Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beau's Big Winner at 7th Annual Golden Tap Awards

There were two big events taking place in Ontario yesterday, both highlighting the best in the Ontario craft brewing industry.

In the lovely little town of Bracebridge, ON the owners of the Griffin Gastropub were hosting the first ever Muskoka Beer Festival at Anne Williams Park that showcased a number of Ontario small brewers from all regions of the province while keeping the mega-breweries at home. They battled through rain in the early going but all reports indicated that the festival was a blast and the turnout was pretty good for the first such festival in the northern town.

Here in Toronto Cass Enright, president and founder of Bar Towel and Free Our Beer, presented the 7th annual Golden Tap Awards at beerbistro before a packed audience. There was a healthy turnout at last years event, a bit thin at times, but this year beerbistro was packed to capacity at certain times throughout the night, which created a line-up to gain entry and showed that the craft beer scene here in Toronto is starting to attract new customers and fans.

The GTA's got underway at 4pm and upon my arrival just shortly after 4:15 there was already a good amount of people sampling from the numerous draught and bottle selection put together by Enright with the help of the breweries (Click here for the entire list). There was a large number of brewers and brewery representatives in attendance this year, more so than in the past, as Mill Street's Joel Manning, Cameron's Jason Britton, F&M's George Eagleson, Great Lakes Peter Bulut Jr, Denison's Michael Hancock, Ron Keefe from Granite, Bruce Halstead from Durham County, Better Bitter's Tim Blakeley, Flying Monkey's Peter Chido, Ken Woods and Adrian Popowycz of Black Oak, Steve Beauchesne of Beau's, Grand River's Bob Hanenberg, Paul Dickey of Chesire Valley, Mike Duggan, OCB President John Hay and many more, all showed up to show their support. There was also a good number of pub and restaurant owners there, and seeing them interact with their clients and the people that deliver them the beer was nice to observe. There was some talk about new beers in the works, distribution updates, and ideas about some new events.

Jim Brickman, founder of Brick Brewing and the man considered amongst the Ontario brewing industry as a trailblazer, surprised a number of people upon his entrance. Brickman, who is no longer with the brewery he founded, was being awarded with an Editor's Circle award for his years of dedication in the craft brewing business.

As with every other GTA festival, individuals were encouraged to vote on their favourite beer in attendance and at 10pm Enright would tabulate the votes to name the Beer of the Festival. Last year Grand River's Bumbleberry Wheat won the award and Bob Hanenberg was on hand to receive the plaque this year. At the end of the night Enright announced that Beau's Lug-Tread Lagered Ale won by a small margin to claim the beer of the night.

Here are the other winners: Congratulations to all!
**The new cask awards were presented in partnership with CASK! Visit them at

Best micro/craft brewery in Ontario: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, Vankleek Hill

Best micro/craft brewery in Ontario for cask-conditioned ale: Granite Brewery, Toronto

Best bar in the Ontario in terms of draught beer selection: C’est What, Toronto

Best bar in the Ontario in terms of bottled beer selection : Bar Volo, Toronto

Best bar in the Ontario in terms of cask-conditioned ale: Bar Volo, Toronto

Best brewpub or tied house in Ontario: Mill Street Brewpub, Toronto

Best regularly-produced craft beer brewed in Ontario: Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale, Vankleek Hill

Best seasonally-produced craft beer brewed in Ontario : Black Oak Saison, Toronto

Best cask-conditioned ale brewed in Ontario: County Durham Hop Head, Pickering

Best of the Fest: Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale,

Four Editor’s Circle awards were also handed out, recognizing significant achievements in the Ontario beer industry. The Editor’s Circle awards were determined by a panel of Bar Towel members and associates. They went to:

Cask Ale Crawl, a weekend long event held in Toronto earlier this year that featured cask ale being served at 6 different bars across the city.

Rob Creighton & Grand River Brewing, for Rob's long participation on the Bar Towel forum and the brewery's quick rise to being one of the best in the province.

Derek Hyde & Amsterdam Brewing, for their Strong Spring Bock, the first high-profile collaboration between a homebrewer and a commercial brewer in Ontario.

Jim Brickman, founder of Brick Brewing, for his pioneering contribution to the Ontario craft brewing industry

There was also a special award handed out at the conclusion of Enright's presentation. John Hay, President of the Ontario Craft Breweries Association was brought forward by Stephen Beaumont who had provided a glowing tribute to Brickman and Hay then called up all the OCB members in the room to help present a plaque to Enright himself for his 10 years of hard work with Bar Towel and for all the work he has done promoting the virtues of craft beer. Enright was quite surprised when presented with the plaque and the loud applause he received from the crowd showed that the OCB aren't the only people who appreciate all he has done in for the industry over Bar Towel's 10 years in existence. It was a good way to cap off the already tremendous awards festival.

I personally find the Golden Tap Awards festival to be one of the best, and most organized, small awards/festival done here in Ontario. It always brings out the brewers, the sales reps, the bar owners, the craft beer fans, writers - really anyone who works in the industry or those that follow the craft market. Already looking forward to next year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Meet Tim Blakeley: Better Bitters Brew Master

Meet Tim Blakeley, the enthusiastic and talented brewer with the Better Bitters Brewing Company.

Blakeley has been in the industry for over 15 years now and is responsible for the creation of a number of new seasonal products Better Bitters (under the brand Nickel Brook) have been producing over the last couple of years, which include: Maple Porter, Spring Bock, Organic White, Sahti (a Finnish beer brewed with Juniper berries) and Uniek Kriek (oak-aged with sour cherries). Blakeley has also brought some consistency and creativity to the brewery since arriving almost three years ago, tweaking, and improving the Nickel Brook Ale and Apple Pilsner, and producing the recently released canned, and LCBO available Organic Lager.

**Photo - Blakeley on right, Better Bitters brewer Ryan Morrow on left

How many years have you worked in the industry?
The first Toronto Festival of Beer was my first week on the job. So what’s that? Fifteen years, I think.

How did you get into brewing beer?
I tripped over my taste buds and landed in it. Ha Ha. I worked at The Woolwich Arms pub when I first moved to southern Ontario, and fell in love with the beer. Eventually, I drank so much Gritstone that the Niagara rep took me on a brewery tour and bought me steak dinner. After that, I was on a mission. When F&M brewery opened, I badgered them into giving me a grunt job and I would stay after work and hit the books every night. Then I basically spent the next three years grinding my way up the ladder, studying, exploring the different styles and driving everybody nuts with all my questions.

How long have you been brewing with Better Bitters?
Three years on Labour Day

Where were you before Better Bitters?
I’ve kicked around a few places: Gordon Biersch, Neustadt Springs, Wellington, F&M (second ownership), Taylor & Bates Elora and F&M (first ownership).Some beer sales gigs as well. I used to call beer sales “bar hopping for money”.

What is your best selling beer?
The core brands are pretty much neck and neck, but we’ve just released the Nickelbrook Organic Lager at the LCBO and I’m expecting it to take the lead.

How successful have the seasonals been for Better Bitters?
Very successful in many ways. Firstly, they sell well and have raised our profile within the community. Also, they’re invaluable to me for research purposes. Many of the techniques and ingredients I’ve used them to experiment with have allowed me to really fine tune the core brands and overall production. Most importantly, the joy of dreaming them up and then having them in my cellar when I get home has been instrumental in keeping me sane through the last three brewery expansions.

What is it like brewing in Ontario?
I love it. There’s a major renaissance going on among consumers for artisanal brewing. It’s allowing us unprecedented freedom to be creative. Also, the brain trust and talent pool that I’m working along side in the industry is first rate. We all get along great, and swap favours and advice as well as pints and dirty jokes. Any rivalries we have are friendly ones, which only serve to fuel our ambitions for excellence. Overall, I’d stand the Ontario scene beside any brewing region around.

Tell us something about yourself that not a lot of people know about.
I cried when my pet fish, Brain, passed away. It was 4:00 A.M. so nobody saw me. Phew. Thanks, Troy. It’s good to finally get that off my chest.

What's your favorite beer style?
Definitely the Belgian styles, with only a couple exceptions. Not exclusively Belgian styles brewed in Belgium, though. A good chunk of my top twenty are from Quebec. I love what they’re doing in Quebec.

What is your ideal food and beer pairing?
There’s too many to mention, so I’ll tell the most recent one that I’ve enjoyed. I was back home on the Saint Lawrence, and I had a dry Kriekbier with cheese curds and fresh-caught Lancaster perch on a baguette. Heaven.

Pick one Better Bitters beer to drink forever.
The Nicklebrook Cuvee. I make that one especially for myself. Not the most responsible use of company funds, but it sells well and gets good press, so my conscience is clear. Only thing is, it’s best after it’s laid down for eighteen months and I don’t have the willpower to keep it in my cellar that long.

What has been the highlight of your brewing career?
I’d have to say I’m living it right now. This is a very dynamic time for me. The learning curve is immense. Better Bitters is growing exponentially. The technology available for small batch production compared to back when I started is liberating. All of my designs and plans and inventions and dream beers are becoming reality and it all seems to be working. Lots of them have been stuck in my head for years, waiting for a company that’s supportive of my crazy ideas. John, the owner, is down with that. I feel validated and stressed out and excited and overwhelmed. Basically, I’m a kid in a candy store.

Best time for a pint?
Days that end in 'y'

Where do you see the Ontario brewing industry in the next 5 years?
I can see the cottage, craft and micro-breweries scooping up another 20% market share. I think the larger micros will start doing more special releases and seasonals. I’m looking forward to that. As for the more exotic stuff we’re creating, I think it will still be niche market, but I hope it’s a bigger niche. If we keep our beer advertising associated with gastronomy instead of beach volleyball, I think we can pull it off. I want to see brewpubs or brewery/tied houses with fine dining as well. Good times ahead. I can’t wait.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Charlevoix, Driftwood & Central City Coming to Volo

Two weeks ago, during the judging for the Canadian Brewing Awards, I had the opportunity to sample a beer by the name La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout from MicroBrasserie Charlevoix. I thought the beer was terrific, so terrific that I contacted the brewery to see if they'd be interested in taking part in the Tasting Panel for the fall issue of TAPS Beer Magazine. They were.

As I was talking to Frederick, the CEO of the brewery, he let me know that some of his beers would soon be available at Volo, as owner Ralph Morana placed an order with them. So, in due time, you can expect to find their entire line-up of beers at the popular Toronto bar. There will be the 'Mad Cow' series of beers - Vache Folle ESB and the Imperial Milk Stout, and the 'May the Lord be with you' (Dominus Vobiscum) Double, Triple, Ambrée, and Blanche.

Also, Morana let me know that he contacted the Driftwood Brewery in Victoria, BC and all of their beers (excluding the Amber Ale) will be shipped east to sit in the beer fridge at Volo. Gary Lindsay, director of sales and marketing with Driftwood confirmed that in an email to me late last month and they are excited to be making an appearance in Toronto.

The brewery produces a number of beers that aren't seen to often in these parts. Their line-up includes Brother Bart's Brown Belgian Ale (Dubbel), Farmhand Ale (Saison), White Bark Ale (Belgian Wit), Crooked Coast Alt, and Cellar Dweller Barley Wine.

And Morana also indicated that orders have been placed with Central City Brewing in Surrey, BC for Wally's Wheat, Red Racer Classic Pale Ale, and Red Racer IPA.

Just another three reasons to pay Volo a visit. No word on when the beers will arrive.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Duggan's Brewery Opening Soon

There is an 'opening soon' notice in the window at 75 Victoria Street here in Toronto, which is exciting news for craft beer fans. The building once housed the Dension's Brewing Co. where brewer/owner Michael Hancock produced a number of German beers for on-site consumption, including his Weissbier and Dunkel.

I received a call on the weekend from someone in the industry who said the building, which was for lease, was snagged up by Michael Duggan, the award winning brewer at Cool and recent champion of Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge for his Number 9 IPA.

A phone call to Duggan confirmed that he did indeed take on the lease and he plans to have the building open soon. "Yes it is true and we hope to start brewing this week and open in 3-4 weeks," he stated. He also confirmed that it will be a restaurant/brewery tied house with a retail store and it will go by the name Duggan's Brewery.

"I am going to try to have 8 beers on tap all the time, trying being the key word. I'll have the #9, a Pale Ale and seasonal products like an Oktoberfest, Pilsner, Weiss and more," Duggan said. "I like the idea of rotating seasonals, so I'll be rotating the line-up four times a year." There will also be casks available, which is great news for fans of real ale.

So there you have it, the tanks that have been collecting dust for all these years will finally be getting polished and put to their intended use.

Duggan is also getting prepared for the launch of his Number 9 in bottles, which if all goes well could be released come late September.

Duggan as many readers of this blog will know, was one of the founding members of the Mill Street Brewery. Since leaving Mill Street Duggan has brewed for Cool and Robert Simpson (Flying Monkey's) and is quite the accomplished brewer, to say the least.

This is great news for the Ontario brewing scene and for those of us living here in Toronto. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Golden Tap Awards Beer List Released

Pardon my tardiness for the late post on the list of beers being offered this upcoming Saturday at the 7th annual Golden Tap Awards, which are presented by Bar Towel and its founder, Cass Enright.

The award winners will be announced this Saturday at Toronto's beerbistro and will feature a number of beers made by Ontario craft brewers. The free admission event kicks off at 4pm with the awards handed out at 8pm.

Beau's Lug Tread
C'est What Coffee Porter
Mike Duggan #9
Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion
King Pilsner
Amsterdam Big Wheel
Grand River Hannenberg Pils
Great Lakes Devil's Pale
Mill Street Pils
Cameron's Auburn Ale
Denison's Weisse
F&M Stonehammer Dark
Neustadt 10W30
Steam Whistle Pilsner
Durham Hop Addict

Casks of Granite Hopping Mad & Black Oak Hop Bomb.

Enright expects to announce more tap and bottle selections this week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Win a Trip to Dublin, Ireland....Or a Gift Card

I have been drinking craft beer now for a number of years but Guinness still tugs at my heartstrings the odd time. It is one of those beers that no matter how huge they get I still can't turn a blind eye on them completely. While it my not be the first, second, or third thing I'd reach for at the pub, a pint of the black stuff sometimes hits the spot bang on.

I had to be reminded that Guinness is celebrating their 250th anniversary this September, and one establishment has set up a contest to give some lucky winner the chance to head to Ireland to take part in all the festivities.

Here is a condensed press release from Fionn MacCool's. **Now, most readers here will now I don't like promoting the large chain pubs, but winning a trip to Ireland would be a great escape from Toronto life right about now. And if you head to the bottom of the press release you'll see that there is also the chance to win another prize.**

Toronto - Fionn MacCool's, a Prime Pubs brand, if offering local beer drinkers the opportunity of a lifetime. In honour of the 250th anniversary of Guinness®, Prime Pubs is running “Passport to Party,” a story-telling contest which encourages local beer lovers to create, and share memorable stories about their favourite Irish pub and Guinness. The contest’s grand prize is a trip to Dublin, the spiritual home of Guinness, to participate in worldwide celebrations marking the milestone on September 24, 2009, Arthur's Day.

To enter, Canadians 19-years-old and over, with a valid passport are invited to visit and submit a “memorable” story of 500 words or less, which must include a reference to Fionn MacCool’s and Guinness. The more memorable and entertaining the submission the greater the chance of winning. In true Irish story-telling tradition, participants in the “Passport to Party” contest do not need to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

On September 11, five local Fionn MacCool’s pubs along with the eight other participating Prime Pubs in Ottawa, Kingston and Sarnia (Ontario), Calgary (Alberta) and Tempe (Arizona) will hold local competitions with the top five stories entered from their ‘home pub.’ From each local competition, one regional finalist will be selected to represent their pub at the Finals on September 19 at Fionn MacCool’s (The Esplanade location) in Toronto. Regional finalists selected from each pub will be awarded a trip to the Finals in Toronto where they will tell his/her memorable story in front of a judging panel, a live audience and Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray who will, based on guests’ feedback of the quality and delivery of their tale, present the grand prize.

Two days later, on September 21, the grand prize winner and his/her guest will depart for Ireland spending four nights and five days in Ireland at one of Dublin’s premier hotels. Their visit will be jam-packed with fun activities, including a private tour of St. James Gate Brewery, a $1,500 entertainment voucher and participation in the 250th celebrations.

The Guinness 250 celebrations will begin on September 24 with a global toast to Arthur Guinness and include concerts at St. James Gate Brewery and other venues throughout Dublin.

For complete contest Rules and Regulations for “Passport to Party” please visit

**Fionn MacCool's has donated one $100 gift card to be used at any of their locations in Ontario and I want to give it away to a reader. All you have to do to receive it is name the well-known American brewer who did a beer dinner last year at the Esplanade location that I attended. Shoot me an email with the answer - the first person to do so gets the card.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Halifax's Hart & Thistle Needs Your Help (For Nova Scotians)

New Hart and Thistle Brewer, Greg Nash, has posted this message on the H & T's brewers blog today that I think is worth sharing with Nova Scotians.

Nash is looking for volunteers for this upcoming weekend to help pick some hops before Hurricane Bill heads to the east coast. This is a great way of interacting with your customers, building relationships that no public relations firm for a large company could dream up. I know that if I was living out east again I'd be there in a heart beat.

Ladies and gentlemen we need your help to make more great beer at the H&T!

What: Hop Harvest
When: Sat August 22nd 2009, 9:00 a.m. sharp (weather permitting)
Where: Lazy Acres Hopyard - 2055 Melanson Rd., Wolfville, NS
Why: Josh Herbin owner of Lazy Acres Hopyard is having a very tough time rounding up enough hands to pick 40kg's of fresh Cascade hops in one day for us to do a wet-hop brew and is worried the looming weather forecast for this Sunday from hurricane Bill could destroy or seriously damage the prime flowers!

This means we need to round up a crew of at least 6 - 8 able hop pickers for a few hrs of fun this Sat. August 22nd 2009 weather permitting. The more the merrier and the faster the job will get done!


  • I am offering 1kg of fresh wet hops to every set of hands on deck but you have to pick them yourself (after we achieve our 40kg goal!)!
  • Refreshments (b-e-e-r)!
  • Treats down at the Hart and Thistle at the release party for the wet-hop brew you helped make happen which has yet to be named!
  • Full disclosure of the recipe for the wet-hop beer which I will post here on the blog for cloning your own, or simply as a point of interest as you sit and enjoy the finished product!
  • If you're a homebrewer, 1kg of fresh hops equates to 5-6oz of dried hops - lots to make your own wet-hop beer or dry them yourself at home and use them as you please throughout the year!
Please forward an email to Nash directly if you can help Saturday!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No, Not Another Lime Beer!

First it looked like it was going to be the summer of new Wheat beers. Keith's White, Brick Waterloo Wheat Ale, Amsterdam Oranje Wit, Cannery Apricot Wheat Ale and more, all joined the already regular wheat beers in circulation that have come to be popular during the summer months. It seemed like all the big breweries, and some smaller ones, were whipping up batches and introducing them for the first time, competing with each other on who could get theirs released the quickest, regardless of the taste. It felt like there was a new press release every week signalling the birth of a new wheat beer to a brewery's portfolio.

Then all of a sudden the lime based beers started popping in thanks to the introduction of Bud Light Lime to Canadian soil. The beer was so hyped up (don't know why - well I do, pure marketing genius to a group of people willing to believe anything) that it has, and continues to, sell extremely well. It seems other Canadian breweries witnessed the madness and decided to stake a small claim of the lime pie themselves and we are now seeing an increasing number of these beers from coast-to-coast involving big national breweries, regional breweries and even small craft breweries.

Just yesterday the Brick Brewing Company, sans' founder Jim Brickman, released their version with their Red Baron Lime. "Red Baron Lime’s taste has benefited from consumer feedback on other lime competitors and from Brick Brewing’s rich, 25-year craft brewing tradition," was one of the key points highlighted. "Ontario has a pent up lust for lime and we're going to make sure no one is disappointed this Labour Day weekend when they want to enjoy a refreshing new lime flavoured beer," said Sean Dennis, Marketing Director, Brick Brewing Company. Brick joins the already mentioned Bud Light Lime, Big Rock Light Lime Lager, Russell's Cactus Lime Lager, Moosehead Light Lime and others.

Now I'm all for experimentation, and it's always a pleasure seeing new beer styles or existing beer styles making comebacks, but come on Canadian brewers, you can do better than this! I was pouring beers for the Canadian Brewing Awards and the largest category happened to be the fruit and vegetable category with a bunch of lime one. It seems Canadian breweries enjoy producing fruit based beers. I agree that the beer landscape is improving and the small passionate craft breweries are starting to pump out some terrific, flavourful products, but I'm sick of the weekly news of new lime beers!

Thankfully Creemore's Kellerbier came along and showed us to keep believing in new beer releases that go against the mainstream marketing gimmick of the day.

**Stephen Beaumont, over at That's the Spirit, offers a DIY seminar on how to create your own lime beer. Good stuff!**

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coors Light Disses Toronto

I picked up a copy of the Metro this morning and saw the headline Toronto the Cold with a picture of a Coors Light billboard. I did the first thing any fan of craft beer would do - I turned the page without reading the story. I just figured it would be another marketing gimmick about mountains turning blue or Coors introducing a new cold-filtered lime based light beer in Toronto.

However, a colleague came into work and asked if I read the article and pointed out the real message on the billboard: Colder than most people from Toronto. I live in Toronto. Should I be offended? I'm not, I think it's pretty funny actually and Coors accomplished exactly what they wanted to by putting up this poster; getting people talking about it. Although, I would rather see another slogan take its place - Colder than, ah... who cares.

The Toronto Star has the story and comments are pouring in and I think it's pretty entertaining to read some of the thoughts posted. There are some people really taking offensive to the ad, going so far as to saying they've purchased their last case of Coors (great, pick up a Stonehammer Light by F&M. A light beer with taste). But the quote of the day belongs to d_c who wrote:

gimme a break!
I might take umbrage if it was actually real beer. But, Coors Light?

Support your locals - drink craft beer!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Last Chance to Vote for the Golden Tap Awards

If you haven't done so already click here to be redirected to the Golden Tap Awards website to place your votes, as today is the final day for voting. All the awards will be handed out on Saturday August 29th at Toronto's beerbistro. The doors open at 4pm and the awards will be announced at approximately 8pm. There will be loads of Ontario craft beer to sample throughout the entire night. There is no admission fee there will be a small fee for drink and food tokens.

Golden Tap Awards
The Golden Tap Awards are a leading awards event recognizing the best craft beer achievements in Ontario.

Now in its seventh year, the Golden Tap Awards is a democratic awards event, with voting to take place online at from now until August 16th. Visitors to the web site can vote for any or all of the categories they wish, which include:

Best craft brewery in Ontario
Best cask-conditioned brewery in Ontario
Best pub in Ontario for draught beer selection
Best pub in Ontario for bottled beer selection
Best pub in Ontario for cask-conditioned ale
Best brewpub or tied house in Ontario
Best regularly-produced craft beer in Ontario
Best seasonal or specialty craft beer in Ontario
Best cask-conditioned ale in Ontario

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nearing the End

It's been a long day. My feet are starting to get sore from all the running around I've been doing. The judges are all still in good shape and the chatter is still pretty lively. We made it through the IPA round, the Stout and Barley Wine rounds (some of my favourite styles) and the results are pretty interesting. I'm already looking forward to the September Awards gala to hear the winners announced.

Barley Wines and Belgian Strong Ales

Oh boy! I'm sipping on a delicious Barley Wine as I write this. A small break in the judging provides me with the opportunity to catch up on my sampling. My take home bin is starting to look amazing.

Next up: Stouts.

CBA Update #2

IPA's are leaving the fridge right now. Wow! There are some real hop bombs - from both ends of the country.

Paul Dickey, Grand Master Judge, is running the show this year, making sure everything runs smoothly. "We're doing a great job so far," he says as he runs from table to table.

CBA Update

Okay, so I thought I'd have time to periodically update the old blog in between pouring the beers, but we are following a different format this year and I'm running back and forth between stations to pour the beers, doing four different categories at once.

There are a total of 18 BJCP certified judges sitting three to a table. Lots of interesting chatter is taking place while they are sampling their beers. Some surprises so far, in terms of scores, in my opinion anyway. I'm sampling a bunch of great stuff. There are some great beers produced in this country. I can't name any favourites right now, but there is one from the west that I need more of.

The judging is taking place at the Cool Brewery in Etobicoke in their large banquet room. Perfect conditions for judging. Lots of sunlight, cool temperatures and lots of spacing.

Back later! Gotta get some food in me.


D-Day. Canadian Brewing Awards Judging

Around 10:30am, a group of BJCP beer judges will be taking their seats for the long day of tasting and scoring beers for the 7th annual Canadian Brewing Awards (CBA). The CBA's are run by TAPS magazine so I'll be there for the third year in a row as the official pourer of the beers.

There has been a lot of work put into the awards again this year. We've been able to increase the number of participants from the previous two years that I have been involved, which means there is a lot more beer to pour than ever before. Breweries from almost every single province have sent in their product and it has been chilling in the fridges, just waiting for this day.

So pouring? Well, I do exactly that. Each beer that enters the competition is given three number in sequence: The first number is the style category the beer is being entered in. The second is the number assigned to the brewery that entered the beer. And the third number is the number of products a brewery entered in the same category. Make sense? So, for example (using a fictional beer), if Blue IPA from the Yukon entered the number might look like this: 14(category)-2(brewery)-1(one beer entered in category by brewery 14). The beers are all grouped together and labelled and my job is to make sure I open and pour the right ones into the appropriately marked glasses before the tray heads to judges table.

It usually makes for a long day, but is it ever fun. And besides, I am the only one in the room who, if I choose, can sample every single product being opened. Not bad eh!

I am going to bring along a camera and my computer and at certain breaks during the judging I'll see if I can get some live pictures and comments from the judges. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Tribute to Jim Brickman

I wrote the following article for my 'Burtch on Beer' column for the Spring issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine. Since the article appeared in print, Brick brewery has filed suit against Brickman, suing him for $1 million, which Brickman has recently responded too.

Pioneer Rides Into the Sunset
TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine
Spring 2009 Issue
Page 33

It was a cold winter day. The line-up extended from the back door of the historic furniture factory that sat in the shadow of the now-demolished Labatt Brewery. It was December 18, 1984, and the people of Kitchener/Waterloo had turned out in droves to get their hands on the first microbrewed beer to enter the Ontario market in more than 35 years. Jim Brickman became Ontario's first modern craft brewer when he opened the Brick Brewing Company on that December morning.

Within a couple of hours the beer was sold out, and it was then that Brickman realized people were ready for change, thus beginning the turn of the tide for Ontario's craft brewing industry. Little did Brickman know at the time, but he would go on to revolutionize the way people in Ontario thought about beer, while opening up a market that had been left ignored for years.

On December 11, 2008, almost 24 years to the day of opening the door to the public for the first time, Brickman announced his retirement as Executive Chairman of Brick Brewing. “It was definitely sad to hear,” stated Ken Woods, President of the Black Oak Brewing Company. “Jim was the inspiration for many of us in the Ontario brewing industry. He was always very supportive, very helpful, always willing to extend a hand. Jim laid the groundwork for where we are today, and I for one am very thankful for that.”

Let's take a retrospective look at the man who started it all.

Brickman's journey didn't start in 1984 with the opening of the brewery. No, it started five years earlier in 1979. With no brewing experience behind him (Brickman worked in packaged good marketing), he noticed how the US micro scene was slowly gaining public acceptance, and he felt that the province of Ontario was ready for some new flavourful products. Brickman embarked on a brewery crawl (for lack of a better term), visiting more than 60 breweries in many countries to educate himself in his new venture, and to taste the many different styles and flavours on the international market. He would often tell people that he opened a brewery to satisfy his own palate, as he himself was tired of all the similar products on the market.

It was tough in the early days, but Brickman had passion, commitment, and a strong desire to persevere. After two years of fairly successful sales, Brickman listed his small brewing company on the Toronto Stock Exchange, becoming the first Canadian craft brewery to do so. It raised enough capital to expand his capacity, enough to cement his goal of giving the citizens of Ontario the opportunity to try something other than the beers brewed by the national giants.

“Jim is a true beer lover who challenged Ontario's beer industry by stepping up to brew the type of beer(s) he wanted to brew! This has inspired many other brewers to indulge their entrepreneurial passions to brew a variety of premium, high quality beers based on their individual interpretations of brewing styles,” stated Lisa Dunbar, the Sr. Marketing Manager of the Ontario Craft Brewer's Association (OCB), and friend of Brickman's.

The first beer produced and sold was Brick Premium Lager; a distinct German style lager that possessed qualities that set it apart from the lagers produced by Molson and Labatt's. Other styles soon followed, like the popular Waterloo Dark, and Red Baron beers. Brick's most notable beer produced under Brickman's watchful eye was their Brick Anniversary Bock, a beer that still generates a lot of discussion to this day even though it has not been brewed for many years.

The 90's were a period of growth for Brick as they focused on their discount Laker brand, which they acquired from Molson. (You remember that tagline - “Make her a Laker it's a buck a beer.”) They also purchased the rights to brands from the defunct Conners Brewery, and the Formosa Springs brands from the Northern Algonquin Brewing Company. Then a couple of years ago Brick discontinued a number of their mainstream brands and went back to their traditional roots with the release of three beers under the J.R. Brickman Founders Series.

Brickman was also a leader in innovation. They were the first and are the only brewery outside Germany to brew and distribute the world recognized Andechs Spezial Hell Lager. In 2002, Brickman announced that Brick would bring back the much-beloved stubby bottle, and it would be 50s and 60s icon Red Cap Ale in the bottle. “Both the stubby and Red Cap have earned a place in Canadian brewing history, so we felt it was a natural fit to bring them back together for a whole new generation of beer drinkers, and for those of us who remember our stubby days,” Brickman was quoted as saying in a press release highlighting the stubby's re-birth.

Bringing back the stubby and taking on the Beer Store for many years (the Beer Store threatened to discontinue supplying Brick with long-neck industry bottles, because the Beer Store claimed that the Red Cap stubby bottle broke the brewery's existing listing deal), was the spark that other craft brewers needed to experiment with different bottle sizes themselves. Brickman was fighting for an equal playing field, standing up for all other small breweries.

When the OCB came together in the early 2000s, Brickman was a natural fit as their unofficial spokesperson, and he served as a role model for the newer brewers and brewery owners. “If you visit the OCB website, you will see that we describe Jim as one of the “Pioneers of Craft Brewing” here in Ontario. This is 100 percent true, but also slightly understated. Jim's contribution to the evolution of our industry has spanned over 20 years, and his leadership will continue to have an influence on craft brewers as we proceed into the future. I think that you would be hard-pressed to find an OCB member (and there are 29 of them) that couldn't share a story or two about Jim Brickman and how he has impacted their own existence in the craft brewing industry,” proclaimed Dunbar.

Ron Keefe (another Ontario brewing pioneer, and owner of the Granite - Toronto location and OCB member) said, “We'll miss him in the OCB. He was a great spokesperson in the media for us.”

So now as Brick enters their 25th year in the business, they do so without the man who started it all. After retiring as Executive Chairman, Brickman ended his run with Brick as he officially resigned from the Board of Directors on February 11, 2009. It won't be the same at Brick without the passionate mustached beer-guy behind the bar.

The Ontario brewing community will miss a partner, a friend, an innovator and an inspiration. Grand River Brewmaster Rob Creighton had this to say about Brickman; “Jim is a colourful individual, extremely passionate about beer, and the first to see the potential in the craft market. His guidance has helped the little guys compete on the regional level with some success.”

In the 24 years Brickman served as owner, spokesperson, and face of the brewery, his beers won an astounding number of Gold Medals in the Monde Selection for Quality Competition in Brussels. 24 Gold Medals to be exact, and the most ever for a craft brewery in North America. The brewery has also racked up many Ontario and Canadian Brewing Awards, and Red Cap recently won a Bronze medal in the Golden or Blonde category at the prestigious World Cup of Beer.

Brickman always says, “Behind every Brick beer is a Brick man.” Indeed there is, Jim.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

GCPB Blog Turns 2!

Two years ago today I was sitting at work, staring at a computer screen and planning my weekend escape to Toronto for a pub crawl. I was putting together a list of places I wanted to attend so I started doing a search, only to find out that there wasn't a lot of information floating out there about the great pubs in this province.

I had started a journal of all the pubs I visited while living away in Halifax and when I got back to Ontario I thought that starting a blog and posting my experiences in the many different pubs was something that I'd really enjoy doing. Getting some more information out there while meeting some great people along the way. Moving to Toronto from Brechin certainly helped as it put me right in the middle of the brewing scene here in Ontario. I started this strictly as a hobby and never did I think that it would blossom into what it is today.

In the two years that I've been doing this I, along with the help of some other contributing writers, have posted 619 times on everything from pub crawls to pub reviews to beer reviews to industry news. It has been a blast and I don't have any plans of stopping or slowing down.

So again, just like last years post about the 1st anniversary, a big thank you to all you readers out there that have supported this blog since its creation. Also, thank you to all the hospitable pub owners, brewery owners, brewers and everyone else in industry that has supported me and my efforts of bringing you the tales of the craft beer and pub scene.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

LCBO Autumn Release

Slated for in store purchasing on September 14th, the LCBO has finalized their Autumn seasonal release.

LCBO Stock #/Product Name/Size/Retail/Country/Region

74484 Bombardier Burning Gold 500 ML $3.45 England
96180 Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar 650 ML $5.95 Oregon
96198 St. Peter's Cream Stout 500 ML $3.75 England
125153 Affligem Dubbel 330 ML $2.75 Belgium
125401 Peche Mortel 341 ML $3.80 Quebec
125435 Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel 500 ML $3.05 Germany
125443 Hofbraeu Oktoberfestbier 500 ML $3.25 Germany
125450 Samuel Adams Octoberfest 6 x 355 ML $13.50 Massachusetts
125476 Southern Tier Porter Dark 355 ML $2.20 New York
125486 Gouden Carolus Classic 330 ML $3.05 Belgium
127316 Innis & Gunn Triple Matured Oak Aged Beer 330 ML $4.95 England
417816 Belhaven St. Andrews Ale 500 ML $3.45 England
574236 Erdinger Dunkel Weissbier 500 ML $3.15 Bavaria
676965 Westmalle Dubbel 330 ML $3.75 Belgium

I'm happy with this release, especially knowing that I'll be able to walk into my local LCBO and grab a handful of Dieu Du Ciel's Peche Mortel, or a bunch of Gouden Carolus Classic at a good price point. It's going to make for a couple of interesting nights in the fall.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old Tasting Notes

Things are gonna be a little hectic for the next couple of weeks. The judging for the Canadian Brewing Awards is taking place this weekend and I have a bunch of prep work ahead of me for that, and I have a bunch of other stuff on the go. That being said, there may not be many blog posts here this week other than some regurgitated work from past TAPS issues, including these reviews from the 'Tasting Notes' section of the mag.

Alley Kat Full Moon Pale Ale
While not the colour of a full moon, the fresh pale ale pours a peachy-cooper colour that is protected by a thin biscuity white lasting head. Dry hopping is evident in the nose as a citrus punch escapes from the glass joining a sweetness of honey from roasted caramel malt. Tipping the glass provides tastes of sweet malt up front, a mild citrusy touch in the finish with a mild carbonation and a medium body. Would match nicely with chicken parmigiana or a slightly spicy seafood dish.

Garrison Grand Baltic Porter
Garrison has some through some changes over the last couple of years, expanding their portfolio to include a number of seasonals. Their latest, Grand Baltic Porter, is mysterious as it sits in its black bottle, cap attractively dipped in black wax. Once cracked, it pours a dark reddish brown producing a huge rocky tan head that quickly dissipates into the glass. There is a lot happening in the nose. Molasses, dates, dark chocolate, vanilla and candied fruit sugars play nicely with warming alcohol notes. Dry medium body with bourbon features, raisins, more vanilla, cocoa and honey in the taste. Perfect for finishing off the last days of winter.

Hockey Valley Traditional Irish Stout
"Stout need not be heavy" is an advertising tag line used by a large national brewery that will remain nameless. Problem with their product is that it lacks any real flavour. Not an issue in this case. A lovely creamy mocha coloured thick head graces the top of this pitch black Irish Stout produced by talented brewer Andrew Kohnen. The head quickly dissipates, leaving behind nice tan lacing. The aroma is in keeping with the requisite style guidelines of an Irish stout as notes of chocolate, light coffee, roasted malts and the sweetness of licorice leap from the glass. With each sip comes some bitter chocolate that shares room with a nuttiness of the malts and a sweet caramel flavour. Everything blends well together in its surprisingly light body and provides an enjoyable drinking session. Now a year round offering and silver medal winner at this year's Canadian Brewing Awards, Hockley Valley Traditional Irish Stout would make a nice addition to your holiday season.

Mill Street Barley Wine 2007 & 2008
Holy booze Batman! This 11% seasonal offering from Canadian Brewery of the Year packs a serious boozy aroma as I pop the swing top cap and pour the contents out of its attractive ceramic German style bottle. There are also notes of fruit, specifically apricots and apples in this golden- copper-bronze beer that mix together with a touch of toffee and caramel. A mouthful of this English style barley wine contains a citrus punch with a warming whiskey quality. The 10% 2007 edition has had a year to mellow out and runs smoothly over the tongue featuring similar characteristics as the 2008, with a more drinkable approach. Two well crafted barley wines brewed in the barley wine barren land known as Ontario, these Gold medal winning beers are well suited for our harsh Canadian winters along side a good cigar in your favourite chair.

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale
The fall months have been a long time coming, and released just in time to welcome them with open arms is another one of the Great Lakes seasonals; Pumpkin Ale. The beer pours a clear amber colour with a thin white rim of sturdy head and leaves behind a bit of lacing. Hints of pumpkin come wafting from the mouth of the glass and are joined by other earthy aromas of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, which are all added during the brewing process. The taste consists of the above mentioned ingredients, and a small spicy hop presence combined with sweet malt balances this autumn brew out nicely. Serve with a slice of mom’s homemade pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

Creemore Springs Traditional Pilsner
The Traditional Pilsner was released in the summer of 2007 to mark Creemore’s 20th anniversary in the brewing industry and features a brilliant deep golden colour with a big fluffy white head. Each sip produces nice white lacing around the pint glass and notes of toasted biscuity malt with subtle hints of spicy, grassy, floral hops round out the aroma. The tongue it awakened with that spicy tone that a Czech pilsner offers along with a flavourful malt backbone that provides a dry herbal finish. The village of Creemore supplies the soft clean water that makes this Traditional Pilsner a refreshing beer for the warmer months.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Monks Table - A Gourmand House

The sign above 1276 Yonge Street no longer reads 'The Abbot on the Hill Gastropub,' in fact it doesn't read anything at the moment.

Earlier this year Adam Grant and Melissa Curcmelli took over sole ownership of the pub they've managed for a number of years and decided that it was time to seek out a new name, distancing themselves from the original Abbot pub that is situated further up Yonge Street.

"We chose to run a 'name the pub' contest, encouraging our customers to fill out ballots with their proposed names because we have created a sense of community here over the years and we wanted to ensure our customers were deeply involved," stated Grant last night while hustling from table to table serving drinks and new dishes from their re-vamped menu. "We knew that we really wanted to shed the term 'Gastropub' as we feel it is way, way to misused in the hospitality industry."

With hundreds of possible names submitted, Grant and Curcmelli settled on a variation of two entries - The Monks Table: A Gourmand House. "The name 'The Monks Spread' was the name we liked but we wanted to add a twist to it, so we incorporated 'Table' in its place, and we chose to add 'A Gourmand House' in place of that old term Gastropub," said Grant.

To unveil the new name, the kitchen prepared samples of the new additions to the menu and each serving was paired with a sample of beer. "We wanted to let our customers try the new menu to get their input, and it seemed like everything was received well."

So, back to that blank sign on the facade of the building; Grant says that he will be extending an offer to starving artists - all artists to design a new sign that will incorporate the new name. "The winner will be given a five-course tasting dinner for 15 friends," exclaimed Grant. "Everyone is welcome to participate and we're already excited to see the submissions."

Goodbye to the Abbot on the Hill Gastropub! But hello and good luck to The Monks Table: A Gourmand House.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Toronto Festival of Beer

After a very busy day at the office a cold beer was all I had on my mind, so I headed off to the Toronto Festival of Beer (TFOB) to stake a spot at the Great Lakes Caskapalooza tent, and to catch up with some other industry people.

Entering their 15th year, the TFOB decided to move their operations from the historic grounds at Fort York to the CNE's Bandshell Park, which, in my opinion, was a great decision. The grounds are a lot more crowd friendly than they were at Fort York and the scenery, with the many trees, structures, and view of the lake, makes the new location much more appealing. The tents that hold the breweries were nicely laid out over the entire grounds, prompting ticket buyers to walk around the site to get samples of their choice.

Last year TAPS entered a booth and I was present from open to close for the entire duration of the four day event, which left me stating that I would never do that again. Luckily we decided not to participate this year so I am sticking to my promise, and last night would be my only visit, so I wanted to get as many of the available cask beer Great Lakes was pouring into me before departing for the night. But I had to make my way there first.

The first stop after gaining access (after waiting for the computers to re-boot) was to the Mill Street booth where I ran into Steve Abrams (one of the original founders) to chat about the upcoming Canadian Brewing Awards (judging takes place next week - we'll see if Mill Street can 3-peat as Canadian Brewery of the Year).

Then it was over to the Cameron's and Black Oak booths, which were back to back. Cameron's had a bunch of new t-shirts with sayings like, "I'M A BEER GEEK," "I DRINK LOCAL BEER," and others, and a pimped out crown and anchor spin board offered people the chance to win one - or a brewery tour or stickers. A good way to attract new customers.

The Black Oak booth was manned by none other than President, Ken Woods, who was more than happy to fill my sample glass with some of his cask conditioned Whisky Aged Nut Brown, which was very nice. Paul Dickey, Master Judge within the BJCP and talented brewer at Pepperwood, Cheshire Valley and associate brewer at Black Oak, along with Chris from the Rhino, stopped by the booth to chat with Woods and try the beer. Woods let us know that Black Oak currently has their newest product, OAKTOBERFEST, sitting in the tanks at the brewery and he stated that brewer, Adrian Popowycz is happy with it so far.

Next stop was by the Four Points by Sheraton booth to catch up with Scott Kerkmans, Chief Beer Officer. I interviewed Kerkmans back in March for the Summer issue of TAPS and he was at the festival promoting the Best Brews Program that the multi-national hotel chain runs. Kerkmans was eager to get out of the booth to hit up some of the craft brewery booths to get an even better understanding of Ontario beers. If you're heading to the festival this weekend make sure you stop by the Four Points booth to try and answer some beer related trivia questions for your chance to win some prizes.

By this time I was still trying to get over to the Great Lakes Caskapalooza tent. I started making my way there only to run into Jonathon Sherman, the young owner of Steelback, who was standing behind his booth pouring beers and greeting customers. Check out the new tap handles. You don't see their product on tap very much here in Toronto, but those are damn nice handles. I'm still working on him to get Steelback to try producing some cask ale for some Ontario events, which I think could, if done right, win over some beer geeks.

Finally, over to the Great Lakes booth after a few more encounters, and what a sight. Last year the brewery purchased an old hearse, wrapped it with fire, skulls, and the Devil's Pale Ale logo, and showed it off at last years festival. They had it back this year and beside it stood a large multi-coloured board promoting the huge cask initiative they are pulling off this year.

There was a large crowd surrounding the horseshoe make shift bar in the back corner when I finally got there, a lot of personnel from other breweries checking things out and trying the beer. The Great Lakes team did a great job executing Caskapalooza; from keeping the whole thing under wraps for weeks leading up to the festival to getting the beer done right. Simon, brewer with Great Lakes, took me around to the back of the home-made refrigeration unit that he assembled. "We threw a fridge unit up top, insulated the inside, and when a beer starts to run dry we'll just come back here and tip it up," he stated. The fridge is painted in psychedelic colours and had cut-outs for 8 casks and and all were pouring last night: Superior IPA, Green Tea Ale, Silly Pucker Raspberry Rhubarb, Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Up In Smoke Rauchbier, Lil Abbey Ale, Neutron Bomb Double IPA, and Simon Says Stout. There are 20 casks in total that will rotate throughout the weekend, with a number of back-ups.

John Bowden was working the bar and poured me a full serving of the Neutron Bomb Double IPA that he personally brewed. "Its bitter, maybe a little green, but I'm pretty happy with it," Bowden said as I took a gulp. Nice stuff. Highly hopped, a little light in malt, but otherwise it hit the goal it was intending too - satisfying the hop heads. The Up in Smoke was also very good with a nose of campfire and a taste of smoky bacon. The Superior IPA was also tasting great. "We put a lot of work into this and so far the reaction has been nothing but positive," he said. I myself was very impressed.

Cass Enright showed up and we worked our way through all the 8 casks before heading off to tour the rest of the festival (Congrats to Enright as he became an Uncle for the first time yesterday right before arriving to the festival). However, we always seemed to end up back at the Caskapalooza tent for more beer.

While I liked the new location, the festival still has that drunken feeling in the air with the big 'brand experience' booths. There were fewer participating breweries this year and it seemed even less craft breweries. Lakes of Muskoka, Hockley Valley, F&M, Railway City, Beau's, Church-Key, Denison's, Granite, Heritage, Neustadt, King, Saint Andre's and Stratford were some of the notable absences (granted some have not participated for years). The 'beer Nazi's' were back again this year too with their bright yellow "alcohol enforcement" t-shirts - they gotta go! Overall, I had a good time with all the industry folks and the beers I had were nice, but one night is all I need of the TFOB.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beer Tripping in Buffalo: By Rob Symes

Craft beer drinking Ontarians are no strangers to heading out on weekend excursions to Buffalo, our neighbour to the South, to stock up on a number of well crafted American beers or other worldly hard-to-find styles at their private beer boutiques. Smuggling back some treasures to share with friends at tastings. Same can be said for day trips to their pubs to scan over beer menu's that can be pages long, indulging in stuff that we can only dream of here in our province.

Rob Symes, who has contributed to this blog on a number of occasions with some great posts, recently headed to Buffalo on a solo journey to discover some of those gems, and he stayed sober enough to put some words together about his experience.

My wife has just boarded a plane and departed for a week-long conference, and I’m at a loose end. An hour or so later I’m barrelling towards the USA on a coach. When I get to the border the guards ask me what I plan to do in Buffalo, and I tell them I’m just going to hang out. Their smiles tell me that perhaps Buffalo isn’t the best place to hang out in. The real purpose of my visit, though, is to see what Buffalo has to offer to the beer lover, and I’ve mapped out 5 bars that I plan to hit over the course of the day. I’m looking at the map when the bus driver strikes up conversation with me. He’s bought some new sneakers, and they’re the most comfortable pair he’s ever had. ‘Even better than New Balance’, he assures me. Thank God the bus is pulling into the terminal.

There’s not too much I can add to the prevailing wisdom on this great bar. Ask anyone with a knowledge of beer and Buffalo, and they’ll be able to tell you that Cole’s is the place to go, and more or less being the most northerly point of my crawl, it also marked the starting point for the day’s drinking. The selection is flat out excellent, and the only problem I had was narrowing down my choices, while at the same time keeping in mind that it probably wasn’t wise to start off with imperial stouts and barleywines. You could easily spend a long, long time in this bar enjoying great beer. I settle for a Great Lakes Independence Ale and busy myself with my Beaver (the Canadian history magazine, not the oversized rodent). The place is heaving on a Sunday afternoon, but the service is relatively speedy, and its not long before I’m enjoying a delightful eggs Benedict, which is almost as good as my own. Looking at my surroundings I feel like I’m in one part Cheers and one part an old saloon. This is very much an old American bar style, with lots of antique touches, and it eschews the rampant borrowing from other beer cultures which mars many a place. I cap my meal with a glass of Stone 13th, an excellently rich beer from one of America’s most respected breweries, and painfully drag myself away from the seductive beer menu and on to the street.

Mr. Goodbar
Its Sunday afternoon and I've already had lunch at Cole's. Its the second stop of my Buffalo bar-hop and this is the bit I feel most self-conscious about. There's something supremely decadent about leaving one bar, and taking a sharp left straight into the bar next door. I feel like a lush.

Goodbar is dark and gloomy, even on this sunny July day. An L-shaped bar lies off to the right, and a cross between a pool joint and a frat house lurks on the left. A disparate group of locals line the bar, and they all seem to know each other. The bartender looks like a roadie, but turns out to be a gentle giant. He's manning the frying station, which is kicking up an awesome smell of hot and barbecue wings. I belly up to the bar after checking out the menu of roughly 30 taps, and decide to take it east with a Troegs Pale. The person next to me is talking about beer advocate. It appears to be a place in the know. I make short order of the Troegs - its a simple, easy drinking beer, which fails to last long in the glass - and move on to a Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. The prices are stupidly low, especially considering the barman gifts me my first beer for making me wait a few moments. The damage comes to $4. I'd heard about the washrooms and had been crossing my legs in anticipation since drinking my second beer at Coles. True to form, they are legendary. Every surface is covered in graffiti. The stall door won't close. The toilet seat isn't actually attached to the toilet. Best of all, the urinal seems to resemble a horse's trough and would be the ideal receptacle for some vomit. The place oozes character in a disgustingly beautiful way. It reminded me of Havana, and how the decay made the place. Back at the bar, a four year-old boy is now sat on the stool next to me. Things are getting weird. I drink my Simcoe and leave.

Allen Street Hardware
A brisk walk from Mister Goodbar gives me the opportunity to have a breather and take a momentary break from beer. I sit in a park and watch the passing Buffalo (Buffalonians?). Allen Street Hardware is the third stop in my Buffalo bar-hop, and by the time I get there, I feel thirsty and in fine spirits. Allen Street itself seems like a funky little strip, and there's some sort of street music festival going down, and the music pleasantly wafts through the bars doors, giving the place a cool indie vibe. That would suit this bar. While not exactly ritzy, its a step up from Goodbar in terms of decor, and seemingly draws a hipper crowd. There's a guy at the bar dressed as either Bob Dylan or a 19th century gentleman. Perhaps it is Bob Dylan... I hear he's getting stranger in his old age. The service at the bar is good, but sadly the tap list is not. Only 3 taps, I'm informed - a Fuller's, Duvel Green and the bar-specific Piledriver IPA. I opt for the Green because I'm curiously how this beer matches up to its bigger brother. The answer is poorly. The bottle list seems somewhat better, but I always thought bottles were for home consumption. I pay up and leave. Its a nice place, and in a good location, but I don't know if I'll ever be back.

Colter Bay
Colter Bay is the fourth of my bar-hopping stops, and is only a short walk from Allen Street Hardware. The interior is bright, airy and clean, but not really what I look for. I do however like the islands bar that everyone is sat around - it affords a panoramic view of the diverse clientele and presents a nice opportunity to see all the action. My server is friendly and in no time there's a Great Lakes Commodore Perry sat in front of me. Damn, I love Great Lakes, and this will be my overriding memory of this bar. That, and the peanut machine, which dispenses a handful for only 25 cents. Oh, and I won't forget the server doing shots with the customer - the second time I've seen this today, and perhaps a classy Buffalo tradition. Overall, Colter Bay impressed me. It had a nice range of around 30 local, national and imported taps and commands a good location. If I find myself in Allentown again I'll be back, but right now dinner is calling.

Fat Bob’s Smokehouse
A short stroll brings me to Fat Bob's Smokehouse, an awesome little joint down a quiet side street. The sun is streaming down, so I head straight through the interior and on to a spacious and pleasant patio. Within moments my server is there with a menu, but conspicuously nothing about beer, and I notice there's no tap list displayed outside. I hate asking servers what's on tap, because invariably they forget something (or start "Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light..."), or I get flustered and pick something I don't really want. Fortunately I alight on Flying Bison Oatmeal Stout. A poor match for the weather, but a great pairing my barbecued food.

I'm not American and this is my first time in a barbecue restaurant, so I ask my server what's good, and decide to go with her pick. The recommendation proves to be a good one. The pulled pork is sweet and delicious, the mac and cheese is homey and satisfying, and the grilled vegetables are a homey delight. If you're thinking of eating here go ahead and do it right now... this was one of the best meals I've had all year. As I finish my meal I ask for the bottle list out of curiosity, and its quite good. Sadly, however, its time to leave.

Pearl Street Grill
Its very nearly time for me to stagger on to the bus and leave Buffalo for good, but there’s still time to fit in one more bar, and I wander over to the Pearl Street Grill. Why do I keep coming back here? Perhaps its because its so close to the bus station and makes a good place to kill time? I've had two previous visits to this brewpub, both of which have been served up with mediocre beer. It seems to fall between two stools, with all the beer being better than macro, but worse than your average craft. In this sense, it really pales in comparison to Buffalo's other beer bars. Nonetheless I’ve not written them off yet, so I belly up to the bar, and order what turns out to be an exceptionally poor version of a maibock. Its then that it strikes me that sometimes its not all about the beer. The barman is friendly and the service is exceptional, and an itinerant musician strikes up conversation with me, and we talk about the city. People are laughing at their tables, the lights are low, and the beers flowing. Its been a great day, and I've drank some world-class beers, but I can't help but feel that they were only part of the experience, and that visiting the bars themselves was the real highlight.

I'll be back.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Great Lakes CASKapalooza

I was chatting with John Bowden, Great Lakes Brewery sales and marketing guru the other night at the Hart House Craft Beer and Summer BBQ, and he let me know that Great Lakes was working on a number of interesting things for the upcoming Toronto Festival of Beer. He couldn't go into too much detail but he did mention that there would be a number of one-offs. He emailed me today with the list - 20 one-off cask conditioned beers!

416 Summer Fix
Superior IPA
Pompous Ass Pale Ale
Morning Glory Breakfast Stout
Green Tea Ale
Silly Pucker Raspberry Rhubarb
Uvula Ale
Waupoosalizer Snakebite
Sage and Spruce Wit
Blond Jagerbomb
Black Forest Porter
Sweet Pete’s Peach Wheat
Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale
Kaptain Kolsch
Up In Smoke Rauchbier
Iron Eagle Pilsner
Lil Abbey Ale
Soggy Summer Ale
Neutron Bomb Double IPA
Simon Says Stout

He directed me to the Great Lakes blog where it states that the brewery will be rotating the casks starting Thursday night.

We're stoked to launch the most ambitious beer garden/event/craziness that TFOB has ever seen. Over the past few weeks we've been madly brewing a variety of far out beers on our new pilot brewhouse. We've custom built a refrigerated cask bar and booth for our spot in the SW corner of Bandshell Park. You'll find us sporting tie-dye shirts and playing 60's tunes all day long.
Wow! That is pretty damn ambitious! The Toronto Festival of Beer is pretty much a 4 day shit-show of binge drinking and sloppy drunkeness where the majority of individuals don't particularly care what they put in their mouth, but hopefully Great Lakes can educate some of these people on the merits of cask ale. Good on them for taking such a unique approach to a festival like this.

From Field to Firkin - Blog Discounts

I've been out to Black Creek Pioneer Village to check out the brewery, the newest attraction to the site, and if you haven't had the opportunity to do so yourself now might be the time to start planning a trip.

The people behind the Black Creek Historic Brewery have developed a number of beer/brewing related events that they will be incorporating into the operations of the Pioneer Village, and one that should spark some interest with homebrewers and beer lovers alike is the 'Field to Firkin' events.

'Field to Firkin' will take place every Friday evening in August and September starting at 6:30pm. When all the crowds have gone home (Pioneer Village closes at 5pm) adults are welcome to head into the re-created 1860's historic working brewery to sample the line-up of ales, chat with the brewer and enjoy the confines of the pub with pint and a handful of homemade root chips. Extended tours will also be offered.

The event is priced at $15 per person; however, if you decided to attend one Friday evening just identify yourself to staff as "public reviewers" when calling to order tickets. You will then be asked which blog you read this information on. At this point your tickets will only be $10 a person, all they ask is that you offer feedback at the end of the event. Oh, your first pint will also be on them!

Call 416-667-6295 for tickets.

Black Creek Pioneer Village
1000 Murray Ross Parkway,
Toronto, ON M3J 2P3

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beer, Birthday, BBQ, Cottage - Long Weekend Arrives

My whole family is heading home for the day to help celebrate my mother's 50th birthday, with the help of numerous amounts of Mill Street Tank House and delicious bbq'd meats. Then it's off to the cottage for a couple of days of lounging on the dock with a beer in hand. No internet, no cellphone, no disturbances. I hope to get some writing done for the Fall issue of TAPS, along with a number of things for the blog that I've been meaning to get to.

Here are a couple of older posts to re-visit should you stop by this long weekend.

Meet Joel Manning, the guy behind all those great seasonals at Mill Street as he answers a number of brewing related questions.

The Driftwood Brewery in Victoria, BC is approaching their 1 year anniversary, and I reviewed their Ale back in May.

I still get upset when I read the letter that Ontario's Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan, sent me a couple of months ago. Especially after reading that the LCBO reported a record high of theft related losses last year - socially responsible at its best.

A reminder - a gentleman by the name of Ian Coutts is putting together a beer book by the name, 'Draft of History' and he is looking for pub/brewery photographs that could be used in the publication. If one of your photo's is chosen, Coutts will send you a free copy when released.

The first 'Project X' event that Great Lakes hosted back on July 9th was a good time and shows a lot of promise for the new monthly beer tastings. Next one - August 13th.
Web Analytics

Winter Ale