Instead of padding up my post count, my attempt this year is to cover multiple Toronto Beer Week events in one post, trying to provide something similar to a summary rather than an in-depth analysis filled with minutiae. The main reason is because I have no vacation scheduled for this week (unlike previous years, when I’ve taken some time off, though last year it was mainly because of wedding preparation). Here is what you missed over the weekend:
The unofficial start to Toronto Beer Week was the Premium Beer Experience at the Berkeley Church. Normally I’d bitch about someone jumping the gun and getting a night all to themselves, but the PBE doesn’t really attract many beer geeks that flock to the other events. The crowds at this event have always seemed to be more of the sipping-wine-in-a-bistro crowd than drinking pints at the neighbourhood pub. That’s not meant as derogatory and it’s obviously great for new people to get exposed to craft beer, but it creates an event that is a little too flashy for my liking.
Previous years have only used the church part of the Berkeley Church, but this year the outdoor event space was also utilized and everyone was grateful for that. The inside area was stifling, much to the dismay of drinkers and casks. (Warm imperial stout anyone? We’ve got not one but two offerings!) The expanded space also gave a bit more breathing room to the beer vendors, though it also felt like there was space for one or two more breweries. There were some new breweries, but also some notable absences from previous years, meaning that you had roughly the same amount of breweries for an increased number of people.
Highlights: The Saaz dry-hopped cask of Kensington’s Augusta Ale. Great Lakes Roasted Coconut Porter. Beer Academy’s Cascadian Dark. The always enjoyable Amsterdam Calm Before the Storm. (Can I just say that it was great to have two beers under 4% at an event? There was also the Nickelbrook Berliner Weiss.) Black Oak’s oddly delicious Greek to Me fenugreek beer. Lowlights: Sawdust City The Princess & Girlpants Meets the O.D.B. (a little too pickle-sour for me). Warm casks (Wellington and Nickelbrook). Pumpkin beers (Mill Street and St. Ambroise). Plastic cups – surely the wine events aren’t subjected to such awful drinking vessels.
Lineups did start to grow as the night went on, but they moved fairly quickly. All stations were excellent at rinsing cups before giving out samples. It was still easy to ask questions to the servers and they were all great at explaining the beers. (There was a marked decrease in the number of scantily clad women pouring beers. Well done breweries. Thanks for hiring men and women that can talk about your products.) It wasn’t my crowd, but it was a great event for introducing lots of people to new beers and clearly people were having fun.
Friday started with a small TBW launch at the Summerhill LCBO, followed by a tasting of the Metric Porter at the Monk’s Table. (The Metric Porter name is a joke on Imperial Porters – a joke that has to be explained, but is pretty funny once you get it.) The Metric Porter was made at Great Lakes with the help of George Milbrandt of C’est What, using licorice root and other 1812-inspired ingredients. The beer is still pretty young and you can feel every bit of the 8% ABV right now (especially at 11:30am), but look out for bottles at bars participating in TBW.
Take anything I say about Barrel Bragging Rights with a grain of salt, but I thought it was near-perfect this year. There was plenty of beer (about 240L by my count) to keep the event going well into the evening, while not suffering from the crowding that plagued us last year. Delicious food was continuously coming out of the kitchens of the Monk’s Table. Beer writers and their brewing partners were continuously engaged in smack talk, plus trying to ply the judges with bribes. Oh, did I mention there was beer?
There were six beers – a scotch ale, a wit-ty lavender beer, Flanders red, golden Belgian ale with sumac, an oatmeal stout and a doppelbock – that were all serious contenders for the big prize. The eventual winner was the doppelbock from Black Oak’s Jon Hodd and Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star, though I will always maintain that the Flanders red was robbed. (Call Me Flem-Ishmael may have lost, but there are still 15L that may appear in a couple of years. Possible name: Flem-Ishmael’s Baby.) It was still a great night even with the tough loss and my sincerest thanks to all the writers and brewers that participated, as well as everyone that came out to support our crazy experiments. Biggest thanks goes to Adam and all the Monk’s Table staff. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.
Things were casual on Sunday night, drinking a couple of cask ales at the Great Lakes Cask Takeover at Castro’s Lounge. For some reason it started at 7pm, which seemed to be an odd choice for a Sunday night event way out east. (Well, way out east for most people. It’s just a bit south for me.) Surely more people would have come out on a gorgeous afternoon to drink some cask beers, but no one consults me on these decisions. There were four casks going – Armadildo, Canucklehead, Saison du Pump and the Barrel Aged 25th Anniversary Porter – and the Devil’s Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale on tap. The Armadildo was in fine form, but the Saison du Pump didn’t quite work for me. The two styles just didn’t mesh to my liking, but I’ve also been hating on most pumpkin beers this year so don’t take my word as gospel. I had a sip and sniff of the Porter, which is now rounding into very fine form – huge bourbon nose, but a soft oaky character on the tongue. The bourbon and porter elements have really come together. Apparently there will be a lot of this beer around for the next week, so definitely try it if you get the chance.
And that was the weekend. Now to drink gallons of water in preparation for the pub crawl tonight!