Hi there, folks. My name is Greg, and I'm new to the forum, although I've been a regular Bar Towel visitor for a couple of years now.
I visited the Beer Featival at Fort York yesterday, and posted a review to the tor-eats newsgroup today. I sent a copy to Cass as well, and he asked me to post it to the forum. So - here it is! Some of it may seem to be stating the obvious since it was written for an audience that may not be that familiar with the fest and good beer in general, but I hope you still find it interesting.
"Alright brain, you don't like me and I don't like you. But let's just get through this and then I can get back to killing you with beer" - Homer Simpson
One of the joys I've discovered about working from home (and having a wife who does the same) is the ability to make my own hours (within reason, of course). Since starting my work-at-home life back in March, we've used this gift to our best advantage by hitting many special weekend events on Friday afternoons, thereby avoiding the massive crowds of 9-to-5ers who have to wait until Saturday or Sunday to attend.
An example: last year, Sheryl and I attended the annual Festival of Beer at Fort York (http://www.totalbeer.net/festival/toron ... tofest.htm
) fairly early on Saturday. We had an enjoyable time for the first bit of our visit, as the crowds were light and the stalls were staffed by people who were knowledgeable about the brews they were offering (in many cases, the brewmasters themselves were in attendance). But we were soon overrun by roving gangs of fratboy types who were more concerned with getting a drunk on than sampling some quality suds - and to cater to this crowd, the servers were soon replaced by "beer bunnies" in tight t-shirts and hot pants who generally knew less about the beer than we did ("So, what's this one like?" - "Ummmm... it's cold, and it tastes like beer!!").
Yes, we're beer snobs. And proud of it.
Anyway - this year's instalment of the fest is running right now, and I was very glad to take advantage of my new-found freedom and head down there mid-afternoon on Friday to do some serious tasting. It ended up being a solo excursion since Sheryl is out of town this weekend, which was a bit of a drag - I find it's more fun if you have at least one other person to compare tastes with - but I still had a great time, and sampled some outstanding brews.
For those who have never attended this festival, here's the basic rundown - for $20 (advance ticket) or $25 (at the door), you get admission to the grounds and 10 sampling tickets, along with a 4 oz sampling glass. Most samples are 1-2 tickets each, although some rarer brews can be 3-4 tickets. For samples that are 2 tickets or higher, you can usually get a partial sample (i.e. 2 oz instead of 4 oz) for a single ticket, which is a nice way to try a lot of different beers. You can also get various types of beer-friendly food - burgers, ribs, fries, sushi, oysters, etc. - for tickets or cash, and you can buy extra tickets for 50 cents each.
This year, there were dozens breweries in attendance (the official program claims "over 100", but I didn't count quite that many), with over 200 beers available. There were also booths serving crap like Mike's Hard Lemonade and Dave's Stinger, but I tried to ignore them as much as possible. Molson and Labatt didn't have "official" presence, although there were booths for the fake microbreweries that they own, like Rickard's. But basically, it was a micro & craft beer event.
Generally, I make a point of trying to stick with beers that I've not tasted previously, which becomes harder and harder each year. But thankfully, this year saw not only the addition of new beers at many older breweries, but several new breweries (some barely a year old) that I had never heard of.
Here, then, is a run-down of some of the best brews that I sampled yesterday:
CHURCH-KEY BREWING is a new brewery based out of Campbellford, ON that makes only one regular beer - Northumberland Ale - which is available only on draft and only in the Eastern part of Ontario (although it will soon be served at Smokeless Joe's here in Toronto). They describe it as a cross between a stock ale and a cream ale, and it's a perfect description - it has a reddish-amber colour and quite a strong nose and initial bite, but it finishes very clean. I could definately imagine polishing off a couple of pints on a summer patio.
They also brought along a keg of a very unique brew that they'd produced specifically for the summer festival circuit: a ginger/rosemary beer! It was lighter than the ale, and the ginger & rosemary flavouring was very subtle and refreshing. Again, a perfect summer drink. And I also have to mention their booth, as it was my favourite of the fest: in keeping with their name, they were serving the beer from a pulpit, and had three small church pews for people to sit at while enjoying a drink.
BLACK OAK BREWERY (http://www.blackoakbeer.com/
) is a craft brewery from Oakville that tapped their first kegs of Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale (my personal fave) in early 2000, and added a Premium Lager last summer. Their main attraction for me, however, are their keg-only seasonal beers which they started last fall with an Oktoberfest brew. For the summer, they've developed an outstanding Saison (a Belgian style spiced beer) that they've flavoured with orange and coriander. Super refreshing - I wish it was available in bottles so I could take some home!
OLD CREDIT BREWING is a Mississauga brewery that has apparently been around for quite a few years now under a couple of different names, although this was the first I'd heard of them. They had two brews available - a pale pilsner, which I didn't try, and an amber ale, which was nice but didn't knock my socks off. Both beers are available on draft at several bars throughout Ontario, and 680 ml bottles which can be ordered through the LCBO for $3 each.
McAUSLAN BREWING (http://www.mcauslan.com/
) and UNIBROUE (http://www.unibroue.com/
) are two Quebec brewers that are tied for top spot on my list of favourite Canadian breweries. I didn't try any Unibroue beers yesterday as I've gone through a few sampler 12 packs of their various beers over the last year and was familiar with all of the stuff they had available. But at the McAuslan booth, they had a cream ale which I hadn't tried before, so I gave it a shot. It was predictably excellent, with much more body than you might expect if you're used to Sleeman's or similar cream ales. I can also highly recommend their Apricot Wheat beer if you're looking for a good patio pint, and their Oatmeal Stout if you like Guiness but are looking for something a little different.
KAWARTHA LAKES BREWING (http://www.klb.on.ca/
) from Peterborough is another of my fave micros, with a Raspberry Wheat beer that I love in the summer, and a Nut Brown Ale that I prefer in the colder months. For the festival, they brought in a batch of their Alien Ale, a rare barleywine-style ale that they only serve at festivals and tastings (as far as I'm aware). It's got an alcohol content in the 8%-9% range, so more than a taste might be too much for some folks. Personally, I really enjoyed it, and wished that we were allowed to purchase full pints.
SCOTCH IRISH ALES (http://www.scotchirish.on.ca/
) is another brewery that I was unfamiliar with, and I nearly missed their booth as it was off to the side from the main set of tents. I spotted it when I stopped at the oyster bar next to it for a little snack before leaving the fest. As their name suggests, they offer ales that are brewed in the classic British tradition. Their two regular offerings are a very dark Black Irish Porter and a reddish-brown Session Ale, but I opted for a taste of the special Cask Conditioned ale that they were introducing at the festival. It was sort of the odd one out of all the beers I tasted as it was just lightly chilled and had a very distinctive flavour. I actually wish I'd tried it earlier in the day, as I don't think I appreciated it as much as I could have after trying so many other offerings and wandering in the sun for a couple of hours (i.e. I was starting to feel a little tipsy...). I'll definately be keeping an eye out for thier brews on tap around the city.
I tried several other brews as well, including a new lager from CAMERON'S which was OK, the Dutch Amber ale from AMSTERDAM that I always enjoy, and a British beer that I can't remember the name of that I wasn't too impressed with.
All in all, I had a great time at the festival this year. While it's still not *quite* as impressive as Montreal's annual Mondial de la Biere which I was lucky enough to visit in May, 2000, it definately felt like an improvement over last year's event. If you have a chance to make it down there this weekend, I highly recommend it. Just watch out for the roving gangs of fratboys.