The final installment of my Toronto Beer Week coverage. Good riddance, because it was one long week. No major thoughts on the week right now. Just happy to have survived.
One of the biggest events of the week was We Live for the Funk/Funk Night at barVolo. This was the second year that a Funk Night event was planned at Volo and the extra year created a noticeably different effect on the output of beers. The breweries involved have had a longer time to plan the beers, meaning that more had been aged for at least six to eight months. This created some distinctly funkier beers than had been offered last year.
I was going to provide some commentary on the beers available, but have decided not to for various reasons. The main one is that many of the beers were experimental in every sense of the word – brewers were trying out new recipes, yeast strains they may not have used before and untested barrels. Some may have had the ability to blend beers from a couple of barrels, but this wouldn’t have been the case for all. To put it delicately, there was some inconsistency in the quality of some of the beers, but that is to be expected at this stage. Funk Night is a great example of the rapid change happening in the Ontario beer scene and I don’t want to knock the breweries that are the leading force. They are taking a lot of risks – financially by investing in unproven beers that require time and patience, plus the risk of using yeast strains that could infect other beers (everything from lines to kegs has to get a massive cleaning) – and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them because of that reason. (I’m also not a note taker, so my mental notes get fuzzy after a certain point from Thursday night.)
Not everything truly fit the “funky” label, which was actually a nice reprise. The House Ales X Animal Farm “The Dogs” was supposed to be a Farmhouse IPA with brett, but was really just a nice big dose of hops. After loads of funky beers, it put me in hop-aroma heaven. The Great Lakes Recovering Alter Boy was a barrel aged quad with sour cherries that didn’t have any discernible funk, but was blissfully smooth and complex at a warming 12% ABV. I love funky beers, but it was nice to have a couple of options to give my palate a break from yeast-heavy beers.
There were a lot of beer industry people present, but mainly from the participating breweries – Amsterdam, Bellwoods, Great Lakes, House Ales, Indie and the Beer 4 Boobs crew. It was clear that there is just a small group of people in the industry who are making the crazy funky beers. This could be for any number of reasons – capacity, the ability to safely use the yeasts without infecting other beers – but there is no doubt this is a part of the Ontario industry still in its infancy. The price was a bit of a shock at first ($4 for a half-glass pour), though it was justified for the better beers; however, that is expensive when the beer is a definite miss. (Ontario is going to have to get used to higher prices if funky beers are truly going to take off, but that’s a post for another time.) There was a nice jump in quality from last year to this year and that will no doubt be true for next year as well. I don’t know if Funk Night will be the next Cask Days for Volo, but they’ve clearly got another winner. Is it too early to buy my tickets for next year?
This was supposed to be a night off drinking, but sometimes you just end up at a bar. Sometimes you get lucky and that bar is Bar Hop and they’re still serving lots of Great Lakes and Beau’s leftovers. Our first two orders (Kludge and Armadildo) were the dregs of the kegs, so we got a couple of half-goblets for free. Then a glass of Dirtbag McQuaig’s Malt Liquor for Fine Genltemen (7% ABV), which was my first. Not something I would order again, but surprisingly not as vile as I had expected. Further proof that Mike Lackey can brew just about anything and make it drinkable.
Ah, finally the end of Toronto Beer Week. A nice brunch was just the thing I needed, so the wife and I headed to the Beer Academy for their Brewer’s Brunch. (Editor’s note: the brunch was complimentary. We were joined by a couple of other beer writers as seat fillers.) The brunch started with a long-winded description of the importance of beer to creating modern civilization and the brewing process – not the sort of thing one needs before noon on a Saturday. Then Chef Guy Rubino gave his inspiration for the menu – basically Italian meets North American brunch, though said with a little more gusto – before the first course was placed in front of us. A couple of beautiful slices of house-cured salmon were placed over a zeppole stuffed with fresh buffalo mozzarella that had just been delivered yesterday from an Ontario farm. The unfiltered Kolsch was a great match to the fatty, salty salmon. The next course was a mortadella steak with poached egg, hollandaise and peach mostarda – a play on ham and eggs. While the course was delicious and rich in every way one expects from brunch, the pairing with Creemore Altbier didn’t really do much of anything. The food brought nothing to the beer and vice versa. It wasn’t a bad match, but I wouldn’t call it a good combo either.
It isn’t truly brunch without coffee, but the Beer Academy folks put a bit of a spin on that truism by serving their Black Lager in coffee cups. (I jokingly said, in the persona of the malcontent blogger, that it was too much whimsy.) This was a bit of a mind-fuck at first because it actually looked like coffee. My mouth was always expecting coffee and stunned to find a cold, carbonated beer instead. The Black Lager was paired with Nutella gelato and freshly made chocolate pizzelle. Desserts always seem to be the best pairings and this was no exception. Loads of chocolate offset by a nice bitterness in the beer – the same attribute that coffee would have brought. A nice end to a very tasty meal.
As I mentioned, the brunch was one of those complimentary perks that occasionally falls across my path as a blogger. Though brunch was delicious, I was very glad it hadn’t cost us $65/person because it wasn’t a very filling brunch. (Though our table did keep gorging on pizzelle, possibly for that reason.) The main course felt a little small and could’ve used some carbs (maybe polenta, a little pancake or waffle – anything). Or have some scones or muffins on the table at the beginning. It was just missing something that would make it feel like a $65 brunch. (As they had to recruit bloggers to fill space, clearly other people weren’t too keen on spending that much either.)
Later in the day I opted to pass by Amsterdam for their tapping of a special cask of Tempest aged in whiskey barrels. They were also selling special bottles of the whiskey barrel aged Tempest and Goedenavond, a Belgian Golden Ale aged in pinot noir barrels. The Tempest cask had a lot of the whiskey flavour and while it was good, my preference is still the original, unadaltered version over all others. The retail store was crammed with people looking to pick up bottles, which were being limited to one per person of the Tempest. The Tempest is clearly gaining a following and hopefully Amsterdam will continue to capitalize on that in the future.
After that I got a ride to the Only Cafe from someone else who was picking up a Tempest. The Niagara College tap takeover was just about to start, so I stuck around for a pint of the New Buffalo Pale. Unfortunately the beer was tasting a little under-attenuated and had a touch of diacetyl. I had a sip of some others and most were pretty disappointing. Not the best end to TBW, but that’s what I get for missing the Golden Tap Awards.
A couple of notes about the Golden Taps. 1) Cheers to Paul Dickey! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you should know that I’m a big fan of Paul’s. The Lifetime Achievement Award should be called the Paul Dickey. 2) Bellwoods is going to give the Granite a run for best brewpub, if it wasn’t already. Wouldn’t have been surprised by an upset. 3) More campaigning was done by breweries this year than I’ve ever seen before. Hopefully that continues in the future and will mean greater turnover in the awards given.
Now I’m in serious need of a vacation. This will be the only post of the week as the wife and I are heading out to San Francisco.