Tag Archives: IPA

Powerful Beer on a Powerless Night

I had a fun – and partly odd – time this past Tuesday night as I hit two different beer-centric happenings.

First stop was beerbistro, where they were celebrating the tapping of several Koningshoeven beers which were appearing on draught for the first time ever in Canada. (In fact, I believe this may have been the first time any Trappist beers have been available on draught in Canada.) The original plan was to feature five Koningshoeven (aka La Trappe) brews on tap – Blond, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel and Witte – but shipping problems meant that only the latter three made it in time for the big night, so the Blond & Dubbel were there in the more commonly available bottled form. Still, it was a rare treat to get even the three, so no one was complaining.

My arrival was later than expected, and the bar area was rammed solid with a mixture of the usual after-work drinks crowd and the Trappist-thirsty beer geek contingent. Luckily, I reached the bar just as Stephen Beaumont was getting up from his stool to do a ceremonial ribbon-cutting with a rep from the brewery who had flown over for the event, so I generously offered to save his seat for him and got myself a glass of the Witte, the one beer of the five that I’d not tried before. You can check my notes on RateBeer for my full thoughts on the beer – I’ll just say here that it’s a really solid witbier, and having it on draught made it even better.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long, so I wasn’t able to sample any of the others, but I hope to make it back to try the Tripel and Quad before the kegs run dry. I was also unable to stay for the celebratory dinner, with each course paired with one of the Koningshoeven beers, but I’m sure that chef Brian Morin and his crew knocked it out of the park as they usually do with their themed dinners.

My other destination for the evening was the Mill Street Brewpub, where they were holding a semi-private event celebrating their Brewery of the Year honour awarded at the recent Canadian Brewing Awards. The mile or so walk from beerbistro to the pub was a strange one, as there was a scattered power outage that caused some blocks to be darkened while others were fine. A few minutes before I reached the Distillery District complex where the pub is located, my wife called to let me know that the whole District was in darkness, and the staff at the pub was scrambling to serve up what they could by candlelight.

Luckily, the lights came back on literally the moment that I arrived (I tried to take responsibility for the miraculous occurrence, but Sheryl was having none of it…), and we snagged a prime seat before the crowd swooped in. Fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch joined us with his lovely fiancée Jessica, as did TAPS Magazine editor Karla Dudley. The open bar tempted me to work through a few Mill Street favourites, but the cask-conditioned IPA that I started with was in such good shape that I just stuck with it for the rest of the night.

Pub staff were making the rounds with a seemingly endless assortment of hors d’oeuvres, most of which were palate-pleasing, although the flavour combo on the maple & pesto chicken wings was a bit odd. Local musical legend Big Rude Jake provided some great entertainment for a crowd that was sadly more interested in watching the Leafs lose to the Habs (again) on the big screens. Mill Street co-founder Steve Abrams came by to chat at some point, as did C’est What‘s colourful owner George Milbrandt who was wearing an equally colourful scarf.

As Troy says over on his blog, “It was a good night celebrating Mill Street’s award won because of dedication, hard work and fantastic products”. Not much I can add to that, really, except to offer the Mill Streeters further congratulations on the well-deserved win.

Beers of the Last Few Weeks

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted links to my Beer of the Week column over on Taste T.O., so here are the last few:

harveysporter.jpgHarvey’s 1859 Porter – “…an extremely satisfying beer that is perfect for this time of year, with a robust but not overpowering flavour that pairs well with such hearty autumn fare as shepherd’s pie and beef stew.” (full review)

OCB Discovery Pack – “…even though this isn’t my personal dream team of brews, the OCB Discovery Pack is still a step in the right direction for the province’s burgeoning craft beer industry.” (full review)

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale – “…brewed with real pumpkin, and there’s hints of it in the aroma and flavour, although the sweet malt and spice notes are more prominent. Nutmeg and ginger are especially obvious, and the finish has a nice hit of slightly tongue-numbing cloves to compliment the mild hops.” (full review)

Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted – “…quite a hoppy beer by British standards. After pouring a clear and bright yellow-gold, it instantly reveals a fresh aroma of herbal hops with hints of lemon zest.” (full review)

Fullers 1845 – “…sweet and treacly, malty and warm, with an underpinning of yeast and citrus.” (full review)

urquell.jpgPilsner Urquell – “…may no longer be the only Pilsner in the world, and it may not even the best one. […] But it’s still the original, and still very deserving of it’s well-earned reputation.” (full review)

Deuchars IPA and Belhaven Twisted Thistle – “[Deuchars is] not a bad beer, but it’s not really an IPA […] Twisted Thistle is similar to a lot of the IPAs being brewed on the west coast of North America, albeit more subdued in both alcohol and flavour…” (full review)

Burton Porter – “…a [porter] that is quite different from the roasty, stout-like versions that are common from many North American craft brewers.” (full review)

Scotch-Irish Black Irish Plain Porter – “…roasty and slightly sweet malt notes off the top, followed by bitter cocoa, coffee and licorice, and finishing with a slightly lactic sourness.” (full review)

The Session #8: Beer and Food

session-logo-med.jpgI’m sure my tens of readers will be happy to know that I’m still alive. I’ve just been even more busy and/or disorganised than ever these past few weeks. Hence the continuing lack of posts.

I couldn’t miss a Session, though. If I did, they might take away my membership in the sooper-seekrit beer bloggers cabal or something.

The theme of this month’s edition – as chosen by the poetically-inclined Captain Hops at Beer Haiku Daily – is Beer and Food, which gives me the incentive to finally get around to posting about an interesting tasting I hosted a couple of weeks ago in a somewhat unlikely location.

Keep reading this post

Beer of the Week – Church-Key West Coast Pale Ale

This article was originally written in August 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Spend any amount of time talking to a serious beer geek, and odds are they’ll soon start raving about the beers being brewed on the West Coast of North America, most notably those that come from the Pacific Northwest and the San Diego area. Much like the West Coast hip-hop artists of the ’80s and ’90s, many brewers out there take a more aggressive and experimental approach to their craft, creating beers that push the envelope in terms of flavour (especially hops) and alcohol levels. This trend toward so-called extreme beers has now spread throughout the country and around the world, but the American West Coast was the primary breeding ground for these over-the-top brews.

While it’s not quite so out there as such monstrous Western US brews as Stone Arrogant Bastard or Russian River Pliny the Elder, West Coast Pale Ale from Church-Key Brewing of Campbellford, Ontario still manages to live up to its name. With a very generous hopping level – especially by the usual Ontario brewing standards – West Coast may very well be one of the bitterest beers available in our province today. And I mean that as a compliment.

While the flavour of hops is definitely an acquired taste, the strong notes of citrus and herbs that they contribute to this beer are actually quite refreshing. It also helps that Church-Key owner and brewmaster John Graham feeds this brew a good amount of malt, which gives it enough body and up-front sweetness to balance the bitterness. Stylistically, I suppose it sits somewhere between a traditional India Pale Ale and a newfangled American Pale Ale, but what really matters is that it tastes fantastic. Which is probably one of the reasons that Church-Key took the award for Best Ontario Microbrewery (Outside of the GTA) at this past weekend’s Golden Tap Awards at beerbistro.

Like all of Church-Key’s beers, West Coast Pale Ale isn’t widely available in Toronto, but if you frequent some of the city’s better beer bars such as Volo
or C’est What, you may come across it. If you prefer home consumption, you’ll have to head out to Campbellford to pick some up, as bottles of all Church-Key products are available only at the brewery. Church-Key is also the official beer supplier for the Harvest Wednesdays series at the Gladstone Hotel, and they’ll be one of the craft breweries pouring samples at the Black Creek Brews Fest taking place August 25th & 26th at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Five From Half Pints

Last fall, I got word of a new brewery starting up out in Winnipeg called Half Pints Brewing. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention to the announcement. I mean, it’s always good to hear about a new micro starting up, especially in Canada. But since the odds of ever seeing Half Pints beers available in Ontario are next to none, my reaction was basically “oh, that’s nice, maybe I’ll try some of their stuff if I ever make it out to Winnipeg”.

But then I learned that the president and brewmaster of Half Pints was David Rudge, a man who is semi-legendary amongst Canadian craft brew fans. Mind you, most of us had never actually tried any of his beers, but we’d heard fantastic things about the stuff he did at Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina, Saskatchewan from those who were lucky enough to visit the pub. So I knew that I needed to get my hands on some bottles of his Half Pints offerings.

Luckily, I was able to find someone from Winnipeg on RateBeer who was willing to do a trade, and back in December, I got a nice big box packed with a bomber each of five Half Pints beers along with a few other goodies. I’ve made a point of sharing them at several different tastings and get-togethers over the last couple of months, and now that I’ve finally tried ’em all, here’s what I thought:

Bulldog Amber Ale
Orange-amber colour with a small white head. The aroma holds some very nice woody hops, well balanced by some slightly grainy malt. Body is a bit light, but OK for the style. Once in the mouth, it proves to be a nice, simple, clean, balanced UK style ale with a well-hopped finish. A fantastic session ale – if the LCBO carried this (hint, hint!), it would be a regular in my fridge.

Little Scrapper IPA
Maybe all of the Double IPAs I’ve drunk have caused me to build up some hop resistance, ’cause I didn’t find this nearly as hoppy as the description on the label promised. Oh, no doubt that there was a healthy amount in there – some great notes of orange rind and pine resin in both the aroma and flavour proved that – but I actually found it to be quite well balanced. Another one that I could drink a lot of if given the chance.

Oktoberfest Lager
I’ve generally found Oktoberfest beers to be pretty boring, but after having this, I think it’s because most of the ones I’ve tried have just been mediocre beers, regardless of the style. It has a slightly hazy copper-amber colour with a medium head, and a quite malty aroma with sweet caramel and some interesting earthy/leafy notes. The flavour starts quite sweet, develops some bready notes in the middle, and finishes fairly dry with a hint of cocoa.

Stir Stick Stout
A coffee stout made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe?!? Dude, I am SO there! Very dark brown colour with ruby hints and a couple of fingers of off-white foam. Nice aroma – very roasty with a good hit of coffee, some light woodiness and a bit of chocolate. This body is thin, which is the beer’s one main weakness. Thankfully, the flavour makes up for it – good roasted malt and coffee notes off the top, sweet in the middle, and a well bittered finish. With a bit more body, this would be a fantastic stout. As it stands, it’s just a very good one.

Sweet Nikki Brown
Brown ales are a much maligned style – somewhat deservedly, as most of them are boring as hell. But when they’re done well, they’re a real treat. This particular example pours a dark ruby-brown with a good sized mocha head. The aroma is great, with lots of sweet roasted malt, cereal (specifically, Honeycomb cereal), and herbal hops, all well-balanced. The flavour is roasty and nutty off the top, with a slightly watery middle, but a nice bitterness in the finish that makes up for it.

So, a big thumbs up on this first quintet from Half Pints. I have a standing order in with my new trading buddy for any of David’s future releases, and there are already four more waiting to be shipped – a winter seasonal Burly Wine, and the “Holy Trinity” series of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit – plus a couple more planned for the next few months. I expect you’ll see another Half Pints post here soon enough.

Mill Street Brewpub

For a city of its size and population, Toronto has an embarrassing dearth of brewpubs. In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago, we had exactly one of them: The Granite. It’s a great place, but since I’m a downtown snob who tends to get nosebleeds if I go too far north of Bloor Street, I don’t make it up there very often.

(C’est What is often referred to as a brewpub, but since their house beers are brewed off-site at Durham Brewing, they don’t meet the usually accepted definition of the word.)

So when word came down earlier this year that Mill Street Brewery would be relocating their main operations to a much larger brewery in the suburbs and turning their original Distillery District location into a brewpub, there was much rejoicing throughout the local beer scene.

After months of anticipation, the Mill Street Brewpub was finally opened in late October with surprisingly minimal fanfare. I made it down for my first visit earlier this week, and I can say with very little reservation that it was well worth the wait. My only disappointment was that Alan at A Good Beer Blog beat me to the reviewing punch even though he lives about 250 kms away. Plus he never lets me know when he’s going to be in town. Bastard.

Anyway. Since it’s located in the Distillery District, the place has great atmosphere almost by default, but they’ve really gone above and beyond with the renovations that they’ve done over the past few months. Aside from the brewing tanks in the middle of the room, it’s almost unrecognisable from its time as a regular brewery, and it strikes the perfect balance between being spacious and cozy.

It pretty much goes without saying that the beer is excellent, but I’ll say it anyway: The beer is excellent. In addition to their core line-up of Tankhouse Ale, Organic Lager, Coffee Porter and Stock Ale, they’ve promoted their Oktoberfest, Wit and Helles Bock from seasonal to year-round status, revived their Cobblestone Stout which hadn’t been available for a couple of years, and added an IPA and an ESB to the roster. A Kriek is coming soon, as well as some one-offs/seasonals, and the bar will soon be outfitted with a hand-pump for some cask ale action. Oh, and they found a keg or two of their 2004 Barley Wine that they’re serving up as well.

Lots to choose from, but I was in the mood for some new stuff, so I went with the two that I hadn’t tried before. The ESB was excellent – fresh, earthy & fruity with an appealing graininess and a moderately dry, herbal finish. I was less enthralled with the IPA – it was pleasant enough, with a nice, well-balanced flavour, but when they’ve already got the hoppy pale ale bases covered with Tankhouse, this one almost seems like an afterthought.

As for the food side of things, since pubs tend to cater strongly to the carnivore set, the wife and I were expecting a lack of vegetarian options, and our expectations were pretty well met in that regard. There are only two completely veg options in the main courses – a veggie pizza and the ubiquitous roasted vegetable sandwich – although the appetizers and salads are a bit friendlier to the meat-avoiders. Since we also eat seafood, we had a few more options than if we were complete veg-heads.

To start off, we snacked on a generous basket of kick-ass sweet potato fries. For my main, I ordered a Caesar salad and sprung an additional $3.99 to get some calamari added. At that price I expected maybe a handful of calamari thrown on top, but was pleasantly surprised to find the salad so covered in tasty golden-brown squidy goodness that I could barely see the green stuff underneath. Sheryl went with the veggie sandwich which she proclaimed to be fairly average, and our carnivorous dining companions both decided on the pulled pork sandwich which was declared good but “unusual” due to the inclusion of cheese.

Final verdict: Amazing space, great beer, decent food. It’s a bit out of the way for me to visit often, but I’ll happily return for new beers and other events.

Volo Cask Day: A Belated Review

One of the great mysteries of the Toronto beer scene is how a cozy family-run Italian restaurant called Volo has become a go-to destination for all serious beer aficionados. One of these days I’m going to have to do an interview with owner Ralph Morana to get the full story, but for now, we can just enjoy the fruits of his tireless labours to bring the best of the beer world to thirsty Torontonians.

The latest example was Volo’s second annual Cask Days festival, where Ralph invited over 20 Ontario craft brewers – as well as a couple of homebrewers and a special guest from Quebec – to provide cask ales that were served up over the course of two sessions on Saturday, October 21st. In a city where the number of bars that serve cask ale on a regular basis can be counted on two hands, the idea of having somewhere around 30 casks available for sampling in a single location is like beer heaven, even if it only lasts for a few hours.

Of course, as previous Volo events have proven, Ralph and his wife, Aina, and the rest of the Volo crew never do things by half measures. In addition to bringing together an outstanding line-up of beer, they also provided complimentary cheese from a variety of Ontario artisan cheese producers. And throughout the day, Ralph and staff walked through the crowd with baskets of sandwiches, pasties, and other tasty treats to help our tummies absorb all the beer we were downing.

And as for the beer itself, the brewers really stepped up with a selection that included lots of one-offs, ranging from variations to existing beers (lots of barrel-aging and wet- & dry-hopping) to brand new beers brewed exclusively for the event. I tried a dozen or so over the course of the day, and all of them pleased me in some way, but I had a few favourites:

Biergotter Hopocalypse
This IPA from the Biergotter Homebrew Club was definitely the buzz beer of the festival, and with good reason. It was a big, ballsy beer that was heavily influenced by West Coast IPAs, with a huge hop aroma and flavour, but enough malt in there to keep it from being completely ridiculous. More than one person was heard to say that someone needs to give these guys some cash to open a brewpub or brewery. Check out their extensive blog post about the day, as well as the recipe for Hopocalypse.

Dieu Du Ciel! Péché Mortel, Corne Du Diable & Vaisseau des Songes
Ralph scored quite a coup when he convinced the folks at Montreal’s venerable Dieu Du Ciel! brewpub to participate in this event. Due to the vagaries of Ontario liquor laws, the DDC beers (as well as the homebrews) could not be served as part of the regular admission price and had to be separately purchased with all money going to charity, but that didn’t stop them from being amongst the most popular beers of the day. Péché Mortel is an absolutely decadent coffee-laced Imperial Stout that I’d previously tried in bottled form, but having it on cask was a real treat – and it was the only beer of the day that had me going back for seconds. The Corne Du Diable is described as an American-style IPA, which means a big whack of hops upside your head. The Vaisseau des Songes was a surprise addition to the fest, and while it was in keg rather than cask form, it was still very nice – I’d describe it as the little brother of Corne Du Diable, as it’s also an IPA, but much more restrained in flavour and lower in alcohol.

Black Oak H&H Overkill
According to Ken at Black Oak, the H&H stood for “Hops & Jalapeños (pronounced: Halapeñooooo!!!!)”, which had me worried as I’m generally not a fan of chili beers. Not because I have an aversion to the hot stuff, but because most of the ones I’ve tried have simply been crappy lagers or bland golden ales with an assload of chilies thrown in. When I took my first whiff of this one, I thought it would go down the same road, as there was nothin’ but jalapeños going on in the aroma. But the flavour was surprisingly good, with the heat of the peppers taking on an almost sweet character to balance the fresh hops. Not something I’d drink every day, but still a pretty successful experiment.

Scotch Irish Admiral Perry Imperial IPA
Yeah, it’s another big honkin’ IPA. But nobody makes these suckers like Perry at Scotch Irish does. This one had so much spruce and pine on the nose that I thought I was sniffing a Christmas tree, and the hops in the flavour were absolutely ass-kicking. I wrote in my notes: “Stupidly over the top, but I liked it.” That pretty much sums it up.

According to Ralph, he had to turn away both brewers and attendees this year due to the lack of space, so there’s a germ of an idea to move it to a bigger venue next year. While it may never grow to the size and prestige of the Great British Beer Festival, it could certainly become of the premier cask ale events in North America if he sticks with it. Here’s hoping!

(PS: All of the crappy photos above were taken with my newfangled cameraphone. You can see more of them, as well as much nicer photos by people who presumably used real cameras, or perhaps cameraphones that take better photos than mine does, at the Volo Cask Days Flickr Group.)