Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hits and misses at Toronto's Festival of Beer

Black Oak Brewing Company's 10 Bitter Years made the biggest impression in my 19th year of attending Toronto's Festival of Beer.

The double India pale ale has been voted Canada's best imperial IPA, and with good reason. The eight-per cent alcohol ale is double dry-hopped using three types of hops and presents a very well-balanced quaff. The amber beer offers a robust aroma with hints of pineapple and grapefruit that then give way to the ample, though not overpowering, hops. It has a nice body and a slightly malty finish, and it's no wonder that Black Oak has difficulty keeping the small batch brew (which was originally created to celebrate its 10th anniversary) in stock.

I was impressed enough to stick around and sample Black Oak's Dubbel Entendre, a dark brown Belgian-style ale brewed with Belgian candy sugar. I'm generally not a big fan of this style and, while I could tell that this 7.4-per cent beer was well made, it's too sweet for my palate.

Black Oak was also offering a one-off cask while I was at its booth, a 5.2-per cent brew that uses its nut brown ale as its base and is then topped off with Dr. Pepper. I expected more carbonation from the soft drink, but it was as flat as the vague black cherry flavour that it added. Just one keg was made, and that's enough. It's not very good.

I don't mind Creemore Springs' Kellerbier, so I decided to try the seasonal one offered by King Brewery. The unpasteurised beer was a cloudy gold colour, had a non-distinct aroma and lacks the crispness of most European-style lagers. I found little of note to recommend it and will stick with Creemore's version.

Lake of Bays' River Walker Summer Ale features a blend of ginger and lemon. Its bright gold colour and early aroma and taste initially impressed, but you can taste a bit of the alcohol in the six-per cent ale, which you normally don't want in a summer sipper.

Silversmith Brewing Company was established two years ago, but this was my first experience with the two products it had on hand. I started with its Bavarian Breakfast Wheat and, while I could drink any beer for breakfast if pressed, there seemed to be a creaminess to it even though it's just brewed with water, wheat, malt and hops. I'll attribute that to the secondary in-keg fermentation that adds more depth. It's 5.2 per cent alcohol and okay, but there are a lot of other wheat beers that I'd take over this.

Next up was Silversmith's Black Lager, which comes from a German recipe dating back 700 years. The five-per cent brew starts like a stout and ends like a lager owing to its dark, malty character, but its smoky aroma and flavour didn't make a great impression.

Snowman Brewing Co. makes its Pail Ale on Black Oak's premises, and it's gluten-free status is its key selling point. I may have a few problems, but luckily eating gluten isn't one of them. I couldn't envision having to drink a beer as unappealing as this unfiltered, foresty concoction.

Sawdust City One Bourbon One Scotch One Bier was aged for three months in a bourbon barrel. I got notes of vanilla and cherry from this light brown, German lagered ale. It may have been my second favourite beer of the fest after 10 Bitter Years.

Flying Monkey's Matador Imperial Ale was dark amber and slightly cloudy and poured with a decent head. It's aged in a cedar barrel, and you can pick up a lot of cedar in the taste and aroma. It's both complex and distinct and, while I enjoyed the first few mouthfuls, I liked it less the more I drank.

Old Kentucky Bastard is a 10-per cent Imperial Stout from Nickel Brook Brewery. It pours with a nice head and is chocolatey and slightly sweet, and the high alcohol content doesn't overwhelm the other elements. I approve.

Melville's just recently arrived in Canada, and comes to us courtesy of the same people who brew Innis & Gunn. Its Ginger Beer is made with pure, natural stem ginger, but this 4.1-per cent alcohol lager is surprisingly subtle with the amount of ginger you smell and taste. It's definitely the key ingredient, but doesn't have the bite of some ginger beers. A few of these on a summer day would go down just fine.

Melville's Strawberry Craft Lager uses Jubilee strawberries to give it a striking red colour. The fruit comes through much more in the flavour than in the bouquet. I prefer the ginger beer.

I've seen King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen on the LCBO shelves on my past few visits, but didn't pull the trigger on purchasing one of the large bottles. I was therefore eager to try a sample of this unfiltered, German-syle wheat beer from British Columbia's Howe Sound Brewing, which had a banana and clove aroma. The 7.7-per cent beer would be best served with a lemon wedge, but there were none available. I still doubt if I'll pick up a bottle at the liquor store.

Elysian Brewing Company's Immortal IPA is a light copper-coloured ale from Seattle that has a lot of hops up front, but not enough to scare non-hop heads away. It has 6.2-per cent alcohol and was one of my favourites of the festival.

Silver City Brewing Co.'s Whoop Ass Double IPA packs an 8.5-per cent alcohol punch, but it was silly that the server wouldn't let me order one for myself and another for my friend and photographer Jeff, who was standing nearby. I had to order one, deliver it to him, and then come back for mine. It's unfiltered and reddish orange, and offers fruit and grass elements to both the nose and tongue, along with a hint of caramel sweetness.

Last call rolled around, so we made haste and headed for the media lounge to enjoy a couple glasses each of Goose Island's Sofie. I'm a fan both of this Chicago brewery and the saison style, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this 6.5-per cent Belgian-style farmhouse ale that's aged in wine barrels with citrus peel. It's cloudy gold in colour, sparkling in its body and blends citrus and vanilla flavours.

Should I start counting down the days to the 20th edition of Toronto's Festival of Beer yet?