Thursday, August 9, 2012

Toronto Festival of Beer 2012

Me (Danielle Rose) enjoying my first beer of the fest in the Media Lounge; Labatt 50, compliments of the Media Lounge; Photobombed by a new friend; HOP CITY Brewing Co.
My fascination with beer started when I was only a child, mischievously sneaking sips of my parents beer the moment they were unattended, with Sleeman's Honey Brown my favourite stolen sip of choice. I couldn't have cared less about feeling tipsy or getting drunk (and at that age, we can be very thankful that that wasn't on my mind!), I simply loved the taste! Once I hit 19 I had fun discovering my first hangovers, shooting back uber-sugary vodka coolers, loving that "I [couldn't] even taste the alcohol!", while I stumbled around like a newborn giraffe just learning to use her legs. Just after that I did a 360, deciding that classy was the way to go. Classy in my mind meant wine drinking. I attempted to throw myself into the wine scene, desperate to understand the jargon and how to describe and pair different wines. Although I was eager to taste different wines when at the many tasting events that I attended and worked at, I found myself continually ordering beer when at restaurants, and picking up 6-packs at the LCBO. Don't get me wrong, I love a good glass of wine, but I think it all comes down to the attitude. I was never able to fully immerse myself into the wine world, scared that I would say the wrong the thing and have a group of snooty wine drinkers turn their noses up at me as they slurped their Cabernet...because yes, this has happened. So what if I tasted vanilla and you tasted cherry? Isn't wine subjective? Despite how many times I've heard that yes, it is subjective, I never really felt accepted when expressing my opinions or even speaking up to ask a question. 

Beer is a whole other story. We like what we like, and if you don't like that, well, we couldn't care less! There is no shame when it comes to beer drinking, all is accepted. Whether you like the taste of a little salt in your beer, citrus fruits, or hey, there's even a man who comes into my pub who likes his Canadian draft microwaved for 35 seconds, all is accepted in the beer world!...but that microwave thing is a liiiittle strange, let's be honest. 
Me (Danielle Rose) ready to check out what Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery has to offer; Edinburg brew Innes & Gunn; Me & a new friend...I WOULD befriend the dude in a Snoop Dog (er...Lion?) T-Shirt; Fidel Gastro's awesome Spicy Short Rib Sandwich.
Working at a pub this summer has allowed me to learn a lot about beer, and most importantly, has helped me figure out what exactly I like...which turns out to be quite a lot! My taste buds have matured in next to no time, taking me from easy-drinking, multiple filtered light brews, to unfiltered hoppy brews with worlds of character. I was eager to try whatever I could get my hands on! So my invitation to the Toronto Festival of Beer could come at no better time! With my photographer for the day in tow (my very talented sister Justine Rose), I was ready to take on the festival! 

Walking up to the Exhibition grounds I couldn't help but feel special, being escorted past the line, thanks to my "Media" bracelet, and taken straight to the exclusive Media Lounge, complete with cozy couches, wifi, snacks, a mini bar serving up Labatt 50, and lots of free swag (ew...I hate using the word "swag"). Not a bad way to start off a beautiful Saturday! We quickly cheers'd our Labatt 50 in our complimentary cute glass beer mugs to a great fest, and went to grab our beer tokens. 
Me (Danielle Rose) enjoying a tasty brew from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery.
Overwhelmed by the size of the festival, we decided to each get 20 tokens, with 1 token representing a half glass of beer, and 2 tokens for a full. Our first stop was one of our favourite Ontario craft beers, Flying Monkeys from Barrie, Ontario. Being fans of both their Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale and Amber Ale, we wanted to give their Smashbomb Atomic IPA a try, attracted by the name. Just like all of the previous Flying Monkey's brews that we've tried, we absolutely loved their Smashbomb Atomic IPA! Smashbomb Atomic IPA stands out with its extreme Citra hop flavour, which means you get flavours of grapefruit, lime, apricot, melon, lychee, pineapple, mango, papaya, and other tropical fruit flavours and aromas. The hoppiness of the beer is balanced out with a strong malt backbone. Oh and hey, I learned that day that "IPA" stands for "India Pale Ale"...I couldn't have been the only one to just learn this right? 

Next stop was Shock Top Beer from the US. I've just recently discovered that I really enjoy the taste and ease of drinking that comes from wheat beers, so Shock Top, a spiced Belgian-style white wheat beer, was definitely of interest to me. With real orange, lemon, and lime peels as well as a bit of coriander, the unfiltered Shock Top had a unique and striking flavour that both my sister and I loved! 
Chef Craig Harding from Campagnolo taking charge of the Grilling Tent; Chef Harding created a food pairing to go with the classic Budweiser that was served; Chef Harding heating up the kitchen on the Napoleon Grill; Me (Danielle Rose) posing with Chef Harding's delicious Octopus & Chorizo Sausage sample.
Being true food lovers above all else, my sister and I were most excited to check out the Rockstar Napoleon Grilling Tent! With the food demos being led by Chef Craig Harding from one of my families favourite restaurants in Toronto, Campagnolo, and Rob Rossi from recently opened Bestellen restaurant and most notably Top Chef Canada Season 1, expectations were high! Chef Harding was first up at the grill, leading his demo with casual confidence as he showed the audience how to make his Octopus with Chorizo Sausage paired with a classic Budweiser. By giving a cash donation of your choice, you were given access to as much Budweiser as you liked, with the donation going towards Ted Reader's favourite charity. As always, Harding did not disappoint. The octopus and chorizo was absolutely delicious...I only wish I could have purchased a whole plate of it! 
Me (Danielle Rose), being a goof, posing with my food sample and beer.
Rock Lobster Food Co. Serving up buttery Lobster Rolls; Shock Top Unfiltered Belgian Wheat Beer; Me (Danielle Rose) anticipating my decadent Lobster roll; Ox Heart Philly Cheesesteak from the Feasting Room.
With only a short time before the next grilling demo began, a few glasses of Budweiser on our system, and 18 tokens remaining, we quickly grabbed a bite of food to make sure we could last the last two hours that we had at the festival. I couldn't resist the Rock Lobster Food Co. tent, serving up yummy little Lobster Rolls to tide as over before Chef Rossi's demo. Buttery, tender, and oh so decadent, I devoured my lobster roll with a smile on my face!
"Mmmmm...lobster roll...soooo nom nom"
Me (Danielle Rose) & my new friend; The Mill Street Busker Experience tent; Me & the guy who I stole the beer goggles from; Lake of Bays Brewing Company.
With a few more minutes to spare, we quickly hopped into the Mill St. tent, drawn in by their Busker Experience show, led by a mustached man in a top hat. Mill St. Organic is often my go-to beer, once again, with it's ease of drinking. I'm also a big fan of Mill St. Tank House, with its perfect balance of hops, citrus, and spice. High in both alcohol and hops, we decided to give Mill Streets IPA a try, now knowing what IPA actually meant. I really enjoyed Mill St.'s India Pale Ale with it's slightly roasted notes. 
Chef Rob Rossi from Bestellen and Top Chef Canada doing his thing in the Grilling Tent; Me (Danielle Rose) & Chef Rossi; Chef Rossi answering questions from the audience; Chef Rossi's delicious Grilled Scallop with mushrooms & Cilantro.
With a delicious lobster roll and some Mill St. in our system, we rushed back to the grilling tent to grab front row seats for Chef Rossi's demo. After watching every episode of Top Chef Canada, it came as no surprise that Rob Rossi is quite the charmer, saying "hi", shaking hands, and talking up the audience members as they found their seats. There was no question, he owned that stage! With the help of Chef Frank Vanditti, Rossi grilled up insanely delicious Sea Scallops with Mushrooms and Cilantro. It was really cool to watch as Rossi tasted along the way, following his instincts to adjust the recipe based on the conditions to deliver the most successful results. Originally he had planned on pan frying the scallops on the grill, but at the last minute, changed his mind and decided to place the scallops directly on the hot grill. Another last minute decision was topping the scallops with fresh cilantro, an addition that I felt really made the dish sing! The scallops were paired with another classic beer, Alexander Keiths. Once again, I found myself wishing I could cash in my tokens for a whole plate of Rossi's creation! 
Me (Danielle Rose) with my beer goggles on...that I may have taken off of a stranger; Shock Top unfiltered Belgian wheat beer; Me & more new friends; Cheerleaders to get everyone in the Beer Fest spirit.
It's at this point that things start to get a little fuzzy. I guess we didn't realize quite how much beer we had consumed in grilling tent, with our glasses being topped every few minutes, and only a few samples of food in our bellies. We spent the next hour or so hopping around from booth to booth, attempting to fill our stomachs, all the while treading dangerous territory trying even more beer samples. Unfortunately, I can't seem to recall what beer I tried during this time, although, thankfully, my memory for good food never seems to fail me! 

I spotted a stand for the Feasting Room serving up what looked like succulent Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, and quickly forked over my tokens to get my hands on one. With my yummy sandwich in hand, I picked up a recipe card on the table to pop into my purse. Perhaps I should have actually read what I was about to eat before I placed my order, because it turns out my sandwich was actually Ox Heart Philly Cheesesteak! Having never tried Ox nor heart before, I was a little timid to take my first bite. As I sunk my teeth into the tender meat smothered in red peppers, mushrooms, and montgomery cheddar cheese all previous apprehensions went right out the window! It was damn good! Who knew I would be a fan of Ox heart?! Thank you liquid courage! 
"Do I really want to be eating Ox Heart?...Oh yeah! So damn good!"
I also made sure to check out Fidel Gastro's stand, dying to taste what all the hype was about for myself! Fidel Gastro's has recently begun filming a show for Food Network Canada that everyone seems to be talking about. It took all of a second to realize why the name Fidel Gastro's has been on everyone lips lately, taking a bite of my favourite food vendor eat of the festival, Fidel Gastro's awesomely amazing Spicy Short Rib Sandwich. Oh man, it was to die for! I can't wait to check out his  reality show coming to Food Network Canada this Fall, Rebel Without a Kitchen.
Fidel Gastro's delicious Spicy Short Rib Sandwich; Me (Danielle Rose) & more new friends; You can't have a successful festival without live music; Me & yet another new friend.
Although the beer and food were clearly the standout of the festival, one of my favourite parts was the atmosphere. It felt like going back to first year Frosh, with swarms of young people eager to mingle, chat, and party with one another, but with a bit more maturity being in our mid to late twenties (the average age of the crowd on Saturday). I met so many awesome and hilarious people throughout the fest that made my sister and I's experience truly memorable! Kind, respectful, accepting, and interesting, I had so much fun getting to meet all of these unique beer lovers! 

The Toronto Festival of Beer has been one of my favourite memories of the summer so far, not to mention one of the best food and drink festivals I've been to! What an awesome way to spend a beautiful, sunny Saturday! I can't wait to make the Toronto Festival of Beer a yearly tradition for my sister and I! If you missed it this year, make sure to grab your tickets early next year, as they sell out pretty quick! Also be sure to check out the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival taking place this weekend! I'll be there! Come say hi! 

All photography by Justine Rose
Check out more of Justine's work here:
Intoxicated Ink
The Good, The Bad, & The Disposable

Listening To:
Miike Snow - The Wave

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