St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Tag Archives: Ralph Morana

Beer And Food Tuesday: Carbonara Alla Morana

For those of you that have just joined the craft beer scene in the last couple of years, it’s worth pointing out that Bar Volo wasn’t always a beer bar with a light menu. At one point in the late 80’s, it was an Italian restaurant. After a while it became an Italian restaurant with beer. It further evolved into a beer bar with Italian food. Then came the nanobrewery and, with kitchen space at a premium, an expanding audience and wait times for food frequently outstripping forty minutes (about two pints, for those of you who tell time by pints), it became Bar Volo as it currently stands.

They changed with the times, somewhat to the chagrin of the regulars. Roger Pettet would sometimes ask me if I could write a blog piece about how the bar was changing, probably with the aim of stopping it from changing overmuch. The problem is that with Bar Volo being a leader in craft beer in Ontario, change was inevitable. It was not a bad thing, necessarily. People seem much happier getting fed quickly. So it goes.

The only issue that I had with the change is that Volo was responsible for a truly great pasta dish in their Carbonara. Periodically, when people wax nostalgic, the Carbonara comes up as one of the only examples of something they wish could come back. (The Puttanesca is also mentioned, as is the Pepperonata (at least by me)).

This is what Carbonara looked like when Volo used to cook it.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I could rectify that problem for people who missed the Carbonara. Since the Moranas aren’t using it anymore, they were pretty quick to supply me with it. I had tried to get the recipe previously, but it had been a long night and I discovered, after having it explained to me at great length, that I had no idea how the sound recorder on my Blackberry worked.

I emailed Ralph and he gave me the recipe, which I now impart to you:

Two Stages :
1. In a stainless steel bowl add
2 egg yolk
T parmigiana cheese
T Italian parsley
tsp salt
tsp pepper
tsp mixed dried herbs – basil & oregano
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
4T of 35% cream – (I just drizzle the cream in. You do not want too much because this is a dryer version of the Carbonara)
Add al dente spaghetti noodles (portion for one person)
Whisk all the ingredients.
Put aside until needed.

2. Heat a pan on medium low heat.
Add half of red onion medium thin slices.
Within 3 minutes add 2 diced smoked bacon.
When the onion and bacon are 3/4 of the way cooked raise the temperature to medium and add the mixture in the bowl.
Toss until all the ingredients are mix.
At this point I add a pinch of salt, pepper from a pepper mill and I grade ricotta salata cheese( asiago also works). I usually add about 2T of cheese and 2 diced fresh sage leaves.
Taste ( add more salt or pepper if needed)
Pasta is ready pending on how you like it. i like it on the crisp side.
I also like to add pancetta on top of the pasta.

I should point out that there are three things you need to know here.

My version doesn’t look nearly as good, but I don’t have a white plate or a DSLR Camera or any ability to plate food in an aesthetically pleasing way or the inclination to do so when I’m just ripping hungry and want to get to it already. Jeez.

1)      Since you’ve tempered the egg yolks with cream and the other ingredients prior to adding them to the pasta, you’re probably not going to scramble them. This is good news. It is still worth removing the pan from the heat to be safe.

2)      While ½ a red onion seems like a whole big bunch of red onion, it’s actually more or less right as long as you don’t choose the biggest one in the display.

3)      This is a restaurant size portion. At home, this could probably feed two, since it’s quite rich and very filling. I am slipping into food coma territory at the moment.

But what to drink?

Things people have sent me. I’m not sure where the one on the right came from, actually.

Well, people send me things. The fridge is so full that baking soda has developed agoraphobia.


When the folks at Creemore sent this stuff over, I was more excited about the Hops and Bolts. Call me a skeptic, but I haven’t really liked much of the Granville Island stuff I’ve tried. The Pale Ale is lodged squarely in the 80’s. The Hefeweizen is fair to middling.

The Lion’s Winter Ale is surprising in that it contents itself with a healthy bill of dark malts, a relatively creamy texture and a strong hit of vanilla. It is actually mildly reminiscent of Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque. I was a little shocked that the pairing works here. The sweetness of the malt and the vanilla actually play with the caramelization that the onions have gone through and there’s enough carbonation to lift the fat off the palate and refresh for the next bite. Oddly enough, the texture is the big thing. It’s creamy enough to play to the sauce while stripping it off your tongue.

I shouldn’t be surprised given that the Granvillers provided this recipe for pairing.


It is always good to choose appropriate glassware. In this case, I’ve chosen branding over propriety.

As I think we’re all aware, Cameron’s RPA is one of the better IPAs available in Ontario at the moment. It’s going into year round production soon. It has five malts, seven hop varieties and at least one hand picked variety of water. It’s delicious. It may not have a whole lot of noticeable rye character, but who cares when the overall product is this good? Caramel Malt and Pine and Citrus and Tropical Fruit and Joy.

It paired terribly. The hops just blew the Carbonara out of the damn water. It’s too big. It’s too bitter. It somehow fails to cut the fat in the cream sauce and the bitterness coats the tongue. If there was a single ingredient it might have had some interplay with it was the oregano. Not enough.

Don’t get me wrong. Love the beer, but this application was a loser. It was a bad choice on my part.


I was dreading this one.

Ralph suggested a smoked beer. I haven’t ever really liked this beer, but it was the smoked beer that I had on hand. Sometimes I’ll use it to braise a pork shoulder.

I don’t know if it’s ingredient creep, but the smoked malt doesn’t seem as pronounced as it once did. Probably, a slight whiff of smoke in Imperial Stouts is acclimatizing me. What it manages to do very nicely is accentuate the bacon and the smoke there, and in turn the salt content. There’s enough malt character to hold its own against the onions.

While it worked nicely as a pairing, I still didn’t quite manage to finish the bottle, although I admit that in the proper culinary application, this works. It’s just that I wouldn’t drink it without food.


Oddly, the winner here in terms of pairing was Granville Island Lions Winter Ale. The shocking thing is that it might work even better if you throw a pinch of nutmeg at the cream sauce. I’ve seen that in some carbonara recipes.

Also, we learned that it is good to be friends with Ralph Morana. He’s the Godfather of the Ontario Craft Beer Scene. If you go against the Morana family, you might wake up with the neck of a bottle of Rolling Rock next to you.



Cask Days By The Numbers

It’s fairly easy to take an annual event like Cask Days for granted, but since this is the eighth anniversary, I thought I’d show you something pretty neat about the development of the festival. It’s mostly interesting because it mirrors the development of the Ontario beer scene almost directly.


Cask Days starts up. Initial online buzz suggests that there will be 12 casks. This rapidly expands to 21 as brewers realize that they can get in on the action. All of the beers are from Ontario, which is not surprising. Looking at the list, the most adventurous offerings are Scotch Irish Sgt Major and barrel aged versions of Black Oak Nut Brown and Granite Peculiar. There was also a Trafalgar Abbey Ale.

It was pretty representative of what was happening in Ontario at the time. This is to say that while there were some solid offerings from F&M and Wellington and a number of the usual suspects, no one was really breaking any ground, except for the fact that there were a lot of casks in one place. That was novel.

Timeframe: 2 days, 1 session each day


This is where things start to happen. Those shocking new upstarts from Beau’s are in attendance. It’s the first year that homebrewers are involved in the form of Biergotter. It’s also the first time that Dieu Du Ciel is available on cask in Ontario.

In terms of Ontario breweries, it gets slightly more interesting. George Eagleson made a Pear Ginger Oatmeal Stout I wish I had gotten to try (George makes some great stuff when he gets weird.) The event features an Imperial IPA from Scotch Irish and a couple of Imperial Stouts.

While it is getting more interesting, there are still only 25 casks. Clearly, it hasn’t quite caught on yet in the public imagination. You’d still be happy with the lineup today if it were at any other pub.

Timeframe:  1 day, split into 2 sessions


The year mirrors 2005 more closely than 2006. For the first time, a beer from another country is served in the form of Fuller’s ESB. There are 29 casks, but this is partially because there are now more breweries. Grand River makes its debut (worth mentioning because Mill Race Mild is a great cask beer). A solid event, but no one is crushing the ball.

Timeframe: 2 days, split into 4 sessions


Bigger than the previous year by half, we’re back into adventurous territory. Church Key has a Purple Loosestrife Mead, which hits like a hammer and a Tobacco Road version of their Holy Smoke that I remember swilling in some quantity. There are a number of breweries participating for the first time, including Amsterdam, Barley Days and others. Great Lakes is starting to produce a number of casks. Fuller’s remains a constant. 44 casks.

Timeframe: 3 days, split into 5 sessions


This is the first year that the branding takes on its now iconic look, which is due to the design expertise of Tomas Morana (seriously, go back and look at the event materials over the last five years and tell me the guy hasn’t developed a unique style.) No longer content with merely having some casks on a patio on the weekend, Cask Days stretches to a week. While the main event still takes place Friday-Sunday, there is a pregame event throughout the week with 22 casks and a Thursday night recap of the first IPA Challenge. This brings the total number of casks to 72.

The selection has grown to the point that it now has to be separated on the patio into Ontario regions. While there are many highlights from Ontario, the key feature is the addition of casks from Benelux, Dieu Du Ciel and Hopfenstark (with Fred in attendance, looking a bit swashbuckler-y.)

Timeframe: Oct 26-Nov 2


No longer content with a single week, Cask Days expands to a month long moveable feast which roams from Vankleek Hill to Cambridge. The pre-event features 19 casks in the English style. The Thursday features the two previous winners of the IPA challenge. The main event features 53 casks.

High on their success as a nanobrewery, Volo has 8 beers (this was before the House Ales branding) all of which are more interesting than anything offered in 2005. In addition, there are now five participating Quebec breweries. The highlight is Mike Lackey’s Triple IPA, which I seem to remember being called Tennish Anyone. My friend Vanessa threatens him with violence if he doesn’t brew it again.

Timeframe: Oct 1- Nov 1


No longer content with the space available at Bar Volo, Cask Days relocates to Hart House, which is a much larger venue, capable of holding something like 500 people. More breweries than ever before take part as a result of the increased space.

The pre-event lineup during the week has 19 casks and six Fuller’s beers are featured on the Friday night. The country is represented from coast to coast, making this the first truly national beer festival. Quebec ‘s section has expanded to include almost as many beers as the entirety of 2005’s entire festival. Fuller’s has a booth of their own, as does Niagara College.

The total number of beers available exceeds 100


No longer content with the space available at Hart House, Cask Days relocates to The Brickworks, which is a much larger venue, capable of holding a small army.

The pre-event lineup is legitimately the size of the 2005 version of cask days. Half Pints has its own event on Thursday night (Humulus Ludicrous, people. Go get it.) The main event features 110 casks from across the country including three gluten free options. There is an entire section for Pumpkin beers. There is an entire section for Collaboration beers. Authors will be signing books. There will be DJs. At this point, it’s a face-painting booth away from graduating from beer fest to carnival

Total number of casks is 132

Look at this graph:

Clearly, we should all be very, very afraid.

Cask Days has average growth of about a third (1.32011) since it started in 2005. This means, if I am extrapolating correctly, that by the year 2017 Cask Days will last the entire season of autumn, feature 544 casks including some from upstart brewers in Venezuela, and will take place in the newly annexed borough of Morana Downs (formerly East York).

I, for one, welcome our new Cask beer overlords. If you haven’t bought a ticket for this year’s event yet, you should. You want to stay on Ralph’s good side.

So You Want To Be A Brewer: House Ales/St.John’s Wort Gin and Juice IPA

Before I started writing about beer, I worked a job at a publishing company. It was not a particularly fulfilling job, but one of the perks that it had was location. It was located right down the street from Bar Volo. I suppose that at this point, I’ve probably been going to Volo off and on for about five years, and it’s amazing to see how much the place has changed in that time. They’ve started an import agency with Keep6imports. Their annual Cask Days event has become large enough that it now has to be held at an alternate site. They’ve even branded their on-site nanobrewery as House Ales.

Consider for a moment that this is a pub that has evolved to the point where it requires four websites to keep everyone up to date with their activities. When I started going there, they barely had one.

If you're waiting outside of a bar at 7:00 AM, and you're sober, people look at you funny.

I don’t know if it’s because I was a regular there for a long time, but every beer that I’ve brewed as a collaboration has somehow ended up on tap at Volo. There were the Lazarus Breakfast Stout and Imperial Element, which were collaborations with Mike Lackey at Great Lakes. There was the Manitou Sumac Saison, which was a collaboration with Paul Dickey.

It’s kind of a kick having your beer served at the best beer bar in the country. That’s what Volo is, according to ratebeer. For some brewers, I suspect that being on tap at Volo is just another day at the office. After all, when you’re producing thousands of hectoliters a year, it must be pretty hard to get excited about where it’s going to be served. At that point, the main priority has to be moving a lot of whatever that beer is. In my case, since the biggest batch I’ve managed so far is something like a hundred litres, it’s exciting.

I still can't believe anyone's crazy enough to entrust me with electrical equipment.

I was at Volo on the first brew day with the Blichmann system, and I’ve watched them develop as a brewery. Some of the beers have been really good and some of them have been less good. It’s like that when you’re experimenting with small batch recipes, especially during the first year. They’ve now gotten to the point where they’ve got a couple of brewers in Jason Tremblay and Jon Hodd.

The thing that I like most about House Ales is that there’s some conceptual continuity. I suspect that the Hip-Hop series of beers that they’ve done is mostly there because of Tomas and Giulian Morana’s tastes in music. It doesn’t seem like Ralph would have come up with RUN E.S.B. or NOTORIOUS I.P.A.

I’m very lucky because I don’t currently have any constraints to my creative process in terms of brewing. For that reason, I get to come up with an idea for a beer and then make it work. It doesn’t have to be marketable, since there’s not going to be a lot of it. It just has to be tasty.

First wort hopping. For that extra.. uh.. thing.

In this case, I knew that I wanted to design something that related to the Hip-Hop series that House Ales does. I figure that if you’re going to play on someone else’s turf, you ought at least to follow their rules. I also knew that rather than just giving the beer a Hip-Hop pun as a name, I wanted to come up with something that was conceptually valid and would carry through into the flavour. As it turns out there aren’t a whole lot of ways you can go conceptually.

I suppose that you could probably make a beer with just a whole lot of a really resin-y Simcoe hops for that authentic bong rip flavour and call it The Chronic. I don’t know. My lack of fluency in the genre really limited my ability to play. Eventually I settled on Gin and Juice for two reasons

1)      Because I like G-funk.

2)      It was pretty much the only thing I could think of that would translate.

I figured that if you’re going to make a beer called Gin and Juice, both of those elements need to be right up front. You’re going to need a lot of citrus and tropical fruit flavours out of the hops, which more or less means  that you have to use a lot of late additions for aroma. The most fruit flavour I’d seen out of a hop recently was from Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy, so the recipe initially called for those, with some cascade for citrus specifically. While we had to alter the ingredients on the brew day, Jason Tremblay had some really good ideas for substitutions.

See that slick of oil? Yeah, that might have some hops in there.

The Gin part is a bit trickier. Since gin gets most of its flavour from juniper berries, that’s pretty much what you’re going to have to use in order to get that flavour. I suppose that you could probably throw them in as an aroma component around five minutes from the end of the boil, and that would definitely give you some flavour. The problem is knowing how much flavour it might give you. In a batch of about 85 liters, how much juniper do you want to use? Also, how are the juniper berries going to interact with the hops? Once it’s in there, you can’t take it out. In the end, we decided that it would be better to go with putting the berries in the secondary fermenter.

I don’t know exactly what it’s going to taste like, but it’s sure as heck going to be interesting. Probably it will be on tap at Volo towards the end of March. Thanks go to Ralph Morana for letting me use his equipment and Jason Tremblay for making sure I didn’t set anything on fire.

Cask Days @ Hart House

In Ralph Morana’s ever expanding quest to take over the beer world, Cask Days 2011 has to be seen as a massive success. That being said, it wasn’t without gambles. Any time you move a beer festival to an outdoor location, you face a number of variables that are beyond your control. The truth is that it all came together perfectly this year.

One of the things I use to gauge the success of a cask festival is how the English ex-pats think of it. These are people, after all, who get back across the pond periodically to enjoy real ale festivals that are generally much larger than those we have in Canada. This year Cask Days actually managed to put blissful looks on their faces, and I talked to three or four ex-pats who lauded the thing as being a “proper festival.”

There were a number of things that helped to pull this off. The first is the setting. Hart House lends an air of sophistication to a beer festival. People tend to behave themselves when you put them in a massive university courtyard in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily do in other places. Perhaps it was the imposing nature of the structure or the nearly surreal carillon ringing from the bell tower that had this calming effect. At least during the first session, no one got out of hand.

The bells! The bells!

One of the key ingredients in this success was the massive variety of beer on offer. There were 82 separate casks, which is amazing when you consider the genesis of the event. When I started going to Cask Days four years ago, there might have been something like 40, and they would all have been from Ontario. The fact that this event has expanded to include BC, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and England is no small feat. Think about the amount of organization that it must take to get that many brewers on the phone, let alone to get them to ship casks of their beer out to coincide with the last week in October. Astounding.

Should have sent a poet.

The other thing that worked to everyone’s benefit was the fact that it was cold. It was, for me anyway, just about the right temperature to be serving cask ale at. I know that some folks seem to like it at eight or nine degrees Celsius, but I prefer it at around six, chill haze be damned. It’s going to warm up in your hands anyway, so I feel like having the flavours open up in front of you is a good thing.

George Eagleson: Urban Cowboy

People dressed up for the weather, in windbreakers and parkas and a surprising number of cowboy hats. Many people fought to find a place on the north side of the quad so that they could stand in the sun and warm up. This is just enough adversity to create a shared experience. It’s not so much adversity that it becomes the focal point of the day. It would be hard, for example to properly enjoy cask ale in a lifeboat after listening to the band play Nearer My God To Thee while this ship goes down. It would, however, create a sense of community, at least until the cannibalism set in.

Local Hat Enthusiast Greg Earp

The branding on all of the material involved with the festival was excellent, and most of the credit for this goes to Tomas Morana, who has become something of a savant in terms of graphic design. At some point before the festival, he took the time to design tokens with the event logo on them. These are so vastly an improvement on having paper tickets in your pocket that I don’t know where to begin. In the old days, they used to issue strips of paper with little dotted lines on them so you knew where to tear the tickets. Try finding a single ticket in one of your many pockets after you’ve sampled 14 quarter pints of beer. The tokens are a stroke of genius.

I wasn't going to include this picture, but I did because of tokenism.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that I didn’t end up drain pouring a single beer. In previous years there have always been one or two beers that I tried that I couldn’t get through despite the fact that the sample might have been five ounces. The leap in quality is tremendous. The brewers are now taking this seriously, and by trial and error over the course of the last seven years most of them have learned how to properly cask beers.

Somehow, both the Central City Red Racer Citra Pale Ale and the Storm Fresh Hop IPA survived the voyage from BC and were excellent. One would have thought that the Trois Mousquetaires Barrel Aged Baltic Porter would have stolen the show in the Quebec tent, but Dunham’s Oak Aged Cranberry Ale was magnificent; tart, with that hint of wood that aids the mouthfeel. I suspect that it may have been bolstered by a touch of wild yeast. All I know is that Dunham clearly bears watching.

Gordo thought he got out of frame. Gordo was wrong.

Niagara College put forth a good effort, and our booth was manned by Gord Slater, who is pictured here in a very dapper hat which was provided by Don Cherry’s Burlington Glamour line of couture (there is the distinct possibility I will be expelled for this joke). The Bultersberg Barley Wine was very good and I feel as though the other beers benefitted from dry hopping. Niagara students Austin Roach and Andrew Bartle collaborated with Volo’s House Ales to create Gold Dust, which was a solid attempt at an American style Porter.

Ontario actually measured up to the other provinces. Mike Lackey from Great Lakes created a 100% Brett IPA which I imagine will take the best name prize: Fangboner. Yes, it’s a silly name. Try saying it aloud in a high pitched voice, or singing it to the tune of goldfinger. It also created an awkward situation when you were being served by one of the girls manning the booth. “Excuse me young lady, could I trouble you for a Fangboner? What’s that? No, just a quarter pint Fangboner. This is the Fangboner? Great. Here’s your token. Fangboner.”

"Hey, what can we call this beer? It needs to be wholesome enough to play in Peoria....I've got it. Fangboner."

Cameron’s continues to do interesting things. Apparently their There Is No Dana, Only Zuur Sour is the result of months of barrel aging. It was tasty. The only legitimate criticism I have for it is that the beer is that it didn’t really peak at any point on the palate; one flavour all the way through. Good beer, though and it gets high marks on the Venkman Quotient.

Don't open the tap all the way. Important safety tip, Egon.

Best of all though was Sawdust City’s I Swear, Sugarpants, It Was Your Idea. I didn’t think much of Sawdust City’s first offering. I think the ingredient from every province thing they did with Great Weiss North was gimmicky and a little busy on the palate. I don’t think anyone knew enough of the ingredients to be able to pick them out. This, on the other hand, was marvelous. It’s a brown ale with coffee malt and lactose brewed with a sort of garam masala chai steep that was added as a flavour addition at the end of the boil. It tasted like a chai latte. I don’t actually like chai, and this was excellent. More than that, it was exciting. I don’t know exactly how he pulled it off and made the flavours work together, but he did.

Looking at this picture, I'm seriously considering taking bets on whether Sam Corbeil owns a waterbed and attends key parties.

This was the best Cask Days event ever. Make no mistake, it will probably be even better next year. I have only two regrets:

1)      We trampled the Hart House quad’s lawn pretty badly. Some landscaper is going to be pissed.

2)      Instead of sampling more beers, at some point I decided to use four tokens to buy a pint of Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque on cask.

Actually, that second one probably isn’t a regret.


Filling in the Blanks for Ontario Craft Beer Week 2011

You may have noticed that the old bloggity blog has lain fallow these two weeks. There’s a good reason for that. June was busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest, and my plan of trying to cover events every day during Ontario Craft Beer Week was not quite as easy as it seemed at the outset. I mean, if anything tells you how feasible the craft beer movement has become in the province, it’s the fact that OCB week organically grew into a ten day beer festival. I suspect at this point that if there were just an organizing website that would list events, you could probably continue indefinitely. Sure all the brewers would pass out from lack of sleep on day 23, but that’s a small price to pay for success.

What this means is that I’ve got two weeks of blogging to catch up on, and I figure that rather than scrapping the whole thing in order to get up to speed on current events, I’ll condense days six and seven of Ontario Craft Beer Week into a single post.

Let me preface these two posts by saying that Garrett Oliver was in town for those two days. Originally I was going to write a little bit about that, but there was no way that I could do it that wouldn’t have come off as fan-boy boot-licking toad-eating; just the worst kind of hero worship. It’s probably warranted, but my impression is that if there was ever a dude who was secure enough to not need that kind of praise, it’s Garrett Oliver.

I will therefore limit myself to the following paragraph, which will sound like a Bill Brasky story:

We’re supremely lucky to have that guy as an ambassador for craft beer. He’s poised, gracious, funny, intelligent and a snappy dresser. I got to tour the beer store with him as his rep explained the situation in Ontario. Garrett had everything figured out in about four minutes, right down to deducing the fact that with a burgeoning craft beer movement, there had to be some kind of online backlash (all I could add was that we were working on it). I have not seen a lot of people able to pull off a blue gingham/tattersall shirt, especially amongst the beer community in Ontario where a bowling shirt is considered overdoing it. The man wore cufflinks to a cooking demo and managed not to dirty his French cuffs. In short, it’s pointless to talk about being impressed by him because if that’s not your default reaction, you’re deranged.

Day Six: Bar Volo House Ales Takeover

This event was really interesting for me, because I was there for the first brew day Bar Volo had: Caustic Commencement Saison. I still have the sticker from that brew on my banjo case. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come over the course of a year. While it took a while for the nanobrewery to get off the ground, they’re now producing beer at a really good clip. Some of them are pretty darn good, while some of them miss the mark. I’ve tried a lot of the beers there over the last year, because for a while they were mostly getting broken out for special events. I don’t think that there’s been anything world shaking to come out of the House Ales project yet, but that’s not really the point.

It’s early days yet, and the whole thing is kind of a journey. To me, the best part of the House Ales project is that it functions as a kind of crossroads for brewing in Ontario. Ralph Morana doesn’t often get credit for this, but all you have to do is look at the way the community connects around Bar Volo because of the often collaborative nature of the beers on offer. During any given week you’ll have Bim from Dieu Du Ciel or Fred from Charlevoix in there, brewing up a storm. He’s worked with Iain and Bartle from Amsterdam, Lackey from Great Lakes. Not to mention Flying Monkeys, Biergotter and St. Andre. Plus, Jon Hodd, who works there, is turning into a force to be reckoned with.

Because most of the brews are envelope pushers (“Black Saison” said Garrett. “Is that a thing?”), you end up with brewers going in to try them. It results in increased communication throughout breweries in Canada. That’s a pretty useful function, if I’m honest. Volo used to be my local, what with cheap pints on Mondays and a fantastic group of regulars. These days I mostly get there for events, which is a shame since you never know what’s going to be available from one day to the next.

The only downside is that with the ambitious new direction, the crowd in there has changed fairly significantly. It’s much younger. I mean, how often do you see Stefan from Dieu Du Ciel spin a DJ set? The prices have gone up somewhat. I feel like I’m verging into “get off my lawn, you darn kids” territory if I complain about those things, so I’ll just suggest this: Volo has never been static. It started as an Italian restaurant nearly 30 years ago. No one could have predicted that it would become a craft beer place, let alone one of the best in the world. The continued innovation is not trading off the old atmosphere or ambiance. Continued innovation is a hallmark of the place, and it’s no surprise that it has begun communicating that progress across the Ontario brewing scene both through collaboration and by acting as a nexus for the industry.

Day Seven: Session 99

I’m going with the extreme short form here, since this is turning into a novel.

The organizers of the Session festival learned from last year. They learned that the festival needs to be in an accessible location. They learned that the location they choose needs to have an open layout. They learned that rioting in the streets will prevent people from drinking beer, which seems counterintuitive when you think about Vancouver.

Jed did a heck of a job putting together something that felt more like a party than most festivals do. Cooking demos, easily available food, a cigar lounge, and enough space to stretch out in all helped with this atmosphere. I don’t know if the venue ever reached capacity. I was worried initially, since it looked pretty empty two hours after the kick off, but it picked up significantly and I think that everyone enjoyed themselves.

The main stage was a nice touch. A little bit of spectacle is good at a beer festival, since it tends to keep people from having nothing to do but drink. After a couple of hours of milling around sampling things, that can lead to a number of problems. On the other hand, people tend to behave themselves if you’ve got a circus strongman kicking around. The thought process is “Oh hey. That dude just bent that rebar into a heart with his teeth. Maybe I should just chill out over in the corner for a while.”

I was surprised to see that Spearhead won best brewery. I think it’s a triumph of their marketing rather than their beer, but I can’t fault them for that. It’s a part of the game that they excel at. I know people who think that they shouldn’t have won since they’re contracting out of Cool brewery, and therefore are not actually a brewery. I have to point out that it was a publicly determined vote, and that the public doesn’t care about that stuff. The semantics of the thing are only crucially important to industry people. Besides, you can’t enforce authenticity in a free market, neither can you argue from the standpoint that you should be able to without being disingenuous.

Good for them, says I, for not downplaying the role of marketing in their business plan. It worked for The Spice Girls. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s hard to argue with a gold record.