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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ontario Craft Beer Week 2011 – Day Two

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.

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.