Sunday, July 26, 2015

A taste of Irish at Toronto's Festival of Beer

When you think of Irish beers, Guinness is the first thing that comes to mind for most people -- and for good reason. It's a great stout that has stood the test of time.

Some stout drinkers may prefer Beamish or Murphy's, while ale drinkers typically go for Smithwick's or Kilkenny, and Harp is probably Ireland's best known lager. But there have been some newer breweries that have come on to the scene in recent years and, while their market share may pale in comparison to the aforementioned old standbys, some of them are making quality stuff.

The Irish Pavilion at Toronto's Festival of Beer was a great place to sample several of them, accompanied by some decent music and good conversations with brewers and servers.

The first beer I had, Trouble Brewing's Graffiti Pale Ale, may have remained my favourite through the seven hours spent at Exhibition Place on July 24. It's made with five grains and three hops, with the Citra standing out from the rest and giving the beer a surprisingly hoppy aroma and fruit aspect. It's fairly complex and packs much more flavour than expected into a brew with an alcohol content of just 3.6 per cent, making it a great session beer.

Unfortunately none of Trouble's beers are available in Canada at this point, but that still didn't stop me from exploring the three other beers it had on tap at the festival.

Equinox S.M.A.S.H. is made using just Maris Otter barley and Equinox hops, and this pale gold, 4.8-per-cent pale ale consequently isn't as complex as the Graffiti. It's slightly resinous and a bit toasty and grows on you a bit with a decent finish.

Vietnow IPA is a 5.5-per-cent, amber, unfiltered ale made with six hops and two grains, including the subtle use of crystal rye. It has a gently citrus aroma without a lot of hops and a relatively simple but noticeable malt profile. Bitterness is definitely evident in the finish.

The last Trouble Brewing product I had was its heavy-hitting Hop Priority Triple IPA. It uses pale ale malt, cane sugar and four hops to create a gold beer with a decent white head. It has an 11.1-percent alcohol content, and it's evident, which turned me off a bit -- especially on the rather bitter finish.

The Dingle Brewing Company's Crean's Irish Lager was rich gold and poured with little head. It uses fresh spring water from County Kerry and, while it's a rather clean and refreshing 4.2-per-cent alcohol summer beer with a noticeable biscuit element, there's nothing exceptional about it.

Finbarra Novohal Cidery's Stonewall Craft Cider from County Cork is a pale straw-coloured, medium dry cider made with a variety of apples. It has a lovely apple nose with a crisp and fruity taste that's not too sweet, and it closes with a pleasing aftertaste. I enjoyed this more than a few of the Canadian ciders I tried later in the evening, including some from Ironwood Hard Cider, Thornbury and Shiny.

The White Hag Black Boar Imperial Oatmeal Stout was my second high-octane beer at 10.2 per cent alcohol by volume and 60 on the IBU scale,  and I preferred it over the Hop Priority Triple IPA as the alcohol didn't overpower the rest of the flavour profile. It provides a good blend of malt and bitterness with tastes of dark chocolate and a hint of coffee. I could probably only drink one of these, but I'd enjoy it.

I've never been a big fan of rye beers, but I liked the two on offer from Donegal's Kinnegar Brewing.

Rustbucket Rye Ale had a rich head and a fruity aroma with a hint of spice accompanied by 5.1 per cent alcohol.

Another farmhouse ale from the brewery, Black Bucket Black Rye IPA, didn't have an overpowering rye flavour, which I appreciated. It pours a very dark brown with a small tan head. Roasted malt, a hint of fruit and biscuit, a pleasant hop aroma and 6.5 per cent alcohol made me enjoy this more than I expected.

Bru Rua Irish Red Ale is dark amber and poured with a small white head. I don't drink a lot of red ales these days, but the tangerine and citrus flavour it offered made it quite drinkable, if nothing special.

McGargles Cousin Rosie's Pale Ale uses mostly German malts and, while this 4.5-per-cent alcohol beer was easy drinking and had a clean finish, I would have liked more hops from the bouquet and flavour.

McGargles Granny Mary's Red Ale was dark red and very malt-driven with a pleasant finish and 4.4 per cent alcohol by volume.

McGargles Fancy Frank's Lager is a crisp, gold-coloured, 4.5-per-cent alcohol beer with a slight floral bouquet and a slightly bitter finish.

O'Hara's Stout is fairly robust and the roasted malts provide a dark coffee profile with a tinge of liquorice. It was pretty smooth, but I'll still take one of the traditional Irish stouts that I'm more familiar with over this one.

Eight Degrees Brewing's Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale poured a medium dark gold with a small white head. It's made with three hops, which gives it a decent hoppiness with a bit of a fruity citrus nose, but the malty sweetness also evident took it down a notch for me.

Dublin's Porterhouse Brewing Co.'s five-per-cent alcohol Hop Head IPA had a hoppy aroma with a hint of pine. Four malts and four hops, including Cascade and Centennial, give this five-per-cent beer some complexity.

Porterhouse's award-winning Plain Porter poured dark brown but didn't have as much body as I would  have liked. Its composition includes three malts, two barleys and three hops. This 4.2-per-cent beer has a nice coffee-influenced flavour that goes down well.

My final beer at the Irish Pavilion was Porterhouse's Oyster Stout, which uses the same ingredients as the Plain Porter minus Crystal malt and with the addition of fresh oysters in the conditioning tank. It's smooth, well-balanced and slightly sweet with an alcohol percentage of 4.6.