Category Archives: beer festivals

Cask Days 2011: A Quick Review

Anyone with at least a passing interest in Toronto’s craft beer scene will likely be aware of the almost legendary reputation of Cask Days, the cask beer event that Ralph Morana and his sons and team at barVolo have been hosting each year since 2005. Over the years it’s grown from a single day event with a couple of dozen casks from Ontario breweries, to a week-long celebration featuring various cask-themed evenings leading up to the main multi-session weekend.

Sometime around the third year, as the popularity and crowds started to grow, Ralph began talking about moving the main event to a larger venue. While some expressed concern that doing this would have a negative impact on what was admittedly a pretty fun event, those of us with slightly claustrophobic and mildly misanthropic tendencies loved the idea of having more room to spread out, and potentially more beers to choose from.

This past Sunday, the curmudgeons were proven right, as the Cask Days festival was moved to the regal and spacious Hart House on the University of Toronto campus, and ended up being one of the best beer events Toronto has ever seen.

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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.

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A Six-Pack of Picks for Ontario Craft Beer Week

It’s no secret that Ontario beer drinkers complain a lot about the state of things in our province. A quick scan of the Bar Towel forums will reveal numerous threads bitching about something or other, with the LCBO and Beer Store being especially popular (and sometimes deserving) punching bags.

But even amongst that negative noise, there’s developed a realization that while our craft beer scene may not be perfect, it’s still pretty damn good. Our local breweries are getting more adventurous with their offerings; our selection of great imports continues to improve; an increasing number of bars and restaurants are stocking better beer; and the events focussed on good beer have become more and more frequent.

One of the best examples of the latter is Ontario Craft Beer Week, an initiative launched last year by the Ontario Craft Brewers, and which returns for this year starting tomorrow, running June 19th to 25th (although unofficial pre-week events such as the Cask Ale Crawl and the Beach BBQ and Brews Festival have already started happening). Not to be confused with Toronto Beer Week, which also debuted last year and will be back in September, OCB Week encompasses a wide variety of events across the province, ranging from brewery open houses and casual tastings to formal dinners and festivals.

There are over 100 events to choose from, and they’re all worth supporting, but here are a half-dozen happening in Toronto that are especially worthy of attention…

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Toronto Beer Week – Day 0: Dieu Du Ciel!

It’s only a few hours old, but I already feel like I haven’t written enough about Toronto Beer Week. Loads of other folks – like Jordan, like Stephen, and Jordan, and Troy, and Jordan, and Chris, and, uh, Jordan – were all over it well in advance, which has given me a bit of the ol’ blog guilt.

In order to assuage that guilt somewhat, I’m going to attempt to post a daily TBW diary this week, which will likely consist mainly of photos and a couple of paragraphs posted each day as a recap of the day before. Or that’s the plan, anyway. And I’ll likely be doing plenty of tweeting, as will many other folks.

To kick it off, here are some highlights from the TBW pre-party of sorts that took place this weekend, when the folks from Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! came in from Montreal for a few events to mark their recent brewery feature at the LCBO.

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Ontario Craft Beer Week: Q&A with Steve Beauchesne and Jed Corbeil

My weekly beer column for Taste T.O. this week is a preview article for Ontario Craft Beer Week, which is taking place and breweries, bars and restaurants all over the province on June 20th to 26th.

The article features a few quotes from Steve Beauchesne (co-organizer of the Week, and co-owner of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing) and Jed Corbeil (co-organizer of Session: A Craft Beer Festival, the biggest event of the Week, and co-owner of The Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge) taken from short Q&A interviews I did with each of them via email. And since I didn’t use the full interviews for the article, I thought I’d share them here…

Steve Beauchesne

What inspired the Ontario Craft Brewers to do an OCB Week? Has it been in the works for a while?

It’s funny, we’ve talked about it for a while, but made the decision to tackle it this year very suddenly. Craft beer weeks have been popping up in Vancouver, San Fransisco, New York and more and they seemed like a great way to build awareness with customers and build on the collaborative nature of craft breweries.

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Five Reasons Why Toronto's Festival Of Beer Didn't Totally Suck This Year

LEFT: One of the few reasons that Toronto's Festival of Beer doesn't completely suck - RIGHT: Two of the many, many reasons that it mostly does suck

LEFT: One of the few reasons that Toronto's Festival of Beer doesn't completely suck - RIGHT: Two of the many, many reasons that it mostly does suck

Several years ago, I accepted that I’m not in the target market for Toronto’s Festival of Beer. Despite assurances in the program that the event caters to the “beer enthusiast” with “an astute palate”, it really is a ridiculously overpriced celebration of swill that is oriented more and more towards fratboys and douchebags every year. From the stupid “hats” made out of six-pack boxes being handed out by Steam Whistle (seriously, folks – penises and boobies? Are you all in Grade 5 or something?), to the booth girls who are hired based on their breast cleavage rather than their beer knowledge, to the massive and obnoxious “Brand Experience Areas” offering such fine beverages as Budweiser and Tecate, the Festival manages to represent pretty much everything that is offensive and embarrassing about the mainstream beer market.

That said, I still take up the offer of a media pass every year and go check it out, and I always manage to find at least a couple of things that save my visit from being a complete waste of time. Here, then, are my five reasons why this year’s Festival wasn’t a total write-off…

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Montreal: Mondial de la Bière 2009


As my 5 or 6 regular readers will know, I’m not exactly known for brevity or timeliness when it comes to posts on this blog. A perfect example of this is my report on my trip to NYC a couple of years ago, a bloated series of six meandering posts, the last of which wasn’t posted until a month after I got home. So for this report on my trip to Montreal for Mondial de la Bière, I promised myself that I’d be both punctual and somewhat brief.

Well, it’s a bit over a week since I got home, so I’m not doing so great on the “punctual” part. So let’s see how I can do on the “somewhat brief” part…

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Riding the Rails

I’m sitting on a train about an hour outside of Montreal on my way to Mondial, clumsily typing away on my new iPhone using the WordPress app. I know I’m about the 57 millionth person to do this sort of thing, but it’s still really fucking cool.

I don’t know if I’ll be doing much live blogging while I’m at the festival, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ll probably be doing some Twittering (@beerbeatsbites). For those who are doing the same, use hash tag #mondial2009

What If They Threw A Cask Festival, and EVERYBODY Came???

victorywinterThe Victory Café held their much anticipated Winter Cask Ale Festival this past Saturday, and as others have noted, it was a huge success. Perhaps too huge, as the 13 casks were drained by 5:00 PM, 2 hours before the event was supposed to end.

But hey, who can complain? Well, people who showed up late, I guess. But if you got there earlier, there was plenty of good beer, great food, and, uh, nowhere to sit if you arrived after 12:30. Luckily, the wife and I made our entrance a few minutes before that and snagged one of the few remaining spots on the second floor, which made for a somewhat anti-social outing given that most of our friends were on the main floor, but meh, I can hang out with those bastards any time.

My drinking concentrated mainly on the exclusive and first-time beers that were available, and while nothing completely blew my socks off, there were a couple of very solid efforts. County Durham Red Dragon was an interesting one, with a more earthy and chocolatey character than the amber colour suggested, and I really enjoyed the Neustadt 180 Lager, although I think the light body and green tea notes make it a better summer refresher than a winter beer. (Given that the 180 refers to the number of days it’s aged, they’d best be brewing a batch right now so I can enjoy it in July…)

The kitchen did a great job as well, with three different warm and hearty dishes to choose from. I didn’t try the beef stew, but the chicken curry was excellent, and the veggie stew was quite good as well. I’ve also been impressed by the last couple of meals I’ve had from the regular menu – it’s fairly standard pub fare, but they’ve been doing more in terms of using fresh ingredients, which makes a big difference.

It was obvious that the folks at the Victory didn’t expect such a big turnout. Their previous cask event, held on the patio on a beautiful summer day, brought in less than 100, so who would’ve thought they’d reach capacity and have line-ups in the middle of the winter? As great as it is to have a casual, pay-at-the-door event, they may need to look at doing advance ticket sales for future events.

Kudos and congrats to the Victory, the brewers and everyone else involved for their success.

[Photo nicked from my pal, Alan Daly]

Blotto in Buffalo


Being a (relatively) mature 40 year old, I’m well past my years of regularly drinking to the point of extreme inebriation, and subsequently bragging about it to my friends. (Or anyone who will listen, for that matter.)

But man, did I get fucking hammered on Saturday night!

The occasion: a road trip to Buffalo to attend the Rare Beer Festival at Cole’s. It was a trip that was almost scuttled, as one of our foursome had issues with his paperwork (he’s an Irish citizen in Canada on a work visa) and was refused entry into the US. It briefly looked like we’d be heading back to Toronto for an evening of drinking not-so-Rare Beer, but luckily (for the other three of us in the car, at least), several friends were down at the Festival for the afternoon and just happened to be heading back around the time that we were stuck at the border. So Jeff, Paul and I we were able to dump the troublemaker (sorry, Al!) and make it down to Cole’s after all.

Here’s what awaited us…

Troegs Nugget Nectar
Victory Yakima Twilight
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head Fort
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Gordon
Oskar Blues Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Chub
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Ten Fidy
Ommegang Obamagang (Inauguration Ale)
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam
Dogfish Head Zwaanendale
Brooklyn Brewing Black Ops
Sonoran 100
Flying Bison Blizzard Bock
Malheur Brut Reserve

And that was just the “official” list. More goodies came up from the cellar throughout the evening, including:

Samuel Adams Utopias
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 Year
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Year
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30 Year
New Glarus Belgian Red
New Glarus Raspberry Tart
Troegs Scratch #16
Captain Lawrence Captains Reserve

I’m not sure how, but I managed to put back samples of something like 75% or 80% of the beers on the list – basically, almost every one I hadn’t tried before. Even more amazingly, I took coherent tasting notes for almost all of them.

After that, the three of us – along with our Buffalo buddy, Rudy – decided it would be a good idea to go next door to Mr. Goodbar and split several pitchers of Dale’s Pale Ale. That’s where the grainy cellphone photo above was taken. A photo that I have absolutely no recollection of taking, by the way.

(And y’know, come to think of it, I believe that last time I got so smashed might’ve been on my previous trip to Buffalo. Something about that city…)

Anyhoo – thanks to Mike at Cole’s for throwing a fantastic event, and Rudy and Ang for housing our soused asses for the evening. It was a bit of a rough drive back in the morning, but the hangover was a well-earned. Although I hope not to inspire another similar one any time soon.