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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Digging into New Brunswick’s Potatoes, Whiskey, and Lively Culture

There’s tasty fun to be found in Florenceville and Fredericton.

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New Brunswick is full of surprises.

On a recent road trip, I learned that it is home to the French fry capital of the world, an award-winning distillery with moonshine legacy, and one of the world’s best whiskey bars on the planet. Plus, it offers many opportunities to delve into the past, connect with a lively cultural scene, and commune with nature.

FLORENCEVILLE: A POTATO MECCA OF CHIPS AND FRIES

Crossing the border from Quebec into New Brunswick, our first stop was in Florenceville. This area in the St. John River Valley is renowned for its potatoes and home to the McCain frozen French fry empire.

It’s also where I tasted some of the best potato chips I have ever eaten.

We made our way to Covered Bridge Potato Chips in the morning for a tour of the facility.

The chips, which are available worldwide, can be found across Canada in grocery stores. If you journey to other countries, including Singapore or Greece, you’ll find them there, as well.

The tour included exhibits that explained how potatoes are seeded yearly from eyes (the knobby sprouts that grow out of the tuber). We learned that two to three million pounds of Dark Russets are washed, chopped, and deep-fried yearly to meet the demand for these chips.

A little different from brands such as Lays, these potato chips still possess some skin.

“We leave it on because it contains Vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6,” Fin Brown, assistant supervisor of the gift shop, explained.

Watching the chips come out of the fryer, I noticed an employee picking out all the imperfect slices.

“Local hog operations get the second-grade chips. The pigs love them. You get good bacon from those pigs,” confirmed Brown.

A heaping bag of fresh kettle-cooked chips was our reward as we left the production area.

With my warm loot bag in hand, I headed into the customer service area and was met with a line-up of flavoring shakers. I prefer my chips naked, with a dusting of sea salt, but I was astounded at the choices. Along with dill, sour cream, and BBQ, there was lobster, loaded hotdog, pepperoni, and even candyfloss.

“Some of those we only sell as season specials,” Brown explained.

The chip factory opened in 2006 and is an expansion of Albright Farms, run by Ryan, Matthew, and Shaun Albright. In the 1920s, their great-grandfather worked the fields while their great-grandmother came up with the recipe for kettle-cooked deliciousness.

TRAVEL THE COVERED BRIDGE FOR LUCK

The factory got its name from Hartland Covered Bridge, just down the road. The bridge was completed in 1901 to cross the St. John River. Built for carriages, it is 1282 feet long and became a National Historic Site in 1980. 

“The saying goes that if you hold your breath for the entire crossing your wish comes true. Plus, a kiss in the middle will give you good luck. That’s known as the ‘Kissing toll,’” explained Brown.

MCCAIN FOODS AND POTATO WORLD

This area of New Brunswick is also famous for being the French Fry capital of the world. Why? It is the headquarters of McCain Foods Canada which produces one-third of all French Fries consumed globally.

Nearby Potato World told the story of the province’s potato-growing history through exhibits and farm machinery. We were there at lunchtime and joined the locals in the café. Potato items ruled the menu and included fries, soup, potato-infused cakes, and smoothies (thickened with potato flakes).

AWARD-WINNING WHISKEY

All this potato talk was making us thirsty. The next stop was Moonshine Creek Distillery, owned by brothers Jeremiah and Joshua Clark. Their grandfather Henderson was a butcher and sold moonshine on the side.

“If you asked for a T-bone in a certain way, you’d get a pint of moonshine with it. He made it in his backyard.” Jeremiah said with a wink.

The distillery started in 2018 with whiskey and rum as its main goals. Its Downriver Whiskey won the 2023 Mixed Grain Mash Whiskey of the Year.

But, flavored liqueurs, noted Jeremiah, are the operation’s bread and butter. My favorite from a tasting flight? Chicken Bones, a New Brunswick cinnamon candy covered in chocolate.

BACK IN TIME AT KING’S LANDING

Another stop along the way to Fredericton was King’s Landing. A re-enactment village, it featured interpreters in early 19th-century garb. From the carpentry shop to the blacksmith’s building to a variety of homes, the village was full of life and information about daily life in earlier times.

FREDERICTON, A CAPITAL CITY WITH A WORLD-FAMOUS WHISKEY BAR

The walkable capital of New Brunswick is filled with galleries, excellent restaurants, and friendly watering holes.

Once parked, we made our way to Lunar Rogue, the city’s oldest downtown pub. Owned by Frank Scott, it carries 1,000 types of amber liquid and was named one of the World’s Best Whisky Bars by London, England’s Whisky Magazine.

While we were there, we were lucky enough to have Scott coach us on the fine art of whisky enjoyment.

“You nose it first before drinking,” he said.

Demonstrating, he took a sniff of the glass with an open mouth and then breathed in the aromas in the upper and lower ends of the glass.

“Add a pipette of water, and the whisky will blossom,” he explained.

We poured in a smidge of water, then put a coaster on top of the glass to lock in the fumes.

“The next time you nose it, it will be more intense,” Scott noted.

THE LUNAR ROGUE STORY

Where did the name of the pub come from? Lunar Rogue was the nickname of Henry Moore Smith from England. He had been immortalized in a book of the same name. Moore landed in Halifax, married a sea captain’s daughter, stole a horse, and was put in jail. After escaping and having various adventures, the notorious gentleman thief high-tailed it back to England.

“I thought this guy deserved a pub named after him,” Scott said with a chuckle.

MARKETPLACE FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT

On Saturday morning we headed to the colorful Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market. After grabbing a coffee from a local roaster, we meandered by 200 vendors selling produce, baked goods, crafts, and flowers.

If you go in summer, be sure to head to the Garrison Night Market on Thursday nights. The historic area comes alive with entertainment, food vendors, crafts, and a beer garden.

THE CITY’S WORLD-CLASS ART AND NATURE

Another cultural highlight was the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. We popped in to see its outstanding collection of Canadian and international art.

Afterward, we took a stroll along the St. John River, also known by its Maliseet-Passamaquoddy name Wolastoq. During the warmer months, you can rent kayaks, canoes, and bikes from a kiosk along the riverwalk. We opted for a two-person kayak and had a vigorous paddle across the river.

Later, we took a stroll across the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, and enjoyed spectacular views of the river and downtown Fredericton.

Rogues, potatoes, whiskey, and bridges. Take a road trip like this and you’ll gain an intriguing glimpse into a portion of the country filled with fascinating stories.

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