For the monks

Clearly last weekend’s Garrison tour and last month’s Session Toronto festival didn’t provide us enough opportunities to try interesting beer, so — after an Ontario-craft-brew evening at the Rebel House with MLK — we walked over to the Steam Whistle Craft Beer Fest in Roundhouse Park. It promised to be a more laid-back festival, and the weather seemed far more tolerable than the sauna that was Session. The crowds weren’t big at all when we arrived, probably because the entry lines were very slow.

Once we got inside we could tell this was indeed a more laid-back festival.  There was room to move, there was shade (not enough, though, as it turned out), and plenty of people were sitting or lying on the grass. Some people even had their kids with them, and the kids seemed cool with it all.

We knew all fifteen breweries, and were familiar enough with most of their offerings that we skipped half. Here’s what I drank:

  • Grand River “Tabbey Abbey” ale
  • Great Lakes “Chill Winston” Grisette
  • Nickel Brook Berliner Weisse
  • Wellington “County Dark” Ale
  • Lake of Bays “River Walker” summer ale
  • Hogsback “Alohog” coconut pale ale
  • Leftfield “Maris*” pale ale
  • King Kellerbier

The Chill Winston and Alohog were fantastic light summer drinks, but the Maris* might have been my favourite on the day. I badly confused the Great Lakes employee when I insisted on ordering the “Chill Winston” in the same accent as Willie from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

I also put down a killer pulled pork sandwich from one of the six food trucks in attendance, Hogtown Smoke. Nellie had pulled pork tacos from the DIrty South truck. We eventually had to escape the park when we realized that we’d been sunburned into oblivion — the cool lake breeze had lured us into a trap, it seemed. Not quite done tasting, though, we decided to walk up to Bar Hop for a few samples. I had:

  • Oast House Heritage Wheat
  • a Indie Alehouse / Kensington / Bar Hop collaboration Patersbier called “Who’s Your Daddy?”…and no, I didn’t know what a Patersbier was either until I read this
  • Shacklands Pale Ale
  • Dieu Du Ciel! Aphrodesiac

All in all it was a pretty beer-happy 24 hours…so much so that Untappd, not knowing I was drinking samples, awarded me the “Take It Easy!” badge. Success!

Photo by Adam Fagen, used under Creative Commons license

I couldn’t decide whether to call this post “the risin’ of Weizen” or “the Porter new order”

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a former colleague, an ex-Torontonian who now lives in England. He knows I’m a beer fan, and mentioned that a few night before, at some bar not necessarily known for the their beer selection, he’d been able to try a Le Trou Du Diable Shawinigan Handshake. Over his week-long visit he’d noticed a much more extensive penetration of craft beer around Toronto than when he’d left four or five years ago.

I’d slowly started to recognize the same thing of late, but hearing my friend’s observations just cemented it. Places like Smokeless Joe, C’est What, and Rebel House had been carrying the torch for craft beer, especially Ontario craft beer for ages, but I’d noticed a shift in the clientele of such serious beer places, especially Volo. It wasn’t the same faces, the same beer geeks, every time. We’d see people trying new beers, searching out new releases, willing to be educated. Beerbistro was probably at the front of that tide, with places like Bar Hop, Wvrst, Bellwoods, and Indie Alehouse forming the second wave.

The size and makeup of the crowd at this year’s Session Toronto was a huge indication of how craft is quickly becoming the expectation. Another is the fact that Spotlight Toronto has run a ’30 days of Ontario beer’ feature the last few years, and Mike DiCaro’s series wrap-up post does a far better job of exploring and summarizing this shift  than I’ve managed here:

“Sure there was the rare brewery making weissbier and seasonals like an imperial stout, but the vast majority of what you encountered were pale ales with an amber ale or IPA being exotic. Even though it was only ten years earlier that time feels like eons ago. It has evolved into a completely new environment for craft beer lovers today. The bold, flavourful and hop-forward American-style IPA has become de rigueur and you can find a local craft example of just about every style imaginable […] .”

My favourite example of the shift might be Triple A, for all intents and purposes our new local. Make no mistake, it was the food that drew us here, and the food that’s kept us coming back. The beer selection for the first few months was basic; the most adventurous beer on tap was Mill Street Tankhouse. For the past several months, though, while the menu still contains the PBRs you’d expect in such a lo-fi place, they also carry Kensington FishEYE-PA, Flying Monkeys Stereo Vision, and Amsterdam Big Wheel — none of them exemplary beers, but a definite step-up from their original mass offerings, and a nod to the demand out there for decent, interesting, local beer.

I, for one, welcome our delicious new overlords.


Photo by Adam Fagen, used under Creative Commons license

"It's pronounced verst."

 After a very long week, Nellie and I wanted some place to relax, drink a few good pints of beer, and eat some great food. I convinced her that we should take a chance on Wvrst (ratebeer), a place on King West I’ve been wanting to try for a while.

And man, did it pay off. We had a great night. We’re already anxious to go back.

Here’s why we liked it so much:

  1. The space is pretty different: it was a giant beer hall with communal tables, somewhat smaller tables along the side, a long bar, and a kitchen on the south wall. We chose to sit at the bar; everything else seemed to be reserved.
  2. The atmosphere was pretty unlike what I’d expect to find at a newish place on King West. Read: not at all douchey. It was a very young crowd, but there were no popped collars or sunglasses on backs of necks. These, we would discover later, were unofficial house rules of the place. Which made us like it more.
  3. The house speciality, as the name suggests, was sausage. Many, many kinds of sausage. I went basic with a calabrese, but can’t wait to try some of the more advanced options like venison or wild boar or kangaroo. You could also choose whether to eat the sausage on a bun or in a tomato curry sauce; I chose the latter. Nellie, meanwhile, had a pile of Belgian-style fries with chipotle and maple/rosemary dipping sauces. I ended up eating a lot of those too.
  4. The beer selection was very solid indeed. I had a Dieu du Ciel Route des Epices, a Black Oak nut brown, a Central City Red Racer, and a Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel. Nellie had equally tasty selections. While we both steered toward Canadian offerings, they had some interesting international bottles on offer as well. Definitely worth some return visits.

Throughout the course of the evening we ended up meeting the manager Bram, who gave us a couple of samples and introduced us to Justin from the Beer Academy. Twitter: helping tipsy introverts meet each other since 2009.

If I weren’t still full of turkey (MLK and CBGB had us over last night; we ate their food and they drank our wine…the perfect symbiotic relationship!) I’d be there right now.

Shouldn't the second Session99 be called Session100? No? Okay then.

“What better way,” we thought, “to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon than drinking Ontario craft beer?”

We couldn’t agree with ourselves more.

We returned to 99 Sudbury for the second annual Session99 Craft Beer Festival, and immediately found it to be far more busy than last year’s. Certainly it was easier to understand: last year there was a confusing — and, I think, fairly ripoff-ish — method of advanced tickets + per-beer tickets, whereas this year a single charge got you entry, lots of food, and unlimited beer samples.

Here’s what we tried, round by round:

  1. Two Augusta Ales from Kensington Brewing
  2. A Blueberry Wheat and an Ambre de la Chaudiere from Mill Street
  3. F&M’s Pepperazzi (made with jalapeno) and a Kensington Watermelon Wheat (Nellie seemed intent on trying the fruity wheat beers)
  4. From the new Bellwoods Brewery, the Picket Fence Wheat for me and the Sharkwitch IIPA for her
  5. My first of two Spearheads, the Moroccan brown ale, and the first of Nellie’s two collaboration brews, the Black Oak Daily Bread (w/ Sawdust City and Cheshire Valley)
  6. I had the second of my two Spearheads, the Belgian Stout, while Nellie hit the head
  7. Our first stop at Sawdust City yielded two fantastic beers: a very hoppy Golden Beach Pale Wheat for me, and a mixture of the Cockpuncher (seriously, cockpuncher!) IPA + Belgian witbier for Nellie
  8. I had a Hogsback Brewing traditional Scottish ale, but was annoyed with myself ex post facto for having visited a booth manned mainly by hoochies…I just didn’t notice until after they’d poured the sample. I have a general no-hoochie-booth rule at beer events…it’s a good indication that their beer will suck. I’m looking at you, True North Brewing. Meanwhile, Nellie had her second collaboration beer, but for the life of us we can’t remember what it was. Something from Amsterdam maybe?
  9. Perennial favourite Great Lakes gave us two new ones to try: the Lake Effect IPA for Nellie (even though I thought she should have tried the Armadildo) and some kind of porter for me…I forget which, but it definitely wasn’t the 25th anniversary Robust (which I have in my fridge, just waiting for me)
  10. Still ahead of Nellie, I had a Wellington Iron Duke, mainly because I can now officially say I got to 49/50 of my Project FiftyBrew beers
  11. Flying Monkey’s sample list had something called the Raped By Grapes, which was too sweet for Nellie (and also about which I suspect they received a few complaints) while I had the scotch ale, which was decent but not great
  12. Back to Sawdust City for the straight up Cockpuncher IPA (me) while Nellie had the Belgian Dubbel IPA (which I think was made in conjunction with Black Oak and Microbrasserie Charlevoix)

At this point it was nearly 4PM — the end of our session — and it was only then that we really figured out the food situation. We managed to squeeze in a few tiny cupcakes from The Sassy Lamb, including the peanut butter + maple buttercream icing + bacon “Canadian Mancake” which I so loved last year, and a pineapple-y one made with Spearhead’s IPA. We didn’t get burgers from Burger Bar, or gourmet corndogs from Cowbell, mainly because we’d stuffed ourselves before heading to the festival. Lesson learned for next year.

Highlights: Bellwoods, the two new Spearhead beers (for me), and the two collaboration beers (for Nellie), but most especially Sawdust City. I loved everything I tried from these guys. And to my earlier point about the relationship between beer quality and booth personnel hotness? Sawdust City was manned by a guy sporting a handlebar mustache and a giant dude with a mullet. That drew me like a magnet, and now we will never not order their beer if we see it on a menu.

By the time we walked down to King, I needed two things: a little more food in my belly, and a urinal. Beerbistro fit the bill on both counts (bonus: at Beerbistro you can watch vintage beer ads on screens above the urinals, and marvel at just how racist advertising used to be!) and we turned out to be hungrier than we’d thought. Then we walked home, drank a Muskoka Summer Weisse on the patio. Not long after that we nodded off and slept for ten hours. Summer!

Session 99

Yesterday Nellie and I dragged our slightly-hungover selves to the Session 99 craft beer festival. We’d bought tickets in advance, though I’m not sure why…we still had to buy drink tickets and we didn’t take part in all the events, so they were kind of a waste of money. Still…tasty beer and tasty food. Here’s what we drank:

  • Granite Brewery: Summer Ale & Hopping Mad (cask)
  • Stone Hammer: Dark & Strawberry Light Blonde (cask)
  • Lake of Bays: Pale Ale & Red Ale
  • Nickel Brook: Maple Porter & Organic White
  • Hop City: Lawn Chair Weisse & Mr. Huff Pilsner
  • Wellington: Blackened IPA
  • Amsterdam: Big Wheel Amber & Urban Wheat
  • Muskoka: Summer Weisse & Red Hop Chili Peppers
  • Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Triple

They were all good, except the Wellington Blackened IPA, which was terrible. I also had an excellent pulled pork sandwich from Cowbell, and Nellie had a plate of charcuterie from Leslieville cheese market. We also had some treats from Sassy Lamb: a Canadian Mancake (a peanut butter cupcake with maple buttercream icing & bacon bits) and an Eye Opener (a coffee porter chocolate cupcake with espresso cream cheese icing). Supoib!

If it’s on again next year I think we’ll do it again, but not bother with the tickets, and not drink half a bottle of scotch the night before.

The promised land

Last night we wedged ourselves into what might be my favourite place of the trip so far, and we’d been to some pretty fantastic places. The Pony Bar showed up near the top of BeerAdvocate‘s NYC beer bars, and last night we found out why.

As it turned out I never did sit down in the place. There was only one stool available at the bar, so Nellie sat and I stood. It started off a little crowded and ended up very crowded by the time we left, so a table never presented itself. Just as well — we found there was an advantage to the spot we had. Meanwhile, the music was tailor-made for old guys like me…Jane’s Addiction, Bob Dylan, Heartless Bastards, CCR…so good.

There was a board over the bar with twenty featured taps. Every time they changed a tap one of the bartenders would ring a bell, the crowd would cheer and then — depending on the new entry on the board — clap or boo playfully. One of those bartenders, Mirjana, became our buddy for the night and took great care of us. I don’t know how we always get adopted by great bartenders, but I’m not complaining either. Especially since at least one of the beers was comped.

We ended up drinking twelve beers between us (Chelsea High + Dry porter, Avery Out Of Bounds stout, Davidson Bros. coffee stout, Abita Turbo Dog, Long Trail Hibernator, Sly Fox O’Reilly’s stout and Magic Hat Circus Boy for me; Weyerbacher Fireside ale, Magic Hat Circus Boy, Barrier Bulkhead red, Southern Tier IPA and Firestone Walker Double Jack double IPA for her) and an amazing plate of sausage & pretzels. All that, plus a tshirt for Nellie, came out to $81 before tip. Incroyable.

Despite that, the twelve beers weighed on us and I knew we’d need a little extra grease in our bellies to be functional the next morning, so…back to Shorty’s for more sandwiches! It was an early evening by NYC standards, but mainly because now (the next morning) we’re up, showered, fed, packed and about ready to head to the airport. What a great wrap-up to a superb trip.

Now then…here’s hoping that EWR doesn’t screw us on the trip home.