Tag Archives: Ontario

Ontario Craft Beer Week: Q&A with Steve Beauchesne and Jed Corbeil

My weekly beer column for Taste T.O. this week is a preview article for Ontario Craft Beer Week, which is taking place and breweries, bars and restaurants all over the province on June 20th to 26th.

The article features a few quotes from Steve Beauchesne (co-organizer of the Week, and co-owner of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing) and Jed Corbeil (co-organizer of Session: A Craft Beer Festival, the biggest event of the Week, and co-owner of The Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge) taken from short Q&A interviews I did with each of them via email. And since I didn’t use the full interviews for the article, I thought I’d share them here…

Steve Beauchesne

What inspired the Ontario Craft Brewers to do an OCB Week? Has it been in the works for a while?

It’s funny, we’ve talked about it for a while, but made the decision to tackle it this year very suddenly. Craft beer weeks have been popping up in Vancouver, San Fransisco, New York and more and they seemed like a great way to build awareness with customers and build on the collaborative nature of craft breweries.

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A Taste of Niagara's Best

niagarasbest_gianttap

As I’ve mentioned previously, the wife and I don’t get out of the city very often, so we were glad to have the chance to take a quick day trip down to Niagara Falls earlier this month with a couple of friends (and fellow beer geeks) to check out the recently opened Niagara’s Best Brewery & Pub.

Folks familiar with the very mainstream and somewhat unexciting Blonde Ale and Logger Lager brewed by Niagara’s Best at their previous brewery-only location in St. Catharines might wonder why we would drive for a couple of hours to visit the new place, and if that’s all they had on offer, we surely wouldn’t have bothered. But brewer Ian Watson has taken full advantage of the increased flexibility offered by a brewpub operation and has developed a line-up of nine regular brews plus a rotating “Brewer’s Special” tap, so there was much more incentive to make the journey.

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Five Reasons Why Toronto's Festival Of Beer Didn't Totally Suck This Year

LEFT: One of the few reasons that Toronto's Festival of Beer doesn't completely suck - RIGHT: Two of the many, many reasons that it mostly does suck

LEFT: One of the few reasons that Toronto's Festival of Beer doesn't completely suck - RIGHT: Two of the many, many reasons that it mostly does suck

Several years ago, I accepted that I’m not in the target market for Toronto’s Festival of Beer. Despite assurances in the program that the event caters to the “beer enthusiast” with “an astute palate”, it really is a ridiculously overpriced celebration of swill that is oriented more and more towards fratboys and douchebags every year. From the stupid “hats” made out of six-pack boxes being handed out by Steam Whistle (seriously, folks – penises and boobies? Are you all in Grade 5 or something?), to the booth girls who are hired based on their breast cleavage rather than their beer knowledge, to the massive and obnoxious “Brand Experience Areas” offering such fine beverages as Budweiser and Tecate, the Festival manages to represent pretty much everything that is offensive and embarrassing about the mainstream beer market.

That said, I still take up the offer of a media pass every year and go check it out, and I always manage to find at least a couple of things that save my visit from being a complete waste of time. Here, then, are my five reasons why this year’s Festival wasn’t a total write-off…

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Odds & Sods

oddsandsodsI think I might’ve mentioned this before, but even if I have, I’ll mention it again: One of the main reasons that I’m such an infrequent blogger is because I have yet to master the habit of writing things in a short and to-the-point manner. I constantly have a few different ideas for posts bouncing around in my head, but can never find the hour or so of spare time that I make myself think I would need to get said posts written.

So with that in mind, here is my attempt to get a few of those things covered quickly and concisely.

  1. As per usual, I’ve been writing beer-related posts for Taste T.O. on a regular basis. Here’s what’s gone up there in the last couple of months:
  2. I’ve given in to peer pressure and got myself an iPhone. Which means that I will most likely be engaging in some hot live Twitter action at the Mondial de la Bière in Montreal next week. Follow @beerbeatsbites if you think you can handle the excitement.
  3. My new deodorant has hops in it. It’s also the most effective deodorant I’ve used in ages, which I’m sure will make my suite-mates in Montreal very happy.
  4. The awesome folks at Mill Street delivered one of their new Seasonal Sampler six-packs for me yesterday, and I enjoyed a couple of bottles from it tonight. Ontarians can watch for it to hit LCBO shelves this coming week, and I’ll have a full write-up about the pack over on Taste T.O. soon.
  5. Nothing to do with beer (or beats or bites, for that matter), but I watched Milk tonight, and wanted to mention how great it was. Sean Penn was stunningly good, deserving of every award and nomination he got, and even though I knew how it ended, I was still engrossed by it. And given recent events in California, it was especially poignant. If you haven’t seen it, do.

Cheers, Jim

jimbrickmanThe guy in the photo on the right is named Jim Brickman. Way back in 1984, he founded a brewery in Waterloo, Ontario called Brick. He probably doesn’t know it, but he and his brewery are the main reasons I became a craft beer drinker.

This may sound strange to younger folks who are only familiar with the Brick of today: a brewery known mainly for their “buck-a-beer” Laker brand along with a bland mainstream lager (Red Baron), a bland dark lager (Waterloo Dark), and a bland retro-ale (Red Cap). But as I briefly noted in the first post on this blog, during the couple of years I attended the University of Waterloo in the mid/late-1980s, Brick (along with Sleeman and Wellington in nearby Guelph) was an early pioneer of microbrewing in Ontario.

Brick’s line-up of beers wasn’t extensive at the time – just two, or maybe three brands – and in keeping with the German heritage of the Kitchener-Waterloo area, it concentrated on lagers. But they were lagers that were actual relatively flavourful and distinct from the standard Labatt, Molson and Carling O’Keefe beers that had been the only option for beer drinkers in the previously few decades.

I can’t claim that I didn’t drink my fair share of mass produced suds back then. I recall having a strange fondness for Molson Golden (which was an ale, at least), and like most black-clad punk/goth/alternative club-goers of the time, Carling Black Label became part of my uniform for a couple of years. But early on in my drinking career, I discovered Brick Lager and Red Baron, and they kick-started my interest in trying other microbrews and imports.

Through the 1990s, Brick remained at the forefront of Ontario’s craft brewing scene. Their core line-up expanded to include Waterloo Dark and several other lagers; they rescued the brands of short-lived small breweries such as Algonquin, Formosa and Conners; and they signed deals to contract brew such renowned international brands as Andechs Spezial Hell, Henninger Pils and Celis White, the latter being the first Belgian-style witbier I ever tasted. And let’s not forget Brick Anniversary Bock, an annual offering through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s that remains one of the best beers ever brewed in Ontario.

But then, a few years ago, things started to change, as Brick seemingly decided that market share was more important than product quality and diversity. The international brands all disappeared, as did most of the smaller brands they had purchased over the years, and the Anniversary Bock was discontinued. The Laker discount brand purchased from Molson in the late 1990s became a bigger part of their portfolio, alongside an array of undistinguished and indistinguishable pale lagers being sold under the Brick banner. Aside from cracking an occasional Red Baron or Waterloo Dark for nostaligic reasons, I pretty much stopped paying attention to Brick at this point, as the beers they were brewing obviously weren’t being made with craft beer drinkers in mind.

It’s probably no coincidence that during this same time period, Brickman’s role at the increasingly corporate brewery seemed to diminish. He was replaced as President and CEO in 2004, and while he retained the title of Executive Chairman and remained the public face of the brewery, it was clear that decisions on what brands to brew and what ones to cull were pretty much out of his hands, with the board being more interested in increasing share value than satisfying adventurous beer drinkers.

brickmanbeersThings took a slight turn for the better a couple of years ago, when most of the Brick brands were killed off and replaced with the J.R. Brickman Founders Series, a trio of beers that seemed to be intended to return Brick to its craft brewing roots. Some claimed that the brews – Pilsner, Amber and Honey Red – were simply rebrandings of the discontinued Brick brands, but to my palate, they seemed to have a fresher and more flavourful character, with the Pilsner being especially impressive. Sadly, though, the quality hasn’t been consistent, with a can of the Pilsner I tried back in July being especially poor, suggesting that corners are now being cut on what was originally intended to be a line-up of premium beers.

And now, as Brick is about to enter it’s 25th year, there comes another blow: Jim Brickman has left the brewery. The announcement came with little fanfare in a press release last week, buried beneath the quarterly financial statements. There was no direct quote from Brickman, just a brief notice that “Jim Brickman has provided his notice of retirement to the Company which the Company has accepted effective immediately”, followed by the typically corporate quote from President & CEO George Croft stating that “The Company appreciates the significant contribution Jim Brickman has made to Brick Brewing since founding it in 1984”.

There has been no subsequent statement from Brickman giving details regarding the reasons or circumstances of his departure, and I don’t want to get wrapped up in any conjecture, aside from noting that “retirements” that are “effective immediately” are rarely amicable ones. But even if this one is, it’s still a sad day. Yeah, Brick will continue making beer, and Jim Brickman may pop up somewhere else, but it’s still the end of an era in Ontario’s – and Canada’s – brewing industry.

Cheers, Jim. And thanks.

Rock Out With Your Cock Out

cockandtail

The photo above is a sneak peak from an article I’m working that will be running on Taste T.O. on Tuesday as the next instalment of our Pub Crawl series. This one will be a profile of The Cock & Tail, a cozy drinking hole that opened up a few blocks from our place back in the summer, and which I’ve only been to twice, but really need to make a point of visiting more often. As you can tell from the picture, they’ve got a pretty decent bottle/can list, and the 10 or so beers on tap are all Ontario and Quebec craft brews. Throw in a respectable selection of whiskies, tequilas, and other spirits, plus great tunes on the jukebox iTunes and friendly staff, and you end up with a place well worth visiting and supporting.

I’ve also been drinking at home, of course, and recently recieved and (mostly) enjoyed the second annual Discovery Pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers. This mixed pack features a beer each from six different OCB members, and unlike last year’s pack which skewed heavily towards pale lagers, this one features five ales, although at least one of them is an ale created with lager drinkers in mind. Serious beer geeks might still find the selection lacking, but as an introduction to craft beer newbies, it’s a nice little package. My full review ran on Taste T.O. this past Tuesday.

In other news, RateBeer is still down, but scuttlebutt says that they might be getting close to at least a test relaunch. I’ve got my fingers crossed, as my notebook is getting really full…

Earth Day: Think Global, Drink Local

As I write this, there are just a few minutes left in Earth Day 2008, but it’s not to late for me to mention that for beer drinkers, one of the best ways to help the environment any day of the year is to drink local. Every extra mile that a beer has to travel to get to you means an extra little bit of crap being pumped into the air. Plus closer usually means fresher, and with most beers, fresher is better.

Speaking of fresh, “As Fresh As Fresh Can Be!” is the slogan plastered across the big Creemore Springs Traditional Pilsner billboard across the street from my apartment. And also fresh was the bottle of said beer that was hand-delivered to me (or rather, to my wife who was home at the time) last week, packaged in a cute little insulated bag along with a branded glass and a small ice pack to keep it cool. Good thing my wife doesn’t like pilsners or it probably would’ve been gone before I got home.

Since she doesn’t, and it wasn’t, I re-chilled it and drank it, and found it to be a decent little pils, just as I did last year when the brand was originally launched and I wrote about it for Taste T.O.:

The colour is a clear yellow-gold, capped with a good sized snow white head. The aroma has some similarity to the Premium Lager, likely due to the same or similar yeast strain being used, but it’s softer, with notes of bread, honeyish malt and zesty herbal hops. It’s medium bodied, with a slightly sticky finish, which causes it to be not quite as refreshing as it could be, but still pleasant. The flavour starts off sweet and somewhat delicate, and finishes with grassy, herbal hop notes that get quite bold and dry as it warms up.

The point of the billboard and delivery, by the way, is to promote the fact that the previously can-only Pilsner is now available in 12-packs of 341 ml bottles at the Beer Store.

Also arriving last week was a curious mixed pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers, containing two cans of Hockley Stout, two bottles of Black Oak Pale Ale, and two bombers of Trafalgar Oak-Aged Rye. From what I can gather, this media mailout was meant to promote the fact that Hockley is now canning their Stout, Black Oak Brewery is soon to move from Oakville to Etobicoke, and the Trafalgar beer is part of the LCBO’s current spring beer promotion.

The best part about this pack – aside from the fact that it meant six free beers! – was that I’ve already written two of them up for Taste T.O. columns, and the third for a RateBeer entry, so that makes this post very easy for my lazy ass.

Black Oak Pale Ale (from Taste T.O.):

It has a beautiful golden hue with a good sized white head that leaves a fair bit of lacing on the glass as it recedes. The aroma is fresh and inviting, with a big hop presence, but with sweet malt to balance, and a faint woodiness. The body is a touch thin, but also crisp and lively – quite likely due to the addition of a bit of toasted wheat to the recipe – giving the beer a thirst-quenching edge. And the flavour follows the aroma closely: a good balance of sweet, honeyish malt and citric hops that linger deliciously in the finish.

Hockley Stout (from Taste T.O.):

It has a deep black body with ruby tints and a massive off-white head that recedes fairly quickly. The aroma is mild and malty, with notes of wood smoke, coffee and vanilla, and the body is a bit thin, but has a slight creaminess which is nice. The flavour is full and very solid, with all of the characteristics I expect from a dry stout – good maltiness, a bit of coffee and smoke, and a dry, faintly soured finish – and the fairly low alcohol (4.2%) is right on the mark for the style as well. Quite frankly, this is the beer that Guinness wishes it could be.

Trafalgar Oak-Aged Rye (from RateBeer):

Golden colour with a reddish tinge and a small white head. Nice aroma of vanilla, bourbon and oak. Thinnish body. Flavour is somewhat one-dimensional, but still pleasant, with notes of wood and vanilla working well with the fairly light base beer. I’ve been disappointed by some of Trafalgar’s off-centre beers in the past – they should deal with their quality control and infection issues rather than cranking out so many different styles of beer, IMO – but this is an interesting and enjoyable beer.

In relation to my criticism of Trafalgar’s infection issues in the review above (and in earlier posts on this blog), I should mention that I haven’t actually opened either of the bottles that I received in promo package (the review above is from a draught sample last summer), and their bottled product is where those issues are most often evident. I’m hopeful for this beer, though, given that the mentions of it on Bar Towel from those who have tried this batch have been generally positive, with no pickle juice comparisons. So maybe things are looking up for Trafalgar.

Beer Steps Up To The Gourmet Plate

Since starting Taste T.O. early last year, Sheryl and I have been going to a good number of gourmet food events, and as you’d expect, the vast majority of them feature wine as the beverage of choice, with the beer choices (if there even are any) often limited to one or two mainstream offerings. So I was pretty stoked a few weeks ago when I found out about the Brewers Plate, a gourmet tasting event pairing (mostly) local food from some of Toronto’s top chefs with beers from some of the area’s best craft breweries, all in support of Green Enterprise Toronto.

The event took place this past Friday, April 11th at the picturesque Berkeley Church, and was a success on pretty much all levels, from the quality of the food and drink, to the size and enthusiasm of the crowd. I’m going to be writing up a full report for the summer issue of TAPS, but in the meantime, here are links to a few write-ups that have been posted by others elsewhere:

Sheryl @ Taste T.O.
Joshua @ blogTO
Troy @ Great Canadian Pubs & Beer
Christine @ Canadian Living: The Foodie-File

Some photos (most taken by Sheryl, ’cause I’m a klutz with the camera) are available behind the cut.

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The Session #13: Organic Beer

session-logo-med.jpgIt’s the first Friday of the month, which means that I should be drinking an organic beer – since that’s the theme of this month’s Session as chosen by Chris O’Brien over at Beer Activist – and then writing a post about it.

But I’m not.

It’s not that I’m anti-organic. My wife and I actually eat a fair bit of organic food – although like at least of one the other folks contributing this month, organic certification isn’t always as important to us as is getting our food from local (where possible) and sustainable sources. Especially considering that national organic standards for Canada are still being phased in, so the certification and labelling standards currently being used up here are a bit of a mish-mash.

Still, the idea of organic beers interests me, and I like to try them when I come across them, but in Ontario, that doesn’t happen very often. As I’ve lamented innumerable times in the past, the selection of out-of-province craft beers at the LCBO is pitiful, and very few Ontario breweries have made the move to using organic ingredients. The only purely organic beer (i.e. all organic ingredients, including organic hops imported from New Zealand) that is widely available in the province is Mill Street Organic Lager, which is a decent mainstream pale lager, but hardly worthy of a spotlight post, IMO.

Beyond that, the only other locally available options that come to mind are the Cream Ale, Dark Ale and Hefe-Weissbier from Muskoka Brewery, all of which were re-labelled as “organic, premium & pure” a couple of years ago (although like many “organic” beers, I believe that they use organic malts but non-organic hops). All three of them are nice enough beers, but I generally try to find something new and different for the Sessions.

And then a couple of weeks ago, things looked like they might work out nicely when Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s Brewery out near Ottawa mentioned on Bar Towel that he’d be coming to Toronto on Wed. March 5th, and would be happy to bring along some beer for anyone who would like to meet up with him. Their flagship brand, Lug Tread Lagered Ale, is a double rarity in Ontario: it’s a Kölsch, and it’s also organic (aside from the hops). I’ve tried it a couple of times before, and it’s a solid and sessionable beer.

What really got my attention, however, was Beau’s new seasonal: Bog Water Dirty Brown Ale, a unique brew made with organic malt, spring water, and wild bog myrtle (or sweet gale), essentially making it a 100% organic beer. A perfect choice for the Session, and perfect timing as well.

But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, as I came down with a brutal flu that has had me holed up at home and avoiding beer in favour of juice and tea for the whole week. I’m feeling slightly better today, but still far from 100%, so it’ll likely be another day or two before I’ll be ready to crack a beer of any sort, organic or not.

There is a happy ending, though, as Steve still brought some beer for me and passed it along to Troy of the Great Canadian Pubs & Beer blog, so assuming he doesn’t drink it on me, I should be able to give it a try soon enough.

In the meantime, Chris has a round-up of today’s Session posts over on his blog, and I’ve got a pot of tea (organic, even!) in the kitchen with my name on it…

Beer Academy at Hart House

harthouse_mirella.jpg

Last Thursday night, Hart House on the University of Toronto campus presented their first (and hopefully not last) Beer Academy event hosted by Mirella Amato, a woman who is a relatively new face in Toronto’s beer scene, but a very knowledgeable one.

Attended by roughly 40 people – most of them beer newbies – the evening started with Mirella leading a 90-minute tutored tasting session featuring nine different craft beers:

King Pilsner
St. Andre Vienna Lager
Neustadt 10W30
Mill St. Wit
Black Oak Pale Ale
Church-Key West Coast IPA
Scotch-Irish John By Imperial Stout
Unibroue Maudite
Granite Brewery Gin Lane Barley Wine

harthouse_beers.jpg

As each sample was served, Mirella spoke a bit about the style and the brewery, and also touched on more general beer-related topics (history, ingredients, etc.) between each sample.

All attendees were also given an info sheet with a bit of info about each beer, including availability (LCBO, Beer Store, brewery) and some suggested food pairings. To help with the latter, the second part of the night featured a casual buffet reception, with more of all of the beers and hors d’oeuvre sized servings of the following tasty treats:

Jerk Chicken Drumettes
Grilled Italian Sausage
Grilled Flat-Iron Steak
Panko Crusted Chicken Skewer
Cassava Chips
Mini Venison Burger
Medjool Date Filled With Stilton
Chai Spiced Panna Cotta

harthouse_buffet.jpg

The food and drink events at Hart House are known for having a heavy focus on wine, with little or no attention paid to beer (I recall being offered two or three macrobrews as my only beer options at a holiday lunch there last year), so this event was a good step forward for them. Hopefully, it will spin off and improve their everyday beer offerings, as well as inspiring future beer-related events.

It’s also worth noting that Mirella has just launched the website for Beerology, the umbrella name for her various beer-related pursuits such as writing for various publications (including TAPS), presenting the beer programming on the streaming video website Legourmet.tv, and of course, hosting guided beer tastings. Keep an eye on the site to find out what she’ll be up to next.