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.
Cameron's 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.