Saturday, November 19, 2016

Beer night at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Toronto’s Gourmet Food & Wine Expo seemed smaller this year, but there were still a couple dozen beers and ciders that I hadn’t tried before (as well as a few cocktails and wines) that were available to sample on Friday night.

Four beers stood out from the rest.

Smuttynose Brewing Finest Kind IPA from New Hampshire is made in a LEED Gold-certified brewery, but it’s not just its facility that’s impressive. The 6.9-per cent alcohol ale pours a slightly cloudy gold with little head and a pleasant hop aroma. It stands at a 75 IBU on the bitterness scale but, despite this, the taste is crisp, clean and well-balanced and isn’t excessively bitter. It has an excellent and surprisingly easy finish.

Beau’s Collabrewnaut Espresso Pilsner was perhaps the most unique beer I tried. I’ve had espresso porters and stouts before but had never tried it in a pilsner. It works wonderfully. It’s very finely filtered so the coffee bean darkness doesn’t infuse the five per cent beer, but the flavour certainly does.

Beau’s Polaris Pale Ale was made for the Polaris Music Prize gala and, since I didn’t attend this year, the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo presented my first opportunity to try this five-per cent alcohol beer that’s brewed with spruce tips. It’s rich gold, pours with little head and has a 32 IBU. There’s not a lot of spruce in the nose but it comes through in the flavour. The spiciness of the spruce gives it a bit of bite almost like ginger, making Polaris a bit reminiscent of a ginger beer.

I didn’t expect a lot from Moosehead Radler, but I was happily surprised by it. It’s a pale and slightly cloudy gold and, at four per cent, has a bit more of an alcoholic kick than many radlers. I’m on medication where I’m not supposed to eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice, so I couldn’t have many of these for that reason, but they’re certainly refreshing enough that I’d like to on a hot summer day.

There were three other beers just a notch below these.

Railway City Express India Session Lager is a dry-hopped, 4.8-per cent, 18 IBU beer made with Galaxy, Mosaic and Cascade hops at the St. Thomas, Ont. brewery. It’s light gold with  a beautiful hop and pine aroma and a well-balanced flavour.

Railway City Double Dead Elephant Imperial IPA is a 7.5-per cent alcohol beer that’s dark gold and pours with a big white head. It has a gentler aroma and flavour than I expected, as the high alcohol content and bitterness expressed in its 90 IBU rating aren’t overpowering. It finishes very nicely.

I’m a wimp when it comes to sour Berliner Weisse beers, but Nickel Brook Raspberry Uber may be my favourite of the style since it’s not overly sour and isn’t that much different from some raspberry-flavoured beers I’ve had.

There were three beers I’d put in the next tier.

Charlie Wells Dry Hopped Lager from the United Kingdom just arrived in Ontario and the 4.7-per cent alcohol beer has more body than a lot of lagers. It’s gold, has a small head and is made with two types of malt and four different hops. It’s an easy-drinking, refreshing beer with a smooth finish and is best suited for summer.

Nickel Brook Equilibrium ESB is a 5.5-per cent, 43 IBU beer that pours dark gold with a small head. You can taste the complex blend of hops and malts, but it’s hoppier than many extra special bitter beers I’ve had — which is a plus for my palate.

Nickel Brook Cucumber Lime Gose is cloudy gold and had no head. The cucumber is wonderfully evident in the aroma and, while you can detect the lime as well, it comes through more in the flavour and gives the beer a slightly sour taste. I don’t drink a lot of goses because they tend to be too sour for me, but that’s not the case with this one.

There were seven beers I’d rate a step down from those.

Wellington Kickin’ Back is a dark gold, dry-hopped session ale with a somewhat floral bouquet. At 48 IBU, it may be the Guelph, Ont. brewery’s most hop-forward beer. The 4.8-per cent alcohol ale is dry on the first sip and stays that way through the finish.

Smuttynose Brewing Robust Porter is very dark brown with a tiny head. The 6.6-per cent alcohol beer isn’t as robust as a stout but it has the dark chocolate bitterness of some of them. I preferred the initial introduction over the finish.

Badger Fursty Ferret is from the United Kingdom, where it’s apparently the top-selling craft-bottled ale. It’s a light golden brown and has a bouquet of malt and orange. Raisin comes through with the malt in the flavour, which is nicely balanced and not too heavily malted. I don’t often drink English pale ales, but I appreciate this one.

Median Brewing Dark Ale is a 5.2-per cent alcohol beer from a Windsor, Ont. brewery that opened early last month. The aroma is stronger than the taste, which is initially sharp but then quickly mellows.

Whitewater Midnight Stout is a 4.5-per cent alcohol oatmeal stout that pours black with a medium tan head. It’s coffee and dark chocolate flavour is pleasant, but I would have preferred more body as I found it a bit thin for a stout.

Sierra Nevada Nooner Pilsner is a light gold beer that’s certainly decent but doesn’t stand out. It’s a crisp but easy drinking pilsner.

Propeller IPA from Halifax has just been introduced to Ontario in a can. The 6.5-per cent alcohol, 68 IBU ale is a slightly cloudy gold and has a fruity and full-bodied bouquet. It’s not bitter at first but it has a bit of bite in its finish.

Luckily I have no reason to drink gluten-free beer, as most of them I’ve had aren’t very good. There’s nothing offensive about Bard’s Gluten Free from Utica, N.Y., but it’s very dull in its aroma and flavour profiles and has little to offer. It was my least favourite beer of the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo.

I was quite happy with the three ciders I sampled.

Brickworks Cherry Cider will arrive in the LCBO in early December. I prefer it over the company’s two apple ciders and one peach cider. It has a dry apple cider base augmented with cherries, with all ingredients grown within 300 kilometres of Toronto. It has a five per cent alcohol content and isn’t nearly as sweet as many cherry ciders. Although it’s a seasonal product, I could enjoy it year-round.

Double Trouble Grow A Pear Cider is a pale, 5.5-per cent alcohol perry made in Stoney Creek, Ont. It’s made with water, sugar and pears from Winona, Ont., in the heart of the Niagara wine region. It was a bit sweeter than expected, but I thought it was excellent.

Pommies Perry is a light straw-coloured, semi-sweet and medium dry pear cider with a five per cent alcohol content. It’s crisp, but not overly so, and is very pleasant. Its pears come from around Meaford, Ont.

I’m generally not a fan of barley wines and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to have another Midian Brewing Barley Wine, it was certainly decent. The eight-per cent alcohol brew from this new brewery is a cloudy, dark amber. While you can detect the high alcohol content in the aroma, it’s not overwhelming. It’s full bodied, fruity and gentler than most other barley wines I’ve tried.

I discovered Tito’s Vodka in Austin, Texas several years ago and have drank it on occasion ever since. This time I was given a souvenir Tito’s glass for a drink that mixed the vodka with cranberry juice and lemonade. I wasn’t disappointed.

Les Quarterons Cremant de Loire is a dry and creamy sparkling wine with a slight lemon aroma that’s made with chenin, chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes. The 12-per cent alcohol wine is aged between 18 and 24 months by Amirault in France.

Rodrigues Blueberry Wine from Whitbourne, Nfld. is all natural with no sulphites that rates a two on the sweetness scale and has a 10-per cent alcohol content. I’ve had better blueberry wines.

It was suggested that I also try mixing the Les Quarterons Cremant de Loire with the Rodrigues Blueberry Wine. I did, but preferred them both on their own.

I admit that I attend the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo more for the booze than the food, but I’ve enjoyed the Filipino food from Casa Manila in the past and stopped by its booth again. This time I had a small but delicious meal of a spring roll, tangy boneless chicken adobo and tomato garlic beef stew. I accompanied it with a lovely calamansi mojito. If you haven’t had calamansi juice before, I definitely recommend it. It has a mix of orange and lime flavours that’s great on its own or, as I found, in a rum cocktail.

The Krave Chili Lime Beef Jerky I sampled was excellent. The sweet chipotle flavour was also nice, but not as good.

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