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.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Meet Richard Mclelland From Scotland's BrewDog Brewery

Roland and Russell have let me know that they are currently working with BrewDog and Meantime (another UK brewery they represent in Ontario) to bring them to the GTA for a one night event, slated for something in early spring. "We're looking at doing something similar to the Danish beer dinner we put together in April, and right now we're looking into locations and possible dates," stated Vlado Pavicic.

Pavicic also let me know that the Punk IPA should be in LCBO stores anytime now, retailing at $2.60 a bottle, so keep an eye out for it.


This young Scottish brewery has been getting a lot of press since they opened back in 2007. Some of it good, some of it bad. Some of it their own doing, some of it not. Through it all James Watt and Martin Dickie have continued to plough away, getting their products into the hands of beer drinkers all over the world, and their Punk IPA was chosen by the LCBO to be included in this years winter seasonal program.

In Ontario, BrewDog are represented by the Roland and Russell Import Agency who kindly provided me with some samples last year, which included the IPA and their amazing Paradox. The boys at BrewDog have been in the news again, this time for introducing their newest beer: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, currently billed as the strongest beer (32% abv) in the world. Watt, who has been extremely busy with this launch, and on his way to the US, put me in touch with BrewDog's rock and roll Sales and Marketing Manager Richard Mclelland, to answer some questions I had for them about what having the IPA available for sale in Ontario means to them, the future goals that BrewDog has for Canada, and their thoughts on coming here for a function in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Richard Mclelland.

How long has BrewDog been around?
Two years. Just young pups really, but very boisterous,

How many beers are currently in your portfolio?
Too many. We will be consolidating the range in 2010 back to about 6 core brews and we will also bring focus to the format that we sell these beers in. For example Trashy Blonde and 5am Saint will be core to our cask proposal while 77 Lager will no longer feature as a cask option but will rather be pushed as the Craft Keg option from our range. Moreover we have an initiative to introduce Punk IPA as a 2/3rd pint serve when it becomes legal. This will be the standardised serve for this product. We want the beer to be served and enjoyed at its best.

Your marketing techniques are impressive. How do you come up with
some of them?

The beauty of working with BrewDog is that the creative process is more like being in a band than a boardroom. There are no brainstorming sessions or breakout rooms. Everyone we employ - from packers through brewers to our logistical experts are all amazingly creative and imaginative people and the process is an ongoing collective lead by James and Martin. They kind of lay down the gauntlet of what they expect and that the rules are there are no rules. That type of freedom allows us to go beyond the usual confines of the traditional marketing strategy. We brew the beer we want to make and we tell the stories that we would want to hear and people seem to enjoy and relate to both.

How excited were you to hear that the LCBO (one of the world's largest purchasers of alcohol) agreed to bring in the Punk IPA for its current seasonal release?
This is another great milestone in the company's history and we are delighted to do business with the LCBO. It is always our aspiration to do business with the biggest and the best and this keeps us at the top of our games because organisations like this have very exacting standards.

Roland and Russell have a great reputation here in Ontario. How has working with them been for BrewDog?
We only ever do business with people that we respect and that we genuinely enjoy having a beer with - oh and people that can take us where we want to go. We share a vision and a methodology so we are glad to be on board.

Do you have any plans to enter other Canadian provinces like Quebec or British Columbia?
We want to take our beer to every corner of the globe and beyond. We genuinely believe that the enjoyment of great Craft Beer and being involved in the movement can make the world a better place. I never meet anyone in our business who seems like an asshole. There is something about the process of brewing, of being that close to the alchemy of life that humbles you and makes you appreciate the simple aspects of just getting on with things. Most of the world's problems are created by us (humans) and if we spent more time creating beautiful works of art, amazing music and great beer and less time creating issues that don't need to exist then we would all be in a better state.

Toronto has some terrific beer bars that have held a number of events with other high profile breweries. Have you looked into doing something like this in Ontario?
This is in the plan and we can't wait. This is always when we are happiest - sharing our beer with people from different countries. We love to travel and spread the word and get feedback direct from beer lovers.

You've been getting a lot of press in the UK lately. Some good, some bad. How have you handled all the extra attention?
We just get on with making the best beer we can. We are pretty thick skinned and 100% assured of what we are trying to achieve. We don't let the compliments go to our head and we don't let the negative and ill informed feedback distract us from the ultimate goal. If you are given attention then you have to use it wisely and we have been fortunate enough to turn that attention into a global platform to introduce our beer and philosophy to a wider audience.

What's up with the ? Why the hate on for BrewDog?
If they want to stay in a job they have to find someone to target and unfortunately/ fortunately we create headlines that they can react to. The real shame is that they never seem to think through their actions or consider the consequences of wasting time and money on Artisan producers such as ourselves. This is a classic example of the School Bully finally getting their comeuppance when they pick on the wrong kid - the one that is smarter, stronger and willing to stand its ground. They have clearly bitten off more than they can chew with BrewDog. This is all notwithstanding the fact that they are funded by the big conglomerates that we are stealing market share from at an ever increasing rate.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin! 32%abv. World's Strongest beer. Any chance of some bottles making an appearance here?
We try to get some of all our specialist launches to every country. I am sure this will make an appearance at our first tasting event at one of your fine Craft Beer bars.

What's next for BrewDog? How close are you to raising the $2.3 million for Equity for Punks campaign?
Next year is all about consolidating our position to secure manageable growth in our existing market places. We will continue to innovate both in our brewing and our marketing and one way or another we will have our Green Brewery up and running within the next couple of years. This will increase capacity 10 fold and allow us to really start playing in the Canadian market place. The share options have been going well and they continue to sell with a real rush being experienced in the run up to Christmas - the gang just keeps getting bigger.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Morning Glory Breakfast Stout and a Brown Ale - Brewing @ Great Lakes

Whenever I have the opportunity to take part in brewing some beer I never pass it up. Earlier in the week I was presented with the chance to head to the Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke to help brew up some beers with John Bowden and Mike Lackey, two Great Lakes employees. Yesterday I was at the brewery playing around with the pilot system and we brewed up some Morning Glory Breakfast Stout and a Brown Ale.

10am - Arrived at the brewery just as the Morning Glory was being mashed. We started putting together the ingredients for the Brown Ale while the stout was going through the mashing process; grinding the malt and measuring the hop pellets. After the mash (1hr) the heat is increased to reach the ideal temperature before the 15 minute Volauf process.

11:30 - Sparging takes place. 38L of water is added as the wort is transferred to the kettle for an 80-minute boil. Amarillo and Golding hops are used in the Morning Glory, along with Birds and Beans Brazilian coffee, cocoa, Irish moss, and dark bakers chocolate, which are all added at various times throughout the 80 minutes. Now it's time to clean up and get started on measuring the hops for the Brown Ale while we wait on the Morning Glory to finish before pitching the yeast.

Great Lakes have really taken advantage of this pilot system, and it's great to be a part of it, even for just one day. Since setting up the system in early July of this year, Great Lakes has been producing a number of one-off beers that they showcase at their monthly Project 'X' nights. Morning Glory Breakfast Stout, Redneck IPA, Stein Paper Scissors, Superior IPA, My Bitter Wife IPA, Skinny Dip Saison Weiss and many more, are just some of the creations the guys at Great Lakes have whipped up. The Great Lakes Caskapalooza tent was the place to be this year at the Toronto Festival of Beer as the brewery produced 21 casks for the three-day event, much to the surprise of Toronto beer drinkers. Because of these beers Great Lakes is receiving a bunch of positive attention from beer drinkers, media, and other breweries, as this type of experimentation hasn't really been played on in Ontario.

The brewery recently received some good news regarding the Morning Glory as Bowden, who put together the recipe, was notified that it finished second in the overall voting at this years Cask Days festival at Volo. “Pretty cool to hear, and great to hear that people really liked it.”

12:19 - The wort is now boiling away and the first dose of Amarillo hops have been thrown in the kettle. Beer time – a bottle of the recently released Christmas Ale.

12:37 – The second dose of hops get thrown in as the beer boils away. The smell coming from the kettle is awesome. Chocolate malts, toasted oats, and the delicious aroma of the hops. The mash tun has been cleaned out and we’re going to wait an hour or so before starting the mashing of the Brown Ale. Throughout the boil the other ingredients get added and the smell gets even better.

1:22 – We begin the mashing of the Brown Ale, another recipe Bowden put together, just last night. Jon Graham from Cameron’s Brewing Co. just showed up, and he brought some beers with him. Graham has actually brewed with Bowden before, producing a Barley Wine that is currently maturing.

1:37 – The Morning Glory is done boiling. Now it’s time for the whirlpool before running it through the heat exchanger. From there it goes into the fermenting tank where we’ll pitch the yeast. Bowden draws some to get the final gravity.

We’re all just standing around and having a couple of beers while we wait for the next step in the mashing of the Brown Ale, which features both American and English hops.

2:20 – The stout now sits in the fermenter with the yeast, which is, at this moment, eating away at the starch to create alcohol. The target is to hit 6% abv and the final reading indicates that it will be somewhere around that. Now, time to clean out the kettle as it's almost time to transfer the wort of the Brown Ale.

2:50 – The sparging is taking place and the transfer of the wort to the kettle is underway. The colour, something Bowden was worrying about, looks good, better than he expected. We are using Northern Brewer and Goldings hops in the Brown Ale.

Like any beer you help brew I’m really looking forward to trying this once it’s done, likely in a month’s time.

3:30 – Boiling. The Brown Ale is now boiling, and will be for the next 60 minutes. The hops will be added during this time, but I won’t be here to throw them in. I have to head off to the Barley Wine tasting I mentioned (in yesterdays post). It has been a great day; an educational day filled with a bunch of good beer and good times.

I’ll be sure to post when the beers will be ready for public consumption, but FYI, the Brown Ale was given the name Skid Mark Brown and it could be available at a Future Project 'X'.

Pic #1 - Great Lakes employee, Mike Lackey
Pic #2 - The spent grains from the Morning Glory
Pic #3 - Me giving the wort a stir

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Brew Day at Great Lakes

Before a big night of Barley Wine tasting, I'm here at the Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke helping brew a couple of beers: Morning Glory Breakfast Stout and a Brown Ale. I've been here since 10am and the brewhouse smells terrific as we work away on the stout at the moment. I'll be doing a full post later.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Halifax Microbrew Fest & Conference - Oct 2010

There are 329 days until the first ever Halifax Microbrew Fest and Conference, thanks to the countdown ticker on the website that went live today.

East Coast Event Management (ECEM), an event planning organization in Halifax, NS, recently announced their plans to host the first ever Halifax Microbrew Fest & Conference. It's slated to take place in Halifax at the World Trade and Convention Centre on October 22 and 23, 2010 with the hope of attracting brewers, brewery representatives, homebrewers, media, brewing supply businesses, and beer drinkers from all over Canada.

I spoke with Arielle Figov last week, who is one of the two Dalhousie University students who founded the ECEM and who are putting together the fest and conference, and she stated that she hopes to attract a large contingent of breweries from across Canada to the two day event. "We will be contacting small craft breweries across the country, along with brewpubs, industry suppliers, beer media, and homebrew clubs to hopefully get them interested in attending." "We are in the preliminary stages right now, but we anticipate there will be good response from the industry."

The two day event will be the first of its kind in Canada and will feature seminars led by key figures in the beer industry, tasting sessions, homebrewing displays, and much more. From the website: The Craft Brewery Conference will take place Friday October 22, 2010 from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. During this time, the Halifax Microbrew Fest will be open to members of the beer industry and consumers eager to learn about the industry. Attendees can expect presentations from speakers from all areas of the the brewing industry.

Figov also mentioned that there will be live music, food pairings supported by local pubs/restaurants, beer memorabilia for sale, poker lessons for beginners, and a homebrewer's taste competition. Sounds like they have something planned for everyone.

Anyone interested in being an exhibitor for the event should head to the website to take advantage of the early bird pricing.

Nick Pashley Book Signing

On Tuesday night the Granite Brewery, with the help of HarperCollins, hosted a celebratory party for the launch of Nick Pashley's newest book Cheers! An Intemperate History of Beer in Canada. The event kicked off at 6:30pm and before long there was a long line-up of people eager to buy Pashley's book, and to have him sign something clever on the inside cover.

There were upwards of 60 people in attendance, many recognizable from the beer crowds at events and festivals. After selling numerous boxes of books (including copies of his terrific recently revised Notes on a Beermat), signing each copy, and posing for pictures, Pashley headed to the podium to deliver a speech about the making of the book. I knew that there would be some humour worked into his address to the crowd and to everyone's benefit, he didn't disappoint.

"I was lurking in the bookstore watching my book to see if anyone would pick it up. Eventually two young men came along, flipped through it and said, 'Cover is great, book is crap.' If only the damn thing was shrink wrapped."

Pashley also discussed why he wrote this book on beer in Canada as he often gets asked this question during interviews. "I choose to write a book about the history of beer in Canada because I like beer and you should always pick a subject you know best," he stated. "I had a great time writing it. I'd get up in the morning and do my research until the pubs opened in the afternoon; the book literally wrote itself."

I haven't read through the entire book just yet, but so far so good. I can say that it has been a page turner since I picked it up and right now I'm catching up on the Prohibition era of the Canadian brewing history. W.C. Findlay eh?

Go buy the book here.

For those of you who missed the event, take note that Bar Volo will be hosting an event this Sunday - IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!: An Afternoon with Nick Pashley that will kick off at 12:00 and running till 10pm.

From Volo - Join Bar Volo this Sunday, November 29th between 12:00-10:00pm to Promote Nick Pashley's new book Cheers! An Intemperate History of Beer in Canada. Nick will be speaking about his book at 2:30pm. Nick is a great lover of craft beer and we encourage everyone to come out and listen to his fine words. Following the Canadian Beer theme, Volo will be launching several new bottle beers from across Canada that will be available from; Phillips, Alley Kat, Driftwood, Charlevoix, Trois Mousquetaires and Dieu Du Ciel! We will be extending our hours on Sunday for the Grey Cup which will be on t.v at the bar. Also the following beers will be available on Tap and Cask.


Beau’s/Beershack Tommy Gun Pale Ale
Black Oak Oaktoberfest
Church Key Red Ale
Denison’s Weissbier
Duggan’s Festbier
F&M Stonehammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout
Flying Monkey Netherworld Porter
Great Lakes Winter Ale
Mill St. Roggenbier
Niagara’s Best Spiced Apple Cider
Railway City Pullman Porter

Durham Hophead IPA
Black Oak Anniversary Ale: Ten Bitter Years

**Beers are subject to change.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Drinks with Alan (A Good Beer Blog)

Alan from A Good Beer Blog was in town earlier this week and we had the chance to meet up for dinner and drinks at Volo, which he had only been to once before. We drank some good beers (Granite's BBS, Muskoka Harvest, Nostradamus and Pannepot) and had some good discussions on a variety of beer related topics, and chatted it up with the regular Monday night Volo crowd (you know who you are).

Alan and I share a lot in common when it comes to how we perceive the beer industry, with the exception of beer and food pairings, and it was nice catching up with him (we had only ever met in person once before).

Head over to his site to read about his Toronto visit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Duggan's Brewery Inching Closer to Opening

Mike Duggan is having a lot of fun these days. He's busy brewing beer; both at Cool Brewery, where he serves as brewmaster, and at his new tied-house on Victoria Street, Duggan's Brewery.

Last night I stopped by to have a look around, and to see if I could get him to spill the beans on an opening date.

I was showed around by another Mike, the front of the house manager who is looking after all of the restaurant aspects of Duggan's. He took me through the two-storey brewhouse, through the basement, around the upper level (street level) seating area's, and showed me the back private/special event area) and patio.

The place is huge. And it will be a great place for beer drinkers living, and/or visiting Toronto. Duggan, who comes out of the back during my tour states that he'll have eight beers on tap at any given time and rotating beers throughout the seasons. "We'll have the No.#9 IPA, a Stout, Porter, ESB, Pilsner (German style), Festbier, Weissbier, and a Stock Ale on tap and will work in other beers throughout the months," he said while I was having a fresh pint of the IPA.

Duggan, who needs no introduction, also stated that he is currently working on a Tripel and has a number of fruit beer recipes that he wants to execute in the not to distant future.

During the tour I'm showed the Beer Hall. This is a section of the tied-house that I see myself drinking in. Mike (not Duggan) tells me that they'll have high bar tables and chairs in this room and will be more 'pubby' than the other side of the restaurant, which will be more bistro like. There will also be a retail store on this side that will offer customers the opportunity to purchase Duggan's beers in growlers and bottles. "Clothing will also be available for purchase," stated Duggan.

So, the big question has yet to be answered: When will Duggan's be open? It's a good question. I had previously posted that the doors would open at the end of September, but plans changed slightly and it has taken a bit longer to get certain licences and such. The only hint of an opening date that Duggan would commit to, "We'll open on a Monday." Which led me to my next question. "Which Monday?" "A Monday, that's all I'm saying," he said with a big grin. Things do appear to be coming along quite nicely though.

Duggan's Brewery, opening on a Monday, soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gone to the Cottage

I'm off to the cottage for a couple of days. Have to get the dock out of the water, bring the boat up to shore, and cut a bunch of firewood. There is no internet access up there so there won't be any blogging till I get back. Here are some old posts to keep you company.

Meet Mike Tymchuk, found of Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary, Alberta.

I'm wishing I had more Creemore Kellerbier, possibly the best beer release of the year.

A look back at a profile I did of the upper portion of Toronto's Imperial Pub in April 2008. I never did get back to do part 2?

Located on Bayview just south of Eglinton, Highway 61 has some great bbq foods, good music, and all draught lines are dedicated to Ontario craft beers.

Oh, and one more thing. If you are not a regular reader of A Good Beer Blog (you should be), Alan has announced the details for his fourth annual Yule Beer Blog Photo Contest that is currently running as I write this. Head over to see what it's all about, and get your submissions in today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mill Street Launches Schleimhammer Roggenbier

I'd never had a Roggenbier until Tuesday night. And it wasn't a German produced one either. Or an American. It was a beer produced by Mill Street and they launched it before a good crowd at the Victory Cafe in Mirvish Village.

"A traditional German style rye beer that typically contains very large portions of rye. Expect a very pronounced spiciness and sour-like rye character, malty flavor, and a clean hop character. Often unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, Roggenbiers tend to be rather turbid and foamy." BeerAdvocate

Joel Manning, Mill Street's Brewmaster, had mentioned months ago that he was planning on brewing this and I was immediately intrigued. From Manning: "The Roggenbier has 30% rye malt, 20% wheat malt and 50% barley malt. Of the barley malt it has pale 2-row, caramel and chocolate malt. The hops are German Magnum variety and it is fermented with a German Hefeweizen yeast. What I like the best about the Roggenbier is that for a beer with as much complexity as this, it is still "table beer" and has a simplicity that makes it sessionable. Good 15th century peasant fare!"

The launch kicked off at 7pm as the upstairs loft was busy with a number of Mill Street sales representatives, LCBO employees, and some other pub owners; many people also sampling this style for the first time. Each individual was provided with two drink tickets and one food ticket that provided a huge ass pork schnitzel that went with some nice potato salad. The beer and the schnitzel together was pretty awesome.

My thoughts on the beer: Poured a lovely deep auburn leaning more towards brown with a dense tan head that hung around for a while. I got a lot on the nose right off the bat. Peat smoked moss, earthy barnyard like notes from the rye, and a slight charred smokiness, and a variety of sweet spicing. That peat smoked moss came out in the taste too and was joined by some fruity notes that I equated to green pears. The more I drank, the more it came out. A slight sourness, yet the malt helped balance it out. It all finished with a variety of sweet spices ending in a nice dry finish with a good amount of carbonation. Easily quaffable and good for a session, this 5.2% Roggenbier is not bad!

Manning shared some funny stories with us about the challenges they faced when they first attempted to brew it. "The mash was so heavy and thick that we couldn't mash it properly. We used the mashing paddle and it got stuck in all the goo. Rye goo, almost like a gelatin." After figuring out what to do the next time, Manning and brewing team experienced another situation when they went to empty the spent material from the lauter tun. "All the rye, wheat, and barley wouldn't budge. But when it did it cam flying out and made a terrible mess on the brewhouse floor (much to the entertainment of some patrons sitting near the windows that encompass the tanks).

This is yet another solid offering from Mill Street, and an extremely rare style for the brewer to try, and Joel and team pulled it off again. I'm really pleased with everything these guys have been doing lately.

Also brought up in conversation last night was Mill Street's future plans for seasonal releases. Coming up in mid-December will be a 7.5% Weizenbock to compliment their '09 Barley Wine and in February Manning will release his Imperial Stout that will use chocolate from SOMA, their next door neighbour in the Distillery District. The Scotch Ale will be back again, as will the Betelguese. The Milk Stout will not however be produced next year.

I can't say enough good things about what Mill Street is trying to accomplish with these seasonals. Yes, having the brewpub to experiment with is key, but it's almost as if the business has two seperate business plans: 1. to build up the core five brands and sell the hell out of them across Canada, and 2. to play around with beers like these that don't necessary make them a bunch of money, yet they keep the curious beer drinker happy.

The Roggenbier is available at the Mill Street brewpub and will be available at select Toronto pubs. Growlers will also be available down at the brewpub retail store. Also, the seasonal sampler will start hitting LCBO shelves tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Black Oak Celebrates 10 Years

Ken Woods and crew at the Black Oak Brewing Co. are celebrating their 10th anniversary today! Through all the ups and downs over the ten years, Woods has managed to steer Black Oak into one of the most reputable and consistent breweries in Ontario through his hard work and passion for the industry. The brewery is armed with a number of terrific seasonals to compliment their signature Pale Ale and Nut Brown and word has it that Ontario citizens may start seeing some of them on LCBO shelves in the future.

So grab a pint of 10 Bitter Years at your local tonight (if their serving it) and toast their achievement.

Congratulations Black Oak! Leave some comments for the Black Oak team and I'll make sure to forward them to the brewery.

Stay tuned for an announcement about an anniversary celebration that's shaping up.

Look for an article on the Etobicoke brewery in the Winter issue of TAPS (hopefully).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

King of Quads and a Pashley Reading - Bar Volo

Tomas over at Bar Volo just forwarded me some info on two events that are coming up at the popular downtown bar.

The King of Quads
When: Sunday, November 22nd 2:00-6:00pm
Achel 8 Extra Brune bottle
Dieu Du Ciel! Rigor Mortis Abt tap
Koningshoeven Quadrupel tap
St.Bernardus Abt 12 bottle
Rochefort 10 bottle
Westvleteren Abt 12 bottle

Six quadrupels served in a lateral blind tasting.
$30.00 for all six served in 3oz tasters.
*Until Quantities Last (Very Limited in bottles)
*Bottles of select beers/taps will be available as well.

ITS ALL ABOUT ME! An Afternoon with Nick Pashley
When: Sunday, November 29th 2:00-6:00pm
Promoting Nick Pashley's new book Cheers! A History of Beer in Canada
Nick's local favorites on draught/cask + Bottles beers from across Canada - (Driftwood, Phillips, Alley Kat, Charlevoix, Half-Pints, Dieu Du Ciel!, Propeller)
More Details TBA soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Anders Kissmeyer - Norrebro Bryghus

The following interview appeared in the summer issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine. **Please note - it's a little lengthy.

beerbistro is the premier destination in Ontario, and dare I say Canada, to flock to when chef/owner Brian Morin decides to host a creative beer dinner. Such was the night back on April 15th when the Roland and Russell Import Agency, who represent Denmark’s famed Norrebro Bryghus, brought Brewery Director Anders Kissmeyer to Toronto for a nine course Danish themed beer dinner at Morin’s establishment.

In the late 1990’s, Kissmeyer, a Master Brewer, was putting in his time working for the multi-national Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen when he started to reconsider his future. For years Kissmeyer had toyed with the idea of starting his own brewery, brewing beers his way, and beers more suited to his liking. In 2003, Kissmeyer, with the financial backing of a close friend, opened Norrebro Bryghus. Since then the brewery has produced more than 25 different types of beer, including a large number of collaborative products with both international and neighbouring breweries, some of which have received worldwide attention.

The sold out dinner kicked off after the evening’s MC, Stephen Beaumont (who was also representing Danish brewery, Mikkeller, whose beer was also being featured in the dinner), welcomed the crowd and introduced Kissmeyer. Throughout the night Beaumont and Kissmeyer took turns sharing the microphone explaining the pairings and explaining the beers being served. Customers had the opportunity to sample four Norrebro beers during the evening, each paired magnificently with creations coming from the beerbistro kitchen: Skargaards Porter, Paske Bock, Old Odense Ale, and La Granja Stout.

At the conclusion of the dinner, Kissmeyer took the time to speak with TAPS about his vision, his brewery, his beers, and his background.

How long have you worked in the beer industry?
Well, I’ve been in the industry since 1984. That’s about 25 years. Yeah, I actually just had my 25th anniversary as a Master Brewer just last month.

Where did you receive your brewing education?
It basically started with the fact that chemistry was a subject I was pretty interested in during high school because I had an excellent teacher. So I kind of made a decision at an early stage that I wanted to make a career out of something that had to do with chemistry. I just couldn’t find out what I wanted to do with it. I didn’t want to become a professor, so I looked at all the options and then I discovered that if I became a chemical engineer there would be potential to go on to become a Master Brewer. At that stage of my life I was already a big beer fan, so the prospect of choosing an education where you might end up being a Master Brewer just made me say, “I just wanna go for that.” After I got my education, I went off to the private brewing school run by the Scandinavian Brewers Association (Den Skadinaviske Bryggerihøjskole). Then it was off to Carlsberg.

You could have been a Chemical Engineer in another field, why choose to work in the brewing industry?
What do you think? Love for the product. Love for the industry. I didn’t do it for the possibility of getting rich; I chose this path because I was passionate about beer. And I think you only become a brewer because you love everything about beer.

You worked and brewed with Carlsberg for many years before starting Norrebro Bryghus; what was the transition like going from a large national brewery to running a small craft brewery?
To put this very shortly, I had an enormous head start in some of the basic knowledge of what goes up and down in brewing, but on the other hand I had to learn some of the business all over again because everything I knew about craft brewing was based on specific knowledge of producing lager beer. I simply had to be intuitive to figure out how to go from brewing lagers to producing all sorts of ales.

What roles did you perform with Carlsberg?
I was hired as a brewer, but I got to work in a lot of different roles. I really only got to spend one year in the actual production at the brewery before I went into roles that had to do with quality management and technical management. I also did a lot of international work, as a huge percentage of Carlsberg’s operations are in other countries. I got to look after the international scene from a quality control point of view, and as a traveling brewer. I ended up being the head of the department that worked with all the traveling brewers as they used to have that. The organization is different now as the company has changed, but at that time is was centralized, so I guided a lot of Master Brewers that went around to various breweries worldwide.

Benefit of running a craft brewery?
At the end of the day it suits my personality. When you work as a brewer for a big brewery you don’t get to play with the product. It’s mostly logistics and how can you produce the same product for a cheaper cost. As a craft brewery, we can play with recipes. You are involved in every aspect of the business – shipping, bottling, sampling, marketing and more. The rewards of having your product succeed are unparalled when working in the craft brewing industry. My hat belongs on this shelf. A change from the larger brewery was definitely what I needed.

There have been many breweries playing with the idea of having a restaurant on site with the brewery. Why was establishing this business model so important to Norrebro Bryghus?
We wanted to try to prove that beer matching modern European food was not just interesting to foodies, but was/is also a very viable business model. It was a totally different approach. For us it was a very, very carefully made decision. We wanted to get as much exposure as we could for our brands, and get people into the restaurant to try our beers to provide us with good feedback. We use the brewery restaurant as a full scale ‘market analysis’ when we brew a new beer, gauging the reaction of our customers. It helps to determine which beers we may choose to bottle in the future, so it was a very important path to follow.

Norrebro Bryghus produces some interesting beers, where does your inspiration come from?
Once the idea formed to start a craft brewery I was given the opportunity to develop the recipes. It was obviously a tough decision to determine which of the beers – and here I must say that the North American craft-brewing scene was by far and away the biggest source of inspiration – that I already knew that I would like to make my own interpretations of. There was also some thought for the fact that we would have to have a broad range of beers, as you can’t only rest on extreme beers. I really brewed the beer styles that I liked the most and the only consideration was that we were making a brewery with a restaurant and we wanted to have a beer to suit all of the meals; beers for all kinds of drinkers.

I’ve heard you say that your goal is to brew and serve the best and most varied beer in Denmark.
To claim that we have the broadest and widest portfolio of beers – that is something that I can truly say, with pride, that we have accomplished. We are doing it everyday, brewing all different styles along with creating new ones.

Describe your willingness to work with other breweries on collaboration beers.
Well, this is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. I could talk about this forever. There are three main reasons. #1. When you do collaborative brewing it’s a situation where the equation of 1 + 1 does not equal 2, but something far more. It’s very hard to explain why, but putting together the ideas of two different brewing philosophies, for some magical reason, always seems to end up being bigger than the sum of the two. It’s an amazing experience. #2. Everybody learns from engaging in collaborative brewing. There is practical knowledge exchanged, which is important for both parties. #3. It’s a lot of fun.

Can you explain the Danish beer culture for those not familiar with it?
In the last five years it has blossomed to the point where new breweries are opening all the time. We are a northern European nation and beer is a part of our culture and has been for centuries. It’s our national drink. Beer is such an important part of our society and this craft brewing market is offering drinkers more choices. Over the last number of years the big Danish breweries have been stale, a little dented, and we as craft breweries have given rise to a resurgence of pride for the national beverage.

So, the Danish craft brewing industry has been doing quite well?
Try to imagine a market where more than 100 new breweries have come along in the last five years. Last year there were around 680 new beers on the market. Our consumers in Denmark are very interested in trying anything new and they’re experimenting with all the different breweries, which is great. For the last number of years the craft trade in Denmark has seen sales up over 100%, but as we’ve matured as a market, sales remain high, but aren’t at the 100% growth numbers.

Have you sampled any local or Canadian produced beers?
I’ve actually had the opportunity to try a handful on this trip and there was some interesting stuff. My personal favourite is the Pilsner from King Brewery (in Nobleton, ON), and it’s not just because I have a personal history in brewing lagers; it is a fantastic beer. The Denison’s Weissbier was also terrific. Very, very nice. I had a 10W30 from the Neustadt brewery today and it was quite nice. I didn’t know much about Ontario craft beer before I came here, but from what I’ve tasted it, I’ve enjoyed it. A positive experience.

Other than the beers mentioned above, have you experienced any new tastes during your trip to Toronto?
I got in a trip to the big LCBO (at Summerhill/Yonge) in the old train station, and I was amazed that there were six different brands of Polish lager beer on the shelves. Six Polish beers! I was saying to myself “these can’t all be better than Ontario or Canadian produced lager,” but I guess Toronto being a multi-cultural city, there must be a demand?

How important is it to have great importers representing your brewery outside of Denmark?
Having hearts in the right place is huge for us. Knowing and caring about the brewery and the beer, and talking the same language, is something we look at closely. For Norrebro Bryghus, being represented by Roland and Russell has been nothing but positive.

What are goals for the Canadian market?
Anything above zero would be great!

And finally, what did you think of the beer dinner?
Ahhh. I’m trying to find the words to describe it. It was quite a night. It’s quite amazing to come half way across the globe to find yourself in an environment where your beers are being understood, and the way Brian Morin put the menu together to make it magical - it was a fantastic night. I think that my favourite pairing was probably the Paske (Easter) Bock and the rabbit. Just delicious.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Pinhey

Atlantic Canada's beer, spirits and wine writer, Craig Pinhey, is celebrating a birthday today, and he's celebrating in style as he is away working in France at the moment.

There are a number of place to read Pinhey's work as he writes for TAPS, The Coast (a Halifax weekly), New Brunswick's Telegraph Journal, Wine Access Magazine and many more publications. Pinhey also has a popular blog, Frog's Pad, and he is also involved with the Friday CBC Radio program the Shift as the Wine Guy. He is a certified beer and wine judge, a sommelier, a wine educator and is definitely one of the most passionate people in Canada when it comes to the drinks industry.

With TAPS, Pinhey covers all the east coast beer news and is my partner for the Tasting Panel. Here's wishing him a Happy Birthday!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Organizing the Stash

The wife and I are cleaning up and organizing our apartment for the first time since we got married back in October. Gifts, empty boxes, wrapping paper, and my beer collection, were all starting to clutter up our space. My wife, who is very tolerate of this beer hobby, kindly asked me to re-organize my stash, something I haven't done in a while.

So, boxes were sorted, beer was put into the beer fridge, and the Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, and Strong Belgian ales were put into their own containers for further aging. There are some beauties that I had almost completely forgotten about, which is like being surprised with a wicked gift on Christmas morning. I had to make some room in the beer fridge to get in some beers that are nearing their end, but the fridge was already full leaving me with a question of what to do with them, so I did what any beer drinker would do on a glorious afternoon when CBC airs a hockey game: I cracked some open and watched the Senators lose to the Rangers in a shoot-out (alright!!). Hockley Valley Traditional Dark Ale, Propeller Pumpkin, Tree Hefeweizen, Grizzly Paw Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat, St. Ambroise Pale Ale, and a Tree Hop Head. And I'm still working on some more. Thankfully the Leafs play tonight, followed up by the Canucks, so it's going to be a long night.

My collection is fairly substantial, and like I said, it takes up a bunch of room in our apartment, but I know people out there reading have some huge collections. How do you (in you live in tight quarters) manage with your collection? As a person who does most of their drinking in the pub, I find sharing with others is usually the best option for keeping it somewhat under control. I guess it's never really a bad problem to have.

Friday, November 13, 2009

One Man's Fight With the NLC

Back at the beginning of October, frustrated Newfoundland & Labrador resident, Frank MacDonald, sent the following email to the Newfoundland & Labrador Liquor Corporation about a notice he received from them regarding a Whiskies of the World Festival.
Why not a "Beers of the World" event? Instead of the beer party, why not have a serious beer event? The Wine festivals are serious, the Spiritfest is serious, the Rum tasting was a serious event. This Whiskies of the World is a "Premium Tasting Event." But the Beerfest was a drunken party with no new products.

I just returned from Alberta. There are only privately owned liquor stores in Alberta. The selection of products (wine, spirits, beer) is amazing. Some stores specialize in wine, some specialize in beer. Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton has OVER 600 different beers. Its called free enterprise. Hopefully we will have it in Newfoundland some day.
You see, MacDonald is a passionate craft beer drinker. Problem is you can't find to many living on the Rock. Other than Quidi Vidi and Storm products, the NLC doesn't stock anything else that a person with MacDonald's taste would prefer. Not happy with the NLC's stance on beer, MacDonald has made it a hobby to frequently email them to remind them of how unhappy he is. He finally got a response.
Thanks again for your feedback Frank. As previously explained to you, the beer market is very different than the spirits and wine market. Beer has a very short shelf-life compared to spirits and wines. As a result, we cannot afford to list a massive selection of beer products unless we have a customer base that buys these products at a frequency that makes it financially viable enough to justify us ordering a continuous supply. Experience has shown us time and time again that many of the beers we bring into the market do not meet the minimum demand requirements for us to afford to keep these products on the shelves.

We are also an island with a population of half a million people. That means that shipping beer (a perishable product) is expensive and takes a while to get here. And we don't have the critical customer mass that will buy such a wide variety of beer at a volume that warrants the investment.

We have asked some suppliers to bring many new beers to our market. If they do not wish to do so, we cannot force them to do so. This is not an NLC issue. This is a Supplier issue. In many instances, we cannot get access to the beers we want to bring here simply because the Suppliers of these products do not see the value of bringing the products to our market. It many cases they cannot build a business model that will see them make a profit here (Again, I reference cost of shipping, small customer base, short shelf life and low margins).

Frank, I could go on and on and on...I'm a serious beer drinker myself. Don't you think I'd like to have a better beer selection here too?? Surely if you admit that NLC has a good mix of wines and spirits along with supportive festivals for these products we would try to do the same for the beer category?

Its complicated Frank. I won't bother to get into the Privatization debate as that is even more of a tangle...but I will say that Alberta's model is farrrr from a wondrous success. It's undeniable that they have many stores with great variety. But they have regulatory problems, a flood of stores with no consistency in product offerings, major price variations, social responsibility concerns, etc. I'm told that the government in Alberta has said they wish they hadn't gone full tilt with privatization as the cons have begun to outweigh the pros. Don't forget...they have a much larger population and access to product in all directions by land. This allows them to get a greater variety, cheaper and faster...which allows them to have more beer and allows them to get it to the shelves faster which allows greater shelf life, which allows them more time to sell it, etc etc.

I appreciate your frustration, but I can assure you it is not nearly as clear cut as you might imagine it to be.

We continue to pursue new beers and will be adding more listings throughout the year. I just picked up a 6-pack of Italy's premium Perroni, some Pilsner Urquell and the newly released Rickards White. Life aint that bad!

If you have any suggestions for new products we will gladly look into them for you. The best way for us to learn about new beers and understand what our customers want is to hear from them directly. I encourage you to keep in touch with any recommendations.

Have a great weekend'
(I won't mention the name of the individual who responded to MacDonald's email)
So what do you think? While the response might not have contained the answers MacDonald was hoping for, I give the NLC credit for issuing a response this lengthy, and without all the standard government jargon (well, a lot of it anyway).

Keep up the hobby Frank.

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!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Day of Remembrance

Today is Remembrance Day. A day to reflect on the peace and freedom we have today due to the sacrifice of so many before us.

I would like to raise a glass, and I hope you'll join me, for all the men and women who haved served this great nation in battle and to those who continue to serve us today.

Always to be REMEMBERED.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are Ontario Craft Brewers Cutting the Mustard

Someone over on BeerAdvocate recently posed this question in a new thread and the answers have taken off.

Last night I went through the OCB website ad nauseum. I looked over all the offerings listed and checked their reviews on BA. Upon completing this enlightening task, I was left with one question: Where are the world class brews?

Quebec seems loaded with breweries pushing the envelope of beer by creating exciting brews and of course you've got your Belgian's and German's and English breweries kicking out classic staples. We don't even need to mention the incredible things happening in American micro breweries.

When you compare it to what Ontario is doing, we seem to pale in comparison. There's a lack of high gravity beers, very little in the way of anything experimental and so on. It almost seems like Ontario brewers are focusing on making craft brewed versions of your typical macros.

Now, I'm not saying there's no good beers. There are a lot. But not nearly on the scale as our neighbours to the east and south. Am I out to lunch here or just missing something?
As I mentioned, a lively debate has arisen around this topic and some very good points raised.

As a reader of this blog you are no doubt aware of my support for all Canadian craft beer. I don't play favourites, I don't look at one province being better than any others, Instead I prefer to look at the brewing scene in Canada as a whole, which is what I think is wrong with this question.

The writer mentions the Belgians and he Germans and their classic styles, which as we know, are two brewing nations largely considered to be two of the best in the world, right up there with the American's, and he goes on to wonder where Ontario fits into the equation. A more accurate evaluation might focus on where does Canada fit globally and where more specifically, where does Ontario fit into the Canadian scene? It's unfair to look at a single province alongside these incredible brewing nations, and comparisons to America are moot when you consider the vast cultural and population differences. That's for another day.

A lot of the responses zero in on the problems with the LCBO and the Beer Store. Some focus on the high cost of distributing through our Ontario system and the listing fees, and others call out the brewers for not being experimental enough - an approach which highlights the differences in retail offerings between other provinces and Ontario (there is even a thread growing on Bar Towel about this).

Firstly, let's look at the LCBO. Yes, we all agree that the LCBO could be doing more to help small breweries with their presence in stores province-wide, but seriously, if the LCBO sent Muskoka's Hefe-Weissbier to a store in Beamsville how many people would buy enough to support it? Ontario is huge, freshness is key and education is key. Imagine how hard it would be to guarantee the beer from Bracebridge would still be good when the consumer picks it off the shelf to take home 3 months from the time it was delivered there. Also, think about that consumer's reaction when they crack the can - do they know what a Hefe is supposed to taste like or will they immediately write it off as not beer? It is the job of the breweries to inform and educate the public about their products, but I don't think Ontario is quite ready for a big change. People in Toronto are ready, but look outside the GTA borders and what do you still see - MolsonCoors country.

Now, although it's operated as a government arms-length agency, the LCBO is run like a well oiled business and they do have a working understanding and read of the market. Yes, there are a bunch of restrictions which hinder experimentation (restrictions on names, size, marketing requirements, past sales records, vigorous tastings and lab tests, etc.) (which is mandated by the AGCO), but as the same time they know that Ontario isn't ready for big bold IPA's, doppelbocks, and other 'big' beers. Maybe the LCBO dictates this - if they don't sell it they won't come. But even if they did the marketing and education aren't where they need to be yet to have a successful run and that could led people back to the 'safe' lagers.

I want to hammer this point home - education is key. You know as well as I do that you can't open a brewery in Ontario without making one or two easy drinking beers. While some people will disagree this claim, I'd like to point to Grand River Brewing. They started off making a couple of 'consumable beers' for both geeks, newbies, and the curious, and they've been taking it slow. Add up some $$ and you can start experimenting, releasing new beers and eventually winning over consumers one at a time with new flavours, such as their Highballer Pumpkin Ale and Russian Gun Imperial Stout. Combine that with education, and it goes a long way. The market takes time to grow, but it can grow with you if you take the right approach. If a new brewery opened its doors today on the backing of a beer like Péché Mortel, they’d struggle to survive to see next fall.

When I mention that people aren't ready for it, some people may look at that as a cop-out for the breweries. After all, they have been saying that as well. It took Mill Street years to get their Tankhouse Ale to where it is today, and it helped that they received an influx of money to help with the sales and marketing of the brand a few years back. Their stuff is pretty damn good and the quality should speak for itself, but sometimes, in Ontario, it takes more than quality - time and money. If Durham starts bottling their Hop Head or Black Eye, do you think it will catch on quickly? Beside the beer geeks who'll buy a six pack or two, will the general public be quick to jump on it. Probably not, it will take time to build up the brand with limited resources available to brewers, and hope to gradually win over more consumers, all while paying the bills.

Beer geeks/enthusiasts' are great for the industry. We're passionate about the state of our brewing industry, we follow it daily, yet we only reflect a very tiny fraction of the beer buying public out there. Brewers know this and they have to make a beer that will sell to more than a small sector of people. People on Bar Towel, BeerAdvocate, and RateBeer love trying new beers all the time. Trading, rating, and experimenting. And there is nothing wrong with that. But how often do they buy multiple cases of something from either the LCBO or Beer Store? Importers I know often mention that multiple people split on one case of beer, walking away with three bottles or so each. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't help with the brewers loan(s).

The Beer Store. Here are my thoughts on it. I won't add anything else.

Now on to seasonals. Ontario has a great select of seasonals released throughout the year, but the sheer geographical enormity of our province makes it difficult to get them into the hands of people from Windsor to Ottawa. The other problem is that breweries can't make enough, or don't have enough capacity to make more which could be sold through the LCBO system. More capacity means more sales and money, but more capacity needs more money and it's a fine balance for sure.

One thing that springs to mind when thinking of Ontario is the spike of Ontario cask conditioned ale. Ralph Morana who knows his cask, recently mentioned to me in conversation that he believes that the quality from some brewers producing the 'real ale' are right up there with the cask brewers from the UK. Ontario cask is something special, and something that has taken time to build up, but you have to have dedicated publicans handling it and people actually have to leave their house to drink it. The segment is growing here faster than any other province, and while it's still largely Toronto-centric right now, this is a part of the brewing scene where Ontario happens to be a leader.

I look at beers like the Granite's Best Bitter Special, Durham's Hop Addict, Mill Street Tankhouse, Duggan's No. 9, King Pilsner, Hockley Valley Stout, Muskoka Hefe, Denison's Weissbier, Mill Street Barley Wine, Publican House Square Nail Pale Ale, Black Oak Summer Saison and Nutcracker Porter, St. Andre Vienna Lager, Creemore Kellerbier, Wellington RIS and Arkell Best Bitter....... we have great beers in Ontario. We are lacking some IPA and Imperial Stouts, Porters and others for sure, but Ontario is different than Quebec, different than BC. People are different, culture is different, and the beer landscape in each province is different due to how beer's history has played out.

Don't get me wrong. I would love nothing more than to walk into my local LCBO and reach for a Baltic Porter or an Imperial IPA from a small Ontario craft brewery, but I understand where the brewery is coming from with deciding not to brew it. I think we're getting more and more adventurous with our beers and I strongly believe that one day the LCBO stores will be full of unique beers from small breweries for all seasons. In the meantime, if you enjoy a particular craft beer from a local brewery, support it. Buy a case every now and then. I know the breweries want to play around with new brews, but they need some financial stability to do so.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Muskoka Hefe and Granville IPA Tasting Notes

This is a "I'm real busy and have no time to write anything new post." The following tasting notes appeared in the Spring issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine.

Muskoka Hefe-Weissbier by Muskoka Cottage Brewery, Bracebridge, ON 5% abv
Recently released in a 473ml can format, the LOM Hefe pours a lightly clouded off-yellow with a rich yeasty-frothy white crown that dies off quickly. All banana on the nose with some typical but mild Hefe bubblegum and light clove notes. Zest of a lemon rind team up with soft spice and banana in the mouth, and ends in a crisp finish in thanks to the wheat body. This ‘cottage’ beer compliments the German style wonderfully, offering Ontario residents a pleasantly refreshing summer classic that would work well on the dinner table with the catch of the day.

Brockton IPA by Granville Island Brewery, Vancouver, BC 6% abv
To celebrate 25 years of brewing, Granville Island released this new 6% abv IPA and named it after the Brockton Oval in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It pours a clear amber-orange with a strong white head that decides to stick around a bit before fading away into oblivion. A whirl of the glass provides an inviting hop aroma of freshly picked flowers and a zesty citrusy spice that mingle with a bit of sweet caramelly malt. A crisp bitterness leads the charge in the first sip then the toasted malt flavour, combined with a citric punch, balances everything out nicely ending with a dry, yet refreshing finish. More along the lines of a well crafted English style IPA than the Pacific Northwest style indicated on the bottled.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Keefe

Granite owner/brewer Ron Keefe is celebrating a birthday today.

Keefe brought the Granite's English Style Ales to Toronto back in 1991 and the tied-house has become somewhat of an institution in Ontario. Keefe, as a brewer, is very involved in the cask movement that Ontario is experiencing, and is considered by many to be one of the finest creators of true cask conditioned ales in this province. He is the man behind one of my all time favourite beers - Best Bitter Special, a beautifully cask conditioned bitter that has been perfectly dry-hopped.

I first met Keefe back in 2007 at the Golden Tap Awards and shortly after that I took a six week beer appreciation course that he teaches at George Brown College. We have been friends ever since. Please join me in wishing Keefe a happy birthday.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Volo Cask Days - Winners Announced

The votes have been tallied. The people have spoken. Here are the results of the Cask Days voting.

Overall Favourites
1. Dieu Du Ciel! Corne du Diable IPA

2. Great Lakes Morning Glory Breakfast Stout

3. Hopfenstark Postcolonial IPA

Ontario East – Beau’s/Beer Shack Tommy Gun Pale Ale
Ontario North East – Hockley Valley Peanut Butter and Jam
Ontario North West – F&M Nightmare on Ale Street
Ontario South West – Cameron’s Jack N Coke Barrel Aged Dark Ale
Ontario Toronto – Great Lakes Morning Glory Breakfast Stout
Guest – Dieu Du Ciel! Corne du Diable IPA

Favourite Name – Stratford Empire Strikes Black
Honourable Mentions – Durham Black Eye, St. Andre Freshly Squeezed Barley Juice, Benelux Armada Reserve, Mill St. Barleywine, Duggan’s #7 Stout

OCB Discovery Pack No. 3

I love surprises! Especially when there is beer involved. There I was, sitting at my desk working away at the same old stuff I do every day, counting down the remaining hours of the day, when a package arrived from the Ontario Craft Brewers - the 3rd Discovery Pack.

The first two Discovery Packs were instant successes at the retail level throughout Ontario, selling out at various LCBO stores days after hitting the shelves. The OCB members, seeing this success, have continued with this initiative and they've recently announced that the latest Discovery Pack, No.3, will soon (Nov.13th) be hitting LCBO (#137067) shelves.

473ml cans, not bottles, are the main feature of the 3rd Discovery Pack, and I suspect this will be the most popular one yet....with those not overly familiar with the products brewed in this province. For the beer geeks, well, it will be good to have around the house for the unadventurous friends.

Fall 2009 - OCB Discovery Pack No. 3
Trafalgar Paddy's Irish Red Lager
Great Lakes Devil's Pale Ale
Lakes Muskoka Cream Ale
Neustadt Lager
Nickel Brook Premium Organic Lager
Wellington County Dark Ale

So, what do you think?
Personally, I'm still hoping (not holding my breath) that the OCB will put out a winter seasonal Discovery Pack one year. It can be done. I won't go into saying which ones I'd use, that's what Bar Towel is for, but it would be nice to go into an LCBO and walk out with six beers like Black Oak Nutcracker Porter and John By Imperial Stout. For this pack, I'd have liked to see the Muskoka Dark instead of the Cream and the 10 W 30 from Neustadt instead of the Lager.

Like I said before in another thread, I agree with the OCB and applaud them on these six packs. It no doubt leads to increased sales of craft beer and they are (the packs) a great way to reach new potential customers.

Fall 2007 - OCB Discovery Pack No.1
Mill Street Organic Lager
Great Lakes Red Leaf Lager
Wellington Special Pale Ale
J.R. Brickman Pilsner (god bless its soul)
Walkerville Amber Lager
Lakes of Muskoka Cream Ale

Fall 2008 - OCB Discovery Pack No. 2
Robert Simpson Confederation Ale
Mill Street Tankhouse
Trafalgar Elora Irish Ale
Black Oak Nut Brown Ale
Cameron's Auburn Ale
Nickelbrook Apple Pilsner

Which one has been the best offering to date?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Steam Whistle Brewery - #2 On Things To Do In Toronto List

TripAdvisor has a list of 315 popular Toronto activites that are recommended for visitors coming to our city and Steam Whistle Brewery tours now sit at #2, only behind the Second City Comedy Club. The rankings are determined based on positive visitor feedback.

I've been on the tour numerous times with knowledgeable beer people, craft beer newbies, and people who won't touch anything other than Bud Light, and each time I've had a great time, and so have they. The tour guides are great at describing the entire brewing and packaging process while keeping the tour fun and engaging.

Tours are offered Monday to Thursday starting at 1pm, running until 5pm, with a new tour kicking off every 1/2 hour. On Fridays and Saturdays the tours start at 12pm and run until 5pm, and from 12 to 4pm on Sundays. The basic tour costs $10 and includes a taste and a souvenir glass, or bottle opener. Other tour options are available, like the $14 tour that includes a glass, tastings, and a four pack of cans.

I know each time I receive an email from someone from out of town, or country, that have plans to come here, that I always recommend heading down to Steam Whistle.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hop City Brewing Co. - New Brewery in Ontario

I received a message the other day about a new craft brewery that opened back at the beginning of October, Hop City Brewing Co.. As far as I know, the brewery, which is owned/operated by Moosehead USA/The Premium Beer Company, but run as an independent business entity, is located in Brampton at the old Niagara Brewery before they moved to Niagara Falls.

They're currently only producing draught lager, which goes by the name, Barking Squirrel Lager, and as of today it is available in 25 pubs/bars/restaurants. The first keg went out on October 5th to Jake's Boathouse in Brampton and it was received nicely. There are no plans to produce another style as of right now, but the person I spoke with indicated that it would be looked at in the future. They do have plans to grow the product and they're hopeful that they'll be able to bottle and distribute it through the LCBO one day.

The message indicates that this new lager will be the tastiest craft beer in town, and by drinking it you can experience craft with attitude.

Hop City will be hosting an event here in Toronto in a few weeks, so look for my tasting notes soon. Is this going to be a threat to our small Ontario craft brewers?

Website is still under development.

Volo-nteering at Cask Days: By Rob Symes - Guest Writer

While I was busy tasting the beers during session 1 of Volo's Cask Days, friend and frequent guest writer, Rob Symes, was busy behind the Toronto station pouring samples for the excited crowd, and it appeared throughout the session that he was having a grand-old time. Today he shares his views with us all (except for the part about the ribbing he was getting from some of the regulars). Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Symes...

As readers of this fine blog know, this past weekend was a big one for Toronto beer lovers, as Bar Volo hosted its 5th Cask Days festival. I’ve been going to Volo for a good while now, and feel lucky to have such a good bar within striking distance of home, so I figured I’d show some gratitude for all the good beers I’ve supped and volunteer to work at this year’s Cask Days. I turned up forty minutes prior to the first session on a wet and windy day in Toronto. Fortunately for the line that soon began to gather, the rains had abated, and like some kind of divine thumbs up the clouds were slowly clearing away.

The first thing you should know about planning an event is that however much groundwork and preparation you do, there is almost always a crunch period at the end as life starts to mix curve balls and changeups into what had been a steady diet of fastballs. The casks aren’t labelled yet, some have only just arrived, there’s a fountain of IPA at the bar and the doors are scheduled to open in thirty minutes. It’s a testament to the quality of the Volo team that the opening is only delayed by a few minutes. This is a side of the weekend that most punters don’t see – its hard, hectic work that places a lot of pressure on the people who want the event to go as smoothly and enjoyable as possible.

I start off manning the Toronto station, which proves to be a popular one as most of the regulars are eager to try Ralph’s mild. I’ll find out later that it’s an excellent interpretation of the style, and perfect to start the evening off with because it only weighs in at 3.8%. A note to all you folks who drank the IPAs or barleywines and then went for the mild – you’re doing it all wrong. It’s the beer equivalent of drinking your OJ after brushing your teeth. Milds are delicate beers and if the palate acclimatises itself to higher intensity beers off the bat, you’ll miss out on the complexity and subtlety they can offer. The other quick sellers from the GTA were St. André’s Freshly Squeezed Barley Juice (a misnomer – I later found it was all about juicy hops), and Durham’s Black Eye (something of a black IPA if you’re happy with that oxymoron).

The second shift began at 9pm with my move to the Ontario East and North-West station, which had a number of interesting offerings. Church-Key’s Islay Scotch Ale proved to be very popular amongst the scotch lovers I talked to, and the novelty factor of Hockley Valley’s Peanut Butter and Jelly had a huge cross-over appeal. As with session one, the crowd is enthusiastic about the selection, and I’m repeatedly told that this is the best cask days yet, which bodes well for the continuing improvement of the Ontario beer scene. I’ve had some damn awful casks since moving here from the UK six years ago, but I can honestly say that after ploughing through a good number over the weekend, that the quality was high across the board, and that these beers would fare well at any of the CAMRA fests I’ve worked at.

A little less than ten hours after I started working (and a full seventeen since I left for my day job) the customers begin to trickle out. To be honest, the end of the day’s pouring is a relaxed affair, especially compared to the crazed rush of the first session. There’s no rapid serving, no line-ups of people after the bell has already been rang and no one complaining that they have left over drink tickets. It’s been a good evening and every one seems to be leaving in good spirits (Halloween pun intended). It may be the end of many people’s night, but the work isn’t done yet. The cleanup takes a full hour and involves lugging casks outside to ensure they don’t spoil. It’s a long day for me, but it’s an even longer weekend for the staff, who will be pulling the same gig on Saturday and Sunday.

So what did I take away from this experience? Firstly, the amount of work and effort I thought went into this event was even greater than I imagined. As a volunteer I just turned up, poured a few beers and helped with clean up, but the regular staff do an amazing amount of work, and they’re a credit to Ralph. Secondly, the man himself has a tireless dedication to the success of not only this event, but of the beer scene in Ontario. Buy him a drink, support the events Volo hosts and remember that the bar serves good beer year round, and not just during Cask Days. Finally, the community we have here is diverse, but strong. I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people while I poured and I was struck by what a good bunch y’all are. Hopefully we can spread the word, convert a few people to the cause and push through some real change in this province.

If anyone is interested, these were my top 5 beers of the weekend (please note, these are Rob's top picks):
1) Benelux Amato Texas reserve Brown - a guest beer from Montreal.
2) Fuller’s IPA - a spot on English IPA and a rare cask outing.
3) County Durham Black Eye - show me another brewer who does cask this well.
4) F&M Nightmare on Ale Street - a complex spiced stout.
5) Beau’s Nightmärzen - hearty lager with a nice hint of vanilla from barrel aging.

**Stay tuned for my thoughts on the entire week of cask!
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