Shortly after 12pm on Friday, Toronto Beer Week was officially kicked off when Cass Enright tapped a cask of the Amsterdam Framboise. It was a tense moment, mainly because Cass was wearing a suit jacket and had to be sure that he didn’t end up wearing most of the beer. (See photos for evidence. I also think a number of people were hoping to see him end up wearing the beer.) Luckily the tapping went off perfectly and the second Toronto Beer Week was underway. Amsterdam were gracious enough to host the kickoff and had a number of special beers available (Goodbye Fuggled Monday Mild, Dry-hopped Boneshaker, Barrel-aged Tempest w/cocoa nibs) that showed how adept Amsterdam is at brewing different styles. After chatting with lots of people in the industry it was time for lunch.
Put yourself in a room with lots of beer lovers and it isn’t hard to find someone willing to grab a pint with lunch. Greg Clow (of Beer, Booze & Bites) and I went to the Burger Bar to fortify ourselves with a bite before the Barrel Bragging Rights event. We were both able to try the Junction Conductor’s Craft Ale, a very British take on an amber ale. Loads of caramel and biscuit, subtlety opening up cereal and hop nuances the more I drank. Very suited to the fall season.
Things were relatively calm upon arrival at The Monk’s Table for the big event of Friday night. Once the beers were placed at the bar upstairs, the nervousness set in. Most of the writers had not tried their own beers and were anxious to taste the final result. A couple of beers were still in transit, which added to the petrified state of some of the competitors. We had spent much of the day wondering if people would actually show up, but that was put to rest when a lineup started forming outside. Not we just had to hope that none of the beers would explode out onto the floor.
Then the chaos started. The volume of people wasn’t expected, so it took a while for the initial rush to calm down around the casks. The servers carrying food were greeted with hungry masses when they left the kitchen. The bottleneck around the barrels was unbearable at times. But eventually the event started to run as planned – people were trying the beers, debating which ones they liked best and generally having a great time. I was very happy with the quality of the beers, especially because the barrels added an extra element of danger to the final product.
The casks were numbered to preserve the anonymity of the teams, but we weren’t really keeping it a secret to anyone that asked. The winner turned out to be the team of Chris Grimley of Beer With Me TO and Mike Lackey of Great Lakes. They also had one of the larger casks and served a larger quantity of beer, plus they didn’t use a barrel, but I’m not bitter. Their Pantalon Saison was really good, though the Sumac Saison by Jordan St.John of St. John’s Wort and Paul Dickey of Cheshire Valley was also excellent. (My favourite was still McNulty’s Olde Ale. Iain and I got robbed. Everyone better watch out, cause Omar’s coming to get you.)
The writers and brewers were already talking about next year before the end of the night, so expect a bigger and better version next year with some of the details fixed. There have already been conversations about how to tweak the event and add extra twists to the process. Some of those were during pints of Péché Mortel at Volo after, so they won’t all see the light of day. A final thanks once again to everyone at the Monks Table, the brewers, writers and everyone that came out.
Sunday was a quieter day with only a trip to the Brewery Market. Grand River was the guest and they brought along an assortment of beers, including the Pan-Ontario Collaboration Ale that I missed during OCB Week. The beer, a blend of different OCB beers aged in bourbon barrels, was tasting great and a real treat. The pizzas made by The Stop were amazing once again, reaffirming that I need to make it out for more Sundays next year (and yes, it will be back and possibly with greater frequency). The final Brewery Market happens with Sunday with Beau’s.