Toronto Beer Fest review

Post details, reviews and recaps of interesting beer events in Ontario and elsewhere here.

Moderators: GregClow, Cass

User avatar
GregClow
Beer Superstar
Posts: 4038
Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 7:00 pm
Location: Parkdale
Contact:

Postby GregClow » Sat Aug 11, 2001 2:27 pm

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. :smile:

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. :smile:


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. :wink:


Greg
Josh Oakes
Posts: 480
Joined: Tue Jun 26, 2001 7:00 pm
Contact:

Postby Josh Oakes » Sat Aug 11, 2001 7:46 pm

I just got back from the festival myself. I didn't see Cass there, in fact I was kind of surprised at how many people I thought I would run into, but did not. Kind of says something, really. A real festival, and I would have seen everybody and their dog there.

Actually, the crowds were not that bad. Everyone said that they would be awful, but compared with last year's Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Fest, that place was like Nunavut this afternoon.

There were only a handful of halfway interesting beers there, for those who have sampled their way around town previously. Scotch Irish had their Plain and their all-new cask Dry Hop. KLB had their Alien Ale, which at this time is only a month old and needs at least another six months to find itself.

Hogtown has a new cask ale out, called York Garrison Ale, and it is somewhat malty and chewy. They have no accounts for it yet, but Hogtown doing cask? An encouraging sign, anyway. As stated above, Church Key brought a ginger & rosemary beer - very similiar to the Northumberland I'm afraid.

Mostly, though, the new stuff for me consisted of crappy lagers and blond ales. I loved the Rickard's Pale, though. Billed as an IPA, it racks up 14, count 'em 14 IBU's. Look out Diamond Knot! Look out Big Daddy! Look out Bhagwan's! There's a real IPA gunning for y'all now!

All in all, about what I expected, except for not seeing anyone I knew (except Ian Bowering). Not a lot of great beers, but a couple of decent ones. For a day out in T.O., I had a lot of new beers. For a beer festival, it sucked.

Next stop, Buffalo!


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Josh Oakes on 2001-08-12 14:05 ]</font>
User avatar
Cass
Beer Superstar
Posts: 3299
Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2001 7:00 pm
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Postby Cass » Sun Aug 12, 2001 10:40 am

Hi Greg, thanks for the review!

As for me, Josh, I was there :smile:. From about 4-8pm on Saturday. But like you, I was suprised that I didn't see the people I knew were there at the same time. Strange.

Yeah, the festival was as expected. Few new beers, but lots of crowds. Not much opportunity to chat with the brewers either, which is always disappointing. And no Hopback :sad:

As for beer highlights, I didn't get to try everything I wanted - I got there too late, and still had a pocketful of tickets at the end. However, I did enjoy Wellington's Imperial Stout - a bit mild for an imperial, but a good brew nonetheless. Watch out for an profile of them on the site soon.

Tried Scotch Irish's Dry Hop & Porter - also good. And Church Key's ale, which has been mentioned is at Joe's now. As well, McAuslan was pouring their nitro-boosted Cream Ale, which is new to Ontario. This might show up on draught in Toronto in the future.

I hope everyone said hi to Michael Hancock of Denison's at his "Brewpubs of Toronto" booth, which was actually a petition booth to try to persuade the government to allow off-site sampling of brewpub beers.

Toronto has potential - they definitely now have the consumer base to support a fest - but changes have to be made to make this fest good. I'll probably post up a commentary about the fest similar to last year at some point.

Looking forward to Buffalo for sure.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Cass on 2001-08-12 11:51 ]</font>
Josh Oakes
Posts: 480
Joined: Tue Jun 26, 2001 7:00 pm
Contact:

Postby Josh Oakes » Sun Aug 12, 2001 1:16 pm

Cass, I knew you were there, but disappointed not to run into you (or anyone else for that matter). What sounded very funny to me when I posted last night (drunk) was less amusing today! Teach me for posting right when I get home from a beer fest.

But yeah, I agree with the comment on potential. If it were easier (regulatorially speaking) to get out-of-province (ie those not currently licensed to sell beer in ONT) to attend festivals, I think we could have a small Real Ale Festival. I do mean small, btw, but I think that there is interest in the brewing community to do this. If F&M, Wellington, Durham, Scotch Irish, Hogtown, and KLB are all trying the cask thing, that would be a good base to build an event like that around. If it could be done to throw in the likes of Granite, Middle Ages, and of course bottle-conditioned stuff from Unibroue, Cheval Blanc...well, you get the idea.

The point is that the TFoB is a marketing-oriented affair, and will never really serve the desires of the hardcore fans. But a small-scale event catering strictly to the serious fans would allow the brewers to do some really special stuff, and go a long way to building this town's beer credibility.

If the brewpubs get their wishes and some red tape can be cut for the out-of-town brewers, I think this is feasible. It's not like Chicago is a legendary beer town, but they do have a legendary Real Ale Festival.
User avatar
Cass
Beer Superstar
Posts: 3299
Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2001 7:00 pm
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Postby Cass » Mon Aug 13, 2001 10:38 am

Well Josh, we'll definitely be able to meet at Buffalo :smile:

But you're right, the TO fest is now marketing-oriented. There is no longer any motivation for the organizer (Cottage Creek) to put on a festival for the hardcore fans. As of right now, Cottage Creek can do the same kind of fest every year, and will get 15,000 folks paying between $20-$25 per person. Not a bad return.

It's unlikely we'll ever seen anything for the real fans until it becomes easier for a fest in Toronto to actually pour something <strong>new</strong>. Until then, we'll have the fest as it stands, and will have to continue to drive to NY, PQ and elsewhere for something different.
User avatar
Cass
Beer Superstar
Posts: 3299
Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2001 7:00 pm
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Postby Cass » Tue Sep 04, 2001 6:45 pm

I have posted a commentary on this year's Toronto beer festival <a href="http://www.bartowel.com/torbeerfest2001.phtml">here</a>.

The recent Buffalo BrewFest inspired me to be critical, as the Buffalo fest truly showed why Toronto's is a sub-par beer fest.

Return to “Beer Events”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests