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Thursday, May 28, 2009

C'est What Spring Festival Review: By Rob Symes

I was in Kingston all of last weekend and I was unable to attend the beer events that were taking place in Toronto, including the 5th annual C'est What Spring Festival of Craft Brewers. Luckily, Rob Symes, good friend and frequent guest writer to this blog, was there to provide us with a re-cap of what George Milbrandt (publican) had in store for those in attendance. Here is Rob's take on things.

Last Friday night C’est What flung open its doors to welcome an enthusiastic crowd to its 5th Annual Spring Festival of Craft Breweries. The bar really has this event nailed, and it’s a model of efficiency and quality, so warm congratulations to George and his team. As in previous years, samples were available for the low, low price of $1, which allowed everyone to get a good overview of a lot of the beers offered. Here were a few of the highlights:

Amsterdam brought along two beers – Big Wheel Amber and Strong Spring Bock. The Big Wheel Amber was clean and easy drinking, and will be a good Summer option once its available in cans at the LCBO. The Strong Spring Bock made a rare appearance on keg and seemed markedly different to its bottled incarnation to the point that the creator of the recipe couldn’t even pick it out in a blind tasting. That’s not a bad thing though, because it seems like it may be one of the winner’s of the fest, receiving a lot of good feedback on its dark, fruity flavour.

Flying Monkeys Brewery debuted their Hoptical Illusion, which is destined for the LCBO this summer. It’s a pleasant light drinking ale, with a slight hop bite, and notes of orange and biscuit. It’s certainly a leap forward for the Barrie-based crew, and would make an easy-drinking session beer.

Talking about session beers, Charles MacLean brought along two casks to the festival, both clocking in at under 4%. MacLean has specialised in crafting small batches at his tiny operation, and has replicated a number of English-style ales with some expertise.

My highlight of the festival came from C’est What’s near neighbour in the Distillery District. Mill Street has had a couple of beers in their pipeline for the summer, and this was their first appearance outside of the brewpub. While I found their Peche a touch too sweet for my liking, the Lemon Tea Ale was phenomenal. A great combination of earl grey flavours and lemon balm produces a remarkably light and refreshing beer that’s going to be a winner on the patio this year. Well… at least for some people. A beer like this can be very divisive. We often complain that brewers in Canada play it safe when compared to their American counterparts, and that the styles produced here are unexciting and predictable. Unfortunately when brewers do take the risk, the exoticness of the flavours is often unduly criticised to an extent that I doubt an American brewer would experience. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, the Lemon Tea Ale is definitely worth a try.

Finally, we had a little teaser of what may be at the Black Creek Historic Brewery, as their Dark Ale made its debut. It’s full on berry bouquet should appeal, and the light notes of chocolate and roasted grains compliment the fruity flavours well. Hopefully the success of this beer bodes well for Ontario’s newest brewery.

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