Monthly Archives: September 2010

Toronto Beer Week: Saturday (Part One)

The Brewsfest at Black Creek Pioneer Village was a bit of a wildcard on the Saturday of Toronto Beer Week. Great Lakes Harvest Fest and the Cask! Social at Bryden’s were the beer geek draws and nicely laid out so that people could easily go to both. For many including this blogger, Black Creek is way up north, almost reaching outside of Toronto proper. While their brewery is an interesting concept (the brewing process replicates how beer would have been made in the 1860s), the location of it does not make for easy, regular visits. Having been to the brewery in its relative infancy last year, I was curious to see what changes had occurred, especially in the taste of the beer (the oak barrels were still very fresh and overwhelmed much of the taste). The Black Creek Brewsfest brought together six other GTA breweries for a day of tastings, tours and music.

The brewery is an interesting experience and not just because of ye olde brewing system, but also for the description of the beer and spirits industry and culture that existed in the 1860s. Anyone who has experienced the over-regulated liquor system in Ontario since prohibition would be amazed at the way the system ran in the 19th century – women making small table beer for the family (often 1-2%), the lack of government involvement, and whiskey and beer consumption on the job. Sounds like a golden age of beer, right? Not so when you consider the temperance movement and the fact that Molson/Labatt were already brewing, but I digress. Suffice it to say that you get a bit of a history lesson before actually trying any beer.

To repeat what was said from my first visit to the Black Creek brewery, this is a classic and simple system. A mash tun, boiling kettle, a hop sieve and some conditioning casks are the basic equipment used at Black Creek to make their beers. The beers are served straight from the cask with no filtration, pasteurization or artificial carbonation. Other than the ingredients, which are commercially purchased, this is an exact replica of an 1860s brewery. Every batch of beer is different from the last, with many little variations that can occur between brews. The most noticeable aspect of the beers from one year ago was the oak, which made the darker beers almost vinous. On Saturday this was most noticeable in the brown ale with its nutty characters almost fully overpowered by the oak. The stout was really good, giving a sensuous amount of dark chocolate on the tongue and a robustly roasted backbone. Calling it a bit thin seems redundant to say considering the brewing process, but it takes sometime to get used to the idea that this is how a stout would have tasted.

The final ale was a nice surprise as it was a wet hopped pale ale that used hops grown on the site. And it definitely the best beer they had available, a nice mix of grapefruit, pine, fresh grass from the wet hops and a tea-like tannic quality. A splendid ale that would be quite sessionable, which is luckily as a growler of it is sitting in my fridge. Speaking with Ed, the brewer at Black Creek, they’ve been doing monthly seasonals for some time, including a maple brown ale, dandelion stout and more. They announce their special beers on the brewery blog, so look for updates about a pumpkin ale and spiced winter beer in the upcoming months. I asked about stronger beers and was told that while high percentage brews were made in the time period, their current brewery would have a hard time aging a beer for longer enough in their cellar without it spoiling (there is a restaurant across the hall that keeps the brewery warmer even with the temperature drops). But he is hoping to make a barley wine just before Black Creek closes for the winter, let it age during the following months and then see how it tastes during the spring. I’m already waiting for winter to end, regardless of the fact that it hasn’t started yet.

The Black Creek brewery was just one small part of Brewsfest, though – what about all the other beer? Black Oak, Cameron’s, Trafalgar, Great Lakes, Lake of Bays and Railway City were also on-site, setting up shop in a grassy field to serve up some delicious beer. For avid fans of the craft beer scene, this part didn’t offer anything new aside from this years Hop Nouveau from Trafalgar. But the world doesn’t revolve around craft beer geeks and this day was obviously for letting the average beer drinker try something new. Hanging around the beer tents was an interesting experience, hearing people talk to the reps about the beers. When Ken Woods from Black Oak described their saison as a fruit beer, one person automatically said no because they didn’t like fruity beers. Most people seemed to be really impressed with the quality of the beer, but then the issue was often where they can find Ontario craft beer. A beer like Lake of Bays is still in its infancy and hard to find in the GTA, while other seasonals are only available at the breweries. Hearing the same conversations continuously proved that the craft beer message is not getting out to the majority of Ontarians.

The other mini-event I went to was a beer and cheese tasting, led by Julia Rogers from Cheese Culture. The beer/cheese events are in vogue these days, probably because everyone thinks it is an easy way to elevate beer to the sophisticated levels of wine. And while this was filled with three good local pairings (Black Oak Saison with a brebette, Trafalgar Old Mill Elora Irish Ale with a mustard seed gouda and Railway City Double Dead Elephant Ale with some aged cheddar) it didn’t leave me with any real knowledge of how or why beer and cheese matches work. A little more education would have been nice, rather than just trying to get people to see beer and cheese as a combination that can work equally as well as, if not better than, wine and cheese.

Overall, it was a nice day at Black Creek and a fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon. It may not be a beer geek paradise, but it is not like the makers of pale lagers were invited. The hardcore craft beer lovers are still needed to promote events like this for the sake that they survive and help convert more people to the cult craft beer (and there definitely were a couple of new marks on Saturday).

Toronto Beer Week: Thursday

My one complaint through three days of Toronto Beer Week was that there were a couple of bigger events each evening that drew the same crowd and smaller ones that were being overlooked. The beer geek crowd was going to be at barVolo once again for the Black Oak evening, so I mixed it up by going to the Rhino for their gourd fest. They were serving blind samples of the keg and cask versions of the Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale and Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale, leaving us fearless drinkers to distinguish the four different versions. Our host for the evening was the knowledgeable and entertaining Bill White who has held many hats during his time in the beer industry including time spent as a brewermaster for Labatt. Bill started the evening by giving us an interesting look into the life of a brewmaster for a macro brewer, going through years of training before being placed in a position. He is truly a man who has seen and done it all in the industry and I was lucky enough to sit beside him, picking his brain throughout the evening.

The differences between the four pumpkin samples were quite amazing, with flavours ranging from the obvious pumpkin pie with whipped cream to mushroom and boiled cabbage (the liquid version of vegetarian steamed Chinese buns, which is as bad as that sounds). I actually had some difficulties distinguishing the cask from keg versions, partially because some samples were delayed which took away the head. It was an interesting experiment and made me opened minded to what I was tasting, striping away the built in prejudices that I had towards each beer. The first mini-pairing was a pumpkin pie part, just to remind of what pumpkin pie really tasted like. My pick of the four: Grand River Highballer Pumpkin on cask.

Thanksgiving is still a couple of weekends away, but having some pumpkin beers followed by the Church Key Cranberry Maple Wheat made me hankering for some turkey to go along with the beers. The Church Key beer was really tart and focused solely on the cranberry, the maple being lost somewhere in the ether. But when you tasted it with a maple tart, suddenly everything clicked: the caramelized flavours of the maple bouncing off the bitter fruits in the beer. One of those funny pairings where a bad beer is suddenly magical.

Next up was the oktoberfest course, with some Denison’s Dunkel that had been aged for one year paired with sausages and sauerkraut. The Dunkel was quite odd after being aged for a year – a strong almond flavour mixed with a slightly sour toasted malt and caramel. Something about it seemed off and wasn’t to my taste, but the beer worked well to contrast the vinegar in both sauerkraut and mustard for the sausage so at least it was a win on one level.

The mandatory cheese pairing course was next, serving the Black Oak 10 Bitter Years and Muskoka Harvest Ale against three different cheeses. The 10 Bitter Years and Harvest Ale both emphasize hops but in very different ways, so it was no surprise that they worked with different cheeses. The Harvest Ale worked to undercut the creaminess in the first cheese (a brie?), while the 10 Bitter Years just dominated the cheese. The old cheddar was dry and gritty, a nice compliment to the rustic qualities of the Harvest Ale. Once again, the 10 Bitter Years was too much for the cheese. The last cheese, a gorgonzola, worked in the opposite fashion, finally providing a worthy opponent to the Black Oak brew. Not a great match, but at least both components were at the same level of intensity. The Harvest Ale and gorgonzola were terrible together, leaving a briny and boozy coating on the tongue. Just thinking about it again makes me nauseous.

The last pairing was smoked oysters with the Scotch Irish Black Irish Plain Porter, which is allegedly a dry Irish porter. There wasn’t much about the beer that was dry, just mainly thin, weak and sweet. Something with a fuller body and more flavour would have been a better match for the oysters. This was the one pairing I could have done without.

Bill went around after the final tasting with some fresh hops from his house, snipping off some for everyone so that we could smell hops straight from the vine. Fairly mild and grassy hops, these were apparently not hops that would have been used in beer for any flavour qualities. Though my tablemate and I got the idea to rub in on our wrists and make a hop cologne, which will hopefully be out sometime next year and be the latest craze for beer geeks. In retrospect, fresh hops came up a lot during Toronto Beer Week, mainly because most local hops had just finished maturing in the week or two before TBW.

Though not all of the beers and pairings were successful, it was a very enjoyable evening at the Rhino thanks to the relaxed, cozy atmosphere. Bill was not playing the role of expert but guide, letting our own taste buds determine the quality of the pairings. Discussion was lively and interesting, fueled by people eager to learn about beer and not beer geeks who sometimes, not always, have the attitude of knowing everything already. Every opinion was a valid one, though it was funny how most palates came to a mutual agreement. Thanks again to Bill White, Chris and everyone at the Rhino for a great evening.

Toronto Beer Week: Wednesday

Next year I will be smart, as many others were, and take some vacation time during Toronto Beer Week. Not only are there a couple of day-time events that would have been nice to attend, it would also have left time to get all the blogging done and ensure that no special beers were missed. The latter problem is what happened Wednesday night when I stopped in at Kilgour’s to find that the Black Oak Hop Bomb cask was finished around 8p.m. and pretty much every had gone home or elsewhere by 9:30. Luckily Chris from the Toronto Beer Blog was still around (he and I are essentially the anti-Polkaroo to each other, at least during this week) and had a pint with two of his friends.

Kilgour’s had a decent tap lineup that was heavily (if not entirely) focused on craft beer. And though I went to U of T and have spent a good number of nights in the Annex, I had never been inside until Wednesday. Perhaps best known as being one of the few Habs friendly bars in the city, it flies under the radar on most nights and would not seem like an obvious craft beer spot to me. So I was pleased to hear that the event had gone well (though not happy to hear I missed out on it), because it showed a local bar could put in a bit more effort while still throwing a simple yet unique beer event (one cask is almost the simplest beer event you can put on) and have it be a great success. This is the perfect example for bars to illustrate that there is definitely money to be made off the growing craft beer movement (obviously we want bars to also be serving good beer because it tastes better, but they also need to know that they can make a profit). Putting in some work will get new people through your door and hopefully coming back on a regular basis (though don’t expect to see me when the Habs are playing). The true success of Toronto Beer Week will not be measured by how many people came out or whether licensees made money, but whether it changes peoples habits (both the general public and those in the alcohol industry). If everything reverts back to normal starting tomorrow then the week will feel a little hollow in retrospect.

Toronto Beer Week: Tuesday

The big event Tuesday night was the BrewDog dinner at beerbistro with James Watt from the brewery acting as our host for the evening, leading us through six courses of beer and food pairings followed by a couple of surprises at the end. BrewDog is a controversial brewery due to its in-your-face marketing/branding and, to some, gimmicky beers. They caused quite a stir in the UK with the Tokyo* imperial stout, an 18% beer that drew the ire of certain groups, which then irked BrewDog. This prompted them to make an increasing number of high alcohol beers including Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV), Sink the Bismarck (41%) and the infamous The End of the World (55%), the bottles of which are put into stuffed roadkill animals such as stoats. Marketing genius, poor taste or both? That’s your call. My main questions was, “Can these guys actually make beer?” I took my seat, which was with a group of people from the Toronto Regional Association of Specialty Homebrewers (TRASH) and sought to answer this question.

The dinner was arranged to begin with the lowest ABV beers and work up to the intense ones, so the Trashy Blonde (Ratebeer) was first up and paired with a sea scallop with seared foie gras, walnut pancake, banana raisin compote and chocolate veal jus. Obviously lots of flavours going on with the food and required diners to be fans of savoury/sweet combinations, which appealed to my taste buds. With such strong flavours in the food the Trashy Blonde acted as a palate cleanser, using its substantial hoppiness to prepare for the next bite of food. Surprisingly the tropical fruit flavours in the beer still came through, adding a nice final touch to the first course.

Up next was a butternut squash soup and mini grilled cheese on brioche paired with the 5a.m. Saint (Ratebeer). The 5a.m. Saint has a lot of aromatic hops for an amber ale and I started to notice a trend – no matter the style, BrewDog will hop something up. From the citrus aroma the beer segues into a biscuit and toffee middle that was nice but a little overpowered by pine. Not what I would consider a typical amber ale, but expecting conformity from BrewDog is like expecting a gold digger not to cheat (or to have ethics. Choose the punchline you like the most). The beer was good but the pairing didn’t do much for me as the hops didn’t meld well with the sharp cheddar in the sandwich and soup.

The Punk IPA (Ratebeer) tasted like a one-hop, unbalanced IPA when the LCBO brought it in and I still feel the same way. For my palate it is too bitter and resinous, lacking any of the softer hop qualities that makes for a complex IPA. There was a cumin and coriander spiced rabbit chimichanga to go with the Punk IPA and while the food wasn’t spectacular, the beer and spices really enhanced each other. The cumin popped out of the chimichanga, proving once again that IPAs and Mexican food go superbly well together. As James said, a good pairing is one that improves both beer and food, which is exactly what this accomplished.

The main course was braised horse with potato truffle totellini, served with the Hardcore IPA (Ratebeer). The thinking here was obviously that the Hardcore IPA (which at 9.2% is really an imperial IPA) would cut through the horse and jus with the intense hoppiness. Unfortunately the horse was a little dry and not as dominant as expected, though there was a sense of what was trying to be achieved. Still fine together, but not magic. The Hardcore is a fantastic beer, however – nicely balanced with a lot of depth and character. James talked about trying to get it into the LCBO at some point, which I fully endorse.

The beginning of the dessert courses (that’s right – more than one) also brought a shift to more malty beers, starting with the Paradox Isle of Arran (Ratebeer). There are many different versions of the Paradox, this one being aged in Isle of Arran whiskey barrels, giving an intense peaty aroma. The dessert was a vanilla bean white coffee ice cream and I thought there was no possible way it could match the whiskey, sherry and cocoa in the beer. Vanilla can’t stand up to casks! Of course I was fucking wrong. This was the best match of the night – the ice cream made the beer explode with coffee and vanilla undertones, the two elements playing off each other superbly. I would have savoured this longer if my ice cream wasn’t melting.

James had a surprise for us in the next round. Instead of getting the planned Tokyo* we would be the first to try Abstrakt AB:04, an imperial stout brewed with coffee, cocoa and Naga chilies. Or rather one Naga chili pepper as the Naga is the world’s hottest pepper (Wikipedia confirms this, so it must be true). When compared with the 1,000 bottles of the AB:04 that were made, that is not a lot of chili. Aromas of tamari and red chili sauce. The smell brings the chili heat right into the sinuses. Absolutely no head or lacings. The chili hits the palate first then the flavours of roasted malts and dark chocolate round out the beer. Soy sauce evident as well. There is no heatfrom the chili, just the residual flavours. Well balanced. This was my first experience with a chili beer and it grew on me with every sip (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like chili chocolate).

And then there were two samples left, the ones everyone was anxious to try. Lots of discussion at my table was about whether or not a 32% or 41% beer was actually beer as the beers were not brewed to that high gravity but were frozen and had water removed. To me that is the same as an eisbock, just to a greater extent. I tried to keep as much of an open mind as possible and just enjoy this unique experience. The samples were served side by side and I started with the Tactical Nuclear Penguin (Ratebeer, on the left). No head or lacings once again. Big scotch aroma and a bit of alcohol, but not at all harsh – it is obvious this is going to be really smooth. Some salt and bacon smell. The Islay scotch flavour is huge and I still get some bacon. Expands at the back of the tongue to salt, tamari, leather and roasted notes. Doesn’t take like a beer but a really good scotch. The alcohol is really hidden at first, but some heat starts to come through as it warms. Slick mouthfeel, which is to be expected. The most surprising thing to me is that the beer has legs, which can be seen in the photo above. Call it beer or a liqueur, it tastes great either way.

Sink the Bismarck (Ratebeer, glass on the right) is a whole different beer. This is an IPA gone wild, the brain child of a mad scientist. While the Tactical Nuclear Penguin had the cask and malt flavours adding complexity, the Bismarck is all about hops. Bit of citrus, but mainly a strong medicinal quality. It is like drinking a Band-aid, albeit one that burns your throat on the way down. And then washing it down with pine cleaner. The alcohol really comes through and accentuates the pine. Not an enjoyable drink to me, but an interesting experience.

James (on the left with yours truly) was a great host for the evening, giving candid thoughts on the Scottish beer scene and the difficulties they’ve had with censorship. Apparently brewing a beer with stimulants and depressants (guarana, poppy, Scottish heather honey and kola nut) and calling it Speed Ball will rile some people (this beer is now called Dogma). Lying to banks to get a loan? They’ve done that too. But all of his stories also fit into the BrewDog branding – intense beers for rebellious people. The dinner felt like a sales pitch at time, trying to get us to buy into the BrewDog philosophy and aesthetic. The dinner did answer my question – they can make damn good beers, sometimes I just wish they would concentrate on them a bit more.

Toronto Beer Week: Monday

Sometimes you have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way. Being employed by the public library often has me working till 8:30pm or on the weekend, which can crimp plans of drinking when you have to work at 9am the next morning and have an hour-long commute (and no, brown bagging it on the subway is not an option). I was ready to cop out on the first day of the first ever Toronto Beer Week, but then people started tweeting about a 40-minute wait to get into bar Volo and I thought, “This I need to see!” Luckily the line had dissipated when I arrived but Volo was still packed with lots of people enjoying $4 pints of Ontario’s top rated beers. At 9:30 they had already gone through two casks and two kegs; by 11:30 they were digging out whatever else they could find.

Seeing as Volo had opened at 4pm and had been serving cheap pints since then, it was no surprise that the patio dwellers were in quite a drunken state. And soon I understood why as three people visiting from Spain were suddenly singing a drinking song to me that ended with them chanting “Ringo! Ringo! Ringo! Ringo!” until I had finished downing my glass of Wellington Russian Imperial Stout. (In case you were wondering, the subtleties of the Welly RIS are lost when you chug. Sipping is still the preferred method of imbibing.) Obviously few people heeded my call for pacing themselves throughout the week and there were probably many people calling in sick to work the next day (or showing up still drunk). Even your intrepid beer reporter almost got caught up in the mayhem, but managed to escape with his sobriety in tact (kind of). An excellent start to Toronto Beer Week!

Dieu du Ciel! @ barVolo

By now I have blogged enough about the Dieu du Ciel! feature and seasonal releases coming to the LCBO, but Saturday night was the time to celebrate all these magnificent beers, try some less common offerings and tell the people running Dieu du Ciel! just how much we love their beers. Ten taps were available at bar Volo, featuring all the features and seasonals minus Corne du Diable and Solstice d’Hiver. To make a great night even better, Caplansky’s was on-site and serving up their delicious smoked meat sandwiches.

A nice smoked meat sandwich would be a good pairing with the Sieben Hügel (Ratebeer), an unusual rauchbier. A light peach colour, it was surprising at first to see a rauchbier made from pale malts. Getting past expectations, the aroma was undeniably what one expects from malts dried over a fire – lots of campfire and wood, but with a slight backdrop of butter. Quite the smoky taste, aided by a little bacon flavour. Some biscuity notes come through, but they have a hard time up against the heavy flavours. A dry finish adds some balance, but using the standard darker malts would have toned down the intense smokiness.

The main hoppy offering was the Chaman (Ratebeer), an imperial pale ale. Fairly hazy and copper coloured, it was bursting with citrus and hoppy green goodness, concentrated in a really great way. Two casks were on offer, both Volo/Biergotter collaborations. Tomas from Volo was raving about the Caustic Commencement Saison (Ratebeer) and it seemed rude not to try some, which was a smart move. How good is the CCS? Well it matched the Dieu du Ciel! level of quality, which is pretty high praise in the beer community. I’ve been limited to only tasting a few saisons so I can’t say how it compares, but it was delicious no matter the style. The tropical fruits are really strong – gu

Excellent imperial stouts, in my opinion, are those that balance the roasted malts with lots of bitterness, just like the Grande Noirceur (Ratebeer). No element stands out in the Grande Noirceur, but all parts work together to create an impeccable imperial stout. I have always found the DDC! stouts to be near-perfect when served on tap and this experience only solidified that thought. Thanks again to Ralph and Tomas from Volo for bringing Dieu du Ciel! into Toronto!

Counting Down To Toronto Beer Week

The inaugural Toronto Beer Week starts Monday, September 20th (or unofficially Sunday with a Dieu du Ciel!/Stephen Beaumont brunch at beerbistro) and runs until Sunday the 26th. As the list of events has grown to be quite substantial, perhaps even daunting, I thought it would be handy to help pick a couple of events from each night and narrow the field a bit (prices listed when available). Be sure to check back frequently next week for my event wrap ups and thoughts on TBW as a whole.

Monday: To start the week, it might be a good idea to develop some beer vocabulary and know what to expect when you’re drinking craft beer. My Monday recommendation is More Than Meets The Eye happening at C’est What (7-8:30pm, $20). The knowledgeable Mirella Amato of Beerology will lead a blind tasting of nine different beers, talking about different styles of beer and explaining how to properly taste beer. It won’t be as pretentious as it sounds and you can wow people over the following six nights with everything you learned. Advance tickets available.

Up town, the Granite Brewery will be launching a new beer in conjunction with the Southern Ontario Brewers (SOBs). The Granite is one of the oldest and well respected craft beer establishments in Toronto, so it must be included in any TBW itinerary. You probably won’t want to go too overboard on a Monday night and their sessionable English ales will help prevent that.

Tuesday: The big event Tuesday is the BrewDog dinner, but you’re out of luck if you don’t have a ticket. But hanging out with local craft brewers can be just as fun, so hit up the Black Oak Brewery Guided Tasting at the Only Cafe ($10). Ken and Adrian from Black Oak will lead the tasting, while the Double Chocolate Cherry Stout will be the guest tap. All the Black Oak beers are great and the Ken/Adrian duo never disappoints.

Or perhaps you like hitting up multiple sausagefests on the same night. No, that is not a typo. The Cloak and Dagger has Sausagefest – ten different sausages, all-you-can-eat and a 12oz beer ($12). Beau’s will be featured, probably because they make lots of delicious lagers. Continue your sausagefest pub crawl at Burger Bar for Sausagefest With Flying Monkeys. The Flying Monkeys Netherworld and Smash Bomb will be paired with two sausages, plus sauerkraut ($20).

Wednesday: If you missed out on the BrewDog dinner, don’t miss the Bart Towel Lost Abbey Tasting at beerbistro tonight. Hosted by Cass Enright from the Bar Towel, this features six hard to find beers from the Lost Abbey family ($25). Brewer Matt Tweedy will lead the tasting. This will be one of the great beer experiences of the week. Advance tickets available.

In a more low-key setting will be the One-Off Stand-Off at the Victory Cafe, where Beau’s and Nickel Brook will be brewing special beers for the evening. $20 gets you four samples and food, plus the privilege of trying these special brews. If you’re just looking to grab a pint, head to Smokeless Joe’s for the Muskoka Harvest Ale Tapping.

Thursday: Beer is not just for men and neither is Toronto Beer Week, so I fully support the Toronto Beer Week Ladies Night. Begins at 7pm and starts with Duggan’s Brewery, moves to beerbistro at 8:15pm and ends at Trevor Kitchen and Bar around 9:30. Dudes are obviously welcome too, but it’s nice to see an event that won’t be a sausagefest (wordplay!).

The hop heads will be found at Bryden’s Tower of Power, featuring the Great Lakes My Bitterer Wife, Black Oak 10 Bitter Years and Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb IPA. No need to brush your teeth after this one – your plaque and enamel will be striped bare.

Friday: The events really start piling up on the weekend and it is all but a guarantee that you will miss out on a great event somewhere in the city. But wherever you are, the likelihood of running into a Great Lakes cask is high. There is the Cask Night at the TRANZAC, featuring multiple Great Lakes casks, a Mystery Cask Unveiled at Highway 61 (a Great Lakes Belgian dubbel – the mystery is what it will be named) and a Cask Tapping of the Great Lakes Johnny Simcoe American Pale Ale at the Gladstone (comes with or without cheese plate. More cheese Gromit!).

barVolo saved their big events for the weekend, beginning with the Collaboration Cask Night. Four barVolo/Biergotter casks will be released, so expect the place to be packed with people eager to see how the first of many volo brews turn out (hypothesis: amazing). Should be starting around 10pm after the crowd moves up from C’est What.

Saturday: Ah, the weekend. Time to rest and cover from a weeks worth of events? Hells no! It is time to start drinking during the daytime! The Great Lakes Harvest Fest starts at noon with casks of their Pumpkin Ale and new peach beer, alongside sausages and pies. Then head to the CASK! Social at Bryden’s for (you guessed it) more casks. Great Lakes Miami Dunkelweiss, Beau’s Matt’s Gose and the Muskoka Dark Chocolate Ale are new offerings sure to please while the tasty Granite Best Bitter Special will round things out.

Heading into the evening, the C’est What Fall Festival of Craft Beers is great for anyone looking to try lots of beers, no matter if you’re an aficionado or amateur. Most samples are $1 and approximately forty beers will be available. The Fall Fest is a great event, so make sure you head by on the Friday or Saturday. Be warned: it is usually fairly busy, but predicting how the crowd will be during TBW is tough.

Or maybe you’re feeling remorseful at this point about missing out on a bunch of other great beer dinners. Don’t be sad as there are still some left, including the 6 Course Dinner With Beers from Duggan’s Brewery at Trevor Kitchen and Bar ($79). Trevor Kitchen and Bar are a dark horse this week, but could come out as the newest beer destination after the week is over.

A barVolo recommendation once again, this time for the Les Trois Mousquetaires Launch Party. Eight beers will be available from an up and coming, underappreciated Quebec brewery. Even more impressive, Les Trois Mousquetaires mainly brew beers that fall into lager styles, traditionally less favoured than ales by the beer geek community. Also the second weekend in a row that volo brings in an amazing Quebec brewer.

Sunday: By now you may feel the need to get some exercise, so sign up for the Toronto Beer Quest. Travel throughout the city, solve clues and learn beer history and have fights with your partner that would shame the contestants of The Amazing Race ($30 earlybird/$40). Prizes await you at the end. And beer!

Running on Saturday and Sunday is the Black Creek Historic Brewery Brews Fest where you can sample some authentically reproduced 1800s ales alongside beers from around the province. Tutored tastings, beer pairings and more events. Prices vary, full details on the Brews Fest website.

Close out the week with a hearty meal at the Monk’s Table and their Fullers Brewery Roast Trio with Aonghus Kealy. A traditional roast will be paired with three Fullers beer, which sounds like an amazing and natural combination in my mind and will no doubt be perfectly executed by the Monk’s Table. Call (416) 920-9074 for reservations and prices.

Monday September 27th: Continue supporting the wonderful bars and breweries of Toronto.

Reviewing the LCBO 2010 Fall Release

As Monday was the official start of the LCBO Fall release (aka. Autumn Ales – Alliteration & Alcohol), it is time to take a closer look at the list to help you make an informed purchase when you see them on the shelves. Having sampled most of the release last Friday, I am now the all-mighty authority on all of these beers. These are some quick notes rather than full reviews, which will hopefully be just enough info for you to decide if you want to pick up a couple of bottles to try (SPOILER ALERT: This is one release where you will probably end up trying most beers.) I reserve the right to change my mind about any of these beers based on the fact that it became progressively harder to judge them as I went through the samples, especially when finishing with the stouts.

Best of the Bunch: It probably helped that this was an early sample, but the  intense hops of the Garrison Imperial Pale Ale (LCBO# 173658, Ratebeer) really stood out. The aromas really woke me up with the olfactory equivalent of a caffeine jolt. Lovely peach hues. Heavy aroma and taste of pine, alongside lots of citrus and grass. Fruity, tropical undertones leading to a resiny finish. Bitterness fades nicely on the tongue, making you crave the next sip.

Hmm… (Part One): Coffee-flavoured beers tend to be love/hate in the beer world, but the Dark Star Espresso Stout (LCBO# 177568, Ratebeer) did not taste like most other beers brewed with beans. In my experience, most coffee beers have come out tasting like a coffee drink (be it a weak cup of joe or double shot of espresso – luckily no Starbucks half-soy vanilla shot macchiato beer yet), but it is the elements of the roasted bean that comes through the Dark Star, rather than the taste of a brewed cup. Strong vanilla and wood characteristics, with some grape skin tannins. My problem with the beer lies in the thin body and low 4.2% ABV, both of which undermine the strong flavours. Not to sound like one of those beer geeks, but this needs to be bigger and badder to counteract the strong espresso bean elements. (And for those that care: nicest looking bottle of the lot.)

Hmm… (Part Two): Innis & Gunn beers have their fans and seem to always sell well but they don’t appeal to me, a trend continued by the Innis & Gunn Limited Edition Highland Cask (LCBO# 172957, Ratebeer). Terrible aroma combination of butter, pear, and caramel and roasted malts. Really sweet tasting, with lots of caramel, light fruits and oak. Not much of the scotch-whiskey characteristics. The flavours grew on me a little, but it is a pass in my books.

Lost in Stout Land: Trying to finish with four different stouts is a tricky problem, so please excuse my lack of detailed notes for the Southern Tier Choklat (LCBO# 173534, Ratebeer) and Belhaven Scottish Stout (LCBO# 177550, Ratebeer). The Choklat is exactly what it sounds like – a big glass of cocoa beer, melding different layers of fine chocolate into one drink. The beer is very sweet, so you probably want to share the 650mL bottle with a couple of people, much like last year’s ST Creme Brulee (the 11%abv also makes sharing ideal). The price-point won’t be for everyone ($10.75) but think of it as a special occasion beer, one to open after a holiday meal with the family. The Belhaven is a nice, solid, by the book stout. There isn’t one quality that overwhelms, just a smooth beer with a lot of roasted qualities. The one thing that does concern me is that the beer comes in clear glass bottles. Does anyone know if clear bottles affect stouts as much as they do pilsners and other lighter-coloured beers?

Welcome Back Old Friends: As with most LCBO seasonal releases, there are a couple of returning bottles that have been featured before. You can never go wrong with the Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel (LCBO# 125401, Ratebeer), returning for the second year in a row. Always a treat and a nice beer to put away for a year or so. And returning after an extended absence is Orval (LCBO# 439992, Ratebeer), which is a real grower for me. This bottle blew me away, beginning with aromas of hay and horse blanket through to the yeasty start and dry finish of this complex Trappist ale. The last of the usual suspects was the Trafalgar Smoked Oatmeal Stout (LCBO# 54106, Ratebeer), which was a lot more burnt than smoked.

Previously Reviewed: Cannery Blackberry Porter (LCBO# 174581, Ratebeer).

Failed to RSVP: The one beer missing from the tasting was the Muskoka Harvest Ale (LCBO# , Ratebeer),  which was disappointing. But the Harvest Ale still deserves a plug for using 100% Ontario malt and hops this year and because it is probably delicious.

A Quick Note About the Hallowe’en Release: The Hallowe’en beers should be showing up in late-September, but they get a short mention now. For the most part pumpkin beers aren’t my thing, though the Southern Tier Pumking (LCBO# 182287, Ratebeer) is definitely the one to try. Sharp ginger and nutmeg character, caramel malts, biscuit, cracked pepper and earthy. Repeat all the Choklat comments about sharing.

The Mt. Begbie Nasty Habit IPA (LCBO# 201665, Ratebeer) has lots of grapefruit, matched by a flowery aroma. I find it to be a bit sweet, lacking in bitterness and finish. The Dieu Du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt (LCBO# 186775, Ratebeer) was overly boozy and needs to be aged for some time to let the alcohol calm down. The raisin and stewed fruit flavours were overmatched.

Overall, the Autumn Ales release is really solid with a lot of beers that warrant multiple purchases. It is not a cheap release though, with no beer costing less than $3 so plan purchases wisely. And now I am going to eagerly await the list of Winter Warmers.

Years of Beer?

That recap post was a little clinical and academic, full of numbers and elementary stats while not mentioning actually drinking any delicious beer or providing any real summation for the past twelve months. Yes, it answered the questions I set out with initially, but this year has been about more than just total consumption. All the emotion, drama and excitement of the past year was cast aside, leaving out the sheer joy that often came over me as I drank those 159L of beer. Sentimentality isn’t really for me, but it’s nice to look back at my first visit to the Mondial festival, meeting lots of fellow beer drinkers at events around the city, sometimes drinking too much and the patios of Volo and Victory. Blogging has helped me get out of my living room, off of The Bar Towel and into the bars and breweries of this city. My book deal never came through, but perhaps I should have tried to drink my way through a Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide (Mike vs. Michael would have been a hilarious spin on Julie vs. Julia – I just might try it).

While there has been a personal journey, the landscape in Ontario has also changed somewhat significantly in the past twelve months. The Black Oak Ten Bitter Years has broken the ground for well-hopped beers in Ontario (or Toronto, at least). HMH Negotiants started to bring craft beer from across the country, including getting Dieu Du Ciel! into the LCBO. Chancey Smith’s has become the best bar not located in Toronto. Duggan’s Brewpub opened in downtown Toronto, Bryden’s brought cask ale to the west-end. The first-ever Ontario Craft Beer Week aimed to put the spotlight on the delicious beers of our brewers. The LCBO brought in expensive beer (Ola Dubh 40, Southern Tier Creme Brulee) and it sold (which may have been a surprise to some, but not to the beer community).

The future is even brighter with LCBO brewery features on the horizon, the inaugural Toronto Beer Week  and the increasing availability of craft beer (local, national and international). Bought obviously craft beer still has a long way to go and I don’t really stop writing this blog even though the name is now pointless and the central crux has fallen away. There won’t be a gimmick anymore (sorry if you were reading just for that fact), just hardcore beer reporting. In the future expect to see interviews with beer individuals (brewers, publicans, other industry types – ideally from around the province), more event reviews, editorials and a weekly beer review. I might even try to learn some CSS to get away from the WordPress-template. September will probably be slow up until the chaos and madness that will be Toronto Beer Week. The main focus in the future will be quality over quantity, which hasn’t been the case till now thanks to the theme of the past year. If there’s anything you want to see covered or want to send a long rant in which you call me a drunken lout, please send an e-mail to  It may not be the smoothest transition, but hopefully will setup for a nice, long run. Thanks again for reading!

News & Brews

Dieu Du Ciel! Comes To Ontario

For the second year in a row the brewers of Quebec’s famed Dieu Du Ciel will be coming to Ontario, this time making multiple stops along the way. This is to help celebrate the LCBO Brewery Feature on Dieu Du Ciel!, which is now appearing in select LCBO stores.

Stephane Ostiguy of Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! and HMH Negotiants will be heading to London, Ontario for a casual meet and greet at Chancey Smiths starting at 7:00PM. The following brands will be available on draught; Péché Mortel, Corne Du Diable, Rosée D’Hibiscus and Dernière Volonté. The following bottles will also be available; Blanche du Paradis, Aphrodite, Route des épices, Équinoxe du Printemps.Corne Du Diable and Dernière Volonté

Join Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! and HMH Negotiants at Caplanky’s Deli for Toronto’s best Montreal style smoked meat with Route des épices Peppercorn Rye Ale on Draught.


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2010 @ FRANK (ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO) (6:00PM-8:00PM)HMH Negotiants will be teaming up with FRANK @ the Art Gallery of Ontario showcasing five beers from Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel that are part of the LCBO Microbrewery feature; Aphrodite, Corne Du Diable, Blanche Du Paradis, Dernière Volonté and Route des Épices . Brewers and founders will be present.

The following bars will be serving beers from Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! on draught for this weekend. HMH Negotiants will be organizing a Toronto pub-crawl with the brewers and founders present. Pub-Crawl details to be announced.

C’est What? – Peche Mortel, Corne Du Diable, Rosee D’Hibiscus
Magpie Tavern – Corne Du Diable
The Only Café – Corne Du Diable, Équinoxe du Printemps(bottle), Rosee D’Hibiscus(bottle)
The Rhino – Peche Mortel, Corne Du Diable, Rigor Mortis ABT
Smokeless Joes – Peche Mortel
La Pallete – Peche Mortel
St.Veronus – Derniere Volonte, Rigor Mortis ABT, Équinoxe du Printemps(bottle)
Brydens – Corne Du Diable

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel!, barVolo and Biergotter Homebrew Club will be collaborating together to make a special one-off brew on barVolo’s new pilot system. This beer will be released during CaskDays 2010! The collaboration brew day will be open to the public from 1:00pm-4:00pm serving only Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! beers in bottles;
Dernière Volonté, Rigor Mortis ABT, Équinoxe du Printemps, Péché Mortel, Corne Du Diable, Rosée D’Hibiscus, Blanche du Paradis and Route des épices.

All Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! on draught, all night long with special surprises. Brewers and founders present. Limited food available. No admission. Doors open at 7:00pm

HMH Negotiants and Beer Bistro present a tutored tasting featuring the following Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! on draught; Dernière Volonté, Rigor Mortis ABT, Péché Mortel, Corne Du Diable, Rosée D’Hibiscus, Blanche du Paradis. Hosted by Stephen Beaumont. Tickets are $45, and will go on sale Wednesday September, 8th, 2010

All events brought to you by HMH Negotiants. Menu, pairing and ticket info for the FRANK  evening is now available. Full info on the events and LCBO feature can be found here.

Beau’s Celebrates Oktoberfest

Beau’s All Natural Brewing will be throwing another Oktoberfest celebration in Vankleek Hill on October 2nd and 3rd. There will be plenty of food, entertainment and, of course, beer! Their fall seasonal, Night-Marzen Oktberfest Lager, will be available, as well as one-offs and cask beers from around the province presented by Volo’s Cask Days. Tickets are available online, with the option of bus packages between Ottawa and Vankleek. The complete list of events and happenings throughout the two days is amazing and I can’t wait to attend my first Oktoberfest!

Wellington Turns 25

Wellington Brewery started out in 1985 as Canada’s only brewer of real ales, and after 25 years we’re Canada’s oldest independent microbrewery. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of changes as we’ve grown, but one constant has been our dedication to producing craft brewed ales and lagers in small batches, using all-natural ingredients, a lot of care, and patience.

To celebrate our 25th year of craft brewing we’re hosting a party on September 25th 2010 at the Wellington Brewery (950 Woodlawn Road West in Guelph). The day-long celebration will feature live performances by legendary Canadian band, The Sadies, as well as six local bands. The event kicks off at 1pm and will also feature tours of our brewery hosted by our brewmasters, local food vendors, and of course our award-winning ales and lagers.

We’ll be offering a wide selection of our beers including some that are served as cask conditioned real ales (a traditional British style ale that is unfiltered and served slightly warmer). We’ll also be unveiling a special new ale, designed by our brewmasters specifically for the party, that features hops grown locally at Wellington Brewery.

Our 25th anniversary party is open to the general public, is family friendly, and admission is free with a non-perishable food donation to the Guelph Food Bank. We will also be accepting cash donations to Kidsability throughout the event. We will also be offering a shuttle bus service from downtown Guelph to the brewery.

Over the years Wellington Brewery has been an integral part of the community and we’ve prided ourselves on being involved in local charities, festivals, and community events. We hope that you will be able to join us, raise a glass and say cheers to 25 years of great beer!

More detailed information about the 25th anniversary celebrations will be available on our website: