I’ll admit I have no idea what the Ontario beer scene was like ten years ago. It was illegal for me to buy beer, though that never would have appealed to me even if the law didn’t get in my way. Drinking was something I might partake in on New Years’ Eve or Christmas, always in small doses and in the company of my parents. The idea of a bunch of people using the Internet to talk about beer would have seemed weird. Didn’t they have fantasy sports teams to run instead?
And now, ten years later, I will forever be grateful for everything that The Bar Towel has done to further the progress of craft beer in Ontario. It was the first beer website that I started to read, initially reading about the LCBO releases, then eventually creating an account and contributing my thoughts. (That last part came much later. My first twenty comments are all likely, “Now showing in [LCBO store near me]. Whooo!”) For someone who wasn’t brought into the craft beer industry by a friend or mystical sage, it was the place for me to turn for advice and opinions on beer. Without it I would probably still be buying a different six-pack from the Beer Store each weekend.
A special beer and brewday were organized in honour of the tenth anniversary of the Bar Towel forums. The event was organized by Jon Walker, a longtime forum user who wanted to do something special for the occasion and was even kind enough to plan it from Vancouver. Mike Lackey of Great Lakes offered up their pilot system and helped create the recipe (or did it all himself – I just showed up when I was supposed to). Mike also did the brunt of the work, along with a couple of talented homebrewers, while roughly twenty Bar Towel users sat around and drank a healthy stash trials and one-offs that Great Lakes had done. Then we all threw in some hops at the end, along with requisite photo-op, and went out to do some more drinking. Eventually the beer fermented and was bottled, then showed up in my fridge. No wonder I thought I could homebrew without guidance or brewing know-how.
The best way to describe the beer is like a black IPA, but with a Belgian yeast. A black body with hints of brown at the edges. Nice tan head that leaves a slight film on the beer and some lacing down the glass. The bitterness is toned down compared to a lot of black IPAs, but it is still quite present. None of the three big flavour components (roasted malt, citrusy hops, Belgian yeast) jump out, but are quite nicely balanced with each other. They each shine at different parts of the tasting experience and create an evolution through the beer. The malts give way to hops, which are tamed by the unmistakable Belgian yeast (Westmalle to be specific). I’ll admit to being skeptical about how this beer would play out, though the final result is a beer worthy of the Bar Towel tenth anniversary. Unfortunately they are likely all sold out of the beer at Great Lakes (one bottle was reserved for each brewday participant and we could each buy two more, including the same beer made with Chimay yeast).
Thanks again to Mike Lackey and everyone at Great Lakes for hosting us at the brewday, then doing all the work to get this beer bottled and sold to us. And cheers once more to Cass Enright for starting the Bar Towel!
Recommended If You Like: Molecular gastronomy. Beer styles that don’t actually exist (imperial pilsner?!). Dubbels. Collaborations. The Bar Towel.