Ralph Morana is slowly building a craft beer empire in Toronto. It all started with barVolo, which has become the premier spot for craft beer in the city. From there Ralph and his sons have started importing beer under keep6imports, bringing Dieu du Ciel! and many other great breweries to Ontario. In 2010 they started operating a nanobrewery out of barVolo, which has become House Ales. And let’s not forget that they founded and continue to run Cask Days, the best beer event in Ontario. Here are Ralph’s thoughts on the year that was.
Ralph Morana: There were a few highlights that really stood out. I really enjoyed Cask Days IPA Challenge 2011. It really shows the commitment and skill Ontario brewers have when it comes to this style. It was the largest selection of Ontario IPAs ever in one place, this year we had 24 different IPAs – it was fun. I think it’s safe to say that quality of Ontario IPAs has improved, and will continue years to come. Another event that I thought was important was “Funk Night at Volo”. It was the first time ever where we had twelve sour beers on tap, all locally brewed. My sons say “sour is the new bitter,” and this is definitely the beginning of Sour Ales in Ontario. Toronto Beer Week was also another highlight. There were more events this year that stood out from last year and its great to see the industry promote each other to raise the awareness of craft beer. Lastly, Cask Days 2011 was probably the most memorable. It was the largest Cask Festival we have ever done. We acquired casks from all across Canada, making it the first National Cask Ale Festival. The quality of the casks were remarkable, I am really proud that brewers are taking cask-conditioned ales seriously, and excited for next year!
AYOB!: What was your favourite House Ales beer in 2011?
RM: House Ales has definitely brewed a lot of interesting brews this year, some good, some that I thought could be better. But this is what makes it fun, always trying new styles, and constantly improving the quality of our beers through batch testings. My favourite this year would probably be “Ralph’s Bitter.” It was served at the second House Ales Tap Takeover at barVolo.
AYOB!: What was your favourite beer made by another Ontario brewery?
RM: There has been a lot of different beers, especially one-offs this year. But, I think Mike Lackey from Great Lakes is really doing a good job on consistently making one-off styles, and its Karma Citra is really good, probably the best IPA in Ontario right now. Ian McOustra from Amsterdam has also done a great job. I think the Tempest Imperial Stout is one of my favourites.
AYOB!: What was the biggest trend in craft brewing this past year? What trends do you predict for 2012?
RM: Well, we started to collaborate a lot through House Ales; I think that it has opened the doors for other breweries to start doing it. I remember a couple years back, many people dismissed the idea, but I think it’s great. You can learn a lot from other brewers when you collaborate. I don’t think this will ever stop. The trend I predict for 2012 is Barrel Aging and Sours. We already have plans for the next Funk Night at barVolo, so stayed tuned for that.
AYOB!: How has the transition been from beer bar to importer to nanobrewery?
RM: We have taken incremental steps, and the transition has been slow. We do not want to rush anything. There will be a few changes in the next couple of months, and we are really excited to take all areas to the next level.
AYOB!: Any hints as to what we can expect from House Ales next year?
RM: We just ordered new fermentors, so we have a total of 680L. In the new year, we will start double batching, and you will get to see more House Ales available at the bar. There might be a one or two contract brews in the works, but we’ll see!
Thanks to Ralph for his time and insights. One of the next steps for Cask Days will be to launch a cask supply store, selling pins and other cask accessories to bars and breweries, one of many projects on the go for 2012.