Brewers will tell you that the summer is their busy season. You’d never know it based on the amount of activity happening this month; So far we’ve had a festival at The Only Café and a couple of beer launches.
I don’t really talk about the Only Café very much, and I’ve never been able to work out why that is. It might be that I like the place so much, and that it’s generally so cramped that I don’t want to see it get even more crowded. Sure, they’ve got a lot of craft beer on tap and in bottles. Sure, the prices are amongst the lowest in the city. I think the reason I like it is that it looks kind of like what might happen if you gave a bunch of high school kids of the Pink Floyd listening stoner variety free reign to design a bar. Also, there are board games and cards, which is ideal if you just want to hang out and play cribbage.
The festival they had there on the weekend had a number of interesting offerings. Railway City were trying out a couple of test batches of summery beers, which is something of a departure for them. I think the Pomegranate one they’re working on has legs, but this first attempt might be a little overly sweet. Sam Corbeil’s Sawdust City booth was pouring his Imperial Stout “Long Dark Voyage To Uranus,” whose label is inspired by Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I’ve enjoyed that beer on previous occasions, but I think that it’s hard to appreciate it when it’s really cold out. Tasty, but the environment hamstrung it a little. So it goes.
The best thing about the Only Café’s festivals is that Fabian seems to have managed to convince the guys at King Brewery to show up with an unfiltered, dry hopped version of King Pilsner. Now, King Pilsner is a solid, dependable, offering. It’s well made and it never changes. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad one, and I’ve been drinking it on and off since 2003. The unfiltered, dry hopped version is marvellous; pretty much perfect for the environment on the patio in February as well. Given my druthers, I would have walked out with the keg. I like variety as much as the next fickle blogger, but if you told me I could only drink one beer for the next year, it’s that one.
The fact that I was talking about equilibrium in Ontario and the launch of new craft breweries in my last post was not a fluke exactly. What I wanted to do was explain the way that I’m now looking at new breweries in Ontario. It may not seem like the best way to develop a taxonomy for new microbreweries is to look at evolutionary modeling, but I’m fairly confident that it’s as good as any other thinking on the subject. I put it to you this way: I would rather think in moderately abstract terms than learn the specific obfuscatory language attributed to marketing. At some point in the last month, I saw Bud Light referred to as a ‘velocity brand.’ Doubleplusgood.
Hops and Robbers
Saturday saw the release of Double Trouble Brewing’s Hops and Robbers at the Burger Bar.
The beer is an India Pale Ale; a hybrid somewhere between the English and American styles with a crystal malt backbone. Claude Lefebvre and Nathan Dunsmoor are the brains behind Double Trouble, but the brewer is Paul Dickey. Paul is much in demand these days, possibly due to the fact that just about everything he brews is balanced and drinkable. He’s got Cheshire Valley. And Kensington Brewing Company’s Augusta Ale.
The beer itself is pleasingly floral and piney, with some biscuit notes. It doesn’t grab you by the throat with its alcohol content. It’s completely drinkable, which is by design. There’s some subtlety of flavour here, which is nice to see in a market where you could easily sell a 90 IBU IPA just by naming it Faceblaster. It’s basically rock solid.
I think that Hops and Robbers would probably do pretty well if it were confined to Toronto. Although it might not ever be a breakout hit if left to establish a reputation on its own, it will succeed based mostly on the fact that it’s got Claude and Nathan behind it. Claude is like a bottle of five hour energy without the niacin flush. He’s behind North American Craft, which essentially outsources sales for breweries looking to tap into markets they don’t have representation in. Creating their own beer makes perfect sense, because NAC and Double Trouble already have a top flight sales and distribution team in place.
Hops and Robbers would do well without that advantage. With the advantage, they might go interprovincial. Hell, with Claude behind it, it’ll beat NASA to Mars.
I was invited to a Hogtown event over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. It was a test situation and they had a Blonde Ale and an IPA. The IPA was great (maybe even top five in Ontario), but the Blonde Ale was pretty average. It was drinkable, but it wasn’t going to set the world on fire.
I was surprised, then, that at their launch yesterday at the Duke of Devon, that I was drinking an entirely different beer. They decided to launch with a Kolsch style beer. You have to call it “Kolsch Style” because if you don’t, the citizens of Cologne will rise up as a man and beat you insensible for violating their EU protected designation.
I’m not a huge fan of the style, but I found myself really liking Hogtown’s beer. It’s got a delicate floral noble hop nose and a significant amount of carbonation. The pleasing, slightly metallic finish lingers on the palate. I was impressed that it cut through the bar snacks that were floating around, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that. German style beer and sausage rolls; no brainer. It is helped by the fact it’s crystal clear and looks pretty in their chosen glassware. That’s a good job by their brewmaster, Jay Cooke.
Here’s the thing. The Hogtown folks are corporate, Bay Street types. That’s a departure from the norm in Ontario, where the people behind breweries tend to fit into the “rag-tag band of misfits” kind of mold. This is actually a strength for Hogtown, because they seem effortlessly able to market to their own demographic. The Duke of Devon, for instance, is an odd place to have a beer launch if you’re an Ontario microbrewery. Near as I could figure it, half the people coming through the door were in post-work, post-gym mode, about 34 years old and climbing the ladder at Deloitte.
Hogtown has apparently been outselling everything down there this week. I suppose word travels fast through the underground PATH. They will likely continue to do well based on the fact that this is more or less an untapped market for craft beer. You should have seen the place. It was jammed.
Also, they’re to be commended on their patience. I think they knew that the Blonde Ale wasn’t going to do it and the IPA would have a lot of competition. They waited six months and found something that would work. Restraint: Who would have thought?