Ralph Morana really shouldn’t need an introduction. As the mastermind behind barVolo, House Ales and Cask Days, he is one of the most important individuals behind the Ontario craft beer movement over the past five years. Ralph was kind enough to answer some questions about the year that was.
A Year of Beer!: What were some of your beer-related highlights from 2012?
Ralph Morana: This year Ontario saw a number of great changes and events that puts the industry in a good path. It was definitely a tie between “Cask Days” and “We Live For The Funk” for our favourites. Both events took almost a year of planning and we are really trying to make them staple events for Ontario and hopefully across Canada. This was the second year we took Cask Days outside of barVolo and it was the largest one to date. We were a little worried about if we could pull it off or not as we had never dealt with that amount of attendees, let alone casks! It is now one of the largest cask ale events in North America. We had roughly over 3,000 people attend the Brickworks between Saturday and Sunday sessions. The quality of casks continues to improve every year and there is no doubt that Canada is in a good direction with regards to cask production and consistency. What it boils down to is that brewers and bar owners understanding racking and cellaring cask ale properly as this can disrupt the consumers perception of cask ale if it is not done correctly. We are working towards making #ONcask (www.oncask.ca) more of an educational institution for bar owners, breweries, and cask enthusiasts to enhance the general awareness of cask ale. As per “We Live For The Funk,” it was an extraordinary event – it is great to see breweries hop on board with the idea and I think everyone involved understood how important this event was for the industry. We are looking forward to next year – it may or may not be held at Volo.
Other highlights: we really thought the “Bellwoods X Evil Twin” collaboration was significant. Evil Twin brews some amazing styles and it’s great that international breweries are taking interest in the Ontario market. I foresee this being the next step for collaborations not only in Ontario but Canada as a whole. It was good to see Indie Ale House finally open. I could only imagine what Jason had to go through, and we are very excited that Indie Ale House is up and going. The beer is solid, and the brewpub is a great addition to our city. We are also happy that Get Well has started brewing on their nano-pilot system. It’s refreshing to see new bar owners take interest in this concept.
AYOB!: What was your favourite House Ales beer from the past year?
RM: We brewed a lot of beer this year. Roughly 40-50 different recipes were made. The most memorable were the ones featured at “We Live For The Funk.” Some of these took 6-8 months to make and we were happy with the turn out. Jason, our “Bug Guy,” brewered sours that I didn’t think we were able to pull off – excited for next year.
AYOB!: What were your favourite beers from other Ontario breweries?
RM: Bellwoods Hellwoods (Imperial Stout); Amsterdam Tempest (Imperial Stout) & Boneshaker (American IPA); Great Lakes Karma Citra (American IPA) & ”Disturbing the Peach” (Barrel Aged Peach Wheat Blended With Saison & Peaches).
AYOB!: Did you notice any big changes in the Ontario craft beer world in 2012? Do you have any predictions for what 2013 will bring?
RM: More beer bars. More contract brewing. More barrel-aging. More sours. More nano-breweries.
Ontario is slowly surpassing Quebec for the best beers in the country.
AYOB!: What was the impetus for the recent renovations and changes at barVolo? Will there be any further alterations in the coming months?
RM: This new concept is something my wife, Aina, and I always wanted to do. We have done a lot of traveling together and the beer culture elsewhere reflects this change. I guess we never had the time or urge to do this right away. I think this change signifies Volo being passed over to my two sons, Tomas and Julian. I still make the final call, but with regards to direction and change, this is all them. We are planning to increase the production of House Ales, exploring new styles and methods. Eric Ecclestone (of Biergotter) is now our head brewer and look forward in working with him in the new year. As for the general direction of Volo, it will be more event focused. We have a lot of new ideas – stay tuned for what’s in store in the new year.
AYOB!: You’ve been at the forefront of the cask beer movement. Why has cask beer seen such a rise in popularity?
RM: I think cask sells itself – it’s naturally carbonated, unpasteurized, and unfiltered. Consumers are seeking flavours and aromas that go beyond your typical lager or mass-produced ale. Cask gives forth a complex amount of aromas and flavours, so it doesn’t surprise me why cask is taken a rise in popularity. I was shocked to see how many people actively use #ONcask – my sons created a Twitter language to raise awareness of active casks being served in the city. It’s working quite well.
Thanks to Ralph for illuminating all that went on in 2012. If you haven’t been to the redesigned Volo yet, get down over the holidays. Just give yourself plenty of time – with twenty-six taps and six cask engines, it’s hard to leave.