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, May 29, 2009

Innis and Gunn: 'O' Canada

I was at a grand opening of a new pub a couple of weeks ago and ran into Innis and Gunn representative Nic Rennie, who recently moved here to Toronto from Scotland. I was with Canada's Pub Guy, Bill Perrie, who had a bunch of the newest Innis and Gunn beer that will be introduced to the LCBO later this summer, and he was nice enough to pass one along.

Innis and Gunn Canadian Cask - Scottish Oak Aged Beer comes packaged in a white and red box and should be available in time for Canada Day (July 1st for you American readers). The beer was matured in Canadian Whiskey barrels for 71 days before being bottled and sent here for us to enjoy; brewed exclusively for the Canadian market (150 barrels). The beer weighs in at 7.1% and will retail for $4.95.

I didn't get into my bottle just yet. I might just wait until Canada Day. It looks as though it's available in Alberta already, judging by the BA and RB ratings.

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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Niagara College to Offer Brew Master Program?

Niagara College has been toying with the idea of adding a brew master certification program to their Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus for over one year now, and if things go as planned the idea could be a reality come the Fall of 2010. According to the story in the St. Catherine's Standard, it would be the first such college to offer such a course in Canada.

The college currently runs an interesting wine course where students have the opportunity to learn about growing grapes, work in the vineyards, and make wine at the teachers winery at the college. The course has been so successful that a brew master course was developed, and once space is found at the campus, the ball should start rolling.

The article mentions that the idea has the support of the Ontario Craft Brewers, and Cameron's Brew Master Jason Britton is quoted as saying it would be nice to see individuals interested in brewing beer get their education here at home.

It also goes on to say that the campus has plans to build an on-campus brewery/brew pub to sell the finished products to the public, similar to what the college does with it wine program and its retail shop.

Here is the link to the article, written by Monique Beech, a former Orillia Packet and Times reporter from my hometown.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And then there were 4: Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge

Round two of Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge wrapped up on Sunday evening and the results were posted at the bar yesterday for all to see.

In Division One, Granite's Hopping Mad fought off Publican's Square Nail Pale Ale and Mill Street's Tank House to move onto the semi-finals against Mike Duggan's Number 9 who beat out Durham's Hop Head and Grand River's Plowmans Ale.

Division Two has Heritage's Scotch Irish Sgt. Major's IPA and Durham's Hop Addict moving onto round three as they beat Magnotta's West Coast and Mill's Street's IPA respectively.

Also, during round two, Volo offered a number of other cask ales to sample blindly, giving customers the opportunity to try them and rate them without knowing exactly what they were or who brewed them. At the end of the weekend the scores were tallied, and boy was it close. (Scores out of 50)

(1)Beau's Beaver River - 37.63
(2)Durham Hop Head - 33.80
(3)Mill St. IPA - 34.89
(4)Mike Duggan No.9 - 38.22
(5)Magnotta Westcoast - 33.87
(6)Macleans Broad Sword - 30.02
(7)Mill St. Tankhouse - 37.14
(8)Durham Hop Addict - 39.04
(9)Granite Hopping Mad - 39.08
(10)Publican House Square Nail - 34.25
(11)Grand River Plowman's - 35.24
(12) Cheshire Valley IPA - 35.10
(13)Scotch Irish Sgt.Majors - 36.28

Round three will take place in June on a date that has yet to be confirmed. Stay tuned for more details.

I headed down to Volo last night for a couple of pints and all that I sampled were still in top notch condition. Chances are good that some firkins are still being served today, so get down there to get your fill.

Great Lakes Blogging

Great Lakes is the newest member of the Ontario brewing industry to enter the blogosphere, joining other successful Ontario brewery blogs like Cameron's, Beau's, and Steam Whistle's. It was back in February when Steam Whistle launched their blog and I commented that I thought it could, and should, be a growing trend, so it's nice to see another brewery join in on the fun.

"We're trying to keep people more up to date with events and wacky stuff that we see from time to time. A number of other folks in the OCB have done a great job with theirs, so we're looking forward to adding a few twists to ours to keep it fresh," stated Great Lakes brewery representative John Bowden on Bar Towel this morning.

The new blog features a poll asking readers to choose a beer they would like to see Great Lakes brew next, listing Pale Ale, IPA, Stout, Wheat Beer, Bock, Fruit Beer, Pilsner, or a Mild Ale. Which one do you think Ontario citizen's are craving most?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Amsterdam Canning Line..and New Beer

Last Tuesday the Amsterdam Brewing Company received a new canning line from Cask Brewing Systems in Calgary and had it up and running by Friday, testing out its capabilities and .

"The video is the first cans coming off the line and we only ran 50 cases. Our first official run is this Wednesday and we should be running a few hundred cases," said Amsterdam's Brew Master, Jamie Mistry. Misty also stated that the output is 30 cans per minute.

Amsterdam will be canning their newest addition to the family, Big Wheel Amber (which was shown in the video), along with their Natural Blond, and KLB Raspberry Wheat in 473mls cans, which should start appearing in LCBO's in about one month. And later this summer Amsterdam will be introducing a new 'low calorie light' beer that will also be canned.

"LCBO sales should start in about a month, we are still finishing off the 500mls bottles for now and once they are done we will be swapping over to the cans. You can pick up the Big Wheel right now at our beer store for $2.50 per 473 can."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Victory Cafe Announces Date for Summer Cask Festival

It seems that each time the owners of the Victory Cafe host a cask festival, all the beer runs dry. The pub attracts a wide range of individuals for the festivals, including many local residents of the area who support the pub at any opportunity they get presented with. This can make events at the Victory a little more exciting then other beer festivals as you get to meet new people every time, and share stories over fresh pints of locally produced cask ale.

Last years summer cask ale festival was very successful, so successful that it led to a winter festival, which saw long line-ups and all the beer consumed in less than six hours. It would be a no brainy to continue offering Ontario citizens the chance to head to the Victory to learn, and taste, more cask ale.  Which brings me to the press release I received from the delightful Maz, one of the owners of the Victory (see below).

Sunday July 12th has been chosen as the date to hold the next festival and it appears there will be sixteen casks for ticket buyers to work their way through. The festival will start at 12pm and run until the casks are drained. Admission to the one day festival is as follows, and tickets can be purchased at the festival entrance:

$12 – admission, souvenir glass, two half-pint beer tickets, plus one food ticket
$8 – admission, souvenir glass, and two half-pint beer tickets
$4 – additional food ticket
$3 – additional beer ticket

For more information on the festival, you can contact Maz at or .

Victory Summer Cask Ale Festival
Sunday July 12
th 2009
12:00 noon
The Victory
Café, Toronto

This year’s Victory
Café Summer Cask Ale festival will be held on Sunday July 12th
starting at noon until supplies last. Continuing the theme of the Victory’s previous cask
festivals, this event is a celebration of local traditional cask conditioned ales and aims to
introduce new people to these wonderful beers. The Victory
Café welcomes anyone who
is interested in sampling good quality local cask ale.

There will be sixteen cask ales on offer, all from local brewers. Two casks each of the
most popular ales will be available to better ensure that everyone has a chance to enjoy
them. The full list of beers will be announced at a later date.

Beer samples will be offered by the half-pint measure, purchased with a beer ticket
available at the festival. A selection of tasty food will also be available with the purchase
of a food ticket.

Tickets can be purchased at the festival entrance:

$12 – admission, souvenir glass, two half-pint beer tickets, plus one food ticket
$8 – admission, souvenir glass, and two half-pint beer tickets
$4 – additional food ticket
$3 – additional beer ticket

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Granite (Halifax) Brewery Now Open

Good news coming from The Coast, a free Halifax weekly newspaper, as they are reporting that Kevin Keefe has confirmed the new location of his Granite Brewery has opened for business.

Situated in the North end of Halifax, at , the new location is ready to begin selling their English style products in growlers and has the prices listed as:

$9:Peculiar, Best Bitter, Dry Hop, Keefe's Irish Stout, Ringwood IPA
$10:Green Man Organic Ale
$12:Gin Lane Barley Wine
*plus deposit*

$12 for a growler of Barley Wine?- an amazing deal, and it would make for an interesting night and a rough following morning.

The retail store will be open from 9:30am - 6pm, however, should consumer demand increase, and store hours need to be expanded, Joe Keefe (manager) mentioned to The Coast that they'll accomodate new extended hours.

I posted the news about Keefe moving his digs on Barrington back in February,and while we were in Halifax two weeks ago we had plans to head to the brewery with Garrison owner, Brian Titus; however, our busy schedule didn't allow us to make it there. We did walk by the old location and it was sad seeing the dirty windows, covered with paper. It didn't seem right.

The word on the street is that the brewery is housed in a very unattractive building, but hopefully customers will look past that and get in there for the beer.

Congratulations to Kevin, and all who were involved in the re-location and subsequent re-opening!

**Photo of the old Granite location on Barrington Street**

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Beery Weekend in Toronto

There are a number of events taking place this weekend and unfortunately I'll be out of town and I'll be unable to check them out. However, should you be in the city and looking for something to do, be sure to spend some time supporting your local brewers at the following events.

C'est What Spring Festival of Craft Breweries (Friday May 22)
Tomorrow night (Friday), C'est What will be hosting their 5th annual Spring Festival of Craft Breweries at their Front street location. There is no admission charge and samples will only cost you a dollar each. C'est What always throws a good event, so head down tomorrow between 5pm and 10pm to sample over 30 of Ontario's finest, and to try some new beers brewed just for the occasion.

Amsterdam Big Wheel Amber and Spring Bock
Barley Days Summer Light Ale
Big Rock Pale Ale
Black Oak Oak-Aged Chocolate Cherry Stout (cask)
Brick Waterloo Wheat
Church-Key Stout
Durham Hop Addict (cask)
F&M Maple Red Ale
Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion
Garrison ESB (I'm thinking it's the Propeller ESB)
Grand River Russian Imperial Stout
Granite Peculiar
Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale (cask)
King Unfiltered Pilsner
MacLean's Bitter (cask) and Dark Mild (cask)
McAuslan Vintage Ale and Mystique Cider
Mill Street Peche Belgian Wheat and Black Tea Lemon Ale
Muskoka Hefe Weiss
Neustadt 300 and Texas Tea
Nicklebrook 80 Shilling and Organic Lager
Okanagan 1516
Railway City Ironspike Amber and Blonde
Stratford California Common
Trafalgar Black Creek Dark Ale and Oak Aged Rye
Unibroue Chambly Noire
Wellington Russian Imperial Stout.

Volo - 2nd Round Ontario Cask IPA Challenge (Sat May 23 - Sun May 24)
10 terrific casks moved on after the scores were calculated at the conclusion of round one, which was held back in April to much fanfare. This weekend (both Sat. and Sun.) Volo will be hosting round 2 of the Ontario Cask IPA Challenge and they will be adding a twist - all the beers will be tasted blindly in a head-to-head format, with the winners moving onto the third round to be held sometime in June. The challenge commences when the doors open on Saturday at 12pm

Volo will be serving the 10 beers that advanced plus 3 new IPA's, which will be disclosed the following Monday. Samples will be available in 1/4, 1/2 and full pint servings, and again, there will be no admission fee.

Granite Hopping Mad
Publican House Square Nail
Grand River Plowman's
Durham County Hop Head
Mike Duggan Number 9
Magnotta West Coast
Heritage Sgt. Major
Mill St. IPA
Mill St. Tankhouse
Durham Hop Addict

Great Lakes Annual BBQ (Saturday May 23)
Etobicoke's Great Lakes Brewery will be hosting their 6th annual charity BBQ this Saturday in support of the Gatehouse, a foundation that provides support to abused children. The festivities kick off at 12pm and run until 6pm. There will be live music, complimentary soft drinks, bbq food, and fresh beer, including a fresh cask of their Orange Peel Ale. And speaking of the popular Orange Peel Ale, it is now available in select LCBO's, as well as the Great Lakes retail store.

Brewery Collectibles Show & Sale (Sat. May 23)
If you've been searching for that perfect beer themed mirror for your home bar, you should definitely check out the Brewery Collectibles Show and Sale taking place this Saturday at the Amsterdam Brewery. Collectors will be setting up booths in the loft of the brewery to showcase their vast collection of breweriana. The show will run from 11am to 3pm and there will be fresh Amsterdam products available for purchase. I was able to attend last years show and I was amazed with the collections laid out on the tables. If your into the history of the Canadian Brewing industry, a stop to Amsterdam should be in the cards this weekend.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Couple of Things Brewing at TAPS Magazine

Without sounding to much like an informerical, here is some news with regard to TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine.

The owners of TAPS have recently announced some good news. Late last week, the popular beer magazine that covers everything from brewery profiles, to food and beer pairings, to beer reviews, and so much more, announced that you can now purchase a subscription no matter where you are in the world as the magazine will now be available for purchase on-line. Interested? Individuals can head over to Zinio Digital to purchase a yearly subscription for the low cost of $16, saving over 55% of the cover price. But if you go there right now, you can get save an additional 25% and pay only $12. A steal!

Also, in an effort to get to know their readers better, TAPS has created a 5 minute survey on their website, and each individual who participates has the chance to win $500 or one of 10 InstaKilts. It's not lengthy, you don't have to do much thinking, so why not give it a whirl. Did I mention that you could win $500?

For those of you on Facebook, into the search field and check out the new site that has been created. You can join in on the discussion boards; like the one What I hate in a pub, or Favourite Canadian Pub and share your thoughts. Tell us what you think of the magazine, offer suggestions, tell us what you like, and keep in touch.

And you twitterers out there, TAPS has also created a to share news as it happens.

We are working hard on the summer issue, which should hit newsstands come the middle of June, and it appears to be a beauty. I've got all the beers here that are being reviewed for the regular tasting panel, and their all tasting damn fine. Keep an eye out at your local magazine retail store for our next issue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Posts Over at Free Our Beer

Cass Enright has been busy over the last two weeks updating his Free Our Beer site with a handful of new and interesting posts about his experience importing Garrison's into Ontario for private sales.

I encourage you to click on the links provided to have a read, and to leave your comments should his posts provoke some discussion.

Beer Importing - Putting the Order Together

Beer Importing - The Pricing Estimate

Beer Importing - The Order Paperwork

Tales from Abroad: Nova Scotia

Beer Importing: The Letterhead

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Keep the Glass Tipped in the Right Direction

Gone to the cottage for the weekend for a bit of rest and relaxation, and to finish my column and a few scattered articles for the summer issue for TAPS. There is no Internet service where we are, so no new blog posts this weekend, but I have picked out some stuff to browse through should you stop by here.

Beer Reviews

A slick IPA from the popular Mikkeller: Warrior Single IPA
Hop bomb from Wild Rose: Wild Rose Imperial Pale Ale
Said goodbye to winter with this East Coast treat: Garrison Winter Warmer

Pub Reviews

A true local pub in the West-end of Toronto: The Local Pub
In Mississauga?: West 50 Pourhouse
I'm heading here Monday for pints with Jed: The Griffin Gastropub

Some More

Make the drive to Peterborough to visit Jon at: Publican House Brewery
After spending the weekend in Halifax, I'm asking myself: Why do I Drink?
Steelback rising from the Frank years?: Meet Jonathon Sherman
He's been around for years, making great beers: Mill Street's Joel Manning

Have a great weekend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Black Creek Pioneer Village to Open a Brewery

I received an interesting email today from Eric Philpott who handles Public Relations for the Black Creek Pioneer Village.

It seems that Black Creek will be creating a working 1860's Brewery on-site that is set to open next month. The operation will be using the same material and equipment that was used in the 1860's to brew a number of ales that will include a Porter, a Dark Ale, and a Pale Ale. The email also stated that all the recipes will be from the same period.

It would appear that the plans to build an on-site brewery were announced back in February, judging from a post on the new blog. It's also interesting to note that the brewery will be run in partnership with Trafalgar Ales & Meads. "Our brewery will be run in partnership with Pioneer Brewery Ltd., a company created by the owners of Trafalgar Ales and Meads."

Individuals who visit the brewery will have the opportunity to order a pint and enjoy it right on-site, or they will be able to purchase growlers that will be made available for take home.

For more information about the new brewery, and to view some photographs of the new brewery being constructed, head over to Black Creek's blog which they have cleverly titled Black Creek Growler.

A Thirsty Traveler Beer Dinner

** A late review of the beer dinner that was held recently at Fynn's of Temple Bar **

April 27th was a gorgeous day. The weather was great. It would have been the perfect day for a backyard bbq complimented with a cooler full of some tasty craft beer. If only I was back home on the farm, not stuck in an apartment in the city without the use of my favourite cooking apparatus. To help ease my pain I decided to head to Fynn's of Temple Bar to sit in on the four course beer and food dinner being hosted by Kevin Brauch of the Thirsty Traveler fame. If I couldn't bbq, this was the next best thing.

I had only ever been to Fynn's once, and the beer line-up that is listed on the regular drink menu is one that does not inspire me. Diageo products, InBev-AB products, you know the type. So I was a bit spectacle about this particular beer dinner. However, Robin Wynne, the general manager of the restaurant, sent me an email before hand and explained that their first beer dinner (held back in October) featured a number of beers that I quite enjoy, and he promised that the beers being used for this dinner would not be from the menu.

Fynn's appears to be a product of the Irish Pub Co., the company famous for designing and constructing 'Irish' pubs then sending the pieces to the intended buyer for installation. This may or not be the case with Fynn's, but it looks like one. It creates a whole different atmosphere and it's interesting doing beer dinners in establishments like these. They keep things simple, which can be a nice break from the posh, high priced dinners. The price is reasonable, the food is good, the beer can be nice, and the crowd tends to be a mixture of newbies and those already fully immersed in craft beer, usually creating a fun experience. Fynn's was no different.

I got there just before the 6:30 intended start time and took my seat between a Diageo rep, and the host of the Roger's television show, Toronto Dining, who was there filming a segment for the show. It was an interesting seat to have. On one side of me there was a female who doesn't like beer, and on the other side a male who works for a huge corporation and claims his favourite beer in the world is Red Stripe. The paying attendees were still entering the restaurant at this time, which pushed back the start time. The first drink, Wellington Arkell Best Bitter, wasn't delivered to the table until 7:10pm, and Brauch didn't take to the mic until 7:20pm. The Diageo rep had never heard of Wellington before, which didn't shock me, but it amazes me how many reps for large brewing companies don't know about the craft market in this province. The Arkell is one of those beers that doesn't get a lot of press, but damn, is it ever a fine beer.

The first round of food came out around 7:45pm, a bit of a wait. A very good Mulligatawny Soup served with cilantro pesto foccacia was paired with St. Peter's Organic English Ale. It was a good pairing as the subtle bitterness cut through the slight heat of the soup and allowed all the flavours of the soup to stand out. Brauch spoke about the beer for a minute or two, then made his way around the room with the mic talking to the crowd.

The third beer of the night, Coopers Sparkling Ale, was brought out on trays at 8:00pm and was paired with a Shrimp Avocado Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and an Apple Citrus Vinaigrette. Nice match, good salad. Not to big on the beer though.

There was a big gap in time between the second course and the main course - 40 mins to be exact. A Jerk Pulled Pork with Smoked Cheddar on a toasted Vienna Loaf with Spicy Fries was the main dish, and it was paired with a Theresianer Vienna Style Lager from Italy. I wasn't to fond of this pairing. The beer was weak (give me a St. Andre's any day) and the pork was a little dry. Maybe I was mentally comparing it with beerbistro's pulled pork, or the delicious one made at Victory Cafe. Or maybe the beer just didn't do it justice.

Onto the final course - dessert. It didn't arrive to the table until 9:35pm, but it was worth the wait. A bottle of Young's Double Chocolate Stout was served with a big slice of Banana Stout Cake with a maple syrup reduction and glazed bananas. Terrific match. The Stout and the banana worked very well together, a nice marriage of flavours.

So there you have it. For $50 you received five beers, four courses of food, snippets of Brauch doing his thing, and a pretty enjoyable evening out. There were around 80 tickets sold, so almost a sell-out crowd, and as I mentioned, a number of those people were just being exposed to news beers that night.

Wynn mentioned that Fynn's, along with Brunch, will continue to hold these dinners every so often, changing the beer line-up each time. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Driftwood Brewery: Victoria, BC - Driftwood Ale

When the Spring issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine was released back in March, an article written by a co-contributor, Joe Wiebe, caught my eye, and my attention.

Weibe profiled Victoria British Columbia’s newest craft brewery, Driftwood, and did a small review of some of their beers. The article captured my attention because as involved as I am with keeping tabs on the Canadian brewing scene, I had not heard of Driftwood until only a couple of days before I read Weibe’s column.

I was at a tasting and a bottle of Driftwood’s Brother Bart’s Belgian Brown Ale was being served. It was closer to the end of the night and my taste buds had already been annihilated, but I remember enjoying it immensely. A Canadian brewery doing a Belgian style Brown ale?

So when I got home I headed to their website to check them out. Turns out they brew and bottle a number of other popular styles with craft beer fans, popular because not many others are doing them on a regular basis. I needed, and wanted, more information, and along came Weibe’s article, in about a week no doubt.

The brewery is situated in Victoria and had been operating since August, yet the vision was laid out in the Spring of 2008. The brewery’s goal is to produce beers targeted at craft beer drinkers while winning over individuals looking, and wanting, change. No generic lagers or golden blonde ales will be found at the brewery. Their current line-up consists of the aforementioned Brother Bart’s Belgian Brown Ale, White Bark Belgian Wit, Farmhand Saison, Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine, Blackstone Porter, and Driftwood Ale – their flagship session ale. Pretty impressive array of styles, and they’ve only been open for less than a year.

Not satisfied with just six, Driftwood just released their Crooked Coast Amber Ale to bring the number of their bottled products to seven.

I was lucky enough to score some bottles from the brewery recently and I had the Driftwood Ale while watching Crosby destroy the Capitals.

Driftwood Ale
650ml Bottle
5% alcohol

The label on the 650ml bottle of the session beer is attractive, simplistic, yet attractive, paying homage to the West coast. The poured product is just as attractive. A very clear, almost completely transparent pour that produced a nice fluffy layer of head. The nose is full of sweet fruits, tangy sharp hops, and a medley of freshly picked flowers. The bottle states the German and Northwest hops in the ale are balanced with cotton candy malt notes, and I find myself trying to search for it, but after a quick shake I’m back to fresh flowers and hops. Sweet on the tongue with a sharp bitterness in the follow through, which eventually subsides with each following drink. I want more. It’s light to medium bodied that is nicely balanced and ends with a nice dry finish. This beer would definitely earn a spot in my fridge should I ever come to live in Victoria. The Driftwood Ale is a beer that was brewed for people like us, but any newbie could drink it, and enjoy it. You know, more than one.

A terrific beer - one that you need to try.

Click here to see where you can find some in BC.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ontario MPP'S Choose OCB Beers for 2009-10

Last year I posted the news about the Hon. Steve Peters, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, who introduced his colleagues to Ontario craft beer, and who made it policy to start making them available at Queen's Park. Peters, with help from the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), organized a formal tasting for fellow MPP's who then voted on their favourites in six different categories, with the Speaker choosing a seventh one himself titled Speaker's Selection. The winning beers would be available at Queen's Park for one calendar year, exposing the brands to a new audience.

Peters was recognized at last years Golden Tap Awards (hosted by Bar Towel) for his hard work and it seems the idea caught on, as MPP's have once again selected a number of craft beers to stock at Queen's Park. Here is the press release that I received today thanks to the OCB.


Seven new low carbon footprint varieties chosen as “official beers” of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly

(May 13, 2009) – On Monday, May 11th, Ontario MPPs voted in the most popular representatives of Ontario’s Craft Brewing industry during a popular tasting event hosted by Hon. Steve Peters, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

MPPs and Queen’s Park staffers sniffed, swirled and sipped from a selection of 59 of Ontario’s finest craft beers and cast their votes in favour of the craft beers to be highlighted at the Legislative Assembly for 2009-2010.

The new beers, to be highlighted in the main Legislative Dining Room and at other Queen’s Park events, are brewed in local communities throughout the province, including: The Greater Toronto Region, Barrie, Burlington, Cambridge, Carlton Place, Guelph, Muskoka, Neustadt, Oakville, St. Thomas and Tiverton.

“Ontario Craft Brewers have created a thriving and innovative small brewing industry in our province,” says Speaker Peters. “We are very proud to support the industry’s ongoing growth by serving these world-class, locally-produced products in our Legislature.”

This is the second year the Speaker has hosted the exclusive tasting event, part of his ongoing initiative to showcase Ontario products in the Legislature. The tasting event consisted of 59 beers from 17 Ontario Craft Breweries. Tasters cast ballots to choose their favourite varieties in six categories, a seventh category the “Speaker’s Selection” was to be chosen by the Speaker himself. (See below for full results).

“Ontario Craft Brewing is a local success story that can be attributed to the dedication of our industry entrepreneurs, government support and an increasingly sophisticated consumer,” says Gary McMullen, Chair of Ontario Craft Brewers and President of Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery. “Throughout the last three decades, Ontario Craft Brewers have been brewing quality beer, creating jobs in their communities and developing a commercially viable industry in the face of major national and international competition.”

The winning Ontario Craft Beer brands were selected in the following categories:

Golden Lagers, Pilsners & Light: Great Lakes Brewery – Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager

Refreshing Ales: MacLean’s Ales – MacLean’s Pale Ale

Amber Lagers, Ales & Honey Beers: Old Credit Brewing Co. Ltd. – Old Credit Amber Ale

Malty Dark Lager or Ale: Railway City Brewing – Amber Ale

Bold Flavoured Ale, Stout or Porter: Black Oak Brewing Company – Black Oak Nut Brown Ale

Wheat Beer & Specialty: Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery – Muskoka Hefe Weissbier

Speaker’s Selection: Mill Street Brewery – Mill Street Tankhouse

*Picture taken at last years event

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Halifax: Day 3 - A Visit to RockBottom

You can imagine how we all felt Sunday morning: awful. It was going to be a long day. After managing to awake, we checked out of the Four Points and made our way to the Henry House to meet some old friends for brunch.

As I mentioned earlier, the Henry House makes some great food for terrific prices, and brunch is no different. As hungover as we felt, we ordered some food and watched in horror as our Halifax friends ordered pints of McAuslan Pale and Propeller IPA to help wash down their food. I looked around the Henry House just before leaving and found myself already missing it. It has a calming quality to it, providing you with the comfortableness all pubs should attain to possess. Troubled thoughts and hardships seem to disappear the minute you step foot on the staircase that leads you to the downstairs pub, and a feeling of a serendipity takes hold of you. It truly is a magnificent pub.

Back into the sunlight and off to Garrison for some merchandise. Enright and Kebbel picked up some shirts and wearables, while I stuck to some Ol' Fog Burner Barley Wine. Titus provided us with some terrific pint glasses that have the Imperial Pale Ale logo, along with the 2007 & 2008 Canadian Beer of the Year medals logo, etched on them.

With some hours to kill before our flight we decided to head up Spring Garden road to try out the beers from the new RockBottom Brewery. The new bar is located beneath Your Father's Moustache, right on Spring Garden, and not far from Rogue's Roost. Word of warning - looking for a good craft beer from a brewpub? Stick to the Roost.

It is a very attractive place once you enter. New leather chairs, fake wooden beams running from end to end, a large stone encased fireplace surrounded by chairs, large windows looking out into the brewing (fermenting) area, and a nice long bar with an attractive looking draught system that features no tap handles, just buttons that pour the beer to the desired amount. This is all good, and should attract customers looking for a nice restaurant, but it's not a repeat visit for a craft beer enthusiast. And here's why.

We wanted to try all the beers the Rock Bottom serves up, so we each ordered the sample paddle. Six beers came to our table 15 minutes later: Brown Ale, Stout, Red Amber Ale, Wheat, IPA, and a Pale Ale. They all tasted eerily similar, tart and sweet, flat and watery. The IPA was dull and weak. Most Pilsners have more of a hop bite to them then this one. The Wheat, well, it could have been passed off as a Cider. So tart. Apples and lemon in the mouth gave me the old fish face look. Our server came over to the table to clear the paddles and asked us what we thought of the beers. I think she guessed by our blank expressions that we weren't to fond of them so she actually stated that only two of the beers were fresh and the rest have been around since the first batch - December!

The server also let us know that the beer comes from the Gahan House in PEI, but she thought some others were brewed on site. When asked if all the product came here to ferment, she didn't know, but that is what we expect and that is what we had heard from some other Halifax residents. So, the RockBottom is a ferment pub, not a microbrewery.

Up the stairs and off to the airport for our flight back to Toronto. It was a great visit filled with many a good beer. Thanks to Garrison for taking us out around the town. Thanks to Andrew Cooper and Propeller for supplying us with enough drinks for a month and for getting us into the Seahorse. Big thanks to the folks at the Four Points who took care of us and supplied us with some tasty treats. Thanks to the Bill and Donna from the Henry House, and thanks to the the rest of the pubs who took us in and kept our glasses full.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Halifax - Day 2: Off to Propeller

Andrew Cooper is one of the many born and raised Ontarians who have moved to the East Coast for change of scenery, and is he ever glad he decided to settle in Halifax. Since moving over from Cobourg 4 or so years ago Cooper has climbed the ladder at Propeller, and is now settling into his current position in sales. He started off driving the delivery van, hauling and swinging kegs around town. Then he moved into the retail store and helped out in the brewhouse, essentially doing every job that the brewery needed to be done. Hard work and patience paid off and now he covers the whole Halifax region for Propeller, selling their product to the many fine pubs and bars in the downtown core.

I met Cooper only once when I was living in Halifax, but we frequently email each other when they release a new beer or if there is something new in the works at the brewery. When we made the decision to head to Halifax I contacted Cooper to see if we could get into Propeller for some sampling. Which brings me to Saturday afternoon.

We all woke up with sore heads on Saturday morning, but a greasy breakfast still called our names. After getting some food in us, we headed up the hill to Halifax's oldest craft brewery, Propeller, for a meet and greet with Cooper, and to sample their new Hefeweizen. We arrived right at 12 noon and took our seats in the event room, where tall glasses of the wheat beer was waiting for us. Cooper let it be known that we were in for a good afternoon, offering to pour us samples of all their product and give us a tour of the recently expanded brewery.

As mentioned, we started of with the new seasonal Hefeweizen, which was excellent. Milkshake appearance with a large fluffy meringue like head, with a lot of clove and banana notes on the nose. Clove, bubblegum, and lemony wheat tartness on the tongue, along with a bready yeast profile, nicely carbonated and thirst quenching. The beer weighs in at 5.3% and is available in bottles at select private liquor stores and at the brewery's retail store.

We moved on and sampled the Extra Special Bitter (coming to Ontario soon!), Pilsener (which is now brewed and bottled year round), Honey Wheat (which is back in rotation, slightly altered), London Porter (one of Canada's best), Pale Ale, and their IPA, my personal favourite. We sat and chatted for hours, sampling the whole time. We did go for that brewery tour, with sample glasses, and it was neat seeing the differences between Garrison's brewhouse and Propeller's.

Once the clock hit 5pm, we knew it was time for some food, so Wooden Monkey it was. The Monkey is an all local restaurant with all local beers on tap, plus a gluten free beer called Glutaner that caught my fiancee's attention. It was at the Wooden Monkey that a good source (terrific one actually) informed us that Keith's White is not a white beer, in the Belgian sense. So there you have it.

From here we went to the Lower Deck to catch some local bands. The Lower Deck is probably the most well-known pub in all of Canada. Going to Halifax? Head to the Deck. After drinking a bunch of IPA for two straight days, the Bud Light never went down so easy. But it has its limits. So back out onto the streets and off to the Seahorse Tavern where Cooper was waiting with VIP tickets to see a CD launch concert put on by The Divorcees, a well known hardcore Country group. There was Propeller IPA on draught, so we lubricated ourselves in the hop goodness for hours.

And to end the night, we headed to Maxwell's Plum again because we wanted to get some Pump House brews, and an 80oz dispenser of Special Old Bitter (SOB) was dropped on our table.

Day three to come - RockBottom Brewery (??).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Ecclestone

Birthday wishes go out to my good drinking buddy and talented home brewer, Eric Ecclestone. Eric is one of the two Biergotter's who are well known for their excellent creations, and they recently won a number of medals at the NHC Canadian Regional Qualifier/ALES Open homebrew competition in Saskatchewan. Ecclestone turns 25 today.

Day 1 Continued.....

After we finished up with the tour and the samples at Garrison, the group of us piled into Johns jeep and headed to Maxwell's Plum for Garrison's weekly Firkin Friday. On the way Titus let it be known that he wanted Enright to tap the cask to officially kick things off. It wasn't even five minutes after we arrived that we had a fresh pint of Twisted Wheat, this week's feature, after Enright hammered in the tap in one swift motion.

The beer was nice and thirst quenching, a wheat base infused with a generous amount of lime. No, it didn't taste like Bud Light, so let's not compare the two. We took our positions beside the cask and stayed there talking to Halifax beer lovers for a good hour and a half. You can imagine how many pints we had. It was a pleasure meeting Bobby, who's handle on Bar Towel/Beer Advocate is Bobbyok. We lived in the same city for a year and never had the opportunity to meet, so it was nice to finally put his face to his name.

We did our best to put a dent in the cask before heading off to a new pub a block or so away - Durty Neily's, where Garrison is the only micro on tap. The pub was put together by the Irish Pub Co. so you can imagine what it looks like. Think Prime Pubs etc. We sat up at the bar and had some pints of Garrison Irish Red and shared some Ontario stories with the owner of the pub, who mentioned it was a pretty penny to open up.

Enright, Kebbel, and I were feeling pretty good at this point, and Titus had to get going, so we decided it was time to go and get some dinner. Rogue's Roost was the chosen establishment for more drinks and food, so we made the small hike to the brewpub on Spring Garden. It was a busy night so we were forced to sit up at the bar. We ordered some flights of all their beers (samples), which from what I can remember, contained an IPA, Raspberry, Black Lager, Stout, and a Red Amber. The IPA was very hop forward and nicely balanced, but the favourite went to the Black Lager, which had a lot of smoke in the nose and mouth.

By this point in the night we decided that we had been drinking straight since 1pm so back to the hotel we headed to have a beer at the hotel. Thanks to the Four Points we had a couple to choose from, from the gift bag they provided us. Enright picked out the Sea Level Planters Pale Ale and poured us a glass. Not very nice. Steamed vegetables in the nose, mouth, finish. To be fair though, this was the last of the many many beers we had over the course of the day, so a bottle will be coming home with me for a second try.

More to come tonight on how we spent day 2.

Friday, May 8, 2009

In Halifax....

We made it to Halifax!  Our Westjet flight took less than 2 hours to get us to our destination and there was a lot of beer waiting for us at the Garrison Brewery.  

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cass Enright and Chris Kebbel (who are importing Garrison into Ontario for private orders), my fiance and I, decided to come to Halifax for the weekend to hang out with the crew from Garrison, sample all their product, visit a number of their key accounts, and hit the other beer hot-spots in the city.  

We were greeted by Garrison's sales manager, Todd Johns, when we stepped off the plane and were whisked right to our hotel (Four Points by Sheraton -  a fantastic hotel right near the harbour) where we checked in, and were surprised with a gift bag courtesy of Four Points that was filled with some beer from Propeller and Sea Level Brewing!  

After putting the beers in the fridge for later we headed to the Garrison Brewery where owner, Brian Titus, was waiting for us with samples of their Sugar Moon Maple.  An excellent beer.  The initial taste was full of fresh maple syrup.  I thought it may have been a little bit over the top, but the second and third drinks the maple syrup was less dominate and it turned out quite nice indeed.  

By this time we were a bit hungry, so the first place we had to visit was the Henry House.  My personal favourite.  Bill and Donna Alsop, the owners, were there and we had a great time catching up.  The Best Bitter Special from the Granite was pleasant as usual and the food was terrific.  We sat around the table and discussed the importation of the Garrison beers to Ontario (Enright took a picture of the pallet waiting to be shipped), talked about the Ontario and Nova Scotia brewing industry, and we had a long talk about the Free Our Beer website that Enright is working on.  Speaking of the Free Our Beer website, Enright managed to write three separate articles while in mid-flight, so head there to read about the latest FOB updates.

Back to Garrison where more samples of the rest of the line-up awaited us.  Imperial Pale Ale, Nut Brown, Irish Red, Ol' Fog Burner Barley Wine, and more.  The Barley Wine was excellent.  More of it later.  We toured the brewery as Titus filled Enright and Kebbel in on the history behind Garrison and had more samples before heading to Maxwell's Plum for Firkin Friday.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blast, but my head hurts to much to continue writing, so more to come later.  I'm off to get a coffee.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why You Should Head to Volo Friday

If I wasn't going to be in Halifax this Friday I would be heading straight to Volo after work.

Ralph and co. have announced that they will be tapping a number of new (to Volo) beers tomorrow, starting with Beau's Beaver River I.P. Eh?. The beer has been receiving many good reviews over at Bar Towel and on Friday citizens of Toronto will be able to try it for the first time.

Volo is also planning on tapping a collaboration brew by the name 'Doug's Stout', concocted by Church Key's John Graham and St. Andre's Doug Pengally. A collaboration brew in Ontario? Could this be the start of a trend that has been taking shape in the US and elsewhere in the craft brewing industry? Let's hope so.

Also being tapped - Fuller's Chiswick Bitter, which is a beautiful session beer (imho), and Mike Duggan Number 9 IPA on Cask.

What a great way to kick off the weekend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ontario: "Lowest Price for Beer in Canada" - Minister

Back in the summer when the Toronto Star was running their three part series on the Beer Store, I wrote a lengthy letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty inquiring about the way in which beer is distributed, and sold in this province.

A month or two later I received a short paragraph from the Premier's office stating that Ontarians have many outlets in which to purchase beer. The paragraph went on to talk about wine and how easy it is for an Ontario citizen to purchase the beverage, especially since there are wine stores in grocery stores. I was shocked. Nowhere in my 2 1/2 page letter did I mention wine. I responded to their answer, and two months after that I received another short answer, however the paragraph did mention that my correspondence would be forwarded to the Minister of Finance for his office to prepare an official response.

Well low and behold, I got a response. It only took six months. But the letter I received was just as jaw dropping as the first one. **Click the image to read the full letter.**

There are some sentences that are just flat out frustrating to read as a strong supporter of local craft beer, and I'm sure the Minister would have a different stance if speaking directly with the brewers themselves. Here are some of those lines.
I would also note that Ontarians still enjoy the lowest prices for beer across Canada
Seriously? Where did his office get that information from? I can understand their positioning based on the price of imports brought into the LCBO, but you can drive over to Quebec and pay significantly less for beer, I thought everyone knew that. You can buy certain beers cheaper in Alberta than you can in Ontario, at privately run liquor establishments. You can purchase a six pack of Big Rock Grasshopper in Manitoba for $9.69, yet the TBS sells it for $12.55. I really have to scratch my head with that sentence.
Ontario's system also provides fair access to suppliers. The Beer Store is open to any brewer that wishes to list a product with them.
Do I really need to post my thoughts on these two sentences? Fair access to suppliers? Sure, if they can afford it. Talk to most craft brewers in this province and they'll say that they all wish they could be in the Beer Store, they just can't afford it. Molson-Coors, AB/InBev, and Sapporo dictate prices to the small breweries and only then, if those prices are met, can the small players have fair access. And even if they get listed at their preferred stores, how hard it must be to compete with the Beer Store owners with all their splashy floor displays, and top ten boards, and weekly discounts and package prices. Fair access?

Together, there are over 1200 points of sale for at-home beverage alcohol consumption.
This was really the point of my original letter. Yes, there are 1200 or so locations to purchase beer for take home in this province, but break em' up into the LCBO and the Beer Store and you get two players - same point of sale in each city, town, village... And each location does not represent what the beer drinker wishes for. Ask those living in the Ottawa area if they're satisfied with their local LCBO or Beer Store offerings compared to beer drinkers here in Toronto. I know the answer, you know the answer, but here we are, still stuck in the same argument, with the same people.

My 2nd letter (not the original) questioned why this province grants licences to the Wine Rack stores to open in brand new grocery outlets, or in developing neighbourhoods (a new one opened on Queen East a couple months back), and the question was never answered. It wasn't even touched on. I talked to one politician after sending the letters and I was told that all those wine retail stores have been granted a 'grandfather' status - if one closes, another can open. I don't know where they're all coming from, or closing for that matter, but I'm seeing more and more of them spring up. The question of why there can't be stores like this focusing strictly on selling local craft beer, or imports, was completely ignored.

The socially responsible line came up again and I'm not even going to get into that. I don't care how many people the LCBO challenged, it's just a button they push on their tills. I know, I've done it. Any retail outlet could do that, and refuse service, so it's a moot point to me.

Anyways, we'll keep trying to obtain answers. I'll keep writing letters and submitting FOI's, and one day, we may just notice a change.

What's your take on the letter? Leave some comments for me to forward along in my response to the Minister.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mondial de la Biere - Beer List

I'm still up in the air about attending this years edition of Mondial de la Biere. It's not that I don't want to go, it's that I have a wedding to appear at on the Saturday, and a wedding of my own to continue planning. I have yet to make it Montreal for the storied beer festival, and thinking about missing out on the beers that will be available this year is making my stomach curl.

The festival organizers released the extensive list of vendors that will be pouring their product into the glasses of thirsty attendees, and my - does it look fantastic. There are also a number of local Ontario craft breweries that will be heading to Windsor station to set up shop: Beau's, Wellington, Mill Street, Cameron's, Great Lakes, Neustadt, and Black Oak. They will be joining many terrific Quebec breweries like Dieu du Ciel, Hopfenstark, Microbrasserie du Lievre and more, along with a slue of Japanese, US, and Danish craft breweries.

The festival runs from Wednesday June 3rd to Sunday June 7th and admission is free. Tasting coupons will cost $1 each, however, the cost of one tasting can run from 1 to 5 coupons (for most beers). The souvenir glass provided can hold up to 8 oz, but most breweries will be serving 3-4 ounces (unless you fork over more coupons).

Check out the three page vendor list by clicking here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kiuchi Hitachino Nest Beer Heading to Ontario

The Roland and Russell Import Agency sent me some interesting news last week about a new brewery they'll be representing here in Ontario: Japan's Kiuchi Brewery.

The brewery was established in 1832 producing sake; however, in 1996 the brewery started brewing beer under the brand name Hitachino Nest. They produce 9 year round ales and 1 non-alcoholic beer, and some are currently available for purchase in the U.S. Their lineup covers numerous styles that include: Weizen, Belgian White, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Sweet Stout, Celebration 2005, Japanese Classic, Red Rice Ale, and XH, and the 1 non-alcoholic beer. Their website also states that the Belgian style White Ale has won two gold medals at the prestigious World Beer Cup in 2000 and 2004. Each bottle comes with an attractive label featuring an owl, helping their product stand out on store shelves both in Japan and in the U.S.

So, what will R & R be bringing into the province? They state that the Red Rice Ale will be coming for sure, most likely on private order only, and they are considering at least one other brand that has yet to be decided. The tasting notes for the Red Rice Ale, as they appear on the Kiuchi website, state that there are Complex sake like flavors with malt sweet notes. Hints of strawberries in the nose and palate. An intriguing mix of sake, malt , and bitter notes in the finish. The beer weighs in at 7.0%, contains Hallertauer hops, and features 11 IBU's.

There is no word on when the first order will be announced, but look for information on Bar Towel when it's released, or head over to R & R's website to obtain their contact information.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Keith's White - Brewed to Tradition???

I was my local LCBO the other night and I came across the new cans of Alexander Keith's White Ale and I decided to scoop one up to try; even after reading Greg Clow's review of it on his TasteTO website. And he ended up pouring it down the drain.

Cracked the can just before dinner and poured it into the attractive Erdinger Weissbier glass and watched the head billow up before quickly, and I mean quickly, fade away back into the glass. It lasted about a minute or so. There is not much in the way of the nose. All I really picked up was a hint of straw, some very slight spices, and a hint of orange juice. The taste of the first drink didn't surprise me, I wasn't expecting much, but this doesn't taste like a Belgian White at all. It tastes like their Traditional Lager with a handful of spice and some orange juice extract thrown in the boil at the last minute. Not much in the way of carbonation, sweet up front and lame on the finish, no real inclusion of coriander. I didn't dump it down the drain, I was tempted, but I didn't enjoy finishing it. And like Clow, I too found it to be a bad example of the style.

There was one thing about the can that caught my attention though - the Stag's Head. It's a new version of the Stag's Head, a new sleeker, angrier looking Stag Head that shifts away from the traditional logo used by Keith's that has withstood significant changes for literally one hundred years. Out with the old, in with the new, I guess.

Friday, May 1, 2009

LCBO Summer Seasonal Release

The LCBO has finalized their 2009 Summer Seasonal Beer Release and it welcomes a handful of new beers into the LCBO system, complimenting a number of familiar brands. Please note that the prices are not final. It should also be noted that this list does not mention the new additions to the general listing that will be announced shortly. *Links to come*

LCBO#/Product Name/Size/Country/Retail (approximate)

73718 Edelweiss Snowfresh White Wessbier 330 ml Austria $2.05

74500 Ephemere Pomme (Apple) 750 ml Quebec, Canada $5.50

75291 Weihenstephaner Hefewessbier 500 ml Germany $3.05

76497 Samuel Adams Summer Ale 6x355 ml USA $13.45

615633 Great Lakes Orange Peel 650 ml Ontario, Canada $4.95

676346 Chapeau Exotic Lambic 250 ml Belgium $2.40

697649 Deuchars IPA 500 ml UK $3.40

119982 Het Anker's Margriet/Anker Blond 330 ml Belgium $2.70

119362 Southern Tier Raspberry Wheat 355 ml United States $2.10

118091 Lancaster Bomber Ale 500 ml UK $3.35

696955 Christoffel Bier 330 ml Netherlands $2.80

119990 Wittekerke Rosé 250 ml Belgium $2.40

698522 Hopback Summer Lightening 500 ml UK $3.45

479154 Floris Ninkeberry 330 ml Belgium $2.95

An Insiders Take on the Craft Brewers Conference

My pal, John Bowden of the Great Lakes Brewery, was over in Boston for the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference and he has graciously provided us with his take on what transpired. This was the year I was supposed to attend, but it wasn't meant to be, so here I am enjoying the conference vicariously through Bowden's story.

When I tell people I was at a conference last week, I don’t get much sympathy. Especially when I tell them it was the annual Craft Brewers Conference, which consists of jam-packed days of tours, seminars, brewery receptions, and the like. And then I tell them it was in Boston, one of the greatest cities in the US. Sounds like a pretty tough week, but someone’s gotta do it.

The first day was all about brewery tours, so we jumped on the bus headed up the coast, finding familiar faces in Paul from the Pepperwood and Chris from the Rhino. Our tour made stops at Cape Ann Brewing Company (apparently a scenic little town but all we saw was fog and rain), Smuttynose, Redhook and Portsmouth. Cape Ann had the cool coastal vibe going on, with a funky retail store/bar. These guys are also doing a beer brewed with tea, a barleywine called Tea Party (great name), so it’s quite a bit different than our Green Tea Ale.

Smuttynose is also doing some really great stuff...a really broad range of beers, including an awesome maibock and hopfen-weisse. This place reminded us of Great Lakes – definitely a growing brewery with a lot of equipment sourced from all over the place. But their bottling line must have been from the 60s I swear. The Smuttynose guys sent us on our way with cold beers in hand...anytime you can drink on a bus at noon means it’ll be a long day...

Redhook was, well, massive. Beautiful, new, all the bells and whistles. Definitely a showcase brewery. I can’t imagine being that large...they’re brewing around the clock. The view of their keg room reminded me of that final shot in Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. Crazy stuff.

Our last stop was Portsmouth, a really cool brewpub affiliated with Smuttynose. I was fortunate to try their famous Kate the Great Imperial Stout...apparently people line up for hours for this bad boy when it’s released once a year. I don’t remember much about it except that it was big, bold, and black.

We headed back to Boston, and to the welcome reception at Harpoon, which is roughly the same size as Redhook (over 100,000 barrels/annually). It’s truly amazing to see breweries this size making some pretty intense beers. This place didn’t blow me away the same way Stone did a year ago (what other brewery has acres of gardens and a hop fridge three times the size of my office?) but it was still pretty cool.

We finished the night at a great bar called the Other Side in the Back Bay area of the city. I have no idea how that place crammed in so many brewers in, but it was packed. I had a chance to speak with Sam Calagione from Dogfish, and had a couple glasses of the 120 Minute IPA. It was like liquid hops. Amazing. Who knew it was 18%? I strongly recommend limiting yourself to one. I couldn’t touch another hoppy beer for 2 days. Ever heard of hop belly? I had, but this was the first time I experienced it. Not fun.

The rest of the days were filled with seminars, varying from oak aging to blogging to hop aromas to new stats on craft beer. There are generally five seminars per hour, so it’s always tough to choose which one to attend. It’s all the more difficult with the tradeshow going on, with suppliers selling every imaginable beer related item or service you can imagine.

The only regret I have is that we skipped the reception at Samuel Adams to catch a Bosox game. Not that Fenway wasn’t worth it (it makes you wonder why we ever built the super lame SkyDome) but to have seen the largest craft brewery in the US and chow down on free lobster would have been memorable.

There ended up being quite the Ontario contingent, including Michael from Denison’s, Ralph and his wife from Volo, the Beau’s team, beer guru Bill White, and of course George from F&M. There were also a few guys from the GTA looking to get into the industry, so it’ll be interesting to track their progress. We missed the guys from Cameron’s and John from Church Key this year, so hopefully we’ll get an even bigger showing in Chicago next year.

The conference also marked the first showing of the awesome video on what it means to be a craft brewer...check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

from on .

*Pic (from Left to right) Bottom: Papa Beau (Beau's), Peter Bulut Jr. (Great Lakes), Bowden (Great Lakes), Matt 0'Hara (Beau's), Bill White Top: (Right to Left) Ralph Morana (Volo), Annetta Jewell (Great Lakes), Paul Dickey (Cheshire, Pepperwood), Steve (Beau's)
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