Sunday, March 26, 2017

Toronto Winter Brewfest learned from last year

The second edition of the Toronto Winter Brewfest was misnamed by a few days, since it launched during the first week of spring, but that was about the only quibble I had with this year’s event.

The introduction of RFID bracelets meant all transactions took place electronically and, after getting used to tapping them a couple of times to pay for your beer samples or food, it was an efficient way of handling things. Top-up stations made it easy to add money and, despite the large crowd that attended on Friday night (Saturday night sold out in advance), lineups were generally shorter and increased space meant that there was more room to move than last year.

Prices were also lower, as more than two-thirds of the four-ounce sample glasses were priced at two dollars, with beers above 6.1 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) going for three bucks.

Toronto is blessed with a variety of beer festivals and events, and this newcomer drew mixed reviews in its debut, but I heard very few complaints from patrons this time out.

And believe me, I know about complaints. I dealt with a lot of them at last year’s Toronto Winter Brewfest after serving for a shift behind the busiest bar. There were problems with the refrigeration trailer that made the beer pour unreasonably foamy and caused us to shut it down for a period of time until technicians made adjustments and repairs.

I spoke with Alex Van Dieren, one of the organizers, who generously bought me a $12 pork souvlaki from Pappas Greek on Wheels food truck as a thank you for making the best of a bad situation the previous year. He said he’d received much better feedback this time out and was pleased with how the evening was progressing. Lessons learned seem to have paid off.

While on the topic of food, T Dot’s Nonsense, Delight Bite, Hank Daddy’s Barbecue and Pappas had trucks on hand to offer hearty dishes to soak up all of the beer being consumed. I paid $11 for a small and delicious order of chicken poutine from Delight Bite later in the evening. Lineups were small and there was an adequate amount of tables and chairs to sit down and eat at.

The bars that weren’t specifically dedicated to a single brewery were the ones that most interested me, as they had the best variety and most interesting styles to choose from, but they’re staffed with volunteers who can’t explain much about what they’re pouring. But during my wandering around the Enercare Centre Heritage Court I had the opportunity to talk shop with: Jordan St. John, co-author of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide and other books, who bought me a beer; and Toronto Star beer writer Josh Rubin.

My friend Jeff and I made cameo appearances 37 seconds in to a Winter Briefest report on the local CTV six o’clock news.

Armed with 50 “Brew Bucks” given to me by Brew Fest organizers and the publicity team from Halo PR, I sampled 19 different beers over several hours.

My favourites were:

Beyond The Pale Juicy Dream IPA
This pale gold Vermont-style IPA from the Ottawa brewery poured with a nice white head and had a rich and fruity aroma and full-bodied flavour with an easy finish. It measured in at six per cent ABV and 50 international bitterness units (IBU).

Beyond The Pale Aromatherapy IPA
This was quite similar to Juicy Dream, but was a slightly darker gold and poured with a smaller white head. The alcohol and bitterness were notched up slightly, at 6.5 per cent ABV and 55 IBU respectively, and left a pleasant taste in your mouth and a smile on your face with its effective mixture of Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo and Centennial hops.

Redline Sprung! Belgian Pale Ale
This slightly cloudy gold ale was finished with a rich white head and had a definite citrus aroma. It uses four kinds of hops, three types of malt, Belgian yeast esters and coriander seed that combine to produce a pleasant flavour with hints of bubblegum and banana. With 4.9 per cent ABV and 31 IBU, this Barrie, Ont. brewery has come up with a beer that acts as a good introduction to those wanting to ease their way into the wonderful world of Belgian pale ales.

Stalwart Down By The River Wheat Ale
This Carleton Place, Ont. brewery has made a well-rounded 5.3 per cent ABV, 29 IBU ale that includes wheat and oats. It has a floral and lemon bouquet, a slightly cloudy gold colour and a dry and mildly bitter finish that leaves you wanting another one.

Gainsbourg La Traitresse 2.0
This Hull, Que. brewery has made a Belgian Tripel-style beer that’s medium gold with a thin head and a rich floral bouquet. At 10.7 per cent ABV, you can taste the high alcohol content, but it certainly doesn’t overpower you and it has a surprisingly easy finish.

Vox Populi Anna Citra
This Belgian Tripel-syle beer from the Boucherville, Que. brewery is made at Oshlag Brasserie & Distillerie. It’s made completely with Citra hops, which happen to be my favourite, and Belgian yeast. At 10 per cent ABV and 75 IBU, it’s probably not wise to drink a lot of these — but you’ll want to.

Castor Yakima IPA
This is made in Rigaud, Que. but has the bold hop and flavour profile of an American west coast IPA. It’s dark gold and has a large white head and its strong citrus flavours and aromas on a bed of pale malt produces a refreshing beer that’s not as bitter as you might expect from a 6.5 per cent ABV, 75 IBU ale.

Here are the other beers I drank, in rough approximation from most to least favourite:

Le Trèfle Noir La Mafia Gibb American Pale Ale
Barnstormer Accelerated Stall Double IPA
Benelux Cuda West Coast IPA
Left Field Prospect Hallertau Blanc Single Hop IPA
Nita Beer Coach’s Challenge Imperial IPA
Beau’s Bush Fire Rooibos-Honeybush Beer
Gainsbourg Cote Ouest Tangelo (cask)
Walkerville Sweet Milk Stout
Folly Brewpub Little Barasway Porter
Waller St. Harvest Sour (cask)
Whiprsnapr Blackberry Blastr IPA
Innocente Two Night Stand (cask)