Sunday, November 23, 2014

Beer time at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Perhaps my biggest revelation after spending three days and sampling 90 drinks at the 20th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was finally finding a few gluten-free beers that didn't suck.

Gluten is part of my diet, so I'll never have a need to drink these four beers, but it's good to have some that I can confidently recommend to those who have issues with it.

Belgium's Brunehaut Brewery grows organic barley on its own farm, and sources its other ingredients locally. It's also developed a unique way to filter out the gluten during the brewing process.

My favourite of its three beers -- which I signed a petition to get into LCBO stores -- was the Organic Blond. There's a hint banana in this 6.5-per cent, cloudy gold beer with a mildly bitter finish. The top-fermented Organic Amber is also 6.5 per cent and uses two types of malt. There's a caramel flavour, but with little sweetness. The third beer is the eight-per cent alcohol Organic Tripel that pours with a nice head over a cloudy gold base. There's a slightly yeasty aroma and the malt is definitely evident, if not overpowering.

The other organic and gluten-free beer I enjoyed was Mongozo Premium Pilsener, which also comes from Belgium. It's a gold, five-per-cent alcohol beer with a classic crisp and clean pilsner flavour that's brewed with organic barley malt, organic hops and Fairtrade-certified organic rice.

Collective Arts' Rhyme and Reason has become one of my favourite Canadian IPAs over the last year, and the brewery's new State of Mind Session IPA is a nice, lighter counterpart. There's a citrus and hop aroma and a very good grapefruit flavour infused through the gold beer.

Nickel Brook Maple Porter is made with maple syrup that blends nicely with roasted malts so the maple isn't overpowering. The six-per cent alcohol beer has a clean finish.

Innis and Gunn Limited Edition is an ale matured in casks from the five malt whiskey regions of Scotland. I've never been that big on Scottish ales, but this amber 7.4-per cent beer has a slightly spicy aroma and flavour in combination with vanilla that gives it a smooth character. I would like this in small amounts.

Asahi Super Dry is a decent but unexceptional Japanese lager that's a staple of sushi restaurants, but I was more impressed with Asahi Kuronoma Premium Black Lager. It's made with roasted barley malt, rice and maize, and you can definitely taste the roasted malt after taking in the biscuit aroma.

Beau's Monkey's Paw is a 5.2-per cent wheat beer that pours cloudy gold with a nice, rich head. It has a classic Belgian wheat beer flavour with a touch of bubblegum, and I'm happy that I got to taste it since the last keg of it was served at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo.

Beau's St. Luke's Verse Gruit Ale is made with lavender, thyme and rosemary, and it has a large lavender bouquet and flavour. It's light copper in colour and pours with a rich, white head. This 5.7-per cent beer is very unique and, although I don't know if I could drink a lot of it, I liked it.

Samuel Adams Fat Jack is an 8.5-per cent double pumpkin ale. It's coloured appropriately but disappoints with its aroma. The pumpkin flavour breaks through in the finish along with some spiciness, but so does the relatively high alcohol content, which deters from the appeal.

I'm generally not a fan of Octoberfest beers, and Samuel Adams Octoberfest didn't change my opinion. The copper-coloured beer has a biscuity maltiness and a 5.5 per cent alcohol content.

Vedett Extra White is an unfiltered wheat beer made with lemon zest and coriander that comes from the same Belgian brewery as Duvel. It's a good summertime beer that's just fine on its own or mixed with Liefmans Fruitesse, a unique beer blend of black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and elderberry juices that's easy-drinking, sweet and very fruit-forward.

Moosehead Boundary Ale is made with Cascade, Chinook, East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops and seven types of malt that combine to make this a much more complex beer than Moosehead or the light Cracked Canoe. You can taste the caramel malt and there's a decent bitterness to this 5.3-per cent alcohol beer.

Innocente Brewing Company is a relatively new Waterloo, Ont. brewery that had six beers at the expo. I started with the high-quality Pilsner, which has a nice gold colour, decent white head and a crisp finish. The Rye Pale Ale was next, and the rye isn't overpowering like it can be in some of these beers, so I enjoyed it more than most. Innocente Golden Ale has a nice gold colour that pours with a rich white head. It's smooth but more generic than the brewery's other products.

The 7.4-per cent Innocente Double IPA is made with a variety of hops and had a hint of bosc pear with a grapefruit finish. It presented complementary bitterness and hoppiness and has me eager to try the promised Triple IPA that will be coming shortly. I finished my time at Innocente with its 11.9-per cent Russian Imperial Stout that was very dark beneath its grey head. The beer wasn't as rich as I expected and a molasses taste competed with a strong alcohol presence that wasn't pleasant.

Lake of Bays' Jake The Snake Imperial Pilsner isn't named after the '80s wrestler, but Hall of Fame hockey goalie Jacques Plante. It has a citrus aroma and a fruit-infused flavour with a bit of honey sweetness. The 7.5-per cent beer will be discontinued. Lake of Bays' Cujo is an eight-per cent imperial golden ale dedicated to NHL goalie Curtis Joseph. The rich colour of this malty beer is its most distinctive feature.

Spearhead Brewing Company's Sam Roberts Band Session Ale is unfiltered and naturally carbonated, featuring a dry finish to its caramel and biscuit flavour. It's won awards, but I don't think it's exceptional.

Wychwood Scarecrow Organic comes from the same brewery that makes Hobgoblin, and I generally appreciate its distinctive bottles and labels more than its beer. That was the case with this 4.7-per cent golden ale that balances citrus fruit flavours with a rich maltiness and a bitter finish.

Oast House Pitchfork Porter is dark brown with a small beige head that has a nice roasty aroma with a bit of coffee and dark chocolate in the flavour. This is another winner from the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. brewery.

Molson Canadian is one of my least favourite beers, and its Apple Cider doesn't rank anywhere on my list of favourites either, but I was impressed by its Stone Fruit Cider that's made with peaches and apricots. It has a very fruity bouquet and flavour and is more distinctive than Canadian's Apple Cider. I can finally recommend something from the Canadian family.

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