Category Archives: Events

Winter Brew Fest in Ottawa

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For some indiscernible reason people here in Ottawa actually celebrate winter with a two week long festival called Winterlude. Perhaps more believably they bookend this fete with beer festivals, which in my humble opinion is the only sensible way to “celebrate” -30 weather i.e. stay indoors and drink craft beer.

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Winter Brew Fest was held on the final weekend of the City’s Winterlude festivities at the Horticulture Centre in Landsdowne Park. Here people could step out of the cold, even straight out of their skates if they so chose, and into a heated building with a coat check for your parka and a mason jar for your beer.

The festival ran three sessions, one on Friday night. One midday Saturday and one on Saturday night. The organizers bravely kept the event going until 1am and put the coat check up a couple of flights of stairs and gave everyone glass jars for samples so fingers crossed all went well on that front.

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The Horticulture building is a large open concept room and for the brew fest it showcased twenty or so breweries in various booths as well as a food station offering up some well-paired options like poutine and fish tacos. Burlap, wood and vintage Edison light bulbs added just enough hipster touches that you new you were at a craft beer festival. This is also the first beer festival I have been to that was kid friendly, or at least babes in arms friendly, which I guess why not because who needs a drink more than new parents!

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One unique element was the self-serve beer station where you could (under close guard) pull your own sample. The far end of the room had a row of casked offerings though only two were on-deck when I arrived. Another booth offered samples where the monies raised went to a local hospital.

Twenty dollars got you entrance and tickets were sold in sheets of twenty for ten dollars and while initially I was impressed with the price point for samples I became less so when I saw the beers cost a minimum of four tickets all the way up to eight tickets. Granted math is not my first choice of beer fest topics but paying out two to four dollars for a four oz pour was a bit of a thorn in my side especially when many of the offerings were not exactly rarities.

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Putting that issue in the beer fridge, I decided to be somewhat discerning in my picks aiming to try things I knew I could not readily obtain from the local LCBO. At the same time, being new to the area, I am still pretty unfamiliar with the smaller microbreweries in and around the city so there were lots of new-to-me options. Perth Brewery, Thornbury, Nickelbrook and a wine and spirits bar ensured that my gluten adverse hubby could begrudgingly tag long (though I don’t think he was thrilled with his options).

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Three beers that stood out for me for varying reasons were Earl Grey Marmalade Saison from Dominion City, a cask version of Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (oh yes that is what I wrote) Imperial Stout from Sawdust City and Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat Ale from Beyond the Pale.

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Of these three I think the Pink Fuzz was my favourite, a refreshing palate cleanser that brought just the right amount of bitter citrus to complement the wheat characteristics of the beer. The saison with tea was interesting though I found it a bit thinner than a typical saison, like it was slightly lacking in that barnyard funk. The imperial stout was big and malty but not very liquory for a casked stout. I also felt like this stout needed more balance because the roasted malt flavour just took this stout completely over. To be fair, it is nearly impossible to judge a beer based on such a small pour so I am intrigued enough I will try to follow-up with grown-up sized pours from these breweries.

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Overall an interesting festival, very different in scale to those on the West Coast. Here you had room to move around, tables to put your beer down and a reasonable chance to sample something from each participant without needing to be carried out. Though I do wish they had a beer list, a map and tasting notes so you could make informed choices and track what you liked but then again I am no rookie at these festivals so perhaps I have become a bit too experienced …lol.

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Toronto Festival of Beer 2014

Beer Fountain (just water)

This past weekend was the 20th annual Toronto Festival of Beer, held at the Exhibition grounds. The festival is described on the website as “a celebration of Canada’s rich brewing history, hosted by experts of the brewing craft from around the world. Featuring 300+ brands onsite, this is Canada’s premier celebration of the golden beverage!”

First Beers of the Fest

As a recent transplant from the West this was my first time at an Ontario beer festival and I was eager to try out some of the breweries I had previously only heard or read about.

Stone Hammer Booth

 

Belgh Brasse

Right off the bat I have to say I was really impressed with the set-up for media. We entered through a separate gate with those who purchased VIP tickets, we were given wrist bands, which allowed entry to the media lounge -a nice spot to escape the masses and tweet, blog, instagram etc.-, we received two free beers, which were on a rotating pour schedule throughout the day, there was lots of brewery swag available, and volunteers were around to answer questions.

Media Lounge

After leaving the relative sanctity of the media lounge (shelter) I found myself full-on immersed in one of the busiest (and drunkest) festivals I have ever attended.

To be forthright I was forewarned from another blog that this would not be the sipping and note-taking kind of fest, I believe the term douchebaggery was coined, but rather the chugging and chugging kind of fest nonetheless it was still felt like being in a beer commercial.

Beer Fest Goers

Carlsberg

MadJack

And in this spirit of  full disclosure, it is well-stated that the Toronto Festival of Beer is sponsored by the (dun-dun-dun) Beer Store so obviously big beer had a very prominent if not dominant place.

Big Beer had lounges and dance parties, drinking games and buxom servers, swag galore and adverts everywhere, they probably even served some of their beer but I pretty much steered clear so I can’t say for certain.

Umm...

Steam Whistle

Thankfully the small(er) guys also did their best to make an impression on the crowds and on that note I have to mention a few highlights.

Kensington

Cameron's

Hops and Bolts

First up, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie ON) with their psychedelic tents, fun swag, insane number of beers and beer blends on tap, and overall wow factor. I know I found myself returning more than once to sample their radler creations (pictured below is just one of three distinct menus).

Flying Monkeys

Beer on Tap

Beer Glass

Snowman Brewing Company also merits a special mention not for their volume or for their display but for the fact that they brewed a good gluten free beer. Yup, I said a good drinkable gluten free beer.

This meant my somewhat disillusioned hubby could break up his cider binge with something that reminded him of real beer. I am pretty sure he returned for three full pours from these guys.

Snowman Brewing Company

Hubby

Lastly, I would like to mention Nickel Brook Brewing Company (no don’t run away screaming I did not say Nickelback) who opted to turn two of their beers into ice cream floats. I sampled the maple porter float and it was pretty darn tasty though the heat may have been swaying my palate towards the ice cream end of the taste spectrum.

Nickel Brook Beer Float

 

Beer Floats for Sale

There were lots of things I really loved about this beer festival.  It was easily accessible by transit, the hours were long enough that you did not feel rushed, there was live music throughout the weekend, there were a number of educational classes held where you could escape the crowd and take the time to learn and appreciate the beer you were drinking (ahem beer and cheese pairings), there was a pretty good volume of beer to sample, there were lots of different food options, there was a mobile app that provided festival information, you could get half or full pours, and did I mention there was a TON of beer swag to amass (my beer mat collection grows).

Beer Lecture

Beer and Cheese

Twisted Tea

There were also a fair amount of things I really did not love about this festival. The party atmosphere (it got tiring pretty quickly), the insanely long lines to get tokens, the lack of beer descriptions (you needed to go to the booths to find out what was pouring and how many tokens it would set you back), the insanely long lines to get to the port-a-potties, the corporate feel of the whole event, and, if I have to be honest, the beer itself. I felt like there were not many unique festival beers like cask-conditioned ales, experimental styles etc., which made the whole thing feel like I could have just picked up a some random beer from the Beer Store or LCBO, sat down on my patio table and sampled those.

Quebec Beer

 

Token Line-up

Beer Fest

At the end of the day I am glad I went to the Toronto Festival of Beer because it was interesting to get a feel for how craft beer culture has developed and continues to develop in Ontario. To me,  it seems like Ontario craft breweries are still in their infancy, finding (or making) space in a province largely under the thumb of Big Beer but based on some of the beer I sampled I think good things are coming…

Train Home

 


Under the Dome

HAF13

Last week, unbeknownst to the lay drinker, a weird and scary social experiment was set-up in downtown Portland. For five straight days Pioneer Square courtyard was hermetically sealed under a large plastic dome. Stringent entry and exit protocols were put in place so only a select few were allowed inside. This bio-dome was self-sustaining with all the basic necessities.

The rest of the population was left to observe from the outside bandying about their best guesses as to what lay within. Why, they asked, was this dome erected, who built it, and who or what resides in its’ temperature controlled walls?

As one of the chosen few selected to enter into this artificial world let me reveal what exactly went down under the dome…

HAF Volunteer

It was beer fest silly.

Starting last Wednesday Portland Oregon was once again home to Holiday Ale Festival the annual celebration of the real reason for the season, winter beer. For five ale-filled days and nights you could wander in and out of the beer-o-sphere sampling breweries seasonal offerings, rare casks, vertical tastings (hello six years of The Abyss anyone?) and even live beer blendings.

Beer Coaster in a Tree

Celebrate Beer

The Festival

This is my second year attending Holiday Ale Fest and, like last year, there are many well thought-out parts to this event. In and out privileges, long hours, the festival runs over several days, rotating casks, VIP lines, maps on the taster mugs, a mobile site to guide patrons (unless you are a Canadian with a stupid Canadian cell phone provider), a beer brunch on Sunday, a root beer garden, and, most importantly, lots of interesting winter beers.

Another Volunteer

At the same time there are a few drawbacks to this festival, Friday and Saturday nights get a little hectic, the line-ups and the crowds hanging-out tend to blend together into one big jumble of people, without the mobile site your map tells you very little because you do not know which beers are pouring where and there is only one rinse station in the farthest corner by the exit.

Overall though this festival is well-organized and well-executed.

Taster Mugs

Beer Guide

 

The Beer

With admission you are given ten tokens; the majority of beers are just one token with the rare casks and blendings/tastings being two or more tokens. This means hubby and I started out with a respectable twenty tokens plus two bonus added for purchasing a ticket online (nice touch!).

A Beer, not sure which one

Turning to our trusty beer guide we set out to take-on the rare beers first in case they sold-out and then to work our way through anything that peaked our interest (this can be dangerous strategy when almost all the winter beers sound wondrous on paper).

The flip side of this equation is that too many winter beers can be a bad thing. Generally, winter beers are heavy, dark, rich and strong so a few can go a long way. Some of the beers I really enjoyed tended to be those that bucked the traditional winter style and brought something a little lighter to the table.

Me like Beer

Some of our favourites this year included in no particular order:

Cascade Brewing Creamsicle, a Belgian meets blonde meets barrel aging with vanilla, orange and spices. This one was offered on its’ own or as a 6 token blend with the Crooked Stave Cranberry Saison.

2 Towns Ciderhouse Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty Barrel Aged spiced cider. A crisp and tart alternative to the onslaught of the winter beers at the festival but at the same time a strong warming drink.

Stone Brewing Co. Spiced Unicorn Milk Chai Milk Stout a smooth and sweet stout that has a nice complement of Indian spices.

New Belgium Brewing Co. Paradebloem Another lighter (in colour and body) beer that brings some tartness to the table making it stand out from the rest of the festival line-up.

Deschutes Brewery Virgin Sacrifice Imperial Stout with Cherries. We all know Deschutes knows how to do imperial stout so this one was a kind of a gimme. Nonetheless cherries add a nice touch of tart/sweet to a full bodied coffee and roasted grain forward stout.

 

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for another great holiday ale festival and see you again next year!

The Aftermath


The Best of the Best in BC Beer

Yesterday was the 4th annual BC Beer Awards honouring the best of best craft beers being brewed in our beautiful province. The sold-out event was held at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver and hosted by CBC’s Stephen Quinn. While I was not able to attend I still wanted to share the list of winners and draw attention to BC’s ever-expanding and ever-diversifying craft beer scene.

A big congratulations to all the winners competition looked pretty stiff in some of the categories!

Here is the rundown courtesy of http://www.bcbeerawards.com

 2013 BC BEER AWARD WINNERS

BEST OF SHOW

Vancouver Island Brewery – Hermannator Ice Bock – Ralf Pittroff

 

SESSION LAGER – 13 ENTRIES

1st Place – Big Surf – Big Surf Lager – Wolfgang Hoess

2nd Place – High Mountian Brewing Company – Lifty Lager – Derrick Franche

3rd Place – Coal Harbour Brewing Co – 311 Helles Lager- Ethan Allured

 

PILSNER – 13 ENTRIES

1st Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Red Racer Pilsner – The Central City Brew Crew

2nd Place – Tree Brewing Co. – Kelowna Pilsner – Dave Gokiert

3rd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Crane Kick – Graham With

Special Mention – Four Winds Brewing Company – Pilsner – Brent Mills

 

SPECIAL LAGER – 8 ENTRIES

1st Place – Vancouver Island Brewery – Hermannator Ice Bock – Ralf Pittroff

2nd Place – Dead Frog Brewery – The Session Vienna Lager – Tony Dewald

3rd Place – Tree Brewing Co. – Captivator Doppelbock – Dave Gokiert

 

SESSION ALE – 26 ENTRIES

1st Place – The Nelson Brewing Co. – Wild Honey Organic Ale – Mike Kelly

2nd Place – Phillips Brewing Co. – Slipstream Ale

3rd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Red Eye – Graham With

 

ENGLISH ALE – 14 ENTRIES

1st Place – The Nelson Brewing Co – Hop Good Organic Session IPA – Mike Kelly

2nd Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Red Racer ESB – The Central City Brew Crew

3rd Place – Powell Street Craft Brewery – Old Jalopy Pale Ale – David Bowkett

Special Mention – Okanagan Spring – Pale Ale

 

AMERICAN ALE – 28 ENTRIES

1st Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Gypsy Tears – Graham With

2nd Place – Old Yale Brewing Co. – Old Yale Pale Ale – Larry Caza

3rd Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Red Racer Pale Ale – The Central City Brew Crew

 

WHEAT BEER – 18 ENTRIES

1st Place – Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers – Quick Wit Wheat Ale – Kevin Emms

2nd Place – Moon Under Water Brewery – The Victorious Weizenbock – Clay Potter

3rd Place – Howe Sound Brewing – King Heffy Imperial Heffeweizen – Paul Wilson & Franco Corno

 

FRUIT BEER – 18 ENTRIES

1st Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Red Racer Raspberry Wheat Ale – The Central City Brew Crew

2nd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Seed Spitter – Graham With

3rd Place – Fernie Brewing Company – What the Huck – Gord Demaniuk/Paul Graham

 

VEGETABLE / SPICE BEER – 20 ENTRIES

1st Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Red Racer Pumkin Ale – The Central City Brew Crew

2nd Place – Steamworks Brewing Company – Steamworks Espresso Stout – Caolan Vaughn & Takeshi Guenette

3rd Place – R&B Brewing Company – Birra Fresca Cucumber Mint I.P.A. – Todd Graham

 

SPECIAL BEER – 25 ENTRIES

1st Place – Howe Sound Brewing – Wee Beastie Oak Aged Scotch Ale – Paul Wilson & Franco Corno

2nd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – From East Van With Love – Graham With

3rd Place – Coal Harbour Brewing Co. – Smoke & Mirrors Smoked Imperial Ale – Ethan Allured

 

SCOTTISH / IRISH – 7 ENTRIES

1st Place – Lighthouse Brewing Company – Race Rocks Amber – Dean Mcleod

2nd Place – Tree Brewing Co. – Groove Session Ale – Dave Gokiert

3rd Place – Fernie Brewing Company – Fernie Big Caboose Red Ale – Gord Demaniuk/Paul Graham

 

BROWN / PORTER – 23 ENTRIES

1st Place – Phillips Brewing Co. – Chocolate Porter

2nd Place – Townsite Brewing – PowTown Porter- Cedric Dauchot

3rd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Old Boy – Graham With

Special Mention – Hoyne Brewing Company – Dark Matter – Sean Hoyne (no trophy)

 

STOUT – 14 ENTRIES

1st Place – Persephone Brewing Company – Stout-Off Stout – Anders McKinnon

2nd Place – Longwood Brewing – Stoutnik Russian Imperial Stout – Harley Smith

3rd Place – Old Yale Brewing Co. – Sasquatch Stout – Larry Caza

 

BELGIAN / SOUR BEER – 15 ENTRIES

1st Place – Yaletown Brewing Company – Yaletown Oud Bruin – Yaletown Brewers

2nd Place – Granville Island Brewing – Thirsty Farmer Saison – Vern Lambourne

3rd Place – Four Winds Brewing Company – Wild Flower Saison – Brent Mills

 

IPA – INDIA PALE ALE – 34 ENTRIES

1st Place – Driftwood Brewing Company – Fat Tug IPA – Jason Meyer & Kevin Hearsum

2nd Place – Driftwood Brewing Company – Sartori Harvest IPA – Jason Meyer & Kevin Hearsum

3rd Place – Moon Under Water Brewery – Tranquility IPA – Clay Potter

Special Mention – Hoyne Brewing Company – Devils Dream IPA – Sean Hoyne (no trophy)

 

IMPERIAL IPA – 11 ENTRIES

1st Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Central City Imperial IPA – The Central City Brew Crew

2nd Place – Phillips Brewing Co. – Amnesiac Double IPA

3rd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – The Hopnitist – Graham With

 

STRONG – 8 ENTRIES

1st Place – Central City Brewers and Distillers – Thor’s Hammer – The Central City Brew Crew

2nd Place – Parallel 49 Brewing Company – Vow of Silence – Graham With

3rd Place – Townsite Brewing – Biere d’Hiver – Cedric Dauchot

 

CBC PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

Powell Street Craft Brewery – Whiskey Porter

 

DAN SMALL HOMEBREW AWARD

1st Place – John Folinsbee

2nd Place – Takashi Guenette

3rd Place – Adam Crandall


Great Canadian Beer Fest 2013

Smart advertising from Fernie

Smart advertising from Fernie

Well another Great Canadian Beer Festival has came and went and this year saw the participation of craft breweries from the east, the coming out party of some new local breweries, the increase in after-party events and the introduction of some new-to-us American craft beers into the Canadian market.

The GCBF has become a bona fide craft beer destination and it is exciting to see all the breweries, brew pubs and just craft beer culture in general flourishing here in Victoria, which is beginning to rival Vancouver for the mantle of Beervana North.

Beer from Powell Street

Beer from Powell Street

Chatting up 33 Acres

Chatting at 33 Acres

Now I have been to GCBF when it was too cold and I have been to GCBF when it was too hot but this year the beer gods chose to smile on us geeks and the weather was just right, a little cloudy to start off Friday’s festivities and perhaps a titch soggy but then the sun came out to shine over the remainder of the festival.

As usual there were sell-out crowds and long line-ups but things seemed to move more stream-lined than in years past. There was the traditional smattering of buskers, creatively dressed patrons and music to keep the crowds engaged as well as food tents to keep us all carb-loaded so we could fit in more beer.

Moon Under Water tapping the keg

Moon Under Water tapping the keg

Hoyne

Hoyne

For the first time at GCBF I came in early to join the media tour, which was a great way to check out the breweries’ set-ups and to hear from some of the new kids on the block like 33 Acres Brewing Company from Vancouver BC, Sound Brewery from Poulsbo WA and Powell Street Craft Brewery from Vancouver BC from before the flood gates opened (we even got to sneak in a few samples).

Being a bit of a marketing nerd I enjoyed the opportunity to check out everyone’s displays and to see what kind of swag the breweries were offering – never underestimate the drawing power of free beer mats and stick-on tattoos!

Saltspring's lovely set-up

Saltspring’s lovely set-up

As always I was prepped and ready with my beer list highlighting my must-haves and like every year I selected too many for one person to possible consume and like every year I forgot about following my list after about five samples in.

A couple missed opportunities for beers that never arrived, errant brewers and kegs that just refused to be tapped kept an element of spontaneity to my sampling selection.

No explanations needed...

No explanations needed…

Pouring at Muskoka

Pouring at Muskoka

Nonetheless I did manage to hit up quite a number of booths and here are some of my (and my entourages) beer highlights in no particular order:

Sound Brewing Humulo Nimbus Dbl IPA

Wolf Brewing Rannoch Scotch Ale

33 Acres of Life

Double Trouble Vanilla Bean Espresso Imperial Stout

Powell Street Old Jalopy Pale Ale

Hopworks Urban Brewery Survival Seven Grain Stout (a surprise but welcome appearance)

Whistler Brewing Mint Julep

Red Racer

Red Racer

Of course we tried many beers that in retrospect may have been good or may have been not so good but honestly by the end of a beer festival you are just happy if you can distinguish between flavours.

At the end of the day for those who had not quite got their fill, an added bonus was after-parties hosted by Beerthirst for the launch of New Belgium Brewing in BC and hosted by Copper & Theory for the Upright Brewing and Ninkasi tap take-overs .

Oddly enough for me, the highlight of the festival may have been the opportunity to sample the four stellar Lips of Faith beers from New Belgium at the Irish Times pub.

Driftwood swag

Driftwood swag


Highlights from Portland’s 17th Annual Holiday Ale Festival

It’s has been running for seventeen years now but this was my first time attending Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival (HAF) and I would like to share some of my highlights.

 

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Five days, long hours, lots of regular seasonal pours, limited edition tappings, tons of people, yards of tent, challenging navigation, big ABV beer, generous pours and a really, really big Christmas tree set the stage for an eventful fest.

 

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The Festival

I was only able to attend Wednesday and Thursday so I made sure I got there early to ascertain my plan of attack. Armed with my guide and a liberal amount if highlighter I set about knocking beers off my list.

 

Line Ups

 

The set-up was quite impressive; an entire courtyard centered around a giant Christmas tree and encased in tents to keep the rain off your head and keep you warm. The lay out was divided into three serving areas and I was impressed with the amount of seating areas so you could grab a taster and take notes. There were a few food options and on Wednesday at least, Christmas music played over the speakers, which was a festive touch.

 

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Upon entering you are given a mug (way better than a tiny glass) that has a map of the area attached. Right away I encountered a challenge when I noticed there was no link between the guide and the map affixed to my mug. Finding the beer you wanted, especially the limited tappings, was a bit of trial and error.

According to the organizers there was a mobile app to link beer location to guide but alas as a cell-poor Canadian I could not make use of this helpful tool!

 

HAF Mugs

 

One other minor annoyance was the lack of rinsing areas and availability of water. There was a mug wash halfway out the exit but the servers had no water so you could not rinse between tasters. Not a big deal but with hefty, spicy winter beers you get some weird cross-contamination. Also, it would have been nice to have a few random water coolers around so you could grab a glass of water between beers.

 

More Line Ups

 

Line-ups were quick and easy during the day but got a little muddled in the evening. There are a lot of people in a relatively small space so it takes some jostling to get to where you are going.

 

Nightime Line Ups

 

Overall the organization seemed pretty good. I found the space seemed small at times as it got later in the day and standing space became pretty sparse. There were many volunteers and security so while it definitely got loud it never got raucous. That being said I am glad I attended early in the week since the waits were manageable and the space still navigable.

 

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The Beer

But enough on the logistics lets get onto the beer.

As always, I pre-scout the beer list to try and highlight all the beers I want to try. At a winter beer festival this meant 97% of my booklet was covered in highlighting -this makes it easy since I could pretty much get into any line-up and find something I wanted to try.

 

Some of my festival favourites (in alphabetical order) included:

 

Regular Rotation

Cascade Brewing Diesel #2 Chocolate Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – No surprise here since I think Cascade may be incapable of making a bad beer. A smooth, dark and clean stout. You get just the right amount of balance between sweet and roasted flavours.

Firestone Walker/Barrelworks Wild Merkin Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout and Gueze Blend – Stout and Sour? It is like my two favourite beer styles got married and produced a wunderkind. The result is a light and sharp stout as the gueuze cuts down some of the full bodiedness of the oatmeal stout.

Full Sail Brewing Co. 2011 Black Gold Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – Deep, dark and heavy stout that is drowning in sweet liqour notes and maltiness. Aged to perfection this one is a true winter warmer.

Gilgamesh Brewing Blitz’N’Prancer Spiced Belgian Strong Ale – The most unusual beer at the festival by far. Tons of spices on the nose and in the flavour. Couple this with lots of carbonation and a light bodied and you get a beer that reminds me of an herbal root beer.

Rusty Truck Brewing Co. Cherry Chocoholic Baltic Porter – A nice light treat that balances real cherry taste with a cocoa flavour. Sweet but not cloyingly so, smooth to drink with just a touch of bitterness at the finish.

Seven Brides Brewing Lil’s Brandy Barrel Pils Pilsner – A nice break from the dark beers, this pils had a big yeasty nose and a slight fruitiness in the flavour. A light and crisp palate refresher.

Stone Brewing Co. Stone Suitable for Cave Aging Imperial Smoked Porter – Again, no surprise that Stone is bringing a great beer. I am not a big fan of smoked beer but this one does a great job of tempering the smokiness with lots of sweet and roasted flavours. Like a wisp of smoke on the finish not like campfire in a bottle.

Widmer Brothers Brewing Brrrbon Vanilla Cask Strength Barrel Aged Imperial Red IPA – A winter red IPA? Another great marriage of styles resulting in a hoppy beer balanced by sweet vanilla, caramel and liqouriness. I liked this one enough to pick up a bottle on the way home!

 

Limited

2008 Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy – Big, heavy and liqoury like a fine aperitif this one is definitely a sipper. Warms well opening up the beer and letting the maltiness and bitterness come through.

2009 Dogfish Head Festina Peche – An unexpected treat amidst a sea of malt and bourbon. Bright, crisp, sweet and tart festina peche stood apart from the crowd though I had never really thought of it as a winter offering. Like a sweet taste of summer fruit in the middle of winter.

 

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Sleep Less (drink more) in Seattle

Last weekend was the Seattle International Beerfest, a modest affair with a scant 210 beers from 15 countries, a beer garden with $3 pints, live music and a pet friendly venue. Situated under the Space Needle in Seattle Centre the event ran for three days with the $30 admission getting you unlimited re-entry and ten tokens towards some of the 4oz pours.

 

 

The Venue

Despite the central location of the tasting garden, it took us a considerable amount of time to find the entrance. After wandering behind the Sci-Fi museum, over to the King Tut exhibit, talking to a rather unhelpful staff member, we eventually spotted beer drinkers through a chain link fence. We followed this fence all the way to the end of a gigantic line, which thankfully moved along quite quickly.

Once inside, I found the set-up to be really confusing. In retrospect I probably should have read through the line-up ahead of time and mapped out a route. There were only a few stations but each one had a dozen or so line-ups and you had to get in front of the cooler serving the beer you wanted to try. Token amounts were displayed prominently while the beer number was in smaller handwriting below. Despite my own ineptness at tracking down the beer, obviously a lot of work went into the beer fest guides, which had detailed and abbreviated beer lists, a map, general beer knowledge, tips to maximizing your experience and ads from local beer stores and tap houses.

Unlimited access is great if you are staying all weekend but it also meant that on a warm sunny Saturday you could barely find a place to stand and drink. Smarter people than I came early armed with blankets to stake out a coveted lawn space. For a beer geek trying to keep notes and take pictures it was a pretty comical juggling act -if you break your tasting glass it will set you back $5!

The Seattle International Beer Fest billed itself as a “high-end event” but I am not really sure how this was supposed to play out. This beer fest was similar to most outdoor events and $3 pints did not exactly contribute to a restrained drinking environment. Just an observation that notions of a high-end beer festival may be an oxy-moron.

 

 

The Beer

There was a lot of beer and in order to try even a portion you really needed to come for all three days. Since I could only make it for the Saturday I had to strategize the best I could by focusing on rarities, new (to me) brewers, collaborations and anything with a really long line –very scientific I know.

There was an almost even split between draft and bottle selections. Cost to sample ranged from 1 to 10 tokens –for ten tokens you got to try on of the Samuel Adams Utopias, which was a rare chance to buy into a very expensive bottle of beer. The bottles tended to be the more expensive selections with one of the Evil Twin beers fetching 7 tokens and the Deschutes Conflux fetching 6 tokens. Doing the math on the bottles it seemed to me that the draft beers were a better value.

One odd element was the cask rotation. You would find the beer you wanted, follow the map, only to learn that it was all gone or had not been tapped. Okay, so the guide warned about this possibility BUT when you inquired when they may be tapping the keg the servers did not know!?! Kind of like winning the beer lottery if you show up at the right time and place.

What did I try? Not as much as I would have liked as a mix of hot sun and high ABV meant I had to be a picky drinker. I did manage to sample a couple of Mad Viking Beers, the Belgian Strong and the Vintage Bourbon Stout, a couple from Double Mountain Brewery, the Peche Mode, Ferocious Five and just a wee taste of the Rainier Kriek, the New Belgium Brewery/Lost Abbey collaboration, Mo Betta Bretta Sour Ale, Anderson Valley Brewery’s Brother David’s Triple, Lost Abbey’s Serpent Stout, Two Beers Brewery Ascension Triple IPA, Scotch de Silly Belgian Scottish Brown, Evil Twin Freudian Slip Barleywine, Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge Sour Ale, Oakshire Brewery Blackberry Impy Stout Gin Barrel Imperial Stout, Tenth & Blake Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Pike Brewery Pike Saison Houblon, and finally, an Icelandic beer Olvisholt Lava Smoked Imperial Stout.

As always I like to toss out the caveat that it is really hard to give a review based on a small pour at a beer fest but I did enjoy the Mad Viking beers and the Double Mountain beers quite a bit. The Cuvee des Jacobins Sour was also an awesome choice on a hot day.

 

 

All in all a fun event with lots of unique beers! Thanks Seattle.

 

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Back on the Chain Gang

For the second time in my beer drinking career I tried my hand at the other end of the keg serving up casked ales at Central City Brewing Company’s Summer Cask Fest held on June 30th. While it may have been ‘summer’ only in the mindset of local beer enthusiasts, thirty-one cask creations ensured that no one was too sad to spend their Saturday indoors.

 

 

This time around I opted to volunteer for the morning shift so I could ensure I had the afternoon open to sample all must must-tries before they were tapped out. Beer geeks are not what you might consider morning people so once the doors opened at 11:00am we weren’t exactly swamped with thirsty customers but luckily the pace picked up quickly and some live blues music from Brandon Issak got the fest into full swing. To fill the lull times my station co-volunteer nicely offered me information on everything beer and brewing in case I was not quite up to snuff on my geek speak.

I was in charge of the Pale Ales, not the most popular station I’ll admit, but busy enough to get some socializing in and to afford me enough free time to try my hand at serving at a couple of the other stations (here I learned the hard way that not all kegs pour the same way and spilled beer is quite alarming to the masses). The brews at my station were Dead Frog’s Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale, Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale and Lighthouse Tasman Ale. For educational purposes I had to sample all three so I could converse with token bearers. See the line-up section below for some brief tasting notes.

 

Looking back on the day as a volunteer, I enjoyed the morning shift for many reasons not the least was the fact that the majority of patrons were still lucid and the kegs were still pouring well –insert quasi-disastrous images of people ‘volunteering’ to tip near-empty kegs to drain the last drops of beer, which nicely encapsulates my experiences during the Winter Cask Festival as an afternoon drone. After my shift, my afternoon was happily spent ticking off all the beers I wanted to try and sampling from the menu. For the record I want to say that Central City treats its volunteers real nice (I even got an extra token from brew maestro Gary Lohin after my shift!) offering us five free tokens, Red Racer gear, food and an after-fest party so the remaining kegs did not go to waste! If you have never taken the time to volunteer at a craft beer event I highly recommend it.

 

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The Full Line-up

Alameda Yellow Wolf IPA

Big River Dry Hopped ESB

Cannery Oak Aged Port Porter – A nice surprise; rich and sweet but light in body.

Canoe Summer Chocolate Honey Wheat Ale – Far too light bodied with a watery chocolate flavour and honeyed finish.

Central City Brewing Citra Dry Hopped ESB – Well-balanced bitter with lots of citra hop on the nose and in the flavour. Clean drinking with a bitter finish.

Central City Brewing Hibiscus Cherry Ale – Too sweet for me but the hibiscus adds a nice tepid quality. Summery.

Coal Harbour Imperial Smoke Ale

Crannog Mead – Very mild and flat with fruit and honey notes. Seems like it could benefit from additional aging.

Dead Frog Dry Hopped French Oaked Pale Ale – Similar to the one they bottle in the 650ml, a little sweet and a bit more of a hop bite. Did not inspire much in the way of feedback (at least to the pourer).

Elysian Brewing Splitshot Coffee Milk Stout – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Granville Island GI Bitter

Howe Sound Green Tea Pale Ale – Nice palate cleanser with that tepid green tea flavour. Mixed feedback from my customers on this one though.

Lighthouse Tasman Ale – Interesting with the citrus forward Tasman (New Zealand) hop profile. Lots of good feedback on this one.

Longwood Port Alberni’s Brewers Gold Dry Hopped IPA – A lot of citrus elements on the nose and in the flavour, almost like a touch of tang in your beer. Light bodied and very still.

Odin Brewing Thor’s Oakuinox – Sold Out during the morning shift : (

Parallel 49 Brewing Dry Hopped Ruby Tears – A flat, hoppy bitter but not one of my fest favourites.

Port Townsend IPA

R&B Smoked Hop IPA

Russell Graetzer Polish Smoked Wheat Ale

Salt Spring Brewing Dry Hopped ESB

Spinnakers Spicy Mandarin Hefeweizen – Orange notes on the nose, light bodied and typical hefe mix of citrus and spice.

Steamworks Ginger Beer – Told this one was for ginger lovers but I found it pretty mild.

Storm Raspberry ESB – Lots of raspberry flavour playing off the hoppy bitterness; so not too sweet. One of my favourites!

Storm (Daniel Knibbs) Ginger Rye Saison – A mild saison, light on the barnyard, but nice hints of ginger and spice.

Swans Dry Hopped ESB – A nicely balanced bitter with some extra hop kick from the regular 650ml.

Taylor’s Crossing Manhattan Brew – Strong candied cherry notes and heavy on the liquor taste. One of my favourites!

Tin Whistle Dry Hopped Scorpion Double IPA

Tofino Brewing Sitka Spruce Tip IPA – Resiny hop taste with a bit of sweetness. Seems to be taking a run at the Big Dog Pliny and a respectable effort. One of my favourites!

Vancouver Island Hopfenweisse

Whistler Brewhouse Oaked Amarillo Dry Hopped IPA


The Great Dark Beer Taste Test

One thing you need to know about beer geeks is that we like to subject others to our endless stream of knowledge on all things ale. Taking this one step further we like to use our friends like laboratory mice and subject them to various tasting experiments –oh wait maybe that is just me. Well either way I had so much fun with my blind test taste of craft versus commercial beers that I decided to put people to the test with their stouts.

The Great Dark Beer Taste Test consisted of a selection of 9 stouts representing various styles  –Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American and Russian Imperial- and different brewing regions –Canada, US and UK. I wanted to see if people could taste the regional and stylistic differences in this most robust of beer styles. Before I continue with my analysis of the evening I would like to proffer this little pearl of wisdom; nine is too many stouts to sample in one sitting so do not try this at home. Despite this error in estimating my alcohol tolerance I think the evening offered some interesting insights but first let me provide a little information on the stout styles, the contenders, the tasters and the taste test:

THE STYLES

Oatmeal Stout – A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavour.

Foreign Extra Stout – A very dark, moderately strong, roasty ale. Tropical varieties can be quite sweet, while export versions can be drier and fairly robust.

American Stout – A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted foreign style stout of the export variety.

Russian Imperial Stout – An intensely flavoured, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity and bittersweet with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavours meld with roasty, burnt or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barley wine with every dimension of flavour coming into play.

 

THE CONTENDERS

Southern Tier Brewing Company Mokah (American Double/Imperial Stout) 11.2% ABV; North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout 9% ABV; Spinnakers Titanic Stout (Foreign Stout) 7.5% ABV (X2); Fort Garry Brewing Co. Kona Imperial Stout 6.5% ABV; BrewDog Rip Tide Twisted Merciless Stout (Imperial Stout) 8% ABV; McAusian Brewing St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout 5% ABV; Le Bilboquet Brasseur Artisan La Corriveau 5.5% ABV

THE TASTERS

Leanne Fawcett, lover of Goody hair accessories and ardent supporter of the continued use of suspenders.

Brick Rodgers, audiophile unable to commit to just one hair band and fervent devotee to the use of macramé.

Catherine Carveth, ironic lover of Motely Crue and fan of rainbow coloured suspenders.

Delbert Davis, former drummer for the Shitty Beatles and proud sporter of a beer gut not requiring any apparatus to keep his pants vertical.

How it all went down…

In order to make this tasting as blind as possible I wrapped all the bottles in paper bags taping them tightly and covering the caps in masking tape. I let someone else uncap and pour the beer so I did not see what bottle was being poured, and we set out three samples at a time so we could undertake a little cross-comparison. Being the consummate beer geek I am, I asked (coerced) everyone into keeping notes on appearance, aroma, flavour and finish as well as make their best educated case at the region and style of stout. I provided the Beer Judge Style Guide notes on the style we were sampling as a point of reference. Then the fun part began the tasting!

Now for some of the broad gleanings from the evening, aside from nine stouts being too many. A lot of the character of a dark beer is contained in the mouthfeel. It felt a little redundant describing the deep brown/black colour with tan head, and often the stouts had very similar coffee and/or chocolate noses but it was in the actual tasting that the differences truly emerged. It seems like the style of stout tended to fall into two broad categories; the after dinner dessert like stout that was viscous, sweet, heavy and high in ABV and the more quaffable cold coffee, lighter-bodied, almost carbonated style or stout. Interestingly we all scored very well on guessing the region of the stout but a little more hit and miss on determining the style.

The top beers of the evening were:

  1. Southern Tier Mokah
  2. BrewDog Rip Tide
  3. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  4. St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout

Who (or where) Brews it Best?

Tuesday night was fight night at Firefly Fine Wine and Ales as Lundy Dale from Pink Pints led a group of raucous beer geeks in a blind taste test to determine just where the best beer styles are coming from. Are European breweries with their distinguished pedigrees, years of brewing experience and matter-of-fact labeling making the best beers on the market? Or are the new-kids-on-the-tap North American microbreweries with their assertive ingredients, style bending combinations and cheeky labelling defining craft beer styles for future generations?

 

The nights line-up consisted of head-to-head match-ups in four common beer styles; Bohemian Pilsners, Belgian Tripels, English IPA’s and London Porters:

 

Bohemian Pilsners are a type of pale lager that originated in 1842 in the Czech town of Pilsen. Pilsners are a bottom fermented beer, which means a bottom-cropping yeast is used to produce the ale at low temperatures. They should be burnished gold in colour with notes of caramel and spice. Pilsners are hoppy and bitter but clean drinking. This is one of those cases where a singular beer defines the style.

For the blind taste test we sampled the grandfather of all pilsners Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic) and Paddock Wood Brewing Company’s Czech Mate (Saskatoon).

Belgian Tripels, or Belgian Abbey Tripels, are Belgian beers with styles similar to Trappist ales but brewed by secular commercial breweries. Generally, Belgian beers favour malt flavours over hoppiness and have a unique flavour imparted by the regional yeast strain. Tripels are malty, spicy and highly carbonated. They are strong and have a honey like sweetness with a dry finish.

Our tasters were St. Bernadus (Belgium) and Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde (Quebec).

 

English India Pale Ales are very close to the bitter beer style but tend to have more substance with tons of malt character while still maintaining the UK hop profile. Descended from October beers brewed in the English country side. English IPA’s are nutty and spicy in flavour with a bitter finish.

 

We tried Thornbridge Brewery’s Jaipur (UK) and Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s IPA (California).

 

London Porters are dark brown beers with roasted malt character and subtle hops. A diverse and hard-to-define style, Porters are considered to be the first industrialized beers. I like to think of them as stout’s kid brother but since they came around first I guess Porter are more like stout’s frail grandparent; this is merely to say they are lighter in body and often lower in ABV than their robust stout offspring.

Last up was Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter (UK) and Propeller Porter from Propeller Brewing Co. (Halifax).

 

It was not that easy to tell these beers apart in a side-by-side comparison, which speaks volumes about the overall quality of the craft beers being produced on both sides of the pond. Being a student of history and a fervent adherent to the adage ‘they don’t make em’ like they used to’, I assumed the European beers would be the exemplars of the styles with the North American brews being adequate representations BUT I was pleasantly reprimanded by the beers I tried.

Particularly impressive for me was Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde, which could pass for a ‘true’ Belgian without question. Another interesting surprise was Thornbridge’s Jaipur, which on appearance alone did not even seem like it belonged in the IPA family yet it had a strong hop profile and nice dry finish. A very informative and challenging event!


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