Sunday, November 22, 2015

Booze variety sampling at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Less than a decade ago, when I used to go to beer events or Ontario beer retail outlets, it was difficult to find a beer that I hadn't already tried. Now, with the explosion of small breweries everywhere, it's very difficult to keep up with all of the new brews that are becoming available.

So while there were several beers that I'd previously sampled available at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo on Saturday evening, and 18 more I added to that list at the event on Thursday, I was still able to make some new discoveries during my second visit this year to Toronto's biggest annual food and drink event.

Saturday's drinking began with Beau's Patio Saison, a 5.9-per-cent, gold beer topped with a small white head. The Belgian-styled beer has a slightly spicy aroma, a mildly hopped and not too funky flavour, and a pleasant finish.

Beau's Sleepy Time is a very dark ruby-coloured Belgian-styled imperial stout that poured with a large tan head. The relatively high eight-per-cent alcohol content came through a bit in both the nose and taste. It lacked the rich body I was hoping for, which ultimately made it a little disappointing.

Whitewater Brewing Co. is located an hour west of Ottawa and is new to me, so I had to try the two beers it had on offer. Farmer's Daughter Blonde Ale is a five-per-cent beer that rates 22 on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale. It's unfiltered and unpasteurized, giving it a cloudy gold appearance. There's little aroma and nothing special about its taste.

Whitewater's Class V IPA was a step up. The 5.5-per-cent, 72 IBU, cloudy amber beer with a quickly dissipating white head has a floral and mildly fruity aroma. The hops didn't hit as hard as I was expecting, which makes this easy-finishing IPA appropriate for mid-level hop heads.

Into The Shade Saison is a gold, 5.2-per-cent beer with a mildly grassy aroma. I like a little more funk and spice in my saisons, but the stone fruit element in the flavour makes it quite approachable.
It's not often that you come across an easy-drinking Belgian-styled tripel, but Cameron's Dry-Hopped Tripel definitely qualifies and was probably my favourite beer of the night. It doesn't taste as potent as its 7.5 per cent alcohol content suggests, which means it could sneak up on you because you'll want to keep drinking this slightly cloudy gold beer. Its fruity aroma and flavour are quite enticing.

Nickel Brook Equilibrium Extra Special Bitter
is a dark orange/amber beer with 5.5 per cent alcohol content. It's very well-balanced and has a pleasant maltiness blended with a hop-forward profile. I don't drink many ESBs, but this is quite solid.

I'm not into sour beers either, so Nickel Brook Uber Raspberry Sour isn't something that I'll seek out again. But the 3.8-per-cent, dark pink/light red beer has an enjoyable raspberry bouquet and an appropriate level of raspberry tartness. This is one of the better sours I've had.

Lost Craft is a new Toronto brewery founded by Shehan De Silva, and its first beer is the 4.8-per-cent, all-natural, pale gold Revivale Premium Lagered Ale. As I told De Silva, I don't mind a Kolsch-style beer if I'm in Cologne, Germany, but it's not the first thing I reach for at home.

That was the last beer to cross off my list at the expo, so I decided to try a handful of new-to-me ciders and coolers next.

Bomb Premium Cider is from Hamilton and uses apples from Puddicombe Estate Farms. The light gold, 4.5-per-cent cider is a little too sweet for my taste and I don't think I could drink more than a couple of them by choice.

Mike's Hard Lemonade can be a refreshing way to quench your thirst on a hot summer day, and its new Mike's Extra Dry Hard Lemonade is a little less sweet and more dry than the original. At seven per cent, it also has a slightly higher alcohol content but remains easy to drink.

Mike's Hard Ice Tea and Lemonade tastes and smells a lot more like iced tea than lemonade. All of the ingredients in this amber-coloured cooler come from British Columbia. If you like iced tea and alcohol, this five-per-cent drink is for you.

The same can be said for American Vintage Hard Iced Tea, an American-made, cloudy orange-coloured refresher made with cane sugar. You can't taste the five-per-cent alcohol content at all.

Palm Bay Iced Tea blends mango and lemon. The mango is most prevalent in the bouquet and the iced tea comes through in the flavour of this easy-drinking, five-per-cent alcohol cooler.

Palm Bay Dragonfruit and Watermelon is peach-coloured and has a sweet watermelon aroma. It's five per cent, not too sweet and went down very easily.

With my beer snob credibility hanging by a thread after those coolers, I elected to spend the rest of my night trying new liquors.

I've had El Dorado 5-Year-Old Rum before, but there were three other variations available at the show. El Dorado 3-Year-Old Rum is a white rum that tastes like a darker rum with its vanilla and brown sugar notes. It's quite smooth and priced competitively with Bacardi white rum.

El Dorado 8-Year-Old Rum is an amber-coloured Demerera rum that's very tasty and pretty smooth. El Dorado 12-Year-Old Rum is another amber Guyanese Demerara with a nice, spicy aroma. While it's easy to sip, it also has a bite.

Collingwood Blended Canadian Whiskey, a relatively new Ontario product, is 40 per cent and nothing out of the ordinary.

As with El Dorado, I've had Nicaragua's Fleur De Cana rum before, but not the Fleur De Cana 12-Year-Old Rum I sampled on Saturday. It's definitely drinkable, but not great.

Chic Choc Spiced Rum incorporates spices from Quebec's Chic Choc Mountains, including peppery green alder, pine forest spikenard, whiterod berries, lovage root, sweet gale seeds and wild angelica. The 42.5-per-cent amber rum has a spicy bouquet and feels pleasant in your mouth.

Rum Chata is a blend of Caribbean rum, dairy cream, natural and artificial flavours. The American-made liqueur has an alcohol content of 13.75 per cent and has a pleasant aroma, but I prefer other cream-based liqueurs that aren't as sweet as this one.

I'm a fan of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire is a similar product attempting to capitalize on the former's explosive popularity. Its alcohol content is 35 per cent and a shot of it goes down well.

Last call arrived, and these last few shots helped make my cold and wet walk home a little bit warmer.

Eighteeen beers to open Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

It's called the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, but my time spent at Toronto's biggest food and drink event of the year last Thursday evening was spent sampling new beers.

Things began at the Strathroy Brewing Company booth. The brewery opened in June 2014 and I wasn't familiar with it, but president Alex Martin provided me with a good overview of the company and its bottle-conditioned beers.

I first sampled 1815 Lockstock Ale, a four-per-cent alcohol, non-gluten beer with a nice peach-citrus aroma, crisp fruit flavour and dry finish. It  looks a bit like champagne in the glass and, perhaps because it uses Australian hops, reminded me of the always enjoyable Cooper's Sparkling Ale.

Even better was 1812 Independence Pale Ale, a dark gold, 5.5-per-cent English pale ale with a Belgian twist that was the brewery's first beer. There were herbal lemon-lime hop notes and peach, banana and clove esters. The Belgian Trappist yeast it uses makes one think of a wheat beer.

The 1815 Smokin' Cannon Stout is a five-per-cent, dry oyster stout with a dark ruby colour and nice tan head. Elements of chocolate and pepper were present.

The final selection was the brewery's first batch of 1815 Freedom Framboise, a 5.5-per-cent, gluten-free fruit beer made with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. It pours a rich dark red and presents a well-balanced, slightly tart flavour, a fruity bouquet and dry finish.

As an added bonus, Stephen Beaumont dropped by while I was at the Strathroy booth. He's one of the world's foremost beer writers and told me about the latest trips he's made around the world in pursuit of his passion and the 10th book that he's in the process of putting together.

Railway City Cranberry Festive Lager is released every December by the St. Thomas, Ont. brewery. It uses Bala, Ont. cranberries and the fruit is subtly evident to the nose and palate. The 5.5-per-cent beer isn't particularly fruity and I can't envision myself drinking many of them in one sitting.

Brew Ginger Ale comes from a Windsor, Ont. brew pub called Brew. This alcoholic ginger beer has a very strong gingerbread aroma and its biscuity maltiness makes it taste more like a gingerbread cookie than the sharper ginger beers I prefer -- most notably Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer.

Amsterdam Testify Brett Pale Ale is a 5.7-per-cent beer that's pale, cloudy gold with a rich, white head and a nice hoppy aroma with elements of citrus and pine. Its use of Brett yeast and Nelson, Sauvin and Mosaic hops makes it quite hop-forward and leads to a very nice finish.

Amsterdam Cruiser is a medium to dark gold, 4.9-per-cent pale ale with a pleasing hoppy aroma and flavour and a dry finish. It rates 40 on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale and is very good.

Mill Street Betelgeuse is an 8.5-per-cent Belgian-styled beer that pours dark gold underneath a small head. The Belgian malts dominate and the high alcohol content isn't immediately evident. I wouldn't drink more than one, but liked its pear and bubblegum finish.

Mill Street Scotch Ale is a dark ruby, almost brown, malt-forward beer that poured with a small head. I'm generally not a fan of Scotch ales, but I prefer this one to most I've had.

Hop City 8th Sin Lager Beer is a black lager that uses eight types of malt and has hints of espresso, cocoa, caramel, dried fruit and smoke. It has five-per-cent alcohol content and rates 25 on the IBU scale.

Hop City Big Mouth Pale Ale is about twice as bitter and uses Cascade hops from the United States and Kent Golding hops from the United Kingdom. It has a pleasing gold colour, a flowery, citrus aroma and a five-per-cent alcohol content.

Oast House Kentucky Hill Bourbon Sour is dark brown and pours with a nice tan head. This 5.4-per-cent beer is somewhat sour and a bit acidic. It's OK, and maybe even good, for the style. It's just not my thing.

Lake of Bays Wild North Midnight Bock Lager
is a very dark brown and quite malty 5.5-per cent beer that -- like almost everything I've had from this Ontario cottage country brewery -- is pretty unexceptional.

Beau's Fous Allies is based on the Belgian saison style and is infused with organic mango puree to give it a light orange colour and very pleasing fruit flavour profile. It's 6.1 per cent alcohol, which is a good number to enjoy a few -- but not too many -- of.

Beau's Screamin' Beaver is much more potent, checking in at 9.9 per cent, though it doesn't taste quite that strong. The oak-aged double IPA has a hoppy aroma and flavour and a dark amber colour.

Old Tomorrow Rye Raw is pretty good for a rye beer, another style I don't drink much of. It has a 5.5-per-cent alcohol content.

There's nothing wrong with Guinness Blonde American Lager. It's just another average-tasting, unexceptional beer. Stick to the brewery's world-famous stout. You'll be much happier.