Thursday, August 1, 2013

Toronto Festival Of Beer 2013

Goose Island's Sofie & Matilda beer in the Media Tent; Me (Danielle Rose) cheers-ing with new friends while hiding from the rain; Goose Island's Matila & Sofie chilling in an ice bath; a guitar-playing crooner at the Smirnoff Ice station
Right as July begins to wind down and you start to fear that your Summer may be nearing its end, The Toronto Festival Of Beer swoops into town to remind you that the summer is just beginning! An event that truly reflects the carefree and laid back attitude of summer in Toronto, our city's Beer Fest is really just a giant park party, which just so happens to be filled with over 60 brewers featuring more than 200 brands of beer from all over the world. I walked into the festival last year a novice, without a clue about what I was getting myself into, and very little knowledge of beer (despite what I may have said about my "mature" taste at the time). Ultimately, we did have a great time and did try some interesting beer, but, to be honest, the majority of our beer drinking was pretty tame, as we kept to a lot of brands we were already familiar with, just beginning to get our taste buds comfortable with the bitter flavours in hops, the sweet and often grainy flavours from malt, and so on. 

Now, one year later, we consider ourselves true "beer drinkers", having spent the last year tasting different beers from around the world, experimenting with trying various styles of beer, shades and colours, degrees of filtration, and percentages of alcohol, many of which from craft brewers playing around with natural ingredients, straddling the line between art and science. With a game plan, and my list of "The Do's Of Beer Fest" fresh in my brain, we were definitely ready to conquer the festival! 
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Me (Danielle Rose) sipping on my first brew of the festival in the Media Tent
We started our beer drinking festivities off in the Media Tent, sectioned off with high tables, bar stools,  cozy couches, and lots of Neal Brothers chips so that all participating media could have a place to "kick up their feet and tweet!" thanks to free wifi. We eagerly checked out the mini bar secluded off in the tent, curious to see if they had stepped up their game this year and were pouring something other than Labatt 50 (as they were unfortunately doing last year). Sure enough, bobbing in a bath of ice were two of my favourite craft brews that I had tried this year, Goose Island's (Chicago) Matilda and Sofie. Goose Island's Matilda is my standout favourite of the two with fruity aromas and a slightly spicy flavour, this dry and quenching beer has been a great easy drinking beer all summer long for me! Goose Island's Sofie is more reminiscent of a tart and dry sparking wine, with flavours of spicy white pepper and a hint of citrus thanks to the addition of orange peel. Goose Island's Matilda and Sofie make great gifts as they are bottled in beautiful 765mL wine bottles.
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Me (Danielle Rose) digging in to Fidel Gastro's Kingzilla Sandwich
All it took was one sampling glass of beer to work up my appetite and have me rushing over to Fidel Gastro's tent, and see what interesting creations he was cooking up this time around. The hardest part about going to Fidel Gastro's station at any event is deciding what to order, as every item sounds so mouth-wateringly delicious and unique. This issue is generally solved as you snake your way through the inevitably long line of hungry snackers, but it just so happened that we got lucky and had no line at all. Our growling stomachs forced a speedy decision, and two minutes later we were tucking into their Kingzilla Sandwich, rootbeer braised short rib and kimchi on a soft bun. How good was it? Just look at my satisfied face! As we were waiting for our sandwich, we got distracted by the sight of their grill, which was covered in bacon-wrapped something. We had to know what that something was. It turned out to be their Alabama Tailgaters, beef carpaccio, kimchi, and havarti cheese wrapped in bacon. Good lord! We knew we had to go back and try those later! 
Me (Danielle Rose) drinking Waterloo Brewing's award winning Amber brew in front of their tent; The selection at Lake of Bays Brewing Company; Flying Monkeys Brewing pouring me my Diary of a Mango Madman beer; Posters at Beau's Brewing, including the Tom Green Beer poster
One of the next exhibitors we checked out was Lake of Bays Brewing Company from right here in Ontario. I had enjoyed their Rock Cut lager when I first tried it at the Stop's Night Market, with its gentle notes of fresh cut grass and a a hint of caramel, but Beer Fest is all about trying something new, so I went for their River Walker Summer Ale, which their representative informed us was getting mixed reviews all day. She said if you aren't a fan of ginger, you probably won't like this beer. Both my sister and I immediately gave her a knowing glance. Come're talkin' to two proud gingers here. Of course we like ginger! That fresh grated ginger definitely gave the beer a bit of a punch, but a welcome one! The kick of ginger and citrus makes this seasonal ale the perfect beer for beating the heat, with its bright and refreshing flavours and crisp finish. 
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Me (Danielle Rose) shielding myself from the rain at the Lake of Bays tent
After enjoying a few light brews, we were ready to take on the dark and headed over to Hop City (Brampton, ON) to try their 8th Sin Craft Lager, a pitch black lager brewed with eight different types of malt. This smooth, sweet beer was an absolute treat with  a medium body and flavours of chocolate and espresso. I also tried a very similar and perhaps even more delicious dark brew from Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, arguably my favourite Ontario craft brewer. Instantly, upon walking up to the Beau's station I noticed a silk-screened-looking image of Tom Green on the board. What the heck does Tom Green have to do with Beau's? I quickly learned that Tom Green and Beau's have partnered to create The Tom Green Beer, a milk stout displaying flavours of chocolate and coffee, while delivering a creamy, velvety texture, and finishing with a mild sweetness. Definitely another winner of the day! 
The menu board at Fidel Gastro's; Fidel Gastro's Alabama Tailgaters; A non-edible mock up of the spread at Fidel Gastro's; Alabama Tailgaters on the grill
It was right around this time that we decided we just couldn't wait one second longer to finally try Fidel Gastro's Alabama Tailgaters, that hadn't left our brains since we first set our eyes on them. After excitedly proclaiming "We came back!" we were handed a plate of the most perfect bite of savory and smokey deliciousness. Piping hot from the grill, the grass-fed beef carpaccio took on a great flavour and texture from being cooked while wrapped in the seasoned smoked bacon, the havarti cheese sauce adding a comforting creaminess to cut the saltiness of the meat. These little babies were so damn delicious, we may have come back again to order another two orders, one to eat on the spot, one to take home. Oh man, I've gotta get myself over to Fidel Gastro's recently opened bricks and mortar, Lisa Marie, to try their full menu ASAP! 
The buzzing crowd; Me (Danielle Rose) drinking Brooklyn Brewery's IPA; Buskerville at the Mill St. tent; Me in front of the Hop City station drinking their 8th Sin Craft Lager
With more food in our bellies, we were ready to fill up our mini steins once again! We headed over to Brooklyn Brewery from, you guessed it, Brooklyn! I was first introduced to Brooklyn Brewery by my boyfriend who considers Brooklyn Lager to be his "house beer". I absolutely love their amber-gold coloured lager which displays a firm malt centre supported by a refreshing bitterness and floral hop aroma. After drinking so much of Brooklyn Brewery's lager this summer, I was ready to try something else from the New York brewery. The only other option was their East India Pale Ale, inspired by the original East India Pale Ales brewed in England in the early 1800's for the troops in India, which featured extra malt and hops to give the brew the bitterness and strength to endure the long sea voyage. The bright aroma of hops, lemongrass, pine, and citrus fruit give this IPA its unique and delicious flavour. I hope to start seeing this in stores soon! 
The giant Meatball sign at the Campagnolo and Dolce Lucano station; Me (Danielle Rose) ready to dig into my meatballs and beer; The menu board at Campagnolo and Dolce Lucano; The Meatballs with Italian Pretzels from Campagnolo
Beginning to feel all that beer kicking in, we stumbled over to the tent with a sign with the words 'ITALIAN MEATBALLS' scrawled in bright red, drawing us in like bulls to a matador. The tent was home to Campagnolo and Dolce Lucano, serving up meatballs with ragu and bread, as well as an antipasto platter with salami, olives, and Italian pretzels. After having so many wonderful experiences from Campagnolo in the past, including last years Grilling Tent cooking demo from Chef Craig Harding, I was excited to try their take on a classic Italian meatball. Although the dish was delicious, I was surprised to find cut sausages in my container as opposed to the promised meatballs. Perhaps this is how they do their meatballs? But they weren't balls...Delicious, but deceiving, the ragu-soaked bread actually tasted more like meatballs than the cut sausages did. 
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Me (Danielle Rose) sad, confused, and happy all at once about the rain invading the festival
It was by this time that I was beginning to feel very beer'd out, and still had a pocket full of tokens needing to be used up. I pushed myself through two more beers (rounding out an approximate total of a whopping 14 samples that day!) and had to call it a day. One of my last samples came from Double Trouble Brewing Company (Ontario), trying their Hops & Robbers IPA. I have picked up their tall cans of their Prison Break Pilsner a few times before, but was eager to try something a little heavier from the quirky brewery. Their Hops & Robbers IPA hit the spot with its fruity aromas of lemon with hints of pineapple and toasty caramel. I had to end things off on a super light note, wanting nothing but a refreshing glass of juice to wash away all that beer. Flying Monkeys Brewery had exactly what I was looking for in their Diary of a Mango Madman beer. Incredibly light, this fruity beer was almost like sparkling mango juice, but with the added complexity of a light brew. Really refreshing and interesting, I enjoyed Flying Monkeys mango beer, but it is definitely a super girlie beer! 

Tired, thirsty for juice, and wet from the rain I was ready to hop into a cab and crash on my couch, with happy memories of another successful beer fest dancing in my mind. Is it too soon to start counting the days until next years Toronto Festival of Beer? I can't wait!! Until then, get excited for the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival coming up August 10 and 11! 

All photography by Justine Rose.

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