Ontario Craft Beer Week: House Ales Launch @ barVolo

How much love and respect does barVolo get in the Toronto craft beer scene? Well, in a week full of other events and lots of liver punishment, there was still a nice size line just for 5pm as people eagerly anticipated trying the eighteen beers that Volo was serving from their House Ales nanobrewery (okay, the lure of a spot on the patio may have also helped). A total of eighteen beers were available on draught, gravity cask or handpump, including a number of collaborations with Ontario breweries and brewers. My lovely sidekick and I joined the line, which was drawing the confusion of those on the street (“What, are they giving away free beer?”).

My first beer was the Left of the Dial Mild (Side B), which was made with Iain Mcoustra from Amsterdam. Advertised as a brown ale, it was closer to a black IPA – heavy on the roast with very little light getting through the beer, lots of citrus and pine. Nice mouthfeel, which probably came from the oats that Iain told me they used. Soph had the Dumb Pig Rye Pale Ale (brewed with Bartle, who also works at Amsterdam), which wasn’t to my tastes but rye beers never are. A little soapy in the aroma, but the smoke character was nice and subdued in the flavour. Some orange notes and a mild hop bite. An interesting experiment.

Round Two saw the Wild Style Mild, which was brewed with vanilla and served via gravity cask. The vanilla was intense, to put it, uh, mildly. Lots of chocolate aroma and flavour. No obvious hop presence, which is spot on for the style. Probably too much vanilla to make it a session beer, but the half-pint was just the right serving size. Soph’s choice was a Hip Hops TU-Hop (Citra-Cascade), which sounded delicious but ended up being a really dry IPA instead of the citrus bomb I was expecting/hoping. Lots of pine and green hops with a hint of citrus, but not really a fruity beer. Thin bodied, especially since it was on draught. Not to my taste.

There was time for one last half-pint before taking off for the Coeur de Pirate concert, which meant it was time to go dark. It also ended up being a double-shot of Belgian styles, with a Heart of Darkness (a dubbel made with the fine folks from Spearhead) and Saison in the Abyss (black saison collaboration with homebrewers Biergotter), both of which were on tap. The Heart of Darkness was a winner for me – lots of cocoa, vanilla, brown sugar, some licorice, robust malt and some definite alcohol (much higher than the 6.2% it was listed at). The flavours were jarring compared to the other beers, but it was a great dubbel. The Saison in the Abyss was nice, but I don’t see black saisons catching on like black IPAs – the malts are just too strong for the style. The yeast and fruitiness come through, but it is a lot tougher to pick out all the subtleties when roasted malts crash the party (think frat boys at an open mic night). And the beer had an odd finish where all the flavours just suddenly disappeared from the palate. Would’ve liked them to linger for a bit longer, but the Belgian combo-round was a definite winner.

One thing that I love (partially because it will drive the beer raters mad with confusion) is that a number of the House Ales were labeled with batch numbers. You may have had a beer before, but that was a different version – now play a game of “Guess What’s Different?” It is rare to be see a beer evolve from the early stages until it becomes a finished version, but now beer drinkers have that opportunity. Some may decry this method, but to me it shows the skill of the brewer at work, tweaking recipes until the beer represents their vision. Or you can disregard batches and variations. Just drink and enjoy. My lovely sidekick said it best: “Beer is yummy.”

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