One of the most exclusive events of Toronto Beer Week, A Night With Great Lakes & Amsterdam, happened last Friday. I had my beloved Ezra and Sour Cherry Imperial Stout, plus many other barrel aged beers that reflected: 1) how much my palette has expanded 2) a new era of creativity in Ontario’s beer scene.
Thanks to Iain McOustra and Mike Lackey (plus a handful of beer making friends), I got to try beers with awesome names like Hanlan’s Point, Dalai Lambic, Crucible, Misdemeanor, and Sweet Zombie Jesus! …. with awesome flavour profiles to match.
Though I tried many praise-worthy things (including Distraction with Peaches, brewed using two yeasts and lacto, with a portion aged in barrels and fresh Ontario peaches added in secondary fermentation), I am going to focus on a beer that is so distinctly Canadian and exquisite, it deserves its own blog post: Fugue.
Fugue is a farmhouse ale with brett brux brewed with 100 litres of ice wine juice and aged for one year. It has an ABV of 10%, which McOustra tells me is now closer to 11% thanks to the brett drying out the beer. Ice wine is a Roman invention that was rejuvenated in 1972 by Canadians (with 75% currently hailing from Ontario), and is considered a delicacy due to how difficult it is to produce. On my first sip, I tasted notes of guava (like in the magnificent Gilligan Is Still Dead with brett), but then had a few more and got that distinct ice wine flavour. My friend Mathew suggested it was called Fugue because it doesn’t taste like a 10% beer, but McOustra admits that it has more to do with amnesia: Fugue came about because we brewed the original pilot batch during a particularly busy time last year and forgot about the brew until I came across the kegs six months later. Bit embarrassing but the beer turned out well.
Asked how the beer came about, McOustra tells me: Our friend Dre [Andrea Glass], a winemaker from Niagara, offered us 100 L of Riesling ice wine juice that she had just pressed for a beer. We had brewed a collab the previous year with the same farmhouse yeast and ice wine juice on a small scale and it made sense to do it on a larger scale if the juice was available. The great thing about the juice was that it was 35 Plato which meant that we could use it as an adjunct to boost the alcohol. So we added it in the whirlpool to try and preserve the flavour as much as possible. Hopefully we will be able to brew it again later this year if Dre can come through with the juice for us. I was really happy that the fruit character came through in the final beer.
The event also featured an exclusive menu (that included corn dogs!) and both my curry soup and charred peach dish (with blue cheese and bacon) were incredible. Bar Hop is my favourite bar in the city because it not only has a great beer selection, but the food is incredible as well. They also have an affordable whiskey selection, and bartender Daeryun makes something called “butter bourbon” that I must try on my next trip to the Hop.
What’s next for McOustra? I asked him, and here’s what he has to say:
I think innovation has been a big part of who we are over the past few years and should allow us to keep making interesting beers in the future. We are fortunate to have the pilot system and BrewHouse to run test batches and fine tune our recipes before releasing them on a larger scale. We plan to release an Adventure Brew at the BrewHouse every 10 days or so this winter in addition to our seasonals and vintage beers.
Looks like I’ll have to trek out to the lake this winter.
If there is one kind of beer I like more than anything, it’s gotta be a barrel aged beer. Barrel aged with brettanomyces, specifically.
Last year I had my first taste of heaven when I tried a bottle of Sour Cherry Imperial Stout, aged in Pinor Noir barrels, at the Amsterdam Brew House.
Later that fall I tried Red Tape from Indie Ale House, another Pinot Noir aged Imperial Stout, and though awesome, I missed the slight sourness that brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and the cherries gave Amsterdam’s version. I had to have more.
Lucky for me, fall is upon us, and the beer gods have descended! Thanks to Toronto Beer Week (Sept 12-20), September is hosting two awesomely fantastic barrel aged beer events, and I’m going to both of them. First up is The Sacred Oak at Indie Ale House’s barrel aging facility on September 13th, and then comes the joint Great Lakes Brewery and Amsterdam Brew House’s tap takeover, A Night With Great Lakes & Amsterdam, at Bar Hop on September 19th. I can hardly contain my excitement. Among all the gems available on the 19th will be my favourite beer of the summer: Ezra, from the Tank Ten Series. It’s a strong saison aged in Spirit Tree cider barrels, with a slight sour funk from the brett they add to their cider. It’s the summer version of Sour Cherry Imperial Stout, and it’s perfection.
Oh, and the Sour Cherry Imperial Stout is making a comeback too (thanks to Iain McOustra and Flat Rock Cellars), this time without the brett. I’m expecting more of a bold wine flavour.
Look out for many a post about these takeovers, because I’ve only touched the surface here. Some really cool things are happening in the Toronto craft beer scene right now.
Hello! My name is Evelyn. I like beer. Many varieties of beer.