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.
This week my dreams are coming true: there are unique barrel aged beers all over Toronto and it’s beautiful!! Here’s a recap of The Sacred Oak, plus a couple other exciting events:
1. The Sacred Oak: A Night of Barrel Aged Beer (Sat. Sept. 13 at Indie Alehouse’s barrel aging facility, 165 Geary Ave.): My first beer was Kentucky Sour, a 6.7% bourbon barrel aged sour from Nickel Brook. Funny enough, I had tried this at Bar Hop earlier this year, but this time the bourbon characteristic came through much more (probably due to aging). It was perfect. Then I tried Iain McOustra’s Superstition and everything changed. This is a perfect beer because so many complex notes come through from the barrel. It’s advertised as a 6.5% barrel aged farmhouse. When I tried it, I got a juicy bright fruity IPA aged with peaches and maybe chardonnay barrels. Then I spoke with Iain, and there are no peaches in this beer. I’m blown away. Can’t wait to drink it again at A Night With Great Lakes & Amsterdam…
2. A Night With Great Lakes & Amsterdam (Fri. Sept. 19 at Bar Hop): I already wrote about this here but I am super duper psyched and you’ll be hearing all about it once (or twice) again. Be at Bar Hop this Friday at 5 p.m. Do it. It may change your life.
3. Cantillon Zwanze Day/Funk Night (Sat. Sept. 20 at bar Volo): According to a group of gentlemen I chatted with at The Sacred Oak, this year’s Zwanze Day sold out in 45 seconds. In case you don’t know, Belgian brewery Cantillon makes the mother of all sours, and Volo’s getting kegs and bottles of stuff you normally don’t see much of in Toronto. So this is probably the biggest beer nerd event of all time. Lucky for us plebs, Funk Night happens 7 p.m. onwards, where we will drink whatever is left of that Cantillon, plus sooo many funked out brews until late. I’m seeing Lena Dunham front row centre at JFL42 and then coming here. That’s a perfect night, folks. See you there.
Planning on coming to these events? Send a shout-out my way @ccprmaven and let’s have a beer together!
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.
What can I say about Dieu du Ciel’s “summer solstice” tap takeover at Bar Volo? I chatted beer with Ralph Morana, Stéphane Ostiguy, Mike Lackey and Iain McOustra. I learned about many nerdy things that mean huge gains for Toronto’s beer scene. I tried a very rare sour beer brewed with mango, and the delicious Bourbon barrel aged sour called Exorciste, which went very fast. Kumquat IPA Disco Soleil was perfect on cask: well balanced, fruity and creamy. And then there were all my classic Dieu du Ciel (DDC) favourites, such as Charbonnière, a smoked ale (Rauchbier).
The closest most Torontonians have gotten to DDC is by trying the Rosée d’Hibiscus at one of Toronto’s many craft beer bars. For those not in the know: Montréal microbrewery DDC was started 16 years ago by Stéphane Ostiguy and brewmaster Jean-François Gravel. Both did their masters in molecular biology. Jean-François had been homebrewing for many years, and started DDC with an intention of innovation. At the time, all the other five brewpubs in Montréal were offering two to four brews. DDC started with six. To date, they’ve brewed well over 100 beers. I first tried them when an ex brought back cases of DDC beers from a trip to Quebec. The variance, mastery, and design all won me over. DDC is world class beer.
My first smoked beer? Charbonnière. First variance of incredible strong stouts? Péché Mortel and Aphrodisiaque. First barley wine? Solstice d’Hiver. Even after trying many varieties of these styles, DDC’s stand out. I could go on and on about their godly branding (which I bet is a result of being raised in religious Quebec), and their beautiful label art, which stems from Gravel’s university friendship with artist Yannick Brosseau.
Instead, I will tell you that Volo’s owner Ralph Morana met Stéphane the year before the first Cask Days (2005), and they’ve been making beer history ever since. Morana originally opened Volo as an Italian restaurant without knowing much about wine, and like many people who start learning about wine…. he got into beer. In addition to being one of the first (family-run!) craft beer bars in Toronto, Volo brews beer, runs events, designs and imports beer. They’re the reason DDC has been available in the LCBO for the last four years. You can always get DDC beer at Volo, but the tap takeover’s leftovers mean that you should go ASAP. Look at this list.
What’s next for Volo? Only the biggest beer nerd event in the city: Cask Days is happening at the Evergreen Brick Works October 24-26. Tickets go on sale September 1st.
For all you adventurous beer drinkers: keep an eye out this September during Toronto Beer Week for Volo’s Funk Night (yes: funky, farmhouse, cheesy, dirty tasting beer is actually sought after. You gotta try it to believe.)