Toronto's Gourmet Food & Wine Expo keeps growing annually and has become one of my favourite events of the year. A wide range of vendors offers a variety of foods, condiments and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to sample for a reasonable price, while seminars held throughout the four-day event enable folks to learn more about subjects of particular interest to them.
Beer has always been of particular interest to me, so chatting with various breweries and beer distributors is how I spent most of my two days at the expo. I didn't taste anything horrible, but there were a number of average products and, luckily, some excellent ones as well.
Here's what caught my attention at the 19th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo:
Six Pints Black Lager
This style is based on Germany's Schwarzbier. It's colour befits its name and it pours with a small head. It's five-per-cent alcohol and rates a 23 IBU on the bitterness scale. Espresso and bitter chocolate are the predominant flavours in this medium-hopped brew that some people may be able to drink more of in one sitting than a heavier porter or stout.
Red Horse Beer
This extra strong lager is brewed in Manilla, Philippines by San Miguel Brewery. It's pale and poured with a little head. It's seven-per-cent alcohol and had a hint of tinniness even though it came from a bottle. There was a slight sense of the higher alcohol content in the aroma and flavour, but it went down relatively easy. The booth had a DJ and energetic servers, and San Miguel was generously making a donation for each bottle finished (it had other brands aside from Red Horse available) to support relief efforts from Typhoon Haiyan.
Mill Street Distillery Ale
This dark copper-coloured brew is fermented with English Ale yeast to give it a mild aroma and a hint of pear and apricot in the flavour. It's 5.8-per-cent alcohol, somewhat malty from caramel and chocolate malts and, while it's easy drinking, it lacks a distinct character.
Mill Street Weizenbock
This pours with a grey head that doesn't last long, but it offers a nice fruity bouquet. This unfiltered wheat bock is somewhat sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The 7.5-per-cent alcohol content isn't evident in the flavour, and it leaves you with a very nice finish.
Mill Street Vanilla Porter
This brown/ruby red porter pours with an effervescent head and provides a distinctive vanilla bouquet. It offers rich vanilla and coffee flavours and a smooth and creamy body. The lovely lingering after-taste makes you want to take another sip almost immediately. I can see myself drinking this five-per-cent porter all night. This was my favourite beer of the expo and, even better, I was given a coupon that I could redeem for a free can at the LCBO.
Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard
This imperial stout is black and pours with a grey head. I'd previously tried the brewery's Kentucky Bastard, which is the same brew but aged in bourbon barrels. It's made with a blend of roasted barley, chocolate and amber malt, has a mild bouquet and the taste offers hints of chocolate and coffee. It's surprisingly smooth for a nine-per-cent beer, while providing some crispness and an easy finish. This is another one worth recommending.
Maisel's Weisse Original
This traditional Bavarian-made weissbier is pumpkin-coloured and presents a fruity and spicy aroma. It's a very full-bodied, 5.4-per-cent alcohol beer with banana and bubble gum flavours and a very good finish. Wheat beer drinkers should like this.
Maisel's Weisse Dunkel
The sibling of the beer above is copper-coloured and produces a nice head and pleasant aroma of banana and cloves. This 4.9-per-cent beer is brewed with a blend of wheat and gently roasted, caramelized malt and makes a great spring or fall beer, as it has more body than a more summer-oriented weissbier but isn't as heavy as the weizenbocks preferred by some in the winter.
Maredsous 8 Brune
The 8 in the name is the alcohol volume of this Belgian dubbel. The brown, bottle-conditioned ale is top-fermented and brewed according to Benedictine tradition, and then refermented in the bottle and conditioned for two months. I'm generally not the biggest fan of this style, but enjoyed this. It pours with a rich head and has a very fruity aroma. Dark berries are a major part of the pleasantly sweet flavour before a slightly bitter aftertaste takes over.
Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA
This six-per-cent alcohol IPA is brewed with a dry-hopped blend of German, English and American hops from regions located to close to 48 degrees latitude. The hops are evident in the aroma of this dark copper-coloured beer along with a touch of citrus. It's not overly hopped and the malt adds a hint of sweetness, which makes it a good option for folks who find west coast IPAs a little too much.
Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer
I've heard this described as the best alcoholic ginger beer in the world, and I can't argue with that. This beer is brewed in Kingston, Jamaica with Cascade hops, Jamaican ginger and cane sugar, and Royal Jamaican new crop rum. The ginger dominates the aroma and flavour and gives this a very crisp quality. It's spicy, but not overpoweringly so. And with just 4.4-per-cent alcohol, you can drink quite a few without getting too tipsy.
Spearhead Jamaican Fire
This dark, eight-per-cent stout has a 35 IBU rating on the bitterness scale and is brewed with coffee, oranges, sugar cane and scotch bonnet peppers -- with that last ingredient giving the taste and bouquet a definite kick. It's spicy but it won't knock you on your butt.
Spearhead Belgian Stout
This six-per-cent alcohol stout is made with six types of malt, three types of hops, trappist ale yeast and demerara sugar, Curacao orange peel and coriander. This creamy, unfiltered stout pours with a decent head and has a delicate, peppery introduction and a dry finish.
Moosehead Boundary Ale
This medium-bodied, copper-coloured ale is a cross between American- and British-styled pale ales that's made with four types of hops and seven different malts. The 5.3-per-cent alcohol beer has a very mild sweetness and was better than I anticipated, since I'm not a fan of its better known lager.
Pistonhead Kustom Lager
This Swedish beer features a flaming skull on the can and was being promoted by scantily-clad women with tattoos at the expo, so it will obviously trying to promote itself as a beer with edge when it arrives in Ontario beer stores in December. It pours gold with a mildly hoppy aroma from Spalter Select, Magnum and Perle hops and some nice maltiness from Munchener and Pilsener malts. It's an easy-drinking, 4.6-per-cent alcohol beer that seems better suited for summer, so I'm not sure that it's launching at the best time and the image seems incongruent with the product.
I believe this is the first Romanian beer I've ever had. It's a pale gold and reasonably crisp pilsner with a hint of hoppiness. It's five-per-cent alcohol and would work best as a summer sipper.
Lake of Bays Top Shelf Classic Lager
The most noteworthy thing about this 4.5-per-cent alcohol beer is that it's the official beer of the NHL Alumni Association. It's an American-style pale lager that would be best suited for summer.
Niagara Oast House Brewers Saison
This Niagara-on-the-Lake brewery was my favourite discovery of the festival, and this 6.5-per-cent alcohol farmhouse ale was my favourite of its three beers that I sampled. It comes in a corked 750-millilitre bottle and is unfiltered and bottle-seasoned, which accounts for its slightly cloudy appearance. It has a fruity yeast aroma and some spicy citrus in the flavour. Excellent.
Niagara Oast House Brewers Barn Raiser Country Ale
This gold-coloured, five-per-cent alcohol ale is excellent as well. It poured with a decent head and had a citrus aroma and flavour. It's well-hopped, but not enough to scare away non-hop heads.
Niagara Oast House Brewers Pitchfork Porter
This dark brown porter pours with a rich head. It's fairly malty and robust and has a slight smokiness about it. Dark chocolate with a bit of nuttiness are the predominant flavours.
Sawdust City Gate Way Golden Ale
This Gravenhurst, Ont. brewery makes a lot of creatively named and flavoured beers, but this Kolsch-style lagered ale is the entry point for less adventurous drinkers. It's an easy-drinking, pale gold brew made with pilsner and wheat malt and spalter and magnum hops. It's both reasonably crisp and slightly sweet and is a sessional five-per-cent alcohol.
Sawdust City Red Rocket Stout
Red Rocket coffee beans, vanilla beans and cayenne pepper are added to Sawdust City's Skinny Dipping Stout to create this black product. The coffee and cayenne are highly evident in the bouquet and flavour, but neither overpower and gives this stout a surprisingly well-balanced taste.
Niagara College Brewmaster Wheat
This is the favourite beer I've tasted from the college. This unfiltered, 4.6-per-cent alcohol, wheat-based ale is light gold and features banana and cloves in the bouquet. There's a hint of banana in the flavour and it has quite a pleasant finish.
Railway City Black Coal Stout
The St. Thomas, Ont. brewery has produced a six-per-cent alcohol stout that has a 43 IBU rating on the bitterness scale. It's black and has a coffee aroma, while coffee, dark chocolate, smoke and oatmeal are the prime components of the flavour profile. It's okay, but nothing exceptional.
Ciders, Wines, Liquors and Cocktails
When I'd exhausted the new beers that I hadn't tried before, I moved on to this mix of other beverages:
Pommies Dry Cider
Despite the name, this five-per-cent alcohol cider made in Caledon with Ontario apples isn't excessively dry. The name is there more to differentiate it from sweeter ciders. It has a mild apple aroma and is bright, refreshing and reasonably crisp. It's gluten-free and not made from concentrate.
White Owl Whisky
It's a secret how this 40-per-cent alcohol spirit is distilled and filtered to make it clear. It looked just like vodka when it was poured over ice. It originated with a grain spirit that was aged for years in charred oak barrels, but that's all I can tell you about the process. The taste isn't as distinctive as with most Canadian whiskies, so this one is definitely intended more for cocktail use than for straight-up sipping by brown liquor aficionados.
Salvador's Original Margarita and Salvador's Mojito
I liked the Mojito better, but could drink both of these open and pour cocktails during those times when I'm too lazy to make my own -- which in the case of the Mojito is always since I don't keep fresh mint around the house.
Canyon Creek Pumpkin Martini
This isn't a martini at all, but you'll like it if you like pumpkin pie. It's made with Captain Morgan’s spiced and dark rums, cream, pumpkin and maple vanilla syrups, and is garnished with ground nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.
College Street Bar Whiskey Sour
It's more sweet than sour, but nice nonetheless.
Real Sports Pimm's Garden
You can't go wrong with Pimm's No. 1 Cup, lemonade and fresh fruit.
Ogier Cotes du Ventoux Rose
I wasn't particularly fond of this extra dry, 13.3-per-cent alcohol, 2012 French rose from Caves Des Papes.
Mionetto Mo Prosecco
This light, fruity and slightly dry Italian sparkling wine had a clean finish and 11 per-cent alcohol.
Deinhard Dry Riesling
This German Riesling was a little sweeter than I would have liked, but was still okay with a hint of green apple and citrus. It was reasonably light and had a 12.4-per-cent alcohol content.
Bird Label Riesling
This off-dry and mildly fruity wine from Pfalz, Germany's Lingenfelder Estate had elements of lime and apple and a lower alcohol content of 10.5 per-cent.
Mosel Gold Riesling
This pale straw-coloured wine from Mosel, Germany's H. Schmitt Soehne is even lighter in alcohol content with 9.5 per cent and is reasonably dry with flavours of apple, peach and pear.
Beringer California Collection White Zinfandel
This 2010 vintage rose is made for casual drinking and carries a 9.5-per-cent alcohol content. It's light, with a fruity aroma and flavour.