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.


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.


Rob said...

Nice piece Troy! Almost as good as the preceding one. Congrats to Great Lakes on pulling off Caskapalooza - now get your asses in gear and distribute some cask to the bars!

Lee said...

Great review, appreciate that. Heading over there tomorrow and really looking forward to it.

vistaway said...

You summed it up perfectly. A few highlights, but if it wasn't for the great local brewers and their beer, there would be no reason to go. Great new venue, yet they still can't figure out how to manage the entry line (although it looked like tokens and toilets were better this year). The red shirt/yellow shirt/black shirt security forces were ridiculous. Only in Ontario...

Troy Burtch said...

Rob - you're a cheeky bugger!

Lee - thanks for the kind words. Hope you enjoyed yourself and didn't get frisked tooo much.

vistaway - agree, agree, agree.

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