Ontario Craft Beer Week 2011 – Day Two 1

This year, I’m trying to get to as many Ontario Craft Beer Week events as is humanly possible, so you’ll probably see me out and about knocking around the GTA in some capacity or other. Maybe I’ll be complaining violently about having been to so many events. Maybe I’ll be quietly taking notes in a corner. Maybe I’ll be drinking a Pina Colada at Trader Vic’s. Maybe I’ll be drinking a beer at noon on a Tuesday. Only time will tell.

As my editor keeps telling me, “research is important,” and I am one of the happy few who can literally cite drinking beer and carousing with ne’er do wells as research. That said, let’s see what I got up to on Monday.

Beer Cocktails at Burger Bar. 5:00-7:00 PM

This is kind of an interesting event for me, because I’m researching for an article on Beer Cocktails for early next month. I can honestly say that I haven’t been exposed to the idea enough to speak emphatically about it, but it seems to me that it’s one of those things that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know that the world is clamoring for the beer cocktail.

If you had asked me about them a month ago, I probably would have politely but firmly asked you to go away. At this point, I’m not so sure. I tend to think of craft beer as a finished artisanal product, but it occurs to me that it’s probably not a lot different in principle than adding a syrup to a Berliner Weiss or grapefruit juice to a Radler. I’m starting to understand that when it’s done properly, it’s about adding to the flavours already present in order to enhance the experience. That’s no bad thing.

Mirella Amato and Christine Sismondo were hosting this event and they’d come up with a selection of beer cocktails to show off the rapidly growing phenomenon. My feeling is that if anyone was going to be able to convince me, it was going to be these two women, since between them they have a huge amount of knowledge to draw from.

I didn’t manage to try all of the beer cocktails, since I was pacing myself, but let me tell you a little about what worked and what didn’t.

The Rusty Knot.

The Rusty Knot worked pretty well. It was a cocktail of Lake of Bays Pale Ale with Tawny Port, grapefruit juice and homemade grenadine. I’m not sure that I was able to detect a lot of the Pale Ale within it, but the grapefruit juice offered a pleasing bitterness to combat the sweetness of the 10 year old Taylor Fladgate they had chosen. The Blackberry garnish was visually pleasing, and while I’m moderately colourblind, I think it’s attractive in the glassware.

Sweet Dreams. Not just a clever name, since it hits like a brickbat.

The Sweet Dreams didn’t really work for me. It was Beau’s Matt’s Sleepy Time Stout with Chambord, Crème de Menthe and muddled mint. Christine claimed rightly that the problem in working with an 8.0% percent beer in the summer is that it’s difficult to make it into a light refreshing beverage. I’m not sure that it would have worked with raspberry and mint even in the winter. It’s a little too sweet and the combination of the alcohol and the sugar was overpowering. That might be a beer that is more or less uncocktailable.

The winner, in my estimation:

I think the best example that they came up with was the “Lotus Green” which is made with Great Lakes Green Tea Ale, honey and elderflower. This is an example of a beer cocktail where the ingredients work together to the strengths of the key ingredient. The honey brings out the grassiness of the green tea and the elderflower adds a layer of flavour that plays on top of it. Well done, Cocktailers. (Cocktailsters? Cocktailinistas?)

Great Lakes Beer Dinner at Harbord House 7:00-9:00 PM

My host for this event was David Bieman, who had worked on the menu with the owner of the Harbord House, John, and his chef Jake. The food was quite as good as it was for the beer dinner during last year’s Ontario Craft Beer Week.

Tuna Tartare with various salsas.

The first course was a Tuna Tartare served on Potato Crisps with a variety of salsas. In terms of pairing beer with the course, they went with the Great Lakes Green Tea Ale. It’s a valid choice since most of the time I’m eating raw tuna, it’s either going to be with beer or green tea. I don’t think that any of the salsas overpowered the beer, but the poblano pepper and tomatillo one came close. Interestingly, the one that worked best was the salsa of cucumber and mint, which seemed more inspired by Mediterranean cuisine than Southwestern.

Duck Three ways. Croquettes! Duck and Blueberry Sausage! Smoked Breast!

The Entrée was a trio of duck preparations. The smoked duck breast and duck sausage were very good, but for me the standout were the croquettes. I have to compliment their chef on his seasoning. It’s very easy to oversalt a smoked duck breast, and similarly easy to undersalt a croquette (I suspect the reasoning would be “well, it’s fried and there’s cranberry compote to go with it. Better back off.”)  He got it exactly right for my taste.

The trio were paired with Great Lakes’ Faith No More Saison. I was talking to Lackey yesterday and apparently it’s the summer of Saison at the brewery. They’re going to be producing a bunch of Saisons over the course of the summer and I have to tell you that they’ve come a long way since the first one I tried. This was actually a reimagining of David’s Saison from last year, which was pleasantly funky, but maybe overly honeyed. You could tell from the nose of this Saison exactly how dry the finish was going to be. It was lemon, spice and pepper with a hint of melon of all things in the mid palate. It’s a lot more restrained than the last one. If they move it to production they’ll make a mint.

For dessert, David went all Richard Blais on us.

See, this is when I figured out what was going to happen. Check out the maniacal grin on Bieman.

You should really experience being in a room when one corner suddenly fills up with wafting liquid nitrogen.

Brewer drops science. Worried pub owner looks on.

I don’t know if the sorbet that he made a la carte was all that good, but I can pretty much guarantee you that no one will ever forget the evening if only for the whisking clinic that David put on in the corner.

Eventually, they called in a professional pinch-whisker

Stout Irish Pub Brewing Under The Stars 9:30-10:30 PM

I’ve done a bit of brewing. I’ve even done it on the system that they used at Stout, but I have to commend the idea behind the event. Most people haven’t brewed a beer, or even considered the possibility. How do you reach people who don’t want to go on a brewery tour and see how it’s done? You bring the fight to them during boardgame night on a local patio. It’s a good opportunity for people who are curious to go over and check it out. There was no shortage of brewers to answer their questions. George Eagleson was there, and he was a good choice. No one is too intimidated by George to ask a question. He will probably even give you a hug if you ask a good question. Or for any reason at all.

The Great Lakes pilot system is apparently transportable.

Jason Britton from Cameron’s seemed to be doing most of the explaining, but people circulated and chatted and seemed to be finding out what they wanted to know.

There were also a number of beers available from the brewers who were collaborating.

"What? You want one of these beers? I don't know, man."

There was even a Potato Malt Liquor available from Biergotter. Eric Ecclestone, local badass was heard to remark, “I don’t care if you don’t like it, St. John. Put this up on yer blag and publish it.” I did like it, but I must have made a face when I took a sniff and didn’t recognize the Rosemary used as an aromatic. I spent the next several minutes awkwardly groping for a pop culture reference to defuse the situation.

Eric Ecclestone: Local Badass is a dangerous man with a dangerous beer.

I’m still alive, so I must have done something right.

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