Trying to wrap up a whole year of drinking is a tough challenge, especially because I tend not to judge life on a year-to-year basis. Hobbies/obsessions exist more on a continuum with an ebb and flow where old goals or desires (such as going to Mondial de la Bière) are replaced with new ones (start homebrewing in the next year, give the gift of a spiced ale next Christmas). Was my beer drinking more exciting and varied than last year? Of course, but a couple of trips to different places in the States helps that, as well as a steady income that lets me afford expensive beer dinners and said trips. It would be easy to call it the best year ever for beer (from a personal standpoint), but I’m working from a fairly small sample so we’ll only say it was a very, very good year. Here are some of the highlights:
Mondial de la Bière: Yes, I finally went to Canada’s biggest beer festival. Three unbelievable days of drinking some of the finest beers from around the world, mixed with the wonderful culture of Montreal. It is doubtful I’ll make it to the 2011 edition (June 8th-12th), but any beer lover has to go once in their lifetime.
Toronto Beer Week: Mondial was great, but Toronto Beer Week was my favourite event of the year. Toronto finally got a beer event that we can be proud of and Torontonians came out to show their support for craft beer. Next year should be bigger and better!
The LCBO: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year is that the LCBO has really stepped up their beer game. Their seasonal releases have shown steady improvement, finishing the year with the astonishing Winter Warmers release. They have placed a stronger emphasis on Canadian craft beer, bringing in a lot of Dieu du Ciel! products, the Garrison IPA and Cannery Blackberry Porter. The brewery feature was added, contributing more DDC! beers and the full line of Ola Dubh ales. But most importantly they are backing our Ontario craft brewers – Muskoka, Great Lakes, Mill Street, Duggan’s, Railway City, Grand River, Flying Monkeys and Black Creek all saw new beers in the LCBO (either general listing, seasonal release or limited release). I don’t have any inside information, but it would appear that most of these beers have done well based on the fact that they don’t spend months on the shelf like other releases have in the past.
Ontario Ups…: The year belonged to the Black Oak 10 Bitter Years. Not only is this the beer I probably drank the most in 2010, but it also felt like a turning point for craft beer in Ontario. Beer geeks fawned over it, but it also played well with those unfamiliar with double IPAs (it was hard to enter my apartment and not have a bottle forced upon you. The beer was almost unanimously loved).
Beau’s has been doing a lot of great things out in Vankleek Hill, alternating weird beers (the delicious Bog Water and the perplexing Sleepytime Belgian Imperial Stout) with classic German lagers. Let’s not forget the collaboration with the De Koningshoeven brewery in the Netherlands, the first Sticke in Ontario, taking the reins behind Ontario Craft Beer Week and a swell Oktoberfest party, all of which makes for an impressive year.
Two breweries are on the rise in Ontario: Great Lakes and Lakes of Muskoka (must be something about the lake water). The former has really gotten behind cask beer, making lots of hoppy or bizarre (ie. smoked chipotle, which was damn tasty) beers. They revamped their Devil’s Pale Ale, which was needed as their regular lineup was not indicative of their brewing prowess. Great Lakes will be trying out some barrel-aged beers in the coming months, finally bringing the hype to Ontario. Lakes of Muskoka are also upping their game with the Harvest Ale and Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, finally realizing that you don’t have to make every beer a dock drinker. They’ve promised three new seasonals for 2001, so expect the good times to continue.
…And Downs: Was it a perfect year in Ontario? Nope! Wellington celebrated their anniversary by releasing a terrible wheat beer. A couple of new breweries popped up with the same old business plan of having a “signature” pale lager/ale, then boring everyone by trying to sell their folksiness (“We’re from a small town!”). And Trafalgar still exists.
Trip #1: Soph and I went to DC/Virginia in the middle of May to see her dad and step-mom, but a lot of beer drinking also went on. A lot of great beer was available, which is surprising considering the area was a bit of a dead zone for great craft breweries. It seemed like Mecca, until I went on…
Trip #2: Seattle! A great American beer city adventure on the Pacific Northwest featuring lots of great food and beer. One of the best cities I’ve ever been to. Another week would have been really nice.
Shameless Self-Promotion: My year of beer ended, but the world (and this blog) kept going. Final conclusion: I drink a lot of beer!
And those are the highlights of the year that was! Looking back on all that happened in 2010 only leaves me excited for the new experiences and beers that will greet us in 2011.