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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Volo Hits Another One Out Of The Park

70 casks - 40 breweries - 7 days. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last couple of months, you'll know what I'm referring to - Volo Cask Days. From Monday October 26th until Sunday November 1st, Bar Volo held their 5th annual cask festival, one of the premier beer events in this country, and they pulled the entire thing off wonderfully.

My goal for the week was to make it out to every session for at least one drink. That didn't happen. No, I made a good dent in the casks though, as I made it out on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I was gunning for the Sunday 'open' session' however, I just couldn't drag myself from the comforts of my couch. I think Nick Pashley set the bar high for next year though - with his 9 straight days of indulgence! Good on ya Nick.

Again, like last year, Morana and team divided the casks into territory and had them separated into four different pouring stations - three on the patio and one inside behind the bar. For the entire week leading up to the infamous weekend long plethora of cask goodness Volo only served from the firkins, no draught or bottle service was made available to the people that were there only for dinner. What a fantastic idea, and a pretty good way to get people tasting cask ale for the first time.

Before I get to the Friday, Saturday and Sunday (the Cask Days main event), let me start off with what I took in during the week long tasting of numerous casks.

The Tuesday evening session featured casks of traditional English style ales and the first thing I heard upon taking my seat on the patio was that I had missed out on the best beer, St. Andre Brass Monkey Ordinary Bitter, which was drained on the Monday night session. Thankfully Granite's Hopping Mad was there to keep me smiling, plus a number of other well done beers. The company was great. Cask drinkers always seem to be the happiest drinkers.

I had the radio show to do on the Wednesday night so the last day of the traditional English ales wasn't in the cards. I did find myself hanging out at Volo again Thursday evening after a long day of work, and the new theme was the re-visiting of the final four cask conditioned IPA's from Volo's challenge that took place earlier in the year. Durham's Hop Addict was spot on and required a couple of generous samples. The patio was busy again, which was a good indication that people in Toronto are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of tasting real ale, thanks in large part to the very efforts of the man (Ralph) who put this week long event together.

Now, onto the big show. The Friday and Saturday.

The afternoon at work was a long one. The clocked seemed to stop ticking at various times for extended moments. I don't get overly excited for many things, but Volo Cask Days is an exception. I was excited, and leaving work a few minutes earlier was a no-brainer. Up the street and straight to the patio, the first half pint was in my glass no later than 4:30, Matt’s Marathon Mild, a beer brewed at Great Lakes based on Morana's recipe he created while on a brewing course in England (he was even at the brewery to help brew it).

Many beers were tasted over the course of the four hour session with highlights coming from County Durham for their Black Eye, Mill Street's 08/09 Barley Wine Blend Dry Hopped, Great Lakes Morning Glory Breakfast Stout, Muskoka Cottage Harvest Ale, and Church Key's Oaked Islay V Scotch Ale.

I found the beers to be much more drinkable this year, many that would make great additions to the regular line-up of their respective breweries. There was a bunch of of chatter about the unique stuff from Ontario like Hockley Valley's Peanut Butter and Jam creation, which I personally enjoyed (in small doses), and F&M's Nightmare on Ale Street (both went on to win best of their region). The first session was completely sold out and it was a lively crowd with a number of new faces, who enthusiastically sang Ralph a hearty happy birthday.

There was a small line-up outside the bar by 9:45am on Saturday morning for session 3: Brewer's Breakfast. The smell of eggs, bacon, and sausage slowly made its way outside and ticket holders were anxious to get inside to indulge. The food was terrific, as was the homemade apple cider being offered. It was definitely a great way to start the day before the onslaught of beer samples. There were many Ontario brewers in attendance who were also anxious to try their creations. Michael Hancock, Ron Keefe, Rob Creighton, Ron Moir, Jason Britton, and a whole whack of others, and other than an awards ceremony I don't ever remember seeing so many brewery representatives in one place at the same time. A testament to have much they value Volo's Cask Days.

The crew working the event, as Rob wrote in a post a couple days later, did an outstanding job making sure the beers were pouring properly, that people were behaving, and that everyone was having a great time. This event, as exciting as it is for the average beer geek, is pretty damn exciting for the staff. They have mentioned before that they look forward to Cask Days like no other event Morana hosts. The dedication that they have for ensuring everything is perfect doesn't go unnoticed and all I can say is thank you to Tomas, Julian, Catherine, and the rest of the volunteers who poured our pints without having a taste for themselves. And a big thanks and congratulations to Ralph for hosting this one-of-a-kind event!

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