Monday, July 30, 2018

Observations from Toronto’s Festival of Beer

I made my annual pilgrimage to Toronto’s Festival of Beer and took advantage of its Thursday opening evening, which is less crowded and hectic than the sessions over the following three days and made it easier to speak with the brewery representatives.

My first stop was the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies tent, which had several interesting collaborative brews to choose from, including: London Brewing Co-Op Bramble & Bine, a 4.9-per-cent alcohol raspberry-kumquat saison, where the fruit element hits you first before the spice and yeast aspects creep in on the finish; and Amsterdam Sassy Beach Pale Ale, an unfiltered ale with the colour of sand and flavours of pineapple, mango and papaya.

There was a spotlight on Victoria, B.C.’s Phillips Brewing & Malting Co., which was set up nearby. I’ve tried the cans they have in Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores and wasn’t overly impressed, but sampled two that aren’t available in the province. The easy-drinking Solaris White Peach Ale was nothing special. The Electric Unicorn White IPA — which mixes Mosaic and Citra hops with wheat — was pleasant and slightly better.

I made my way over to the large beehive-shaped Funk Town tent, which featured its own DJ and focused on beers made with dank hops and wild yeasts. Unfortunately, during my visit, it didn’t feature brewery reps to talk about the various available sours or water to rinse out glasses. It was a good idea executed badly and I took a pass.

TekSavvy presented New Brews, an area dedicated to 12 newer breweries. Unfortunately, I’d previously had everything that Saulter Street Brewery had on tap and the styles offered by the other breweries weren’t among my favourites. The one exception, and the only brewery I had the wares from at the tent, was OverHop Brewing Co., which representative Tatiana Fulton told me is moving from Toronto to Montreal this week.

As you’d guess by the name, hops rule at this brewery, which originated in Brazil before entering Canada. I started with the Hazy New England IPA, a 50 IBU, 6.5-per cent, somewhat hazy ale with a rich mouth feel and clean finish. I then took a step up in strength and bitterness with the citrusy 90 IBU, nine-per cent OneLove Imperial IPA, which was smoother and easier to drink than expected.

Cowbell Brewing Co. always makes interesting beers in its Renegade Series and has friendly folks to chat with, so it made a natural next stop. 

The 6.5-per cent, 30 IBU, very pale, unfiltered Mango Milkshake IPA was mildly sour and not as rich as I was hoping for. The lime zest was definitely evident in the refreshing, four-per-cent, 12 IBU Paradise Lime Wit, which was a slight step up. I was nonplussed by the 11-per-cent Cinnamon and Cardamon Belgian Tripel.

But it was Cowbell’s 6.5-per cent, 30 IBU Belgian Spiced Tripel Nitro that captured my heart and was my favourite beer of the evening. It poured a cloudy dark gold with a rich tan head. It was very rich, slightly sweet and completely delicious. Once last call neared and I had to spend my remaining beer tokens in a hurry, I made a beeline for Cowbell and downed a couple more to satiate my thirst and end the session on a guaranteed high note.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Prince Eddy’s Brewing Company, but was impressed with the Picton, Ont. brewery’s Citra IPA. The five-per-cent ale poured a light, cloudy gold and had a strong citrus bouquet, well-balanced flavour and easy finish.

I always spend time at the Flying Monkeys booth during this festival, and I wasn’t disappointed by what was on tap this year.

Its Pina Colada had a lovely aroma, as you might expect from a coconut and pineapple milkshake IPA made with tropical hops. The 6.3-per-cent, 55 IBU ale’s flavour veered more towards the coconut. This was a strong contender for my second favourite beer of the fest, but may have been edged out by the same brewery’s Cherry Pie Dessert Ale. The graham cracker malt balanced out the sweet cherries very nicely. It may not be for everyone, but it was for me.

Big Rig Brewery’s output has been hit and miss for me over the years, but its Walla Walla Big Bang Mango Milkshake IPA was definitely a hit. The unfiltered, cloudy orange, 6.6-per-cent, 80 IBU ale had a pleasing citrus and mango aroma, a slight tartness and a rich and satisfying mouth feel.

I like Angry Orchard Cider so, when I saw it was offering a rose cider, I had to try it. It was slightly sweet, went down well and was enjoyable.

I sampled a few other beers, but I think the less said about Barnstormer Watermelon Ale, Midway India Session Ale and Junction Ghost Train IPA the better.

Toronto’s Festival of Beer always features a variety of musical acts, but The English Beat, Squeeze and Sloan are the only acts I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve actually focused on over the past 24 years.

The Thursday lineup this year on the OLG Bandshell Stage was comprised of The Darcys, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Broken Social Scene. I’ve seen all of them before and don’t count myself as a fan of any of them, but they provided an inoffensive background soundtrack to the real matter at hand: drinking new beers.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Toronto’s biggest beer festival is back again

Toronto’s Festival of Beer offered 416 different brews last year, and it’s doing the same again this round.

This year’s fest runs from July 26 to 29 at Bandshell Park at Exhibition Place and will be offering a downtown Toronto area code’s worth of local, national and international drink choices.

In addition to the normal assortment of dozens of brewery kiosks, a spotlight will be placed on Victoria, B.C.’s Phillips Brewing & Malting Co. 

Thirteen breweries will try to show off their prowess with dank hops and wild yeasts in the Funk Town section.

There will be a spotlight on “Women in Beer” featuring 10 breweries and Society of Beer Drinking Ladies collaboration brews from Cowbell Brewing Co., Henderson Brewing Co., Little Beasts Brewing Co., People’s Pint Brewing Co. and London Brewing Co-Operative.

TekSavvy will present New Brews — an area dedicated to 12 newer breweries, including Tobermory Brewing Co., Power House Brewing Co., Skeleton Park Brewery and GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co.

You’ll likely need a base for all of that beer, and you won’t be limited for food choices as La Palma, Campagnolo, Fidel Gastro's, Tiny Tom Donuts, Queen Margherita Pizza, Smoke's Poutinerie, South St. Burger, Jerk Brothers, Ted's World Famous BBQ, Ted's Beer Dogs, Heirloom Toronto, ONO Pok√© Bar, Melt Grilled Cheese, Ontario Corn Roasters, Oyster Boy, Hot Bunzz Street Cuizine and Brando's Fried Chicken will all be selling their wares.

Perhaps you’d like some music to accompany your drinking and eating?

I’ll be attending on opening night, as it’s usually a little less crowded and draws more discerning drinkers and fewer yahoos just out to quaff big brewery beers and wear silly hats. It will also include performances by Broken Social Scene, The Rural Alberta Advantage and The Darcys.

Hip-hop artist Ludacris will perform on Friday, cover song maestros Dwayne Gretzky will play on Saturday and you can try and recapture the ‘90s with Canadian alt.rock bands I Mother Earth and Finger Eleven on Sunday.