Tag Archives: Beer Festival

TFOB 2016 … I Love Swedish Beer

 

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This weekend was the 2016 Toronto Festival of Beer and as a belated Birthday present I was treated to the VIP Hoptomized treatment on Friday (a very good friend indeed).

If you have never been to this beer event I have to highly recommend going the VIP route, which buys your early entry, ten tokens, dinner, a private lounge area and the very best part? Access to indoor plumbing!

Seeing that it was pretty much 40 with the humidity every little perk was so appreciated.

It was my second year attending the festival and, truth be told, I was initially thinking it would pretty much be a repeat of the 2014 line-up, which had an awful lot of Big Beer presence and not nearly enough small brewery representation. While Big Beer did loom (with flashy displays, flashy lights and flashy swag) there was also an unequivocal gem …Sample Sweden.

Oh yes I said Sweden and beer festival. Not meatballs, not ABBA, not Volvo (though they were all represented) but Swedish beer! Move over Belgium there is a new beer powerhouse on the horizon and this upstart does beer very, very well. Not just the standards but the near-to-my-heart wild ales and farmhouse styles.

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I think it is fair to say, by now, I know my way around a craft beer and, as such, I really know what I like so much so that if I could only sip one style of beer for the rest of eternity it would be wild ale. In order to reach the insufferable heights of self-awareness, I have tried sours from many, many breweries and so when I say I was floored by the offerings from Swedish breweries Brekeriet, Omnipollo and Duggan that is high praise indeed my friends. Saisons, gose, wild ales, barrel aged sours …I was in beer geek heaven so much so that I may have effectively wrecked my palate for the next several weeks.

After my epic sour bender I was not even sure what I was tasting when I moved out of Sample Sweden to tip my glass at some of the other offerings.That is not to say I did not do my due diligence and sample widely just that maybe those post-sour breweries did not get the full attention of my tastebuds.

A few memorable non-sour offerings that stood out included this year’s Unibroue Ephmere Blueberry, Great Lake Brewery’s Imperial Stout and Collingwood’s ESB.

As for the festival itself it was very well organized. Situated at Bandshell Park with easy access to transit the location is pretty well perfect for a beer festival. Lots of trees, close to the water, tons of seating room, varied food options and space for breweries to set-up large displays. There was also live music in the evenings; Friday’s line-up included Jelleestone, Maestro and House of Pain.

For the nerdily inclined, such as myself, beer school was also in sessions offering beer pairings (beer with cheese and beer with chocolate) and beer education (know your colours of beer). Oh and for those easily seduced by swag, me again, you can come home with a goody back chock full of beer mats, temporary tats, sunglasses, key fobs etc.

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The not-so highlighty parts? Well, as I alluded to above there is no doubt Big Beer still rules Ontario and there is almost literally no way to get around them (anyone else see Budweiser city-block sized set up?). But maybe the best way to really drive home that craft is where its at is to have this kind of all-inclusive event showcasing the best and the less best that beer has to offer.

Also, painfully aware I am no longer a Left Coast resident when I went to grab my free food and the server asked why a vegetarian would come to beer fest lol – he seemed genuinely confused by my presence – so no fear that I would overeat with all that beer.

Overall an amazing day and now I am diligently sourcing out a Swedish beer connection…

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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


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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Hopscotch 2011 ‘I think I saw the Kraken’

So last night I made my annual pilgrimage to Hopscotch. Pilgrimage in the sense that I had to trek from the Main Street Skytrain station down to the Rocky Mountaineer in heels and in the freezing cold; there is something sort of biblical about enduring all that suffering and hardship to be rewarded with beer. Saturday night’s festivities were underway when we arrived, so no line-up, which was good, but it was crazy crowded, which was bad. I am not sure what the Fire Marshall would say but I am thinking if there were any acts of god we would not have been getting out the building too quickly. It is also a major liability when one it trying to carry around there precocious taster glass full or liquor. Onward and upward and armed with my trusty Hopscotch Hit List I went about my merry way to sample the dozen or so beers I had chosen with the occasional divergence into the vodka and whiskey booths.

What I like about Hopscotch: There is a variety of beer and spirits (and cigars!) so you can actually dust off your non-beer geek friends; you get tokens with your admission –in my mind this makes me feel like I am somehow getting more value; the Rocky Mountaineer is a really nice building with tons of windows and high ceilings; pretty impressive Scotch selection; more than a fair share of booths willing to dole out a free sample; well-organized with lots of staff; feels a little classier than beer fest –hello indoor plumbing; liquor store on premise to buy as you drink; Fentimans sampling.

What I don’t like so much: The beer selection is not that exciting with most of the samples being readily available in the BC liquor stores; beers were repetitive from last year; too many people for the space means it is hard to find an area where you can sample without being jostled; nowhere to sit outside the food tent; hard to tell what is available at each booth with the crowds; pours are pretty small for beer (I think they were about 2 oz); the bottom line factoring in ticket price and sample size those are some pricey beers; hard to map your route by the distributor; location makes transit difficult.

It is really tough to given any kind of ranking to beer samples especially when you are mixing beer with spirits so I will give the list of the beers I sampled and then give a few of my favourites. All in all, to the best of my recollections, I tried:

Anchor Porter Beer

Chang Beer

Chimay Strong Ale (Gold Label)

Howe Sound Brewing Co. Father John’s Winter Ale

Grolsch Lager

Green Flash Double Stout Black Ale

Red Racer Winter Ale

Tin Whistle chocolate cherry porter

Whistler Brewing Company Winter Dunkel

Tree Brewing Co. Vertical Winter Ale

Yukon Red Amber Ale

Pranqster

My three stars of the evening were: 3) Anchor Porter 2) Green Flash Double Stout Black Ale 1) Tree Vertical Winter Ale


My Hopscotch Hit List

I have been doing my homework for the upcoming Hopscotch 2011 Grand Tasting and I have compiled a list of beers I am thinking of sampling. For those of you not in the Greater Vancouver Area, Hopscotch is a long-running annual scotch, whisky and beer festival hosted by Foodconnect. It is the biggest combined whisky and beer event across Canada consisting of three nights of tasting and a ton of satellite events and master classes. I wanted to get this post out before Saturday’s event so I could take advantage of the knowledge of my fellow beer enthusiasts. So please feel free to post comments, concerns and/or recommendations so I can get the best out of the fest:

Anchor Porter Beer

A unique dark brew, which was introduced by Anchor in the early 1970s. Anchor Porter, like all Anchor Brewing beers, is brewed with only natural ingredients. Specially roasted dark malts are used, along with a top-fermenting yeast. The brew is hopped at a very high rate, and is naturally carbonated to produce an intensely rich flavour and thick creamy head.

Howe Sound Brewing Co. Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout

This is a traditional English oatmeal stout with an intense roasted barley flavour. This is a sweeter style stout with a lovely creamy texture and smooth finish. This stout won a Silver award this year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards in the Stout category.

Elysian The Immortal IPA

A Northwest interpretation of a classic English style, golden copper in color and loaded with New World hop flavor and aroma. Extremely drinkable. MALTS: Pale, Munich, Crystal and Cara-hell. HOPS: Bittered with Chinook, finished with Amarillo and Centennial.

Green Flash Double Stout Black Ale

Golden naked oats mashed with dark crystal and robust roasted malts create a luscious black brew with satin smooth finish. An old-world style, done the Green Flash way. Big, bold, flavorful and complex.

Grolsch Lager

Grolsch Premium Lager comes from Holland and has more than 400 years of history. Medium-gold in color, Grolsch delivers a smooth, refreshingly pleasing balanced flavour with rich grain and hops aromas.

North Coast PranQster – Belgian Style Ale

Sophisticated brewing techniques, yeast blends and unique flavoring elements have elevated the beers of Belgium to the status enjoyed by wine in other countries. PranQster follows in this tradition using a mixed culture of antique yeast strains that produce a floral nose, a full fruity flavor and a clean finish.

Radeberger Pilsner

Radeberger Pilsner from the only brewery in Germany which has brewed pilsner beer without interruption since 1872. Radeberger Pilsner is intentionally positioned as a monobrand. The soft water from Radeberger’s own wells, the predominant hops flavour, the golden colour and creamy foam give Radeberger its distinct, smooth bitter taste. 4.8% vol bottom-fermented

Central City Brewing Red Racer India Pale Ale

A style of ale fashioned to survive the long voyage from England to India during the British colonization. Hops, hops, and more hops! This ale has an intense aroma and a long lingering finish. A beer for the connoisseur, this is the Brewmaster’s choice.

Central City Brewing Red Racer Winter Ale

Big, malty, and brewed to keep you warm through the long dark days of a west coast winter. This complex amber ale has vanilla and maple syrup undertones, with a warm, spicy finish. Best enjoyed when only partially chilled.

Tin whistle chocolate cherry porter

Made from fresh cherries and belgium chocolates. rich and exciting! limited release every fall. don’t miss out on this one, its a winner!

Wiehenstephaner hefeweisser dunkel

95 rating ratebeer. The world’s oldest brewery! a medium-dark wheat beer that is supple, malty and mellow. Memorable for its perfectly blended flavour.

Yukon Red Amber Ale

2009 Canadian Beer of the Year – Highest scoring Amber Ale ever at Chicago Beverage Testing Inst. “a full malt body, bold, fruity and persistent with a snap of of clean hop bitter.

Hopscotch 2010 Highlights

 


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