Sunday, November 22, 2015

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.

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