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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Volo Cask Days 2008 Re-Cap

Friday morning wake-ups are always exciting. Knowing the weekend starts hours away is always a good time. But waking up last Friday was especially exciting as Volo’s much anticipated Cask Days was close to commencing and I had a ticket with my name on it.

The weather was perfect as I approached Volo from Dundonald Street, and through the sun I could see a flurry of activity coming from within the walls. Ralph Morana and crew were busy putting the finishing touches on the fourth annual cask festival and were anxiously waiting for the many guests to start arriving.

The small eccentric café featured six stations where ticket holders could obtain samples from the various breweries who participated. There were 34 breweries represented, offering 50 cask conditioned ales and lagers along with multiple (13) draught choices, a new high for cask days. Each station was then broken into regions: Ontario Toronto, Ontario East, Ontario West, Guest (England/Quebec), Ontario North and Ontario North-West. To compliment the dizzying array of cask beers was a cheese table where you could redeem a ticket for a sample plate of artisan cheeses. Beside the cheese table was a bread table full of tasty little snacks, life savers when sampling many glasses of beer.

Guests were greeted at the front entrance and were provided with a gift bag consisting of a sampling glass (smaller than past years, but very nice for sampling), a program, 10 drink tickets, 1 cheese ticket, a chocolate and a small bag of treats. Just after 12:00pm, the first glass of cask ale was poured into the happy hand of a thirsty guest and with that, Cask Days was underway.

I caught up with Ralph (who was sporting a new t-shirt as many firkins blew back at him when tapping) and listened intently as he explained his excitement and his passion for cask days. He is truly a remarkable publican who cares deeply about the craft brewing industry here in Ontario. Morana, along with brother in-law Carl, sons Tomas and Julian and the rest of the Volo crew have grown this event from its humble beginnings four years ago into the successful and much acclaimed festival it is today.

I mingled with some other beer writing brethren and discussed the qualities, dislikes and surprises of the beers sampled while elaborating on our reasons why this event is so popular. It’s the beer of course, and the way the event is organized. I ran into Bar Towel founder Cass Enright and knew then that my day was going to get better. Enright and I always have a good time when were around beer and Friday was no different.

We met the guys from Dieu du Ciel, Luc and Stephane, and had a great discussion on the difference between Quebec and Ontario breweries. I also shared the recent issue of TAPS with Stephane. He claimed that Greg Clow’s description of the Derniere Volonte he reviewed was perfect, a description he couldn’t have written any better. We tried their cask conditioned Penombe Black IPA, which was fantastic, and sampled some other Ontario beers in comparison. Stephane, who is a co-owner of DDC was happy to meet Enright face to face as Cass has stayed at the brewpub from time to time and the two never crossed paths. We drank with them for a bit and found them both to be extremely personable and likeable guys who think the world of Morana (Morana is part of HMH that represents DDC and Hopfenstark in Ontario). Their relationship will help sell their products to the Ontario market for sure.

There were a number of Ontario brewers and brewery representatives in attendance, many of whom had created some unique one-offs. Last year’s event drew numerous creations from our home town breweries and this year was no different. In fact, there were more creations, 17 to be exact.

Because of how the sessions were set up, some beers were not available during the Friday afternoon/evening time slots, so I wasn’t able to try them. But I’ve heard many great things about the rest and you can read what Mr. Stephen Beaumont thought of some here. And read Josh Rubin’s thoughts here.

Of the beers I did get to sample I thought these one’s stood out from among the others (in my opinion).

Cameron’s High Hop Silver (was labeled Clove and Dagger on Friday)
DDC’s Penombe
Saint Andre’s Hopsmasher Parkdale Harvest Ale
F&M’s Stonehammer
Granite’s Peculiar Strong; and
a more one-sided Robert Simpson’s Pale Ale.

The Peche Mortel and Hopfenstark’s Blanche de L’Emitange, along with Denison’s Dunkel (2007) were great on tap.

It was another great day at Volo and I only wished I’d gotten back to take part in more sessions (instead I had to help my fiance monitor brain activity in 12 year old female hockey players in Aurora). The Volo staff, courteous as they always are, were extra helpful and were terrific to deal with. This is a quality that is often overlooked at events such as this, but something that adds to the overall mood of the festival. Good work to all the breweries that made a brilliant effort to surprise our palates with fantastic brews, and big congratulations to Morana for throwing another great Cask Festival.

**The charity for this year’s cask days was for Colon Cancer Canada; in memory of Ralph’s father Tommaso Morana who past away earlier this year.**

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