Tag Archives: Ontario

Quick Quaff: Cameron’s Oak-Aged Series – American Whiskey Barrel

Cameron’s Brewing has never really been what you might call an overly adventurous brewery. Yeah, they’ve put out some experimental one-offs for their monthly Cask Nights at the brewery and the odd special event, but their main efforts over the years have been focused on a line-up of four beers that are solid enough, but not exactly envelope-pushing.

Given that history, it made sense that some eyebrows were raised when it was announced last November that former Molson marketing executive Bill Coleman had joined Cameron’s as co-owner and president. Exciting or not, Cameron’s is still a well-respected craft brewery, and there was some concern that Coleman was a guy with big brewery ideas who was swooping in to take away the few interesting things that were happening at Cameron’s in favour of the bottom line.

Thankfully, though, that hasn’t seemed to be the case. If anything, it looks like Coleman might be encouraging the brewers to get more creative, assuming this new beer – a 7.4% ale aged in a Jack Daniel’s cask and released in a limited edition of 150 bottles – is any indication.

Out of the bottle, the beer instantly grabs some attention with its rich and slightly hazy chestnut-mahogany body capped with a moderate sized off-white head. On the nose, it’s big without being aggressive, with notes of whiskey, vanilla, wood, caramel malt and cocoa all nicely balanced. The flavour holds just what the aroma suggests – a well-integrated blend of mellow sippin’ whiskey and a strong and smooth malty ale – with a hint of sour wood and subtle hops in the finish.

My only real complaint is that the palate is a little light, and should the series continue, I’d be interested to see a fuller bodied beer being used in a future installment. But that’s a minor quibble over an otherwise fine brew that is hopefully a sign of more good and interesting things come from the brewery under Coleman’s watch.

Cameron’s Oak-Aged Series – American Whiskey Barrel is available now at the Cameron’s Brewery store in Oakville, priced at $12.95 per 750 ml bottle.

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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A Sneak Peek at The Beer Boutique

There are a lot of things that I don’t like about The Beer Store. I don’t think it’s right that Ontario’s main retail outlet for beer is owned by three foreign-owned/partnered companies (Labatt/InBev, Molson-Coors and Sleeman/Sapporo). I dislike the restrictive listing fees that make it difficult or impossible for many small breweries to get their products stocked. And most of all, I despise the fast food style counter service offered at the majority of its locations, a sales method that presents customers with a wall of labels and prices with no other information about the beers on offer, ultimately discouraging many of them from trying new things and enforcing the status quo of The Big 10.

While I don’t see my first two complaints being addressed any time soon, the third has been mitigated somewhat by a few self-serve locations, such as the one I visit occasionally at Dufferin Mall. But while it doesn’t bother me much that the main browsing area at this store is essentially a refrigerated storeroom, there are others who are looking for something a bit more refined in their retail experiences – not to mention more variety in singles and six-packs than what’s offered at the average Beer Store, where the 2-4 tends to be king.

It’s undoubtedly these types of customers that inspired the creation of The Beer Boutique, a new offshoot of The Beer Store that opens its first location in Toronto’s Liberty Village today. Last night was a media and VIP preview, and I got in to take a few snaps and check out the joint.

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Quick Quaff: Muskoka Mad Tom IPA

This past week’s launch of Muskoka Brewery‘s Mad Tom IPA ($12.95/6×355 ml at The Beer Store) was one of the most anticipated Ontario beer releases in recent memory, and while only one other local beer blogger seems to have gotten a review up, you can expect that to change pretty quickly. You can also expect that most of those reviews will be positive, as Mad Tom gives Ontario beer drinkers something that’s been sorely missing from our retail shelves: a locally-brewed version of a well-hopped American-style IPA.

That’s not to say that no Ontario brewery has crafted a beer in this style before. It’s just that all of them – such as Black Oak Ten Bitter Years, Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb and assorted experiments from Great Lakes – have been draught/cask-only or for sale in bottles exclusively at the brewery.

In fact, the only comparable Ontario-brewed beer with wide retail distribution at the moment is Great Lakes Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, which hit the LCBO in cans around the same time that Mad Tom was released at The Beer Store (with LCBO availability to follow soon). Both beers are fantastic, but it’s Mad Tom that I’m giving props to today.

Pouring a shining golden-orange with an ample white head, the beer throws off the aromas you’d expect from a beer dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial – i.e. citrus and pine, with some tropical fruit cocktail playing a small supporting role. In the flavour, the malt makes a valiant effort to show itself, offering some nice hints of caramel and biscuit off the top, but it can’t hold back the hops, which punch through with tons of grapefruit, lemon zest and pineapple, a smidge of pine resin, and an odd but not unpleasant suggestion of pepsin (à la Beemans Gum).

Well done, Muskoka – you’ve earned Mad Tom a regular spot in my fridge for the summer, and I imagine the fridges of a lot of other folks as well.

Quick Quaff: Hop City Mr. Huff Persuasion Pilsner & Happy Hour Ale

Say what you will about Moosehead and their beers – and lord knows I’ve said some not-so-positive things about them in the past – but one thing you can’t say about them is that they don’t know how to throw a party. From their small afternoon media scrums to big evening blowouts, every Moosehead event I’ve attended has been a great time, even if I haven’t always been a fan of the beers being presented.

This reputation continued with last Thursday’s launch party for Mr. Huff Persuasion Pilsner, the awkwardly named new release from Hop City, a small Moosehead subsidiary that operates out of the former Cool Brewing facility in Brampton. Held at 99 Sudbury, a swank events space in downtown Toronto, the bash also did double duty as an after-party for Moosehead’s annual sales meeting, which meant that the company big-wigs were on hand along with a few hundred other folks. In the main space, a DJ and cover band got the party mood going, while endless pints of all four Hop City beers kept attendees well lubricated.

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Christmas Cheer with OCB Beer

Just in time for the holidays, the latest batch of sampler packs to media from the Ontario Craft Brewers went out a couple of weeks ago – and interestingly, rather than just sending out their latest Discovery Pack, they did up one-off samplers in handy six-bottle/can carriers from the fine folks at CRAP, along with some tasty bottle and mug shaped cookies.

My package contained six beers that I’m quite familiar with – Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale, Black Oak Nutcracker Porter, Cameron’s Auburn Ale, Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion, Muskoka Cream Ale and Wellington Special Pale Ale. All nice enough quaffers. And quaff them I have – or most of them, at least, with the last couple sitting in the fridge to be downed soon.

Given my aforementioned familiarity with them, I haven’t bothered taking any tasting notes – and honestly, most of them are beers more suited to drinking and enjoying casually rather than analytically. But thanks to the magic of RateBeer, I’m able to bring you some notes I wrote up about each of them in the past (with a few new comments & amendments as needed)…

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Beer Review: HogsBack Vintage Lager

Yes, I know that I still owe you all several more Toronto Beer Week recaps. Although it’s starting to get to the point where I’m almost embarrassed to be writing about it so long after it happened. So we’ll see.

In the meantime – it’s been a bit of awindfall of free beer around these parts lately, so I figured I should start writing about some of it before I get a bad name for myself as that goddamn freeloading so-called “beer blogger” who never keeps up his end of the bargain.

First up: HogsBack Vintage Lager from HogsBack Brewing Company, a fairly new venture that started up in Ottawa earlier this year. Like their fellow Ottawa newcomers, Kichesippi Beer Company, HogsBack has started as a contract operation, with their single brand being brewed for them at Cool Brewery here in Toronto.

Aside from where the beer is brewed, they’ve been a steadfastly local concern, selling their beer only on tap, and only in the Ottawa area. The first of those will soon be changing, though, as they’re getting set to launch their Lager in bottles sometime in the next couple of months, with plans to sell it in six-packs at LCBOs in and around Ottawa.

A couple of weeks ago, Paige Cutland – one of the four partners behind HogsBack – dropped me a note saying that he’d be coming through Toronto and would like to drop off some bottles for me. I was expecting a couple of bottles, or maybe a sixer, so I was surprised when he showed up with a full case (fellow Toronto beer bloggers: I’ll be in touch soon to share the wealth…), but it’s given me a chance to try a few bottles to form a solid opinion of the beer.

And that opinion is: It’s good. Not OMG BEST BEER EVAR!!!!!!! good, but also not one of those so-called “premium lagers” that is really just a very small step up from macrobrew.

It pours a pale gold with a respectable white head, very much looking the part of a “European-inspired lager” as self-described. Aroma starts with some husky malt with a touch of fermented fruit sweetness and clean grassy hops. The palate is a bit sticky/oily, and the flavour is a bit sweeter off the top than what I personally prefer in a golden lager, but it balances out in the middle as some of the huskiness suggested by the aroma comes through, followed by light but fresh and zippy Saaz hops in the finish.

So, like I said – good. Not something I’d travel to Ottawa for, but if I lived there, I wouldn’t mind it being one of my hometown beers.

There Are Some Things I've Been Meaning To Tell You…

…and here they are:

  1. My weekly column for Taste T.O. this past Tuesday was a re-review of Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale – “re-review” because I had previously written about it three years ago when it was first launched in cans, but the recipe has recently been tweaked to make it hoppier and much more enjoyable.
  2. Speaking of re-reviews – last night I cracked open one of those lovely 750 ml ceramic swing-top bottles from Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, containing their limited edition Screaming Beaver Oak-Aged Angry IPA, which I had been sitting on since May. I tried a pint of it on cask back in the spring and didn’t care for it at all – it was boozy and sticky and just a big hot mess. But either the three months or so of sitting in my fridge took the edge off the bottled version, or it was a beer better suited for bottle format over cask – either way, I enjoyed the hell out of it this time. Big aroma with the oak, malt and hops playing very nicely off each other, and a flavour that starts sweet, with some notes of caramel and tropical fruit, before it turns dry and bitter with a wonderfully long and lingering finish of pine and grapefruit and wood. Mmmm-mmmm!
  3. Not sure how I missed mentioning this before, but a few weeks back, my buddy Troy over at the Great Canadian Beer Blog did a Q&A with me as part of a series of Ontario beer blogger profiles. Seven of us have been featured so far, and as the blogroll I maintain over at Canadian Beer News shows, Troy will have plenty more to choose from if he decides to continue, especially if he expands to cover all of Canada. Hard to believe that just a few years ago, there were only 3 or 4 of us doing the beer blogging thing in the whole country.
  4. Finally, I’m flattered to have been asked by George down at C’est What? to participate in one of the events they’re holding during Toronto Beer Week. Dubbed “Not Always In Good Taste – a beer writers-in-the-round“, it’s gonna feature Stephen Beaumont, Nick Pashley, Ian Coutts, Steve Cameron, Troy Burtch, Aonghus Kealy, Josh Rubin and myself sitting on stage talking about beer. And drinking some as well, I would expect. Which could be pretty boring, but given that it’s happening at 10:00 PM following several other TBW events, including what is sure to be an epic Brewdog beer dinner at beerbistro, I fully expect that most of us – and most of the audience – will be half in the bag before it even starts. So best luck to whoever is supposed to moderate the damn thing…

This Week on Taste T.O.: Wellington Silver Wheat Ale

While my “Beer of the Week” column on Taste T.O. usually features positive reviews of beers that I like – or occasionally, so-so reviews of beers that I can at least appreciate to some degree even if I don’t love them – it’s rare that I post a completely negative review.

But that’s what you’ll find there this week, as I have nothing good to say about Wellington Silver Wheat Ale, a complete mess of a beer that is made even worse by the fact that it was made to celebrate Wellington Brewery‘s 25th anniversary.

Most breweries take such milestones as an opportunity to create something really big and special and flavourful, but Wellington decided instead to go in the opposite direction, releasing a pale and light North American style wheat ale – and one afflicted with a multitude of flaws to boot.

Click here to share my pain, anger and disappointment.

This Week on Taste T.O.: Amsterdam Boneshaker IPA

For this week’s “Beer of the Week” column over on Taste T.O., I review Boneshaker IPA, a rather excellent new(ish) beer from Amsterdam Brewery.

Great to see brewmaster Jamie Mistry continuing to brew interesting seasonal and one-off beers – he’s really turned things around at Amsterdam since joining a year or two back.

The column also touches on the debate regarding small beer samples – i.e. the little plastic cups you tend to get at festivals – and how valid they are for writing up proper tasting notes. I’m interested in hear other opinions on this, so feel free to comment there or here if you have something to say.