Category Archives: beer events

The Canadian Brewing Awards: Worth The Drive To Vaughan

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I am, I must admit, a downtown snob. I rarely go north of Bloor, except when I’m going to the Summerhill LCBO or the Granite. Any further than that, and I start to get antsy.

So when I found out that this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards were being held at the Dub Linn Gate Irish Pub in Vaughan – aka “The City Above Toronto” – I nearly had a panic attack. Highways! Strip malls! No public transit! AIIIIEEEEEE!!!

OK, it wasn’t really that bad. I just had to scramble a bit to bum a ride, but once that was arranged (thanks, Jeff!), I was looking forward to it. Even though this is the 5th year they were being awarded, it’s the first year that I actually paid attention and planned on attending.

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Those Who Can, Brew; Those Who Can't, Drink

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Back when I was doing music writing and reviewing, a lot of people asked me if I wrote or performed music myself. Aside from a failed attempt at learning the guitar as a young lad, the answer was “no”. While I greatly enjoyed listening to music and writing about it, I never had the inclination, the patience, or – quite frankly – the talent to produce anything of my own.

My relationship with beer is quite similar. Unlike many of my fellow beer aficionados, I’ve never done any homebrewing, and I’ve never felt the urge to do so. I’m happy enough to sit back and enjoy the fruits of other’s labours, and help spread the word about the good stuff.

Still, when the opportunity came for me to tag along on the Canadian Amateur Brewing Association‘s bus trip and Annual General Meeting, I was more than happy to join in. Partly because it gave me the opportunity to visit a few breweries (even though I don’t have the inclination to brew, I still like looking at all the shiny gear – I’m a guy, after all…), and partly because I wanted to meet a few of the brewheads that I’d crossed paths with on Bar Towel and other online forums.

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Volo Cask Day: A(nother) Belated Review

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Last year on Sunday, November 5th, I posted a review of Volo Cask Days 2006, two weeks after it actually happened. So it’s only fitting that exactly a year later, I should post a review of Volo Cask Days 2007, two weeks after it actually happened.

Once again, Ralph and the crew at Volo outdid themselves with this year’s festival. There were over 30 different cask beers available during three tasting sessions on Saturday and Sunday, plus a few rare and exclusive brews on draught, including three from the mighty Biergotter Homebrew Club. There was also a complementary cheese table courtesy of the Ontario Cheese Society, and plenty of tasty snacks from Alli’s Bread to help absorb the alcohol. And of course, plenty of good company.

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Unlike last year’s review post, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the beers I tried, mainly because my tasting notes were pretty sketchy and I’m already written them up for RateBeer. I will say, though, that I agree somewhat with Stephen Beaumont’s assessment of some of the beers being evidence of “an enthusiastic industry whose reach often exceeded its grasp“.

While there were a good number of beers that I thought were very good – like Magnotta’s weizen/IPA hybrid Fog On The Tyne and Perry’s Atomic Punkin’ from Scotch-Irish Brewing – there were also a few noble but failed experiments amongst the many offerings. I find that the qualities that make cask ale so interesting and appealing – lower carbonation, higher serving temperature, etc. – also make it less forgiving to beers that are unbalanced or flawed in some way. There were a couple of beers I tried that I would frankly prefer to drink on draught, where the rough edges would be tempered a bit.

But all in all, those are small complaints. Cask Days is still the highlight of the year in Toronto’s beer scene, and I really hope Ralph keeps it going. October in Toronto wouldn’t be the same without it.

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Boastin' and Toastin'

Last week was a busy one for beer events in Toronto. This past Saturday and Sunday were the annual Cask Days at Volo, and the Ontario Craft Brewers held a media event last Thursday to launch their first mixed “Discovery Pack” and a bunch of holiday/seasonal beers. I’ll have write-ups of both of those for you soon(ish).

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For this post, however, we’ll be looking back a bit to the Independent Boast & Toast night held on Sunday, October 14th at Rowers Pub on Harbord Street. A fixture in the Annex neighbourhood for over 25 years, Rowers has never been known for having a great selection of craft beer on tap, but that was sort of the point of this event. Spearheaded by Russ Rowlands of the restaurant and bar consulting company Industry SOS, Independent Boast & Toast is planned to be a series of events that bring together local craft brewers with independent pubs that feature little or no craft beer in their line-up, with the hope that the pub owner will be inspired to switch at least a tap line or two after the event to something beyond the usual macros and mainstream imports.

For this first event, brewmasters and reps from Denison’s, Wellington, Ste. Andre, Nickel Brook, Trafalgar and Great Lakes were all on hand to pour their beers and chat with the attendees. There was nothing new for me beer-wise, but a few favourites both old and new were available, and since it was an all-you-can-drink event, I did my best to ensure that the brewers didn’t have too many leftovers to carry home.

There were also some nibbles on offer, including a squash and apple soup, spicy chicken legs, mini pulled pork sandwiches, and beef stew with mashed potatoes. According to the chalkboard, they were cooked using a white beer, a lager, a stout and an ale respectively, although I’m not sure which specific beer was used for each. Regardless, they were tasty, and did a good job absorbing the alcohol.

For a first effort at throwing an event of this sort, it was generally successful, although the turn-out was a bit lighter than Russ was hoping. I’m sure there were a number of reasons for this (it was a Sunday night; it was at a bar not known as being craft beer friendly; it wasn’t completely clear in the advance promotion what the admission price covered; etc.), but still, it was a respectable crowd for a rookie happening. Hopefully, the series will continue, and the crowds will grow.

Unfortunately, the low lighting in the bar combined with my lousy photographic skills led to most of my photos of the night not turning out very well, but I was able to salvage a few:

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Michael Hancock of Denison’s shows off a tap handle from the original Denison’s brewpub

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Cass Enright of The Bar Towel interviews Lindsay Key from Trafalgar Brewing for an episode of the Bar Towel Radio podcast

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Event organiser Russ Rowlands (second from left) enjoys some Denison’s Weissbier with a few attendees

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Cass interviews Michael Hancock

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Some of the crowd

A Toast to Michael

toastposter_promo.jpgThe beer-blog world is buzzing about yesterday’s official announcement that plans have been finalised for A National Toast in memory of Michael Jackson. On Sunday, September 3oth, drinking establishments across the U.S. will be hosting memorial parties, with a nationwide toast at 9 PM EST, and proceeds to be donated to National Parkinson Foundation.

Plans are also starting to come together for non-Americans, with one pub in England already on board. Nothing has been announced for Toronto yet, but I expect a couple of places should have plans announced soon. Volo is holding a special pre-Cask Days event earlier in the day on the 30th, so perhaps they can do an early toast to Mr. Jackson.

For those in non-U.S. locations who want to set something up at their local, Alan has put together a list of a few Parkinson’s organisations in various countries.

Book Review: Grilling With Beer by Lucy Saunders

Grilling With Beer
by Lucy Saunders
F&B Communications, 224 pp.
US$21.95

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a manly man. I don’t care much for any sports besides hockey, I don’t own any power tools besides a simple drill set, and I don’t have any interest in cars (in fact, I don’t even have a driver’s license).

The one manly pursuit I do enjoy, however, is barbecuing. At our previous place, my wife and I had use of a large backyard with a great deck, and we invested in a decent quality gas grill. While my wife is a fabulous cook, she always let me man the grill (even though she actually did all the prep work), and even during our years of being almost-vegetarians, we still did up some great grilled fish and veggies once in a while. Last year, we moved into our current yard-less and balcony-less apartment, which meant leaving the BBQ behind. I sort of missed it last summer, and now that I’ve started eating meat again, I’m really missing it.

Rubbing salt in the wound was the recent unexpected arrival of a review copy of Grilling With Beer by American food and beer writer Lucy Saunders. If only this book existed 5 or 6 years ago when I was at the top of my grilling game and getting more and more interested in exploring different beers – I would’ve been in beer & BBQ heaven! Sigh.

Still, even as a member of the unfortunately grill-free set, this is a great book to own. Logically arrayed into 10 main chapters – 5 covering sauces, glazes, marinades, rubs and other basic BBQ condiments, and 5 covering various meats/seafood and sides – Grilling With Beer features well over 100 recipes to match everyone’s tastes (yes, even vegetarians – the recipes for Grilled Herbed Hazelnut Flatbread, Brined Grilled Eggplant, and Grilled Potato Salad all look delicious). And thankfully for kitchen klutzes like me, most of them are pretty simple as well, with clearly written ingredient lists and instructions.

Saunders has also brought a lot of her friends to the party, and features recipes from such beer cuisine luminaries as Brian Morin (beerbistro), Gary Marx (Pike Brewing), Mario Gongora (Marin Brewing) and Scott McGlinchey (Q Real American Food). Also pitching in are the Jason & Todd Alström of BeerAdvocate.com, who provide convincing argument for grilling with beer (in case you needed one) in their preface, and the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who explains why Saunders is pretty much the best person in the world to have written this book.

Making this book even more of a treat are the segments between the chapters. Written by Saunders and other beer scribes such as Anne Ausderau, Dan Rabin and Jay Brooks, these interludes provide profiles of festivals and events that feature craft beer and grilled/barbecued food, ranging from the New Mexico’s Rio Rancho Pork & Brew and a BBQ Oyster Fest in San Andreas, to events in such exotic locales as Hawai’i, Australia and New Zealand. And as if that weren’t enough, writer and brewer Stan Hieronymus gives some tips on pairing beers with the dishes that the book helps you prepare, and Saunders wraps things up with a list of mail order resources for all of your grilling needs, and a fantastic run down on the flavour profiles of various beer styles.

And it would be remiss not to mention how visually attractive the book is. The spot illustrations and font choices give it a slightly retro look (although not to the point of parody, like so many faux-retro cookbooks that are on the market), and the event profiles feature some nice photos, as do a number of the recipes. All in all, it’s a slick little package.

Like most self-published books, the best way to get your hands on a copy of Grilling With Beer is directly from the author. Mail order instructions can be found on the book’s website, grillingwithbeer.com, as well as at Saunders’ main site, beercook.com. If you prefer the in-person method and live in Toronto, there’s a good chance that she’ll have some copies for sale at beerbistro this coming Tuesday, July 10th when she’s there to present a special dinner as part of the restaurant’s month long American Beer & Barbecue Fest.

Gourmet Food and Wine Expo

This past weekend, the wife and I went down to the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo at the Toronto Convention Centre. It was our first time attending this annual event – we’d considered it in past years, but because we’re cheapasses, we were scared off by the relatively high admission charge. This year, however, we were armed with a 2-for-1 coupon and decided to give it a shot.

All in all, we were pretty underwhelmed. Sheryl has given her impressions in a post to TorontoBits, and I’m pretty much in agreement with her assessment. As she notes, there was a lot about the event that wasn’t particularly “gourmet” in nature. For example, the wine-in-a-bag pictured to the right certainly doesn’t say “gourmet” to me. And I was especially offended to see Bright Pearl amongst the food vendors, as the food I was served at their booth at the Taste Of Toronto festival back in September was high on the lost of the worst things I’ve ever put into my mouth.

That being said, we did manage to find a few palatable food options, even for finicky pescetarians like ourselves. The grilled sardines and fish cakes from Cataplana weren’t bad, and it’s hard to go wrong with oysters from Rodney’s (although the ones we were served could’ve been cleaned a bit better – nothing ruins a nice oyster more than grit between your teeth). But the highlight was definitely the sushi from EDO which was fresh and tasty, and one of the few food items on offer than wasn’t sitting in a steam tray for hours. Speaking of which: The other item available at the EDO booth was a small Kobe beef burger, but Kobe beef or not, anyone willing to plunk down 7 bucks for a burger that was cooked hours before and kept warm in a steam tray is a frickin’ idiot.

As for the liquids – well, as I’ve stated before, I’m really not much of a wine guy, so I walked past most of the wine booths with a mixture of confusion and fear. We did try a couple of wines that I liked, including this year’s Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais nouveau and some other red wine that made Sheryl feel all melty and fluttery. I also had some fantastic scotch that I completely forgot to write down the name of, but I recall being told that it was a private label release of an 8 year old Lagavulin that sells for about half the price of the regular stuff. It had been a long time since I’d had a scotch, and this reminded me of how much I enjoy it.

On the beer side of things, I started with some Christoffel Blond, a favourite of mine that was being served up the Rubaiyat import agency. At the Embrujo Flamenco booth, I tried a sample of Ambar, a fairly standard pale lager from Spain. And at Black Oak, our pal Ken was serving up this year’s batch of his seasonal Nutcracker Porter which was in fine form – rich and spicey, just how we like it.

The final verdict: This event may be great for wine lovers, but for the occasional wine drinker going more for the food and beer, it’s a disappointment. Especially if you’re paying the full admission price of 15 dollars, plus buying a stack of sampling coupons for a buck each and dropping 2 or 3 of them for each sample. It’s definitely not a cheap way to spend an afternoon.

New York City – Night 3: Union Beer Trade Tasting

NYC – Night 3 – Tuesday, September 26th:

A couple of weeks before my trip, I was poking around for info about any beer events that might be happening in NYC during the week of my visit, and I stumbled across a short announcement about a free tasting event for the bar and restaurant trade that Brooklyn’s Union Beer Distributors would be hosting at The Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. I figured it would probably be a small event with some local brewers on hand, and maybe a few imports being sampled as well – a nice way to spend a few hours and try some new beers, assuming I could get in.

I dropped them a line mentioning my “credentials” as news editor at The Bar Towel and writer of this blog, but wasn’t holding out a lot of hope as it seemed to be a NYC-centric event based on the description. After a week with no response, I pretty much wrote it off as a “not gonna happen”, but then I got the following email:

Dear Greg:

On behalf of Union Beer Distributors, I cordially extend the invitation for you to attend the most extensive craft beer Trade Tasting in New York City history. On Tuesday, September 26 from 5 until 10 PM at the historic Puck Building on Lafayette and Houston, 85 breweries from around the world will serve their libations to an exclusive audience in an intimate setting. Complete with live jazz music, hors d’oeuvres, and speeches from some of the industry’s most influential figures, this will be an event not to miss.

Among the dozens of internationally acclaimed brewers in attendance will be:

Matthias Trum – Owner, Head Brewmaster, Aecht Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
The sixth generation brewer of the world renowned Brauerei Heller Trum produces the world’s most popular rauchbier (smoke beer) style.

Etienne Dupont – Owner, Cidermaster, Domaine Dupont, Normandy, France
The fifth generation Cidermaster from Normandy is one of the world’s foremost calvados producers, however he earned his place in the world of craft cider when the New York Times voted his cider as the best in the world in a 2004 blind tasting.

Hans Peter Drexler – Head Brewmaster, Schneider Weisse, Kelheim, Germany

Toshiyuki Kiuchi – Owner, Brewmaster, Hitachino Nest, Kounsosu, Naka-shi, Ibaraki, Japan

Chris Beauwarts – Owner, Brewmaster, Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe, Belgium

And many, many more.

Looked like it was going to be a little larger than I’d expected.

I arrived at the Puck Building soon after 5:00 PM and was ushered into a good sized room with beer being poured by a variety of brewers both familiar (Rogue, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang) and not-so-much (Mercury, Cape Ann, Butternuts). A fantastic selection – but all American micros. What happened to the imports?

Then I noticed the passageway to the other room. The spacious, ornate, gorgeous ballroom with dozens and dozens of brewers and beers from Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and beyond. Not to mention a spread of bread, cheese & dried fruit, countless wait staff serving hors d’oeuvres, and a live jazz trio providing some elegant ambiance.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost wept a little.

Seriously, this was the most refined and well-organized beer event I’ve ever attended. Seeing beer being presented in such a civilised and respectful environment was a great thing indeed. Although since the event was being held by a distributor trying to flog their wares in one of the most competative bar and restaurant markets on earth, I suppose I should’ve expected it. I guess it’s hard to shake the jaded nature I’ve developed from living amongst the backwards beer culture of Ontario for so long.

So after walking around with my mouth hanging open in disbelief for a few minutes, I started in on the tasting. I haven’t gone through my notes to do a full count, but I’m sure I sampled somewhere around two dozen beers over the course of the evening, and enjoyed almost all of them. Here are a few highlights:

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
A new beer from Japan’s Hitachino Nest brewery that they were pilot testing at the event. It has a still, deep brown body with no head, and an amazing aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee. The body is a little thin, but the flavour is fantastic, with lots of coffee backed-up with some cocoa and malt notes. Hopefully, it’ll be added to their official line-up soon.

Troubadour Blond & Troubadour Obscura
These beers from Belgium’s Brouwerij The Musketeers were completely new to me, but I’m glad I stopped at their small table, as both of them are very good. The Blond is described on RateBeer as a saison, which seems to be an appropriate style, as it has a bright golden colour and aromas & flavours that encompass yeasty, fruity and spicey notes. The Obscura is self-described as a stout, although it’s also undeniably Belgian, so it holds a very interesting combination of sweet roastiness and tangy spice that I really enjoyed.

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
I was very happy to have a chance to try this rare treat from smoked beer specialists Aecht Schlenkerla, as I’m a big fan of their more commonly available Märzen. Unlike the other Schlenkerla beers, there is no smoked malt used in this golden lager, but it picks up a delicious smokiness from the brewery’s filters. And it helps that even without the smokiness, this is a very nice lager, with well-balanced malt and hop flavours and a crisp, subtle body.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale
This famous vintage ale is descibed by the brewer, O’Hanlons, as “the beer enthusiast’s equivalent of rare cognac”. A little hoity-toity, perhaps, but having finally tried it, I’d say that it’s a pretty apt description. I sampled the 2004 vintage, which is considered somewhat young – it’s said to improve with age for 25 years or more – but I still enjoyed it. It has a huge, sweet aroma of toffee, fruit cake and whiskey, and a complex flavour of port, whiskey, sweet orange, chocolate and much more, all leading to a warm, tingly, lingering finish.

Aventinus Edelbrand
One of my favourite beers is Aventinus, the standard-bearing Weizenbock from Germany’s G. Schneider & Sohn. So when I walked by their table and saw a smaller version of the distinctive purple Aventinus label on what looked like bottles of icewine, I was intrigued. I asked and discovered that it was Aventinus Edelbrand, a brandy-like spirit with 42% abv that is created by distilling Aventinus rather than water. This rarity is generally available only in Germany, but several bottles of a special barrel-aged version were brought over especially for this event. The samples being doled out were understandably small, given the potency and scarcity of the beverage, but I got enough of a taste to appreciate the flavours of oak, port, whiskey and grapeseed. Not the best hard booze I’ve tried, but good enough that I’d be happy to own a bottle of it.

There were lots more, but that’s a good sample. Full notes and ratings for the whole night will end up on RateBeer soon.