Monday, October 24, 2016

Lapping up the leftovers at Cask Days

I’ve volunteered to serve beer at the annual Cask Days festival at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works for the past few years because it enables me to relive my bartending days, hang out with other beer aficionados and gain admission to non-working sessions for free.

Last year I was invited to the Friday night session after my Friday afternoon shift, and then to bring a friend to the Sunday afternoon session, in exchange for my service. Organizers were less generous this time, as I was just offered free admission to Sunday for myself only. I also received a Cask Days T-shirt and three food tickets, which I spent on some delicious Brando’s fried chicken during a short break in my shift.

Friday afternoons aren’t generally that busy, so it allows me to talk to patrons more than I could at the much busier Friday night and Saturday sessions. I enjoyed my time pouring more than 50 different types of unfiltered, unpasteurized and naturally carbonated real ales from Quebec, and it was a good way to gear me up for a trip to Duggan’s Brewery later that evening.

I arrived at the Brickworks on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., purchased a dozen five-ounce sample tokens for $30, and began my thirst-quenching quest. The good thing about Sunday at Cask Days is that it’s not overly crowded. The downside is that the most popular beers are all gone because there’s only one cask of each and they’re not replaced when they’re done.

So I did my best to try and make the best of what was left. I wasn’t offended by any of what I sampled, but I wasn’t knocked out by anything either. I’d rate most of them a five, six or seven out of 10.

I started with India pale ales from Quebec, California, New York and Oregon. In honour of late Motorhead singer/bassist Lemmy Kilmister, I ordered an Ace of Spades Double IPA from Portland, Ore.-based Hopworks Urban Brewery. It was cloudy, tan-coloured and had a pleasant hop and pine aroma. It went down nicely with an easy finish. It wasn’t a knockout, but it was the best of the five IPAs I tried.

I then went for a Graveyards Pale Ale from California-based brew pub chain Pizza Port Brewing Company. This American pale ale was the clearest one of the day and had a very mild aroma. There was no overt happiness and it was somewhat complex and spicy, almost like a saison.

Ulla!, a dark farmhouse ale with raspberries from Toronto’s Folly Brewpub, was black and had a rich raspberry bouquet and a flavour profile dominated by the fruit. I probably would have liked it more if it wasn’t so acidic.

Since it’s October, I figured I should have a pumpkin beer, and my choices seemed limited to Nickel Brook’s Pumpkin Stout. It poured black and had more of a spice than pumpkin aroma and taste. It was thinner than I’d like in a stout, but it was flavourful.

There were almost 60 ciders at Cask Days, more than ever before. Since a lot of beer nerds probably just stuck to sampling ales, I noticed that there was a better selection of ciders available and spent most of the rest of my time around those casks.

Unfortunately, like with the ales, I only came across ciders that I’d rate in the five to seven out of 10 range.

Again, since Halloween is looming, I figured I should have a pumpkin cider. I tried Spirit Tree Estate Cidery’s Pumpkin Chai. It was a very cloudy pale yellow. It had a pleasing chai aroma and both chai and pumpkin were evident to the palate, though definitely more of the former than the latter.

Les Vergers De La Colline from Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, Que. was a cloudy gold apple tea cider. You could taste the tea, and this mild cider was pleasant but unexceptional.

Ernest Cider Co.’s Key West dry-hopped cider was flavoured with key limes, lemongrass and liquorice. It wasn’t as robust as what those ingredients should have produced.

Revel Pear Necessities was a very cloudy tan-coloured perry cider that incorporated Sauvignon Blanc yeast. While relatively mild, it still had a funky flavour that didn’t appeal much to me.

By then I was subtly buzzed and, judging by what I’d already had, I didn’t think I was going to make any brilliant discoveries if I bought more tokens. So with The The’s “This Is The Day” emanating from the DJ booth and putting an extra bounce in my step, I made my way out.

One of the things I like most about Evergreen Brick Works is the trails that lead out of it. I followed one through a forested area until hitting some streets I’d never been. I then made my way to Bloor Street and then southwest across the downtown core during a two-hour walk that included a brief pit stop for a couple of chicken pitas for dinner.

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