Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Toronto's Festival of Beer offers large taste of Quebec

Toronto's Festival of Beer was held for the 18th time on the weekend, and I celebrated my 18th time being in attendance.

My friend Jeff and I each purchased our first round of tokens (20 for $20, but I got lots of freebies), and the first brewery booth I came across offering something I hadn't had before was Nickel Brook. A well-balanced and somewhat complex saison with a mildly fruity aroma and flavour got my thumbs up, but I thought the tan-coloured Berliner Weisse might have gone off when I first put my nose above the glass and took my first swallow. It was definitely sour, but the woman who poured it says it was meant to be that way. I'll never order another one.

Cheval Blanc, a Belgian white ale from Montreal that's been available in Quebec for 25 years, is now making its way into Ontario -- and that's definitely a good thing. It has a rich colour and lots of bubbles, which act as a fine introduction to a refreshing and slightly fruity taste experience and a brief finish. It's five-per cent alcohol and a great summer beer.

We next visited the Niagara College Teaching Brewery, where a young woman gave me a temporary tattoo and the guys at the taps first gave me a bitter -- which was okay, but served a bit too cold, which didn't allow all the hoppiness to come to the fore -- and then a pilsner weisse beer combination that lacked the flavour and character I was hoping for. It just sat there and failed to impress.

But there were some tasty treats to be found at the Quebec tent next door, which featured 19 beers from seven of the province's microbreweries courtesy of Keep 6 Imports. (It's also where I met Toronto Star business/beer reporter Josh Rubin. I want his job.) Everything I had here was new to me, but I hope the best of them won't become strangers again.

Dunham Black IPA lived up to its name as the 5.7-per cent ale poured into my glass. There was a coffee aroma and definite hoppiness in the bouquet and flavour, which had a sharpness and a pleasantly bitter finish. Dunham's IPA Belge was also excellent. The 6.5-per cent alcohol Belgian IPA was orange/caramel to look at and had citrus elements in its bouquet and flavour. Dunham's cloudy yellow, 6.5-per cent alcohol Pale Ale Americaine was pleasantly hoppy, but not too much so, and had just the right amount of bitterness.

Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Saison was a six-per cent farmhouse ale with a gold colour and spicy bouquet that extended to the palate, where it was balanced by some nice sweetness. The five-per cent alcohol Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Blanche was decent, but I preferred the Cheval Blanc. Charlevoix La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout was the only one of its kind I had, and it was quite satisfying, although the nine-per cent alcohol brew seemed too rich to drink in large volumes. There was some sweet chocolate and roasted malt in evidence and it felt creamy in the mouth.

Hopfenstark Saison Station 7 (a hazy gold saison made with seven herbs) and Hopfenstark Boson D’Higgs (a Berliner Rauch Saison) were both drinkable but not exceptional. The same can be said for the brewery's Framboise, a wheat beer with raspberries.

The straw-coloured, six-per cent alcohol Les Trois Mousqeutaires Hopfenweiss had citrus and banana undertones that made it easy to drink. The brewery's mahogany-coloured Weizenbock wasn't. The wheat interpretation of bock packed a punch with 11 per cent alcohol, but you could taste the booze too much. I prefer strong beers that creep up on you, not knock you over the head.

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! Rosee D’Hibiscus is a wheat beer with a distinctive rose colour derived from the addition of hibiscus flowers during brewing. The 5.9-per cent alcohol beer is mildly acidic, but it's the floral aroma and flavour that gives this beverage its uniqueness.

I heard a number of people raving about Les Vergers De La Colline CID Rose, but I didn't share the excitement over the only cider I sampled during this festival. The 6.5-per cent beverage was light pink and slightly bubbly to look at and slightly dry and authentically apple-y to taste.

I could hear Salt-n-Pepa singing "Push It" on stage as I walked to the media lounge to see what free food and beer was available. The food was gone and the beer was Labatt 50. It's my default domestic big brewery beer when I'm out seeing bands and Jeff didn't want his, so I quickly downed two mugs and we hit the home stretch for Great Lakes Brewery's CASKapalooza.

CASKapalooza features 20 one-off casks brewed specially for the event, but the large majority of them seemed to be repeats from past years and (as I've found since it was launched in 2009) they're rarely exceptional. Closing time was rolling around so we finished off our last few samples and made our exit.

See you next year at number 19.

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