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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Castro's Lounge Belgian Beer Tasting

Sunday was miserable outside. Flurries coming down, people cleaning up mother nature's mess from the night before, cold and dark; so to beat the winter blues I headed down to Castro's Lounge to take part in their Belgian Beer tasting.

Castro's Lounge is located on Queen Street East, right in the heart of the beach(s). I paid a visit to the creatively decorated pub back in September of 2007 and it continues to be a place I frequently return to for a couple of pints.

Asim, owner of Castro's (and Sarah's Cafe) welcomed me into the tasting and informed me that Castro's plans to offer one tasting a month, focusing on different beer styles each time. "We performed one in October, one in November, took December off (just to busy) and started back up for January," stated Asim. "We figure this is a great way to introduce people to new beers while educating them on how the beers can best be enjoyed."

The $30 tasting got under way just shortly after 3pm as Chris (bartender and today's host) introduced himself and welcomed everybody to the pub. "We had 15 people RSVP this time, almost right after we announced the Belgian tasting. But due to the weather, it appears not everyone can make it," he announced. It didn't matter, just after 3:15 groups of people walked in from the street without reservations and packed the tasting, bringing the total numbers up over twenty and providing an energetic buzz. Chris briefly issued some instructions, laying out how the afternoon tasting would be structured.

After everyone was settled, the snowy jackets removed, the first flight of Belgian beer was brought out on trays and dispensed to each individual taster. The first round belonged to Wittekerke, a lightly spiced Belgian Wit. After the first taste, Chris spoke at length about the Wit style, the history of the Wit, what spices are typically associated with the beer and he shared glassware tips and proper pouring techniques. Tasters were encouraged to speak freely with one another, sharing what they were tasting.

Duvel was the next beer to be introduced to the crowd and some people in attendance stated that they have never heard of it. Yersekes Mosselbier came next and was then followed by the always delicious Westmalle Dubbel. During this time, Chris discussed tasting. How important the tongue is, what it picks up that the nose can't. He explained the receptors in the tongue and helped people understand where the sour, sweet, bitter and salty spots are located. After the Westmalle, which happened to be the fourth of the eight beers lined up for tasting, Chris stopped the event for a short recess.

We chatted briefly while people were socializing with each other and Chris mentioned that he hopes to one day attract more local breweries to Castro's to hold tastings of their own. "Cameron's has done a couple of tastings here before and they went well; hopefully we can get more in the future." He also told me that this was the largest group he's hosted before and that if things seemed a little hectic it was because Castro's isn't used to getting so many people. "Things will be a little more organized next time as we'll anticipate larger crowds," Chris said. I thought that things were going smoothly and I was impressed with his beer knowledge and presentation skills. He was talking passionately about the beers and the Belgian culture and it captured the attention of both the inexperienced drinker (there were a few) and the seasoned, well versed beer drinker (also a few).

Before coming back to the tasting, Chris asked everyone to either name their favourite beer or their favourite style and describe why. It was interesting to hear the responses. One guy said Bud, another said Kronenburg 1664, Labatt 50 was thrown out there as were some Imperial Stouts, and a Rochefort 8. I have been to my fair share of tastings before, both informal and formal, and this was the first time that I had ever heard the host ask people this question and I was totally interested in hearing from the group. Naming a favourit beer is always a tough question to manovere around, and one that I can't answer honestly, but it was amusing to hear why some of the individuals named the beers they did.

So, back to the last four beers. La Fin du Monde reared its beautiful head as the fifth beer. St. Louis Gueze and Petrus Oud Brun were the sixth and seventh beers, and probably the weakest of the bunch (in my opinion). The last beer belonged to Piraat, a wonderfully strong Belgian golden ale.

All in all the tasting was very well done with a good flight of beers. Chris was very good at keeping the tasting lively, yet somewhat professional and educational. Both Asim and Shelia (owners) were in attendance and they also took part in the tasting, which was great to see - owners connecting with the people who support their business.

What better way to spend a couple hours on a windy, wintery afternoon?

8 Beer Sampled:
Yersekes Mosselbier
Westmalle Dubbel
La Fin du Monde
St. Louis Gueze
Petrus Oud Brun

I'll have information on their next tasting when it becomes available.

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