Toronto Beer Week 2011: The Opening Weekend

I must admit that up until a week or so ago, I wasn’t overly excited for this year’s edition of Toronto Beer Week. Aside from a few gems, the line-up of confirmed events was a bit underwhelming, with many key venues and breweries missing from the list completely.

But then the week leading up to Friday’s kick-off saw a deluge of new listings added, and suddenly number of events that I was planning on checking out grew so quickly that I’ve got myself booked for at least one event every evening from now until next weekend. And while daily updates/recaps are unlikely, I’ll do my best to getting something written up a couple of times during the week, starting with this review of how the opening weekend played out for me.

As with last year’s inaugural TBW, the week was launched with a ceremonial cask tapping on Friday, with this year’s taking place at Amsterdam Brewery. Former politician, current radio host, and craft beer fan John Tory was supposed to do the honours, but a last minute conflict left him unable to attend, so Cass Enright of The Bar Towel, the Golden Tap Awards and other beer-related initiatives took over and hammered the spigot into the cask of Amsterdam Framboise that had been prepared for the occasion. Also on offer were three other Amsterdam one-offs – a double-dry hopped version of their Boneshaker IPA; a barrel-aged edition of Tempest Imperial Stout infused with cocoa nibs; and Goodbye Fuggled Monday Mild, a roasty and delicious dark mild ale brewed exclusively for the launch event.

Several beer samples with little food left me feeling a bit peckish, so along with Mike Warner of A Year of Beer!, I headed up to Burger Bar for a late lunch. TBW hadn’t officially started there yet, but they had a couple of new things on tap, including Conductor’s Ale from the recently launched Junction Craft Brewing. It’s intended to be a flavourful but easy-drinking brew inspired by west coast classics like Sierra Nevada, and I’d mostly agree with that assessment, although I found the initial aroma to be very wort-ish, which was a bit off-putting. Still a nice enough quaff, though, and one I’ll revisit soon.

From there we trekked up to The Monk’s Table for the blogger/brewer Barrel Bragging Rights showdown that I wrote about the other day. There was some nervousness on the part of all involved that the turn-out might be light, but those concerns ended up being ill-founded, as there was a line-up several dozen deep when the doors opened at 5:00 PM, and the place was rammed soon after.

Even better, the nine collaborative beers that ended up being served ranged in quality from pretty good to absolutely fantastic. There were a couple that were so good that I’d love to see them available on a regular basis from their respective breweries. And to top it all off, the beer I worked on with Hogtown Brewers came in second in the voting, just 2 votes behind the spectacular peppercorn saison created by Chris Grimley of Beer With Me TO and Mike Lackey of Great Lakes Brewery. Considering that their beer was my favourite of the bunch, I had no problem coming in as runner-up.

Following the awards announcement, I took a stroll down to The Rebel House for dinner with follow competitor Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star and our pal Alan Daly (who really should update his blog Wish You Were Beer more often). The Muskoka Mad Tom IPA was in good form, and went well with my grilled cheese and kettle chips. There was talk of heading further south to Volo for a nightcap of Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel from the freshly tapped keg (which blew before closing time, apparently), but the 8+ hours of drinking was starting to catch up to me, so I made it an early night.

My lone TBW outing on Saturday was a return to Monk’s Table for the Sticky Toffee Pudding Showdown that my wife Sheryl Kirby was judging along with Josh and Stephen Beaumont. She’s already given it a great recap over on her own blog, but I’ll just add that as much as I like sticky toffee pudding, I’ll be glad to avoid it for a while after having to taste four of them back-to-back.

There were plenty of other great looking events going on yesterday – like Oktoberfest at Steam Whistle, another Oktoberfest at Wvrst, and general carousing and drunkenness at Bryden’s and The Only – but the remnants of a mild hangover from Friday along with coming down from a sticky toffee induced sugar high left me a bit wiped. So I opted for a quiet evening at home rather than wearing myself out before the week really got going.

I was feeling much better on Sunday, though, and took advantage of the beautiful late summer afternoon to pay a visit this week’s edition of The Brewery Market, a sort of pop-up beer garden that Cass Enright has been running in the courtyard of the Wychwood Barns location of The Stop Community Food Centre on various Sundays throughout the summer. Each instalment features a different Ontario craft brewery pouring a few of their beers – this week it was Grand River – and some folks from The Stop making delicious pizzas in the outdoor wood oven. It was a great time as always, with plenty of craft beer geeks and newbies alike on hand, as well as a few young families.

The highlight for me was the chance to try the Pan-Ontario Collaboration Ale, a brew created back in the spring for Ontario Craft Beer Week that was made by blending beers from Grand River, Great Lakes, Beau’s, Flying Monkeys and Wellington and aging the result in bourbon barrels. I missed out on trying it during OCB Week, so it was great to find that at least one keg had been held back. And the beer itself – a big, bold brew with notes of dark caramel, cocoa, bourbon, vanilla, wood and more – was well worth the wait.

Sunday night, it was another break from TBW due to other plans, but I’ve got plenty lined up for the rest of the week, including a few beer dinners, a couple of mini-festivals, some tap takeovers at Volo, and whatever else I can squeeze in without falling down. Watch for another post or two here as the week goes on, or follow me on Twitter for the real time play-by-play.

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