Saturday, March 03, 2018

Sampling the best of Toronto Winter Brewfest

What was probably bad news for organizers of Toronto Winter Brewfest was good for those of us who attended on Friday night.

There were noticeably fewer people in attendance than on the same night last year, which meant either very short or no lineups to sample the 150 craft beers on offer from about four dozen breweries — and more opportunities to talk beer with the people serving them.

And since I spent most of my time at the two large multi-brewery bars largely tended by volunteers, it was heartening that they were given some background information about what they were serving and allowed to taste them so they could provide recommendations. That hasn’t always been the case at this and other beer festivals I’ve attended where there are volunteer bartenders.

I had a VIP pass that allowed me into an area where I could snack on free popcorn, so I didn’t partake of any of the food being served by TDots Naansense, Delight Bite, Sul Irmaos Smokehouse, Pappas Greek, North Shore Pie Co. and Sausage Party.

My focus was beer and I sampled 19 of them.

My favourite was Flying Monkeys Live Transmission milkshake IPA. The well-hopped ale has 6.3-per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) and registers 60 on the international bitterness units (IBU) scale. Lactose sugar, grapefruit, orange peel and coconut white tea are added to the basic beer ingredients. It’s gold in colour and pours with a frilly white head. Once in your glass, it has a very rich aroma and flavour. It just arrived in LCBO stores and I look forward to picking some up so I can enjoy it as much at home as I did at Brewfest.

My second favourite was Block Three The Legend Belgian saison, an eight per cent ABV, 40 IBU farmhouse ale that pours hazy gold with a fluffy white head. Even with the addition of brett, it’s more fruity than funky and is very easy drinking and finishing.

A close third behind the top two was Beyond The Pale Cosmic Latte, a 5.5-per cent ABV traditional stout brewed with blonde ale malts, oats, coffee and cacao nibs. Blood Brothers Guilty Remnant White Chocolate Stout is one of my favourite beers of the moment, and this slightly sweet stout has some similar qualities and is almost as good.

While IPAs accounted for the bulk of my sampling, I also had two wheat beers, a bock, an eisbock, a sour and a Belgian-style tripel.

Here are the other beers I drank, ranked from most to least favourite, at Brewfest on Friday night:

Cowbell Vintage Renegade Series cinnamon cardamom tripel
Small Pony Barrel Works They Go Up! sour aged in oak barrels with Montmorency cherries
Dominion City Sunsplit American IPA
Gainsbourg Blanche de Chelsea witbier
Le Prospecteur Tete de Pioche #85 IPA
Gainsbourg Serie Road Trip double IPA with Simcoe hops
Cowbell Renegade Series black currant bock
Stalwart Dos Jefes American IPA with grapefruit and vanilla
Stray Dog Shaggin’ Wagon New England IPA
Bicycle Craft Freedom Machine barrel-aged cherry pale ale
Orleans Brewing Wild Wild West west coast IPA
Oast House 2018 Eis Bock Eisbock
Flora Lady Friend IPA
Beyond The Pale Whiskey Blood blended whiskey IPA
Founders Centennial IPA American IPA
Perth Citrus Wheat wheat ale

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Toronto Winter Brewfest returns this weekend

Toronto Winter Brewfest will live up to its name in 2018 by being held in the year’s first season, as opposed to the early spring as it was last year.

The third edition of the event takes place at the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on March 2 and 3. Various ticket packages have been discounted and neither evening has yet sold out. Tickets will be available at the door if they’re not all sold.

Purchasing four-ounce beer samples and food will once again be done via tokens after last year’s successful (to me at least) experiment with all-electronic transactions via RFID bracelets. Most samples will cost from two to three dollars, with some imports and small batch specialty beers going up to four bucks.

Attendees will be available to sample some 150 craft beers from about four dozen breweries. Whether your tastes run from hoppy ales to sweet milk stouts, from crisp lagers to fruit-infused sours, or from saisons to stouts, there should be something to appeal to all discriminating beer drinkers.

Calabogie, Elora, Market Brewing, High Park, Oast House, Nickel Brook, Rainhard, Bench, Orleans Brewing, Flying Monkeys, Saulter Street, Maple Beer Co., Halliburton Highlands, 3 Brewers, Beau’s, Goose Island, Railway City, Prince Eddy’s, Whiskeyjack, Spearhead, Creemore, Broadhead and Cowbell will all have booths.

Larger multiple-brewery bars will offer up limited selections from Founders, Stray Dog, Beyond the Pale, Le Prospecteur, Bicycle Craft, Stalwart, Left Field, Redline, Gainsbourg, Collective Arts, Dominion City, Square Timber, Cassel Brewery, Perth, Big Rig, Blood Brothers, Thornbury Village, Revel, Block Three, Domaine Berthiaume, Brasserie du Bas-Canada, The Exchange Brewery, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Two Roads, Small Pony Barrel Works, Kensington and Innocente.

Some ciders, wines, spirits and kombucha will be available for non-beer drinkers.

Those needing to fill their stomachs to try and soak up some of that alcohol can do so with fare from TDots Naansense, Delight Bite, Sul Irmaos Smokehouse, Pappas Greek, North Shore Pie Co. and Sausage Party.

DJs will be spinning tunes both nights if you want to get both your dance and drink on.

Photos by Nick Ghattas