When BlogTO posted their preview of Cask Days, I went on record saying that the last thing I want is to have the California Brewery Feature overshadow the great Ontario beers that are pouring at the festival. I realize that the BlogTO article wasn’t pumping up California beer over Ontario – Ben Johnson is clearly a huge proponent of this community – but the Ontario craft scene is what I cut my teeth on – its the community that tought me what craft is all about, and I put Beau’s, GLB and Bellwoods right up there with Stone, Lagunitas and Ballast Point. I’ve also not been back to Toronto since January of this year, so I’m excited to check in with all the new breweries as well as my old favorites. Toronto has an exciting beer scene, one that is getting noticed, and while I’m promoting California, I’m also going to be tracking down some old Ontario favorites – here’s 5 I won’t be missing out on.
1) Beau’s All Natural – Night Marzen (Marzen)
I’m a Beau’s junkie. Even living in Southern California where I can get Pliny just about any day of the week, the beer that I miss the most is Lugtread. There’s just something about that toasted wheat in their malt profile that has taken root in my palate and I just can’t get enough of it. Their Night Marzen is not only a great octoberfest, but it also builds on that classic Beau’s malt character. It adds just enough sweetness from the munich malt and shows off a very slight burnt character from the roast. This is one that will really shine on a cask, so just look for me propped up against this firkin for the majority of the festival.
2) Innocente – Chocolate Rain (Chocolate & Peanut Butter Stout)
I moved to California in 2013, before the most recent explosion of local breweries in Ontario. There’s a few names that have received a lot of attention over the last 18 months, and Innocente is one of them. I’m really excited to check out how the Ontario craft community has grown over the last year and a half and I can’t wait to check out a few of these beers. Peanut butter stouts are gaining popularity all over the United States (the Belching Beaver version took the west coast by storm earlier this year) and it’ll be fun to not only try this up-and-coming Ontario brewery for the first time, but to also see how their PB-Stout compares to some west coast staples.
3) Bellwoods Brewery – Skeleton Key (Spiced Imperial Stout Aged in Rum Barrels)
In my mind, Bellwoods is one of the most exciting breweries in Ontario and they are building a reputation around the world as a place to watch. Their upcoming expansion is really going to help with that, but for this Cask Days my first order from Bellwoods will be this imperial stout. The character of stouts to really sing on casks – it carries that velvety body well and accentuates all the roasty malt character – with the only concern being that the boozi-ness of an imperial stout may interfere with that soft carbonation and mouthfeel. I’m not a big fan of rum in general, but as a barrel addition to a dark beer, there’s a spice character that simply can’t be ignored. I’ll drink just about anything that Bellwoods brews, but a chilly late-October day calls for something dark and spiced.
4) Great Lakes x Bar Hop – Hanlan’s Point (Coconut & Coffee Porter)
Its really a shame that Great Lakes shares a name with a hugely respected brewery in the United States, as it means they are always overshadowed when I mention them in conversation down south. Its frustrating because GLB is brewing consistently great beer, and its amazing to see how they have grown from the place pumping out ‘Golden Horseshoe Lager’ to dives bars around Ontario to a brewery crafting quality like Harry Porter, Karma Citra and Thrust. Great Lakes’ cask program had a huge impact on my appreciation of this particular conditioning style and I can’t even count the number of pints of ‘Lackey’s Caskey’ I’ve thrown back at the Cloak and Dagger on College. Throw in the fact that this is a collaboration with Bar Hop (and my old pal Matt), one of the great craft bar additions in the city over the last few years and this beer becomes one I’m not missing out on. Throw in a healthy dose of much needed coffee and this will make a perfect beer for midway through the session when you need a kick to keep you going right until the last call bell rings.
5) Durham – Red Dragon (Irish Red Ale)
Along with Great Lakes, I’ve been drinking Durham beers on cask since the moment I discovered what real ale was for the first time. But this specific beer- Red Dragon – is a beer that I will never tire of. Its a perfect mix of roasted coffee notes and a nice vanilla-caramel creaminess with just enough hop character to round it out. This is a beer I talk about a lot when Californians ask about what I drink back in Canada. Its not something you always find available but it just so happens that its the only offering from Durham on the menu and its definitely a must-drink.
At this point I’m equally excited about the fantastic line-up of California beers as I am with the chance to sling back beers from my favorite Ontario breweries. There’s really something special happening in Ontario in the craft scene, and its something that Cask Days captures perfectly every year.