even an art exhibit this fall featuring some of the best out there.

Double Trouble’s Hops and Robbers is a trifecta; cute name, stunning design and killer beer.  This IPA is strong on the caramel and malt taste spectrum and hits at 5.7 percent ABV and 50 IBU’s.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 10

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To follow up on my awful choices on my England trip I’ll show you an example of how I’ve improved on my decision making skills.

Our neighbourhood local is a 5 minute walk from our house. Perfect right? It also happens to be an Irish pub. Even better. It also has a decent selection of craft beer. And while yes I again am ignoring all those wonderful ales and draughts at least I’m drinking stuff like this Pompous Ass English Ale from Great Lakes Brewery.

A favorite craft ale of mine it has 28 IBU’s and 4.2 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 9

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There are a lot of beer festivals all over the city and surrounding areas.  I attend about 85 percent of them.  They are the best way to try so many different beers and find new breweries in one central location.  Maybe you think you don’t like IPAs but want to be completely sure. 1 or 2 bucks later you may find they aren’t all bad. Of all the events I highly recommend The Toronto Festival of Beer Spring Session. (summer session is too fratboy for me) It’s a really chill atmosphere, all craft brewers shaking off the winter blues and showing off some great seasonals. It’s perfect for your everyday beer drinker.

For the more hard core drinker I encourage you to check out Cask Days.  A totally beer-intense experience it’s not for the faint of heart.  A couple of years ago I had a cask version of the ever popular Beau’s Tom Green Milk Stout.  I’m not a coffee drinker therefore I have a hard time finding a stout I enjoy.  This creamy, velvety, chocolatey stout is by far my favorite of this style. A mild 27 IBU’s and 5.0 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 8

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When I was 18 years old I was fortunate enough to travel to England for 10 days with a friend of mine.  We were visiting two different sets of family of hers and being that the age of majority was exactly my age, we were so excited to hit up the locals and drink our faces off. Here I am hitting pub after pub, where telling patrons you were Canadian meant every round was on them, and spending many a next morning incredibly hungover. The sad part of this dream come true? I was in the country with the best ales around and all I drank was Bud Light. I AM SO ASHAMED!

I have definitely made for lost time in the past several years but drinking much better beer like this Saint of Circumstance;  a blond citrus ale from Collective Arts Brewing. This is fruity, light and full of lemon notes. A palatable 19 IBU’s and 4.7 percent ABV.

Cheers to 24 days of beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar- Day 7

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Let’s talk about this IPA from Longslice Brewery . 69 IBU’s and 6.5 percent. It’s a big IPA with notes of honey, papaya, chocolate and rye. Delicious.  But can we really talk about what I love about this beer? It has a sense of humour.  Pick up a can and you will see what I mean.

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar- Day 6

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So i’m not someone to stay on trend. For example the last time I had this Revivale by Lost Craft I was sitting at a well known whiskey bar with a friend waiting for a few other friends. A large group of well dressed gen x’ers came up to bar and one gentleman commended me on my choice of beverage. He and his group however had just come from a huge secret whiskey event that is put on every year and were several hours into a heavy hard liquor evening. I saluted him on his stamina and secretly cheered that I would be feeling a hell of a lot better the next morning than he will.

This beautifully branded lagered ale is a quiet surprise at 25 IBU’s  and a mild 4.8 percent.

Cheers to 24 Days of Beer!

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar- Day 5

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So it was a beautiful summer afternoon when my bestest beer drinking friend and I decided would be super healthy and go for a long but leisurely walk down to the lake. Starting right by the Gladstone we headed towards the ex, over the bridge and along the water. We knew the further we walked away from our starting point the longer it would take to get back. But we had a destination in mind and there was nothing turning us back. Amsterdam Brewery. After the most amazing fresh pretzels with a dipping sauce we wanted to bathe in, massive burgers and lot’s of amazing beer we had a stroke of genius. Let’s take transit home.

Boneshaker is my friends favorite there. A strong IPA is packs a wallop at 7.1 percent ABV’s and 80 IBU’s. It was greatly needed fortification that day.

Cheers to 24 days of beer.

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2016 Craft Beer Advent Calendar- Day 4

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Wheat beers of any form are my ultimate favourite.  The more it tastes like wheat fields the happier I am. The first time I had this beer was at a weekly event called Triple B’s at Lisa Marie. It’s a Tuesday night of beer (cheap), burgers (massive) and bingo (uber cheesy but super fun). They were offering up a pint for $5 and even though cheap always tastes delicious I have easily paid full price for this beer. 

Grasshopper from Big Rock Brewery is a very drinkable wheat ale with an ABV of 5 and low IBU 16. A “have a lot of” type of beer.

Cheers to 24 days of Beer.

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