St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Category Archives: Toronto Beer Week

So You Want To Be A Brewer: St. John Marzen

When I started writing about beer, it was because I was trying to establish some credentials in order to get into brewing school. I did manage, subsequently, to get into brewing school, but then there was a book deal. I found that commuting 5 hours a day to Niagara College and writing a book didn’t mix particularly well. I don’t believe that you can get a book written on a Coach Canada bus, especially when you factor in the 5:30 am start to the day and the slight nausea that comes with that kind of travel.

From inside the brewhouse looking out at the bar. ca. Beer O'Clock

From inside the brewhouse looking out at the bar. ca. Beer O’Clock

Eventually, the book about brewing (You can buy a copy by clicking the link to the right!) won out. It’s a difficult thing. Having now written the book, I’m convinced that I could do it in a shorter amount of time. At the time, the sense of deadline related panic rendered it a full time occupation. After all, the only way to learn how to write a book is to write a book.

I continue to enjoy brewing. There are the wonderful aromas that you only get in a brewhouse. After eight months away from it, even the sharp vinegar whiff of the paracetic acid used for sterilizing equipment conjures up a temporal sense of place. You get the aroma off the kettle five minutes after the first hop addition, and that’s a marvelous smell. There’s the edifying sense in that aroma that you’re accomplishing something. You’re making something that will, if everything goes right, give a number of people a small pleasure at the end of their day.

Freshly milled grain is one of those healthy smells that I think we're all sort of programmed to recognize.

Freshly milled grain is one of those healthy smells that I think we’re all sort of programmed to recognize.

It was for this reason that I put up a notice on facebook a short while ago that I missed brewing, and would any generous Ontario breweries like to host a one-off collaboration. It got slightly more response than I suspected that it would. No fewer than four breweries came forward to suggest that I could work with them on a project.

Faced with that potential, the seemingly ideal thing to do would be to thank your lucky stars that anyone is interested and then maybe choose one of those four breweries to work with. I gave the calendar a glance and realized that Toronto Beer Week is coming up, meaning that the beer writer’s Barrel Bragging Rights event was right around the corner.

Last year, Josh Rubin from the Toronto Star won with a pretty nifty Dopplebock that reminded me of nothing so much as Schloss Eggenberg’s version. It was an absolute corker. This year, I wanted to beat Josh Rubin if only to maintain the completely fictional inter-newspaper rivalry that we enjoy as banter. I decided that the thing to do was to create four one off beers so that I could choose the one that was most likely to be successful served out of an oak barrel. After all, Rubin must be crushed!

The only problem is that I haven’t heard anything about the Barrel Bragging Rights competition this year, and I believe it may be taking a short hiatus until 2014. Perhaps you’re beginning to see the problem: Four beers and no event at which to serve them.

It was at that point that I decided to create my own event for Toronto Beer Week: The Feast of St.John.

You know you've got quality when you've got Weyermann.

You know you’ve got quality when you’ve got Weyermann.

The intent here is to host a four course beer dinner in which all of the beer and food is designed from the ground up to fit into a cohesive menu with a progression from start to finish. I’ve been to beer dinners where the chef has to fit the menu to the beer. I’ve also talked with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn a little bit about how he created a beer specifically to go with a roast chicken at NoMad in New York.

I don’t know that anyone has tried to pull off an event like this before. I figure I’m qualified, what with a certain amount of training as a brewer, a Certified Cicerone designation and a pretty decent depth of food knowledge. I’ve got a great cook to work with and a venue to host it in. Plus, why the heck wouldn’t you do it? I mean, it’s not exactly like you’re going to take a credibility hit for trying something really difficult. The details are still coming together, but brewing began on Friday.

The marzen will eventually be approximately this colour. I love that bright orange melanoidin burst.

The marzen will eventually be approximately this colour. I love that bright orange melanoidin burst.

The first beer is a collaboration with The Beer Academy, which now occupies the downtown brewpub location that housed Duggan’s and, once upon a time, Growler’s. It’s going to be a Marzen, which should be just the thing for mid to late September with Oktoberfests popping up all over the place. I was a little surprised that they’d let me try my hand at a lager, what with the longer aging time and the fact that lagers just aren’t very trendy at the moment.

Sometimes it seems that if you want to sell a beer these days, you’ve got to get a gimmick. With the prevalence of IPAs and the number of sub-varieties that the style has spawned (white, black, double, imperial) the big bitter kick is pretty popular. I confess to a certain amount of fatigue on that front. There are only so many times you review vastly similar things without wearing out your vocabulary and attention span.

During the planning meeting, we were looking for a style of beer. One of the things that you need to know about The Beer Academy is that rather than working with brand new state of the art equipment as you’d expect at a Molson owned property, they’re using the equipment that came with the building when they took over.

One of the things that struck me about brewing at the Beer Academy is the care being taken of the equipment. They're very respectful of it.

One of the things that struck me about brewing at the Beer Academy is the care being taken of the equipment. They’re very respectful of it.

I believe that Growlers was started in 1989, so some of that stuff is probably nearly a quarter century old at this point. The fermenters are what I guess you’d call round bottomed grundy tanks, which are pretty much what there was at the time. Round bottoms mean that dry hopping is going to be messy, so they tend not to make beers that would require it. Additionally, the boil kettle is electric, meaning that you do get a small amount of smoky flavour as a house character because of hotspots.

Given that information about the system, you want to work with it instead of trying to force it to do something it’s not suited to. If you look at the lineup that was featured at Growlers, it heavily featured German styles. Marzen was a great choice, even if it’s slightly intimidating to be doing that on Michael Hancock’s old equipment.

This is really clever. They have produced a grant for the mash tun that operates on a float arm and empties once it reaches a certain fill level. It's the same principle as a toilet tank and it means that you can safely ignore the exact rate of flow. Very clever.

This is really clever. They have produced a grant for the mash tun that operates on a float arm and empties once it reaches a certain fill level. It’s the same principle as a toilet tank and it means that you can safely ignore the exact rate of flow. Very clever.

We came up with a malt bill that is a pretty standard blend of floor malted bohemian pilsner and some slighty more melanoidin heavy malt for colour and flavour. In addition to doing the typical beer collaboration photo op activities like hoisting grain into the mill and raking out the mash tun, I got to choose the hop bill on the day. I went with three varieties of hallertauer and some saaz. The neat thing about the hallertauer varieties are that they’re pretty humulene heavy noble hops and provide some woody, spicy notes on the palate. We used Hersbrucker and Tradition for the boil, but found a lovely variety of New Zealand hallertauer in the hop room that has that signature mineral and tropical fruit kick that you get out of New Zealand hops. The saaz is there because I like that peppery aroma and I’m hoping that it’ll provide some depth of flavour without confusing the issue.

At some point during the brew day, the previous day's Belgian Tripel kicked into overdrive. Krausen cascades all the way to the floor.

At some point during the brew day, the previous day’s Belgian Tripel kicked into overdrive. Krausen cascades all the way to the floor.

From the point of view of pairing with food, Marzen comes with a cultural heritage you can’t ignore. The hope is that the aroma from the New Zealand hallertauer will open up some options to expand on German tradition.

Thanks go to the nice folks at The Beer Academy. Stephen, for displaying the depth of his beer nerdery during planning by whipping out the smartphone BJCP app. Quentin, for walking me through what is basically a refresher course after a year away from brewing. Todd, for handling the calculations and for letting me in the building in the first place.

 

Toronto Beer Week Preview – History and Culture

 

Did you know that the Toronto beer scene has more operatic members than a Romberg revival? It’s true. You’ve got Oliver Dawson, who runs the Old Toronto Beer Tour. You’ve got the world class Robert Pomakov who owns Opera Bob’s at Dundas and Ossington. You’ve got Mirella Amato, who left a budding operatic career to teach people about beer. For whatever inexplicable reason, the willingness to research the history of beer in Toronto and then present it to craft beer neophytes has come to be their area of specialization.

Let’s have a look at the upcoming Toronto Beer Week historical events that are pouring in from this quarter.

THE OLD TORONTO BEER TOUR

Oliver Dawson’s Old Toronto Beer Tour is a mainstay of Toronto beer tourism, now a dozen years established as a source of historical context for brewing in Toronto. The main strength of this tour is the balance struck between attempting to provide a comprehensive introduction to the history of brewing in Toronto and the inevitable sampling of wares at stops along the way. While the tour is definitely informative, if you’re taking notes over the course of the day, you’re relatively likely to find that they become increasingly indecipherable by about three o’clock.

You’ll tour Steam Whistle. You’ll ramble about Fort York as you learn about the initial settlement of the city and how we had to ship beer from Kingston. You’ll learn about Canada Malting. You’ll learn about the effect the influx of Irish settlers had on the city in its formative years. You’ll wander about in Corktown listening to an informative dissertation on the effect of Dominion Brewing on Toronto’s development while wishing you had used the bathroom at the previous stop. Oh, the places you’ll go.

Highlights of the tour involve stops at the Amsterdam Brewery and the Mill Street Brew Pub.  The tour now includes a stop at the Six Pints Beer Academy, which should add informational value about brewing ingredients. I say if you’re going to go on the tour, you should also splurge for dinner afterwards at The Granite Brewery. That might put the length of the tour at eight hours, but it’s a fun eight hours.

The Old Toronto Beer Tour will run on both Saturdays of Toronto Beer Week. You can buy tickets on their website here. It is definitely value for money and a fun afternoon out.

BEER MAKES HISTORY BETTER

If you’re not up for the full eight hours of beer tourism, you could always go on the Beer Makes History Better tour, led by Jason Kucherawy. While Jason has not, as far as I am aware, ever performed an aria, I don’t see why that should disqualify him from a certain amount of hype.

Unlike the Old Toronto tour, this is a walking tour which focuses slightly more heavily on the distillery district. It says on the Toronto Urban Adventures website that it will help you “Learn what role beer played through the decades in helping Torontonians cope with cholera, fire, war, depression, rebellion, muddy streets, and general Victorian stuffiness.” Cholera is bad, but Victorian stuffiness is more contagious. How else do you explain the profusion of sideburns and starched collars in that era’s portraits?

The Beer Makes History Better tour runs just about every day during Toronto Beer Week and meets outside the Hockey Hall of Fame. According to Jason, while there are some predetermined topics, the majority of the conversation is driven by discussion and questions from those in attendance. It’s practically guaranteed never to be the same tour twice.  You can buy tickets here.

A DAY AT THE RACES – TORONTO BEER QUEST III

What’s that I hear you say? You know all about beer? You’ve been on the tours? You want something interactive? I don’t know how I’m hearing you say that since I’m writing this before you’ve read it.

Mirella Amato has put together a third edition of the Toronto Beer Quest. It’s a scavenger hunt/amazing race style event in which you and a partner follow clues, take photographs, utilize GPS coordinates and try to beat the clock in order to demonstrate your complete dominance of Toronto beerdom. It’s a little like living a Dan Brown novel, but instead of papal conspiracy it’s about beer; a vast improvement.

Teams will be awarded prizes this year for having matching costumes which may fall into the following categories:

“The Real McCoy” Most Authentic Prohibition Era Costume
“You Slay Me” Funniest Costume
“The Bee’s Knees” Most Impressive Costume

Also, the first 25 teams that register get baseball caps with the event logo. That’s pretty neat.

Reading over the online presence the event has generated, I suspect that this year may have a prohibition theme to it. Not that you’d want to bone up on that beforehand in order to have an unfair advantage. That would be wrong.

You can buy tickets here. It takes place on Sunday, September 16th.

A NIGHT AT THE HOPERA

One of the most esoteric events for Toronto Beer Week is Hopera at Habits Gastropub on September 19th. It merges opera and craft beer in a relatively novel way: pairing arias, duos and trios with specific craft beers. I’m not entirely sure how the pairings will work, but I have constructed helpful examples of the kind of things that I might come up with:

You could easily pair an aria from Wagner’s Ring Cycle with Spearhead’s Hawaiian Pale Ale in order to reference the power of Wotan’s spear within the plot of that story.

You could pair one of the Flying Monkey beers by claiming that some of that crazy stuff on the label is symbolically masonic and then going with something from Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, which people also attribute that stuff to.

You could pair a selection from Offenbach’s Orphee aux enfers with Beau’s Lugtread. Offenbach is from Cologne and so is Kolsch.

I don’t know. There’s all sorts of possibilities. I look forward to seeing what those talented folks come up with.

In summary, don’t just sit there drinking during Toronto Beer Week. Absorb some culture in addition to large quantities of beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So You Want To Be A Brewer: Beau’s/St.John’s Wort Karma Sumac

Toronto Beer Week is fast approaching, and one of the marquee events, if the lineups from last year are to be believed, is the Barrel Bragging Rights afternoon at The Monk’s Table. The fact that it’s as popular as it is has to do with publican Adam Grant’s special genius for promotion. If you manage to include all of the beer writers in Toronto in an event, you can bet that the hype surrounding it is going to be somewhere near all consuming.

The event is Mike Warner’s brainchild, and focuses around getting all of the interested beer writers in Toronto to team up with a brewery in order to make a beer. The winner last year was determined by public voting. This year, there will be a panel of judges involved to make the voting a little more even handed.

Originally, I was of the opinion that, having been to brewing school, I should come up with a recipe and brew it myself, without the assistance of a brewer. The truth of the matter is that I don’t have a brewery, and I’m pretty sure that attempting to serve homebrew at a pub is at least moderately illegal. That would have been bad.

Also, the fun of the thing is getting to hang out with brewers and learn from them. I wanted an excuse to work with a specific stunt brewer that I hadn’t worked with since my first public brew nearly two years ago.

Some say that he ate John Bonham’s heart in order to gain his facility with a snare drum. Some say that he can control the direction of the whirlpool with his mind. All I know is that he’s called The Bartle.

The Bartle, in a rare moment of contemplation.

The difficulty here is that The Bartle is currently a graduate of Niagara College and works at Beau’s. Beau’s is in Vankleek Hill, which is just outside the range of my decrepit Schwinn fixie. Also, there was the problem that the Barrel Bragging Rights uses barrels that are about 38 litres in size. Beau’s doesn’t really have a pilot system. We discussed the brew at the National Capital Craft Beer Week festival last weekend and decided that we would simply do a double brew on a homebrew sized system at the Beau’s brewery.

It was going to be straightforward. It was going to produce the exact amount of beer needed for the event and no more than that. It was going to contain pilsner malt, wheat and Staghorn Sumac. I don’t know if the world is ready for Staghorn Sumac beer, but I see all the Quebec brewers making White Spruce Beers with yeast from the vaults of Jean Talon and I’m darned if I’m going to let them have all the fun with indigenous scurvy fighting ingredients. My entry for this event last year had sumac as well. It was called Manitou and it was brewed with the inestimably talented Paul Dickey. I like Paul so much, I’m throwing in a cheap plug for Cheshire Valley in a post about another brewery.

Spent grain and sumac.

The Bartle is more frenetic than Paul Dickey. The Bartle makes Animal from The Electric Mayhem look like Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

Beau’s seems to have their planning meetings on Fridays. I was getting ready to go down to Vankleek Hill when I received the news that we were not going to be brewing on a homebrew scale after all. Instead, it was going to be 15BBL of beer. Beau’s has undergone some changes recently. They have a new wing with several 240BBL fermenters. There’s a new 60BBL brewhouse that has been installed very recently and which is apparently just getting under way. By the time I arrived, they had done two brews on it. This means that the 15BBL system is more or less their “pilot system” at this point.

The new 240BBL fermenters, which live in their own wing of the building.

15 Barrels is something like 17.5 hectoliters. That’s about 30 58.6 litre kegs of beer (minus QC sampling and general spillage). So far, at this point in the ol’ collaboration regime (which has worked out pretty darned well) I think the total volume that I have brewed is something like 4 hectoliters. If you include the batches I was brewing in a student group at Niagara College, we’re looking at maybe 6 hectoliters. Staghorn Sumac is an ingredient for which there’s no real literature to draw upon, so it’s hard to say how it will work. Also, Beau’s, in their six years of operation, has never lost a batch.

What’s the old punchline? “Bring me my brown trousers?”

Rakau hops going in at the start of the boil.

I was worried until I got to the brewery, at which point it became obvious that everybody was really excited about using Staghorn Sumac as ingredient. Some serious contemplation had gone into what could be done with it to make it really work. It ended up being a more complex beer than I had originally envisioned. There was going to be Belgian yeast. We were going to use Agave Nectar in place of Cane Sugar. New Zealand Rakau hops throughout, with some low alpha Belgian Cascade hops for aroma, eventually reaching around 30 IBU. It’s going to be higher in alcohol than we thought. It’s going to be dry and lemony, because of the puckering sumac tartness. The sample we took from the line for a gravity reading sort of looked like a Hefeweizen with a pinkish tinge around the edges.

As I was raking out the mash tun, I realized that I have no idea what style the beer is actually going to be. Moreover, I don’t care. You can’t go into this kind of experiment paying attention to BJCP categories. Well, you could, but that’s not very much fun. I guess I’d probably lump it in under Belgian Strong Ale if I had to choose a category. The Bartle thinks it’s a Belgian Golden Ale. He might well be right. It will, at the very least, be interesting.

It puts the trub in the bucket!

We played with some creative names, but in the end, we decided on Karma Sumac. It will be available at The Monk’s Table during the Barrel Bragging Rights competition. It will also be available during Toronto Beer Week at any bar crazy enough to take a chance on a Sumac beer. Thanks to the great people at Beau’s for getting excited about what is a potentially insane thing to attempt.

Toronto Beer Week 2011 – Day One – Drinking Sumac, Eating Crow

Competition tends to bring out the worst in people and for all that brewers exist in a sort of brotherhood (siblinghood, so as not to exclude the brewsters) most of the time, there is a significant amount of smacktalk that surrounds events where there’s going to be a significant amount of friendly rivalry. One such event was Barrel Bragging Rights at the Monk’s Table last night.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, Mike Warner from A Year of Beer organized an event whereby a number of local bloggers and beer writers were tasked with teaming up with a brewer in order to design and brew a beer to be served on cask at the Monk’s Table. It’s a departure for the midtown pub in that they mostly serve European imports. I wouldn’t want to say that this was the first time that they’d had Ontario beers on offer, but if it isn’t it’s a near run thing.

The thing is that objectively, I’m not sure that the event should have worked. Not a lot of beer writers and bloggers have experience brewing anything for public consumption. Oh sure, we’re pretty in touch with the brewing scene in Ontario and a lot of us have pretty good ideas, but the realization of those ideas is usually beyond us. Essentially, most of the success can be attributed to the brewers we teamed up with, who patiently listened to our ideas and then explained why they wouldn’t work. Originally, I had suggested attempting to define a new style of beer by attempting a White IPA. I think the only people that had tried that before were Deschutes and Boulevard, who had collaborated.

Between us, we had managed to come up with some beers that should probably have been untenable. Chris Grimley and Mike Lackey had a sort of peppered Saison. Matt Caldwell and Andrew Bartle ended up brewing something between a brown ale and a porter that involved date sugar and a lot of brown malt. Josh Rubin from The Star made an Imperial Milk Stout and used the two gallon wooden barrel to his advantage by soaking the insides with brandy (I think he’s the only one of us with an expense account).

In the days leading up to the event, there was a lot of infighting on twitter. I, for one, went into full on WWE promo mode, stealing heavily from The Rock. I may have even used the phrase “roody-poo candy-ass” when describing Chris Grimley. I even went so far as to troll Josh Rubin by sampling his beer at the brewery before it was casked. I took a picture of his beer and tweeted “This is your beer.” I took a picture of me drinking his beer and tweeted “This is me drinking your beer.”

By the time we arrived at the Monk’s Table, we had all pretty much given up on that line of spirited japery. There was a lot of nervous energy, mostly because some of us hadn’t tasted the beers that we designed yet. We didn’t know how they would be received. Around 4:30, the terrible thought occurred to us “what if no one shows up?” Ideally, the upside of having all of the beer writers in the city involved in an event is that there will, at the very least, be a lot of publicity for the event. If no one showed up, it would mean that our efforts were really some sort of recursive loop and we were the only audience for our writing. We can be a little backslappy and self congratulatory, but that would actually confirm our worst fears.

It turns out we needn’t have worried. By 5:00, there was a lineup of about 40 and people just kept coming. I’ve never seen the Monk’s Table that busy. If pressed, I’d be forced to admit that I’ve never seen ANY pub that busy. Judging by the looks on the faces of the staff, I would bet that they hadn’t either. I don’t know what the capacity is for the location, but we were pushing the limit. This reinforces my opinion that Adam Grant is an extraordinarily shrewd pub owner.

Here’s the thing: I was prepared for all of the beer to be at least drinkable. We were working with talented brewers and they weren’t going to let us down. Using oak barrels added a bit of difficulty, but realistically, wasn’t that big a problem even if people hadn’t used them before. After all, we’ve got google.

I wasn’t prepared for the majority of the beers to be excellent, though. It was genuinely surprising. Aside from one entry that was a little wine-y, I would have ordered all of them again. For me the standout was the Black Creek/Dick Snyder collaboration IPA, which was as good as any IPA I’ve tried in Ontario. It was balanced, nuanced, delicious. I’m not sure I’ve ever met Dick Snyder, but congratulations are due; also to Ed, the brewer. I got the dregs of the cask on that one, and felt absolutely no regret in preventing other people from trying it.

The winner was Pantalon Saison brewed by Chris Grimley and Mike Lackey, and it probably should have been, given that it was a public judging. Not only was it of really high quality, but it had a small advantage in that there was enough of it that more people got to try it and probably derived more votes because of that. It likely would have won even without that advantage. I must therefore retract my assertion that Chris Grimley is a “roody-poo candy-ass.” His status is hereby upgraded to “Jabroni.”

The competition does make me wonder. Since beer writers tend to have some pretty good ideas, and local brewers are clearly able to run with them, I don’t see why this kind of thing shouldn’t happen more often. This time we ended up with Sumac, date sugar, and brandy as ingredients. I’m not sure that would have happened organically without the competition. It seems like it could be a good ongoing resource.

I tied for third place with Josh Rubin, whose beer was great, if heavy for the season. This means that the eternal battle between The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun continues.

Next time, Rubin. Next time.

The 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards – Results and Analysis

Well, now.

The results for the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards have been announced and that means one thing: I can talk about the results without the threat of hired goons coming around to dangle me off a seventh story balcony. I tabulated the scores and have therefore known the results for a couple of weeks, so I’ve had a little time to think about the process and I have come to some interesting conclusions.

Firstly, I’d like to talk about how the results for the major awards were reached: Beer of the year and Brewery of the year. Each brewery was allowed to submit to as many categories as they felt necessary, leading in some cases to nearly a dozen representative brews. In order to be considered for the top awards, though, each brewery was asked to choose four beers from amongst those submitted to represent them in the standings.

This, as you may have surmised, leads to a certain amount of gamesmanship. For instance, a brewery could submit any number of beers, but if they won awards for any of the ones that had not been in the four representative brands they had initially selected, they wouldn’t count towards the final standings. This means that in order for a brewery to have a chance of winning they had to accurately assess their abilities. Your pale ale might be your flagship brand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be your representative in the Canadian Brewing Awards if you know your porter is going to score higher on points.

It also tended to mean that a win in any category is just as good as a win in any other category, meaning that if you can go obscure and win, it’s not a bad strategy to put into play. Many breweries seemed to have the same idea and the fruit and vegetable beers category ended up being the most highly contested one.

That said, I can tell you that Central City, who won both beer of the year and brewery of the year were just streets ahead of everyone else. They seemed to eschew strategizing and only submitted four beers for consideration, meaning that every single one of them was in contention for the final standings. They won gold medals on their Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine, Red Racer IPA and Red Racer Imperial IPA.  By the end of the evening, their representative had made so many trips to the stage that he may as well have been Sir John Gielgud. This year, no matter what the criteria had been for the awards, Central City would have won. They are that good.

That the Red Racer products should have one is not particularly surprising, but I think that Central City’s real edge in the competition was the fact that their Barley Wine is a good deal closer to an American style than many of the other entries in that category. Many of the other products in that category are closer to English style Old Ales and are less aggressively hopped than Thor’s Hammer (Mjolnir has a bite like Fenrir and would leave you feeling like you’d been through Ragnarok if you imbibed too much of it) and I think that Central City won for the simple reason that they catered to the recent North American trend towards hoppier flavour profiles across all ale styles.

Here are some other conclusions that I have come to during the previous couple of weeks:

1)Public perception is essentially unchangeable because of the prevailing trends amongst craft beer drinkers. There are a number of categories for lagers, but people aren’t going to talk about the fact that Laker won a silver medal. It’s not an unimpressive accomplishment, but in and of itself it won’t make people drink it who weren’t already drinking it. It could win a medal at the world beer cup. The Pope could pronounce that Laker is the one true beer, but it wouldn’t matter to craft beer drinkers. It might be objectively good for its category, but the issue is one of image because craft beer means ales.

If you look at the lager categories, they tend to be won pretty handily by large brewers. Molson took a couple of categories. It prompts me to ask the theoretical question “Does this mean that Craft Brewers can’t make quality mass market lagers?” I don’t believe that that’s the case. It’s simply counterproductive for craft brewers to attempt to compete in the lager market. What if one of them creates an excellent product and it skews public perception making light, fizzy beers cool? Molson would proceed to advertise them out of existence or buy them out wholesale. Competing directly and competently against Molson and Labatt could actually assist them.

It’s worth remembering that Molson wins those categories for a reason: They’re very good at what they do. It may not currently be popular to enjoy their products, but you can’t fault them for consistency or quality control. The BJCPs know this already. There’s a significant difference between personally disliking a product and that product being objectively bad.

2) Amsterdam makes products that I’ve never heard of and they’ve won a trunkload of medals for them. I spent a little time last night talking to some of their employees. They’re a young bunch who seem to know what they’re doing and it wouldn’t surprise me if Amsterdam goes through a significant directional change in the next couple of years. Did you know they made a stout? Me neither. Did you know they make the best English Style Pale Ale in Canada? Neither did I. Amsterdam needs an image revamp (personally I think their billboards look amateurish), but it looks like they’re poised to do something interesting.

3) The real winners of the CBAs in Ontario are HMH Negotiants who are the sole importers to the province of Central City, Trois Mousquetaires, and Microbrasserie Charlevoix. They’d be delighted to take your orders. Heck, go on down to Volo tomorrow for the Trois Mousquetaires brewday and meet the Quebecois contingent.

4) Unibroue are excellent, but because the majority of their beers are entered in the same category (Belgian Strong Ale) they are unlikely ever to win brewery of the year. Next time you feel like complaining about the lack of decent beers in the LCBO or Beer Store, remember that you have the luxury of Unibroue being an ever present fallback choice.

5) I’m not going to talk about the actual math behind it, but the scores in the IPA categories are high enough to put it into my head that we have reached the point in Ontario (and indeed across Canada) where there actually ARE high quality IPAs. At this point it’s just a matter of bottling them and making them available. Canuck Pale Ale from Great Lakes won gold, My Bitter Wife won bronze. Get them canned and get them shipped. Let’s move on to the next thing. ATTENTION BREWERS: There are a number of categories where Ontario doesn’t figure. Those would be exploitable avenues for product development or at least one-off experimentation.

6) BC has a lot of really interesting beers. I may have to conduct some independent research (ie: drinking).

Toronto Beer Week – LADIES NIGHT

There are, of course, certain topics that it’s difficult to touch on if you’re a white male upper-middle class beer blogger between the ages of 18-35. That’s a demographic that has historically dictated taste (Nuts and Gum; Together at last), but which is almost unilateral in its consumption of fizzy lagers. The advertising campaign did not call it the Carlsberg years for nothing.

One of the issues which I’ve wanted to address for a while is women and beer. It seems like dangerous territory if only for the reason that there are actual female bloggers out there whose entire mission statement is to talk about the issue and they seem a good deal more qualified than I am to do so. Please understand, I’m not attempting to be overtly misogynistic; if anything, I’m slightly misanthropic by nature. I have a healthy distrust of people of any gender amassed in large groups. In a large enough group, people will eventually start dancing.

That said, I’m going to talk about the TORONTO BEER WEEK LADIES NIGHT PUB CRAWL.

Now it has to be said that such an event has a lot of potential for humour, but it would be untoward to cheapen the occasion by belittling it with crass comedic nonsense. For that reason, I will not be using the following jokes:

–          I like my women like I like my Imperial Stout: Russian, and ordered off the internet

–          I like my women like I like my Double IPAs: Bitter, floral and full of alcohol

I will also suggest that the following modified traditional pick-up line will never work, even on an all female pub crawl:

–          Damn, girl. Your feet must be tired because you’ve been standing around drinking for several hours.

Let’s talk seriously about this issue. A caveat, first. Much of the information I’m basing this on is anecdotal.

Women make up more than half of the population, but for the most part they’re not beer drinkers.  All you have to do is look at the culture that exists around beer to see why that might be the case. Just look at the Coors Mansion and Bikini Teams as advertising platforms. It’s exclusionary marketing. Large brewers have traditionally attempted to appeal to some very stereotypical  male urges in order to sell mass produced lagers. It’s not just in the states, either. Look at any large beer festival. There will be women promoting beers dressed in 18th century Bavarian beer wench costumes: sort of low cut, pushed up numbers with flowing skirts. Keith’s is guilty of using this marketing concept, as was Unibroue at Mondial this year.

It’s not even a question of advertising. The entire culture is skewed towards men. Even at beerbistro, which is a pretty high end beer bar, the waitstaff is almost exclusively made up of attractive young women. At least it was during the Brew Dog dinner. There’s a significant portion of my thought process that can’t legitimately complain about the fact, either.  I’m not made of stone.

But, it has to be said that there are traditional gender roles within pub culture: Men drinking beer, women serving it. Even a cursory look at Orwell’s essay The Moon Under Water spells out that the servers in an ideal pub will be female. That may have been 1946, but even at that point Orwell seems to have recognized the divide in clientele:

“And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children tend to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children —and therefore, to some extent, women—from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.”

It seems to me to be the case that if the children are only allowed in the garden, then it follows that women would also be likely to have to remain in the garden especially given the contemporary mores. Initially, it looks like Orwell is being inclusionary, but there is a distinct physical barrier between men and women in this scenario: The exterior wall of the building.

I do see a number of women at Bar Volo, but I would say that a large percentage of them are sort of along on a night out that someone else has planned. Sometimes I’ll observe a particularly long suffering person order a Fruli on the recommendation of the server, and I suspect that more than half the time it’s because the word STRAWBERRY is prominently figured in the sales pitch. I always find it a little embarrassing that there’s an unspoken understanding between server and customer there that since the customer is female, they should probably want something light and fruity.

I’ve also noticed a not insubstantial amount of condescension on the part of male beer nerds when proffering samples to women at the bar. The idea that someone’s opinion should be less valuable because of their sex is ridiculous.

The thing is this: any attempt to market a beer exclusively to women is going to come off as either condescending or completely misjudged. The question “How can we increase the number of women drinking beer?” is the kind of question that I can see causing advertising executives to call in sick.

Go ahead and try to think of a way to do it. I’ll wait.

There isn’t one; at least not one that doesn’t have the potential to backfire.  This is one of the reasons that I suspect craft beer marketing in Ontario of being especially clever in this regard: They don’t attempt to exploit traditional gender roles specifically. Take a look at the Ontario Craft Brewers video, or at any of their marketing. They are pushing the idea that craft beer is flavourful and local. 100 mile diet. Drink Local. Artisanal beer. It’s about the product and not about a presumed audience. They have a mission statement rather than a flashy sales pitch. I think that’s doing a lot of good for increasing interest in beer amongst women, and although I have no data to back the assertion up I think you’ll agree with me that it’s an elegant solution to a long term marketing problem and indeed a method that’s a great deal more respectful to the intelligence of everyone involved.

LADIES NIGHT was kind of an interesting thing to observe, if only because it took the traditional concept and subverted it nicely. A traditional ladies night is really for the benefit of men. Pubs throw them in order to attract a female client base which in turn ensures that men will turn up and drink. The Toronto Beer Week Ladies Night Pub Crawl was mostly attended by women in the beer industry and their friends. If anything, it seemed to be more about networking amongst these industry professionals than anything else.

I talked with a couple of the ladies to see what they thought about the event and the impression was overwhelmingly positive. It succeeded in helping to establish a sense of the presence of women involved in the beer community, surely a good thing in a male dominated industry. And everyone looked like they were having fun, which is a truly important part of the equation.

Getting women to drink more beer is a thing that you can’t rush. You can’t force it. There are people working on it. Melissa Cole is doing some interesting work in the UK. Mirella Amato is working towards the same thing right here in Ontario. I’m sure it’s a phenomenon that is going to expand in coming years. With the Niagara College program, we may even end up with female brewers, which is no bad thing.

I’m all for beer drinking women. Everyone should be able to derive an equal amount of pleasure from a nice pint without feeling pressured to fulfill some kind of stereotype. Also, I’m honest enough to admit that there is some purely selfish motivation: Toronto Beer Week contains not only literal sausagefests, but also figurative ones. It’s always nice to meet intelligent women with good taste with whom you share an interest.

Toronto Beer Week – Tuesday

DAY 2

Brew Dog Dinner @ beerbistro

I get the feeling that there’s going to be a lot written about the Brew Dog Dinner, and that there are going to be a lot of pictures of identical plates and glasses and explanations of what was eaten and drunk. In point of fact, Chris Schryer has a nice piece on his blog about it. I can certainly attest that his pictures are likely to be better than mine as his camera has a flash which would not be out of place on a Nevada testing range. Hours later my retinas were still imprinted.

I should like to take the opportunity to talk about my impressions of Brew Dog’s output now that I’ve actually gotten to sample the majority of their core brands and some of their more gimmicky offerings. Our host for the evening was James Watt, and he gives the impression of being a hands on kind of guy. He’s clearly knowledgeable and is very entertaining. He has a passion for the industry which is nice to see.

With Brew Dog, it’s easy to talk about how good they are at manipulating the UK media. Between having beers banned for their names (Speedball), a 0.5% beer called Nanny State, packaging bottles in preserved stoats and generally bouncing between hero worship and vilification, it’s easy to buy into the hype that they manage to produce. I don’t say that the hype is unnecessary, as it has certainly launched them into international beer consciousness.

What I’ll say is this: Having tried their core brands, I think that they might be doing themselves a disservice by promoting their extreme offerings so consistently. 5AM Saint is an excellent beer, but not one that I had heard very much about. The same can be said of Trashy Blonde and Hardcore IPA. It’s just that you don’t hear much about them because of the TACTICAL NUCLEAR PENGUIN.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin

Speaking of, it’s probably worth mentioning that TNP was better than I would have assumed. I had thought that they were only attempting to make a high alcohol (32%) beer for publicity, but I hadn’t given any thought to the flavour profile. Since they used a high quality cask aged imperial stout to begin with, it worked surprisingly well: A digestif not entirely unlike Islay whiskey.

On the other hand, Sink The Bismarck which is made in approximately the same way, started out as an IPA and ended up at 41%. If you concentrate IPA, the hop content elevates as the water content is extracted. To suggest it was resinous would be charitable; It was downright coniferous, like an alcoholic Pine-Sol.

I hope that at some point the focus shifts from their extreme beers to their core offerings, which are exceedingly solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Beer Writers` Roundtable @ C’est What

Now I want you to understand that in university I once spent a very cold winter poring over literary criticism and post-marxist neo-feminist deconstructionalism, so it`s worth pointing out that I have a very high threshold for tedium.  The beer writers` roundtable left Adorno, Horkheimer and F.R. Leavis standing.

I`ve spoken with all of these men individually, and I can attest to you that all of them are capable of being not only interesting, but downright captivating when left to their own devices. The thing is this: They`re beer WRITERS. They are neither stand up comedians nor beer public speakers. They are, with the notable exception of Nick Pashley, better in a written format. (Nick Pashley is entertaining in any setting and is a guy worth getting to know if only because of his wry humour and gentle bonhomie.)

I think that I have to blame the format. If you’re going to put people in a circle and have them pass the mic around, it’s unlikely to be entertaining unless those people are the Wu-Tang Clan. They answered the questions that were put to them one at a time, meaning that a question like “What’s the best beer you’ve ever had?” can only reasonably be answered with “Well, there’s no such thing as an objective BEST beer, but…” once and then everyone else in the circle has to scramble to also look reasonable and erudite, shunting the discussion off onto “Well, I don’t know about BEST, but I did try this very weird beer one time. The year was 1976 and…”

Points should be awarded to Greg Clow, incidentally, for his completely accurate indictment of Wellington Silver Wheat for not only being disappointing as an anniversary beer, but also legitimately and objectively awful.

I think that next time something like this is attempted, there are a couple of tweaks that need to be made. First of all, it has to be a discussion format. If there was a certain amount of cross talk, the panellists would have been able to generate discussion on a few questions, entering into a dialogue as opposed to giving answers in what might as well have been a single interview format. Secondly, the questions should be a little more open ended: “What do you think is the next thing for beer in Canada?” or “What did you think of Steve Beauchesne’s Beer Revolution concept?” or “What do you think the highlight of the last year was for beer in Ontario?”

Here are some other suggestions for improvement to the format:

-Nick Pashley should be promoted to moderator of the roundtable. He should also be given a shotgun and instructions to kneecap anyone who fails at an attempt to pander to the audience or takes too long to come up with a compelling answer to a simple question.

-Panellists should have the good grace to answer the question “What is your most embarrassing beer moment?” interestingly. Make something up! Tell them about the time you had way too much beer and woke up in Guadalajara next to a burro named Juanita, missing your wallet and six teeth. “One time, I accidently set fire to Chicago while cow-tipping after a sixer of Milwaukee’s Best tallboys.” Now THAT’s embarrassing!

Toronto Beer Week – Sunday & Monday

DAY ZERO

Like I mentioned earlier, I came home from the Canadian Brewing Awards with a large number of relatively interesting beers. I’ve noticed that some people have the ability to keep rare and interesting beers in their cellar for long periods of time. I marvel sometimes when people mention that they’re drinking a four year old bottle of something. While I’m sure that I could probably stow away some Thomas Hardy in the closet and leave it untouched, I’m not particularly suited to cellaring things. It’s a small apartment and my curiousity inevitably outweighs my ability to ignore quality beers. If you open the hall closet to get the ironing board out and are suddenly confronted by a bottle of Three Floyds Dark Lord, it’s a sure bet that the Dark Lord is going to win out over removing creases in a Brooks Brothers button down.

As such, I decided to kick off Toronto Beer Week on Sunday night, hosting my own event for a handful of industry professionals and dudes I know from Volo. The St.John’s Wort Toronto Beer Week Humourless Trudge Towards Inebriation was a rousing success; Mostly in the sense that it cleared out my cellar so that I can finally iron in peace.

I had a number of interesting beers on offer, but they were predominantly high alcohol Barleywines, IPAs and Stouts. People will tell you that the hallmark of a successful tasting is a small number of quality beverages served at the proper temperatures with food that pairs nicely and proper lighting.  In the case of the SJWTBWHTTI, we had issues with the small number of beverages part. Midway through the evening we had to call in more people to help out.

The Aftermath of the SJWTBWHTTI

The highlights of the evening were some of the rare beers that Troy Burtch managed to slip me after the judging was over. Hart and Thistle’s Hop Rock Candy Mountain is a good example of the kind of thing that you’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of in Ontario if you weren’t a quasi-legitimate beer journalist. Unfortunately, it was one of the beers that was in a smaller bottle and it went early in the proceedings. When people talk about appreciating beer, there’s talk of hop bitterness and this had Citra in such quantities (65 IBU in this case) that it created a noticeable pong as soon as the bottle was opened. For all that you can swirl a sample of beer in your mouth or make copious notes, I think that the true sign of beer appreciation is when a silence falls over the room in the wake of the first sip. In the case of Greg Nash’s Hop Rock Candy Mountain, this silence lasted nearly ten seconds until people started laughing.

There were other highlights as well: Phillips Deadhead Barleywine was a nice surprise, with slightly more aroma than body. Bilboquet’s Corriveau Oatmeal Stout was a lovely companion to the chocolate cake brought to the party by my Super Junior Custom Correspondent Deluxe, Catherine Strotmann. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was what I assume was one of possibly three bottles of Central City Red Racer Imperial India Pale Ale that made it to Ontario.

We opened the bottle and we sat there discussing it with our designated BJCP and we came to some conclusions. It’s a little vegetal and they’ve maybe scaled up the alcohol more than they scaled up the hop bitterness. We wondered exactly how alcoholic it was and attempted to look it up on the internet. There are no reviews on ratebeer. Beer Advocate claims that it`s about 9%; It certainly doesn’t taste like it. It’s a lot like a scaled up version of the Red Racer IPA and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s brightly, tropically fruity, yet substantial in a way that the regular version can’t be. It’s an exciting beer and it’s a shame that I can’t think of a way to make the comparison more compellingly visceral. Normally for a comparison of two such high octane properties, you’d want a Jeremy Clarkson voiceover and a white suited racing driver.

For me, the highlight of the evening was being able to unveil the St. John’s Wort Shameless Publicity Grab IPA, which everyone seemed to like, or at least managed to choke down without outwardly visible distress. It’s a beer that I’m relatively proud of if only for the reason that it`s about my fifth attempt at brewing, and it is actually drinkable in a way that most previous attempts haven`t been.

DAY ONE

Possibly as a result of the previous night’s tasting, I missed the opening cask tapping for Toronto Beer Week. I forgot to set the alarm and as a result, had to watch the video of Bill White and Steve Peters on Youtube and then subsequently on Global TV’s nightly news. Judging by the amount of coverage that resulted from it I think that it was actually a safe bet not to have to report on it. The fact that Ten Bitter Years was featured on the nightly news probably means that the next batch will sell out in slightly less than a day once it’s announced, so you’re going to want to be on the lookout for that. Maybe you can bribe Ken and Adrian to hold on to a case.

For me, the highlight of Monday was the fact that my homebrew actually managed to come in third in the American IPA category of the homebrew competition for Toronto Beer Week. It was a hotly contested category of thirteen and I managed to acquit myself rather well. The truth is that I would have been content not coming in last, but being near the top of the category is a proud moment. The winner of the category was Biergotter, with their Hopocalypse. In amateur brewing terms, entering a category with Biergotter is a little like challenging Brock Lesnar to step into a steel cage. Even if there are only two of you in there, you`ll be lucky to finish in seventh place. They’ve been brewing in collaboration with Charlevoix and Dieu Du Ciel and they consult Volo on their Cask beers. Not only is there no shame in losing to them, just the fact that my beer was apparently competitive is reassuring in that I might have some idea what I`m doing.

Toronto Beer Week – Beer Culture Events

One of the best things about the events listing for Toronto Beer Week is the fact that there are a lot of events that are taking place that otherwise wouldn’t. Just the fact that there is likely to be an influx of interest in the subject tends to mean that there’s a lot of leeway for trying out new things to gauge the level of public interest; While it’s not particularly difficult to get people to drink beer, it’s more difficult to get them to attend an event that’s tangentially related to beer:  Beer and history, beer and music, beer and writing. There are also events that challenge the presumed knowledge of beer nerds.

These are, after all, events that have to do with the ephemera of beer culture. Because they’re all so different, it’s as well to just dive in to the previews.

MONDAY SEPT 20

Highway 61 Southern BBQ

1620 Bayview Ave

First Annual Lager Taste Challenge-  $25/ TICKET

Come out and join us for our first annual Craft Beer Lager Taste Challenge! Where we put your beer palate to the test with 5 different brews. The Top 5 connoisseurs will each be rewarded with great prizes – not to mention that every participant gets a bite and a pint to start! So give us a

shout if you’re feeling lucky at 416-489-RIBS (7427)

Now this looks like it might be fun. I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to go about it, but I suspect that you’ll be given five sample sized glasses of beer and a list of what they MIGHT be. The best part is that because they’re lagers, which beer nerds tend famously to eschew, anybody might have a shot at winning this. Maybe they’ll cover the tap handles with paper bags to give it more of an air of mystery. All I know is that you should try a side order of their baked beans since they’re superbly molasses-y, (which may not be a word).

Accessibility:  4/5

Price: 4/5

TUESDAY SEPT 21

C’est What

67 Front Street East

10:00 – 11:30 pm

Not Always In Good Taste – a beer writers-in-the-round, Free admission.

Writers include: Stephen Beaumont, Greg Clow, Nick Pashley, Ian Coutts, Steve Cameron, Troy Burtch, Robert Hughey, Aonghus Kealy, Josh Rubin

This should be interesting if only for the amount of personality present in the room. You’ve got Stephen Beaumont, who’s about as legitimate as beer writers get. You’ve got Aonghus and Josh from newspapers. Ian and Nick have published books this year. Troy and Greg are bloggers in the process of making good. (I don’t actually know Robert Hughey or Steve Cameron, so I’m loathe to try and sum them up in slightly less than a sentence. Seems dismissive.)  You’ve got people representing all levels of beer journalism. I have no idea what they’ll talk about, but I get the feeling that whatever it is, it’ll be amusing. I hope they field questions. Maybe I should prepare a list. “This question is for the panel: If you were a beer, what kind of beer would you be?”

Accessibility:  2/5 It covers a lot of different readerships, but you’d need to want to know about it.

Price:  5/5 You can’t beat free.

SUNDAY, SEPT 26

Toronto Beer Quest

brought to you by Beerology and Camaraderie

Toronto Beer Quest is an urban adventure where teams of two solve clues about beer, photograph themselves together at the clue location, and reach the finish line to qualify for prizes. The event has one goal: provide a fun way for Torontonians to experience beer through fun, history, and strategy. Prizes, sponsors, and other event developments will be announced on the Toronto Beer Quest Facebook page at http://bit.ly/TorontoBeerQuest.

Event details:

Check-in at 11:00am, event starts at 12:00pm

Tickets are $30 (earlybird) or $40 for a team of two participants at http://torontobeerquest1.eventbrite.com/

I’ve got to say that originally, I didn’t quite get the concept for this one, but I was talking to Mirella Amato  from Beerology on Saturday and she makes an interesting case for it. We’ve all been on guided tours, and I think I’m right in saying that attention tends to wander after a certain amount of time. You might be on the Maid of the Mist, overcome by the majesty and power of Niagara Falls and then twenty minutes later, you just want to take off the poncho and go get a coffee and maybe check your email. In this instance, where there are prizes involved for guiding yourself through the tour, your attention can’t afford to wander. Plus, in order to get a photo at each checkpoint, you actually have to learn things about the brewing history of Toronto. She’s managed to make the guided tour interactive and competitive. Deuced clever and you get some exercise before hitting the bar at the finish line.

Accessibility :  3/5 You need some special equipment and an interest in history.

Price: 3/5

Finally, I’d like to talk about a number of events that are cropping up which fall under this category if only because they are of the “have a beer with…” variety. Meet the brewer. Meet the journalist. It makes it sound as though they should be standing on a pedestal in the corner surrounded by velvet ropes, guarded by large men in black suits.

Ken and Adrian from Black Oak are hitting The Only Cafe on Tuesday and Bar Volo on Thursday. Those events should be fun, not only because they’re approachable and interesting guys, but also because they make some really tasty beers. Please take very small sips in front of Ken; it will save him from thinking about the next inevitable wave of deliveries.

Michael Hancock is going to be at the Monk’s Table on Thursday talking about his favourite subject: Weissbier. He’s a truly interesting guy and one of the most dedicated and exacting brewers I’ve ever met. You could learn a thing or six from Michael Hancock.

Bar Volo has the founder of Trois Mousquetaires  on Saturday and they’ll be launching 8 beers from that brewery. If you’ve ever wanted to see whether your French holds up while drinking a 12% beer, this is your opportunity.

The Local on Roncesvalles has representatives from Great Lakes in on Tuesday to discuss their Pumpkin Beer. Every year the Halloween treats go on sale earlier. There will also be live music, so this will be a good night out even if you don’t want to talk to a brewer.

Next time, I’m going to talk about events that are about beer as a standalone entity.

Toronto Beer Week – Food Pairing Events Preview

Today I’m going to try and point you in the right direction when it comes to food pairing events. There are an ever increasing number of them being announced for Toronto Beer Week and they run the gamut from the relatively simple to the extremely complex, but there are only a couple of things that you need to know in terms of deciding which ones to try out.

The first and potentially most important thing is that some of these events are going to involve cooks at local venues showing off. Picture being in charge of a pub menu on a day to day basis. At most places, the total amount of creative input is whether or not to put a garlic aioli on the sandwich of the day or whether the lunch crowd is going to be willing to drop fifteen bucks on a rib special. Beer pairing dinners are usually a chance for the cooks to design a menu and throw their skills at something. The quality of the food is likely to be pretty high because they’ll be trying to match dishes to beverages, and for that reason this is a good opportunity to go out to a new place and see what they’re capable of accomplishing beyond the poutine of the day.

Fair warning though: No matter how good the beer is likely to be, if you’re not a fan of the style of cuisine being served, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. Fortunately, there’s quite a variety on offer.

Monday, September 20th

The Monk’s Table

1276 Yonge Street – (416) 920-9074

7:00pm

Belgium Beer Fest with the White Knight Please Reserve Seating Limited

Bill White Hosts a Five Course Extravaganza of Belgium Beer and Food Pairings

The Monk’s Table is doing beer and food pairing events all week long, but this is the one that I want to call your attention to, because it combines everything you could possibly want: Exceptionally high quality Belgian beers, with an imaginative menu and a guide to take you through the whole thing. Not just any guide, either. Bill White is a Knight of the Confederation of Belgian Brewers (the hazing process may have involved a mash paddle) and he’s able to tell you all about the things you’re drinking in a way that removes a lot of the mystery.

Newbie Accessibility: 3/5 (mostly because of the guidance)

Price: 2/5 (very good value for money, though)

Wednesday, September 22nd

Cowbell

1564 Queen Street West – (416) 849-1095

Muskoka Beer Dinner: A four course beer dinner featuring four beers from the Muskoka Cottage Brewery, including their new batch of Harvest Ale. Four courses, four beers, all paired for only $40. Call to make reservations.

I’ve got to say that I’ve never been to Cowbell, but if you hit up their website and take a look at their menu, it’s solid French bistro fare. They even do their own charcuterie, apparently.  Veal sweetbreads are on the menu, for those of you who have watched No Reservations and wondered what Anthony Bourdain is going on about.  Still, it’s a four course prix fixe with beverages included, and at forty bucks  it sounds good to me. I only wonder whether they’ll have to dial the menu back a little to pair with some of the lighter Muskoka beers.

Newbie Accessibility: 3/5 (I bumped it up one because the Muskoka beers are largely accessible)

Price:  3/5

Saturday, September 25th

Trevor Kitchen and Bar

38 Wellington Street East

6 Course Dinner with Beers from Duggan’s Brewery – 6pm

A beer pairing dinner with Michael Duggan of Duggan’s Brewery.  6 courses paired around various beers produced by Duggan. Tickets are $79 and can be purchased by calling (416) 941 9410.

I’ll be honest with you: This sort of snuck up on me. Not only is Trevor doing a week of featured sandwich pairings at the bar (Salt Cured Foie Gras Club Sandwich. Sure it’s the moral equivalent of punching a gander in the face while his helpless goslings look on, but that don’t mean it ain’t tasty) but they’re also doing this dinner. I suspect the price is mostly because of the quality of the food, which in turn makes you wonder why Michael Duggan isn’t doing it at his own place. Sources suggest that it’s because the chef at Trevor is a long time beer nerd. If only for that reason, this has the potential to be a bit of a show stealer.

Newbie Accessibility: 2/5 (Some of the food pairings might get really elaborate.)

Price: 1/5 (Nearly as expensive as the dinner with a dude who came all the way from Scotland.)

ALL WEEK LONG

What’s that I hear you say? “But Jordan, I’m a total neophyte when it comes to beer and food pairing and I don’t want to risk spending a lot on something I might not like and besides I don’t want to punch a goose in the face.” Well, those are all valid concerns except for the last part. Here are a couple of events that are about as accessible as food pairing gets, and they cost less than twenty bucks.

Bier Markt

600 King Street Wes & 58 The Esplanade

Big Bier & Ze Big Brat – $19 plus HST

Oktoberfest comes a little bit earlier – Enjoy a 10 inch Thüringer bratwurst with all ze trimmings (Bavarian bread dumplings, Weissbier kraut) paired to your choice of (22 oz) Erdinger Weissbier or (22 oz)  Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier.

This is nicely accessible, unless you’re the type of guy who finds spaetzle challenging: A choice of two really nice wheat beers and a bratwurst with fixings for less than twenty bucks. Slip into your lederhosen and let your inner Bavarian out. Please refrain from annexing the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Burger Bar

319 Augusta Ave – Kensington Market

Oktoberfest Celebration! We will be serving a variety of sausages, Marzen styled beers, and some freshly hopped beers made with local hops.

In the words of Tobias Funke, there’s nothing like a banger in the mouth. It’s a basic pairing, given that you get the sweet malty flavour of a Marzen and the salty, porky, fatty goodness of sausage. It’s a combination that has worked for ze Germans since time immemorial. It’s a good start if you don’t have any knowledge going in.

Join me next time as I’ll be looking at some of the more gimmicky events going on during beer week. If you’ll excuse me the Beau’s Sticke Alt is calling my name and I’ve got a 30th birthday to celebrate.