Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: July 2019

2019 Edmonton Craft Beer Festival; Beer Sampling Nirvana

The Edmonton Craft Beer Festival is one of the fastest growing beer festivals on the planet with over 500 brews from more than 100 breweries on tap to discover over two-days at the 2019 edition and I wanted to drink it all in one small sample at a time.

“There definitely seems to be something special going on for the festival this year,” says Alberta Beer Festivals CEO Mark Kondrat. “Every year, the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival (May 31 & June 1) has gotten bigger and better, but this year, the growth has been incredible. We’ve doubled ticket sales and we have over 125% of the exhibitors we had last year.” In its 7th year, the event has become one of the fastest growing and largest beer festivals in the world. “So much goes on at the event, it really is a festival everyone can enjoy. You don’t have to love beer to love Beerfest, and you don’t have to love every beer or spirit being sampled. The whole point is to try things you might not normally try so you can find a new favorite and have a great time!”

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I spied a $19.99 “buy one,get one free” general admission ticket promotion for the Fri., 31st May opening night that proved too hard to resist. Upon presenting your ticket at the Expo Centre venue and being scanned in, patrons are given a plastic 4-ounce tasting mini-mug but to fill ‘er up  $1 sample vouchers sold in blocks of 10 need to be purchased. Most beer samples around the cavernous convention hall are 2 tickets with food ranging from 4 to 6 tickets. I invested $30 to try an assortment of the best craft beer from all over Western Canada and consider that a bargain!

Popular local brewpub Brewsters tempted tasters with a variety of beers and while I normally favor Kolsch, wheat beers and amber ales, I went off script to try the Peanut Butter Porter whose flavor isn’t subtle as it hits you like a peanut butter sandwich between the eyes.

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There’s an event map and list of all the breweries, distilleries, food vendors and others here and they include a few quirky booths such as the Canadian Drink Mitt which is a sock with a beer holder at the end to allow thirsty drinkers to keep their hand warm in the depths of winter while still enjoying a cold beer. Perhaps a Christmas gift for the man (or women) who has everything.

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The boys of Bent Stick Brewing are all smiles as they shared their microbrewery magic with the masses. I sampled and fell for the B.S. Wit, a cloudy Belgian style wheat beer that’s the Edmonton brewery’s first canned beer. I’ll drink to that!

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Calgary-based Wild Rose Brewery paid homage to its Alberta roots with a DJ in the bed of a pick-up but after a 2019 sale to Sleeman Breweries, itself owned by Japan’s Sapporo Breweries,  it was immediately removed from the Alberta Small Brewers Association.

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Before the town of Ponoka was named for the Blackfoot word for elk it was simply identified as  Siding 14 on the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company serving as a supply point for steam locomotives making their way between Alberta’s two main cities.  Siding 14 Brewing Company takes its name from the town’s original  name and delivered a host of choices but I settled on the Switch Point Honey Cream Ale which surprised me with its subtle flavors. I could easily make this a regular, year ’round favorite as its such a balanced beer.

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Troubled Monk Brewing shared their Red Deer-based craft brew and when asked where the brewery name originated the staff on hand hinted that it was chosen to allude to the beer history of the Belgian Trappist monk slaving away to create a beer worth celebrating.

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Speaking of monk’s, Edmonton’s Blind Enthusiasm Brewing brought their award-winning beers to the festival which include the Extra Special Monk, the very first beer brewed by the founders of this  Ritchie neighborhood brewery.

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The Alberta Small Brewers Association says 117 independent craft breweries operating in Alberta are a  35% growth since 2017 meaning the 2020 Edmonton Craft Beer Festival should be even  bigger and better and I can drink to that!

Resort Visit: The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

To borrow a Yogi Berra quotation my recent look at The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen was like Déjà vu all over again as it marked the second time I’ve seen the upscale beachfront Caribbean resort but the interval between visits long enough I didn’t recall this fact  until after entering its grounds.


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A friend who owns a villa at The Fives was kind enough to reach out to resort sales staff to arrange a visit for me while holidaying in the area but after steeping out of the cab I realized I explored the resort shortly after it opened in late 2010.  While there was enough that felt familiar there are new additions to the resort including a cluster of new villas carved out of the jungle around the central cenote that defines the resort layout.

Resort map courtesy of The Fives Azul Beach Resort

Nature and the natural world is a part of this 480-unit family friendly all-inclusive resort with frequent appearances by local spider monkeys and raccoon-like coati and other wildlife, many spotted from the wooden boardwalks than span the cenote in the middle of property.

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The main pedestrian plaza features a cluster of restaurants, shops and a Starbucks which is included in the all-inclusive dining plan.

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On the plaza just outside the main buffet restaurant, Flavors, is a list of daily activities for adults and kids who may join the supervised activities program called Azulitos which has games and play space in the Azulitos Playhouse as well as a kids-only pool and even spa services for the little ones.

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Among the 13 buffet and À la carte restaurants is Koh Thai, an Asian influenced eatery with the choice of dining on an outdoor deck or indoors beneath a 15-foot standing Buddha in the Bangkok-inspired dining room.

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A cozy corner is Nineteen Ten, a Mexican cantina flavored bar named for the year of the outbreak of the Mexican revolution and decorated in colourful terracotta tiles offering a vast selection of tequila and mezcal from all over Mexico. Make a point to  visit this adult-only bar as its well worth a refreshment detour.

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Steps from the beach and reached by a glass elevator is the roof top Zky Bar which is an all ages sports bar and lounge until 11 PM when it becomes adult-only.

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While The Fives lacks a huge section of white sand beach, the small area it does have is organized well with two pools, an adult-only infinity pool and an adjacent all ages pool.

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Like the beach lounge chairs most of the the white fabric cabanas are available on a first come, first served basis.

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Like other areas of the Riviera Maya which have been beset by the brown seaweed Sargassum in recent years so has The Fives been affected making beach watersports and swimming a challenge however the appearance and quantity varies from nothing to ankle deep depending upon wind, time and tide so it’s not something that can be accurately forecast prior to arrival.

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I was shown an adult-only  ‘One-bedroom Swim-up Resort Residence’ which are the newest suites featuring a king bed, his & hers vanity, a walk-in rainfall shower stall,  large walk-in closet and direct access down a few steps into the pool.

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photo by author

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The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen is just north of the city of Playa Del Carmen  offering  good access to shopping and sights but is just far enough removed to be beyond the busy tourist zone along Fifth Avenue. The variety of exotic cuisine and authentic Mexican flavours paired with larger family-friendly suites at very competitive price makes this resort a strong contender for best luxury resort value in Riviera Maya.

Pros

  • Giant rooms and suites up to three bedrooms
  • White sand beach with loungers and cabanas
  • Family friendly with extensive facilities and activities for kids including kids’ menu and cribs, cots, baby food and and baby monitors for infants
  • Seven swimming pools, including enormous main pool and kid-friendly options
  • Thirteen restaurants serving cuisine from around the world
  • Nine bars and lounges, including a couple of swim-up options
  • Free Wi-Fi throughout the resort and free international calls

Cons

  • A smallish section of beach
  • Located away from the action of Fifth Avenue (could be a pro for some)
  • Lots of kids running around might put some solos and couples off
  • At times a lack of loungers around the infinity pool
  • Newer villas a bit of a walk from the beach; golf cart rides available

 

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