Since starting this site in November 2013, my conversations about cask ale have inevitably led the mention of Cask Days, an all-cask festival in Toronto that is currently in its 10th year. Its a really fantastic festival that features hundred of cask ales from breweries all over Canada and its a big part of how I grew to love cask-conditioned ales in the first place.
If you have been following my twitter and instagram lately, you’ll know that I’ve been asked to present a California Brewery Feature at this year’s Cask Days, which means bringing 40+ firkins of the best beer California has to offer to Toronto for what’s going to be a pretty historical event. This will be the first time many of these beers have been poured in Canada in any form, not to mention on cask. Its an event that I’m incredibly proud to be part of as it unites the two beer communities that have really informed my love for craft.
Tickets went on sale September 1st and they will definitely sell out so make sure you grab them before its too late. We are going to slowly reveal the list of California breweries over the next month so stay tuned to twitter, instagram and right here to find out more about what we’re bringing up to the event.
1) Stone Brewing Co. – What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Stone are legends at this point and the fact that you can’t readily get Stone IPA in Toronto is kind of embarrassing. What Ontarians don’t know is that Stone runs a really great cask program, and different brewers from Stone are each going to be coming up with a special cask recipe to send to Cask Days. I’m sure if you did some googling you could see some of what they have done in the past…
2) Green Flash Brewing Co. – Another San Diego brewery, Green Flash’s West Coast IPA has become one of the quintessential examples of the style but their le Freak Belgian IPA, and their Palate Wrecker DIPA are equally remarkable. With their West Coast IPA recently reappearing on LCBO shelves (so I’m told), this will be a chance to taste another offering from the brewery, in just about the freshest condition you can possible get.
3) Magnolia Brewing – Its likely that Magnolia is largely unknown to the general Toronto beer community, but with their recent expansion into a full production facility, this one-time tiny brewpub from San Francisco is starting to turn heads. With a focus on sessionable british-influenced ales – particularly from a cask – the firkins we bring from Magnolia are guaranteed to be hot tickets at Cask Days. Want to know more about Magnolia? check out their episode of BrewAge here:
4) Beachwood BBQ & Brewing – After winning 5 medals at GABF in 2013, getting named best mid-sized brewpub in the United States, and collaborating with Stone Brewing Co (and Heretic) on their Unapologetic IPA, Beachwood BBQ is certainly getting the attention of craft beer fans all over the continent. Here’s the thing – they are still a very small brewery. Even for those of us lucky enough to live in Southern California, their limited bottle releases sell out within days (sometimes hours) of reaching the shelves and leave many people out of luck. What’s even more impressive is for all the medals brewmaster Julian Shrago has amassed over the last few years, none of them have been for IPA’s! Beachwood’s growing list of IPA’s are some of the best the west coast has to offer and that’s saying a lot! (Check out my review of their Thrillseeker IPA) I only wish, along with the beer, we could bring a truckload of their incredible barbecue for Cask Days ticket holders (sadly, we can’t). We are incredibly lucky that Beachwood has agreed to supply us with beer for Cask Days – from what I understand, its the first time their beer has been served in Canada, so make sure its at the top of your list.
5) Modern Times Brewing – Up until very recently, this San Diego brewery was the most successful crowdfunded brewery project ever and since launching in 2013, Modern Times have firmly established themselves as a brewery making headlines. Their outspoken founder may get his share of flack online, but the buzz that accompanies each one of their releases is undeniable and with barrel-aged stouts and sour releases on the calendar in the next year its not going to die down. Modern Times promotes a fairly holistic attitude toward brewing and are one of the few breweries that roast (and occasionally barrel-age) their own coffee in house for their Black House coffee stout, while also serving their own cold-brew coffee on nitro in their two stunning taprooms. They are a brewery that, up until recently, was expanding so quickly that they could barely keep up so its a true privilege to be able to bring a cask-conditioned ale from them to Toronto for the first time.
6) Bottle Logic Brewing – Some breweries just seem to be set up for greatness before they even open their doors. To say that there was hype around Bottle Logic prior to their opening in January 2014 is a bit of an understatement. The Los Angeles / Orange County beer community was absolutely buzzing for this place and less than a year later its not hard to see why. From Double IPA’s to Rice Lagers to Anaheim Pepper Pale Ales, Bottle Logic shows there is no limit to what a modern craft brewery can do. Earlier this year at Firkfest, there was very little waiting in line-ups (due to incredible organization on the part of OCBeerBlog), except at Bottle Logic’s booth, where I waited a mere 10 minutes for a taste of their Leche Mole Stout, a beer that was worth every moment in line and all the hype around it. Bottle Logic is one of those breweries that, years from now, you will tell your friends you had a taste of their cask before anyone knew who they were. Check out my review of their Double Actuator IPA and Tattered Prince Saison for more details.
7) El Segundo Brewing Co.- In a region that’s known for its hop-obsessed IPA’s its hard to stand up and get noticed, but for my money, El Segundo is releasing some of the best west coast style hop forward beers on the market. With a solid lineup of Double IPA’s including the caramel balanced Two 5 Left, and the Nelson-bomb Hop Tanker, El Segundo rounds out their lineup with some wonderfully quaffable Pale Ales. Next week, El Segundo releases a new batch of their Power Plant Triple IPA, which had locals screaming ‘Pliny-killer!” when it was first released back in February. From where I’m standing, its a comparison that creates a silly competiton, but also a hype that is totally warranted.
8) Macleod Ale Brewing Co. – Only open since June 2014, Macleod is the newest brewery taking part in our California Brewery Feature, but without a doubt the most committed to traditional cask ale. For a full history you can check out my profile of them in Beer Paper LA, but what really jumps out about Macleod is that they are brewing entirely British style ales on the hop-obsessed west coast, and Macleod pushes it even further with their almost entirely cask-focused taproom. Recently, their Session Gap ordinary bitter was named ‘the best bitter in the United States’ by Jamil Zainasheff on The Brewing Network, and at this past weekend’s LA Beer Week kick-off celebration half the people I spoke with were raving about the quality of their brews. It all boils down to a clear vision and a great brewer, and we’re incredibly excited to have head brewer Andy Black travelling up to Toronto to join us for Cask Days this year as well.
9) Pizza Port – Its amazing the kind of acclaim a group of beer & pizza joints can receive. If you actually have a chance to visit one of these locations, you’ll be surprised at how laid back and unassuming they are. Nothing about these brewpubs would lead you to think they are producing beers that receive the same level of acclaim as Pliny the Elder, but if you look at the rankings throughout the 2000’s, Pizza Port was often ranked higher than the much-lauded Russian River DIPA. Its that kind of humble stature that really appeals to me. What’s even more exciting? Pizza Port is sending a number of fresh hopped beers – a privilege that is specific to a very short window that Cask Days just happens to fall into.
10) Monkish Brewing Co. – Located in the quickly growing beer community of Torrance California, Monkish stands out on the West Coast as one of the few breweries not doing IPA’s, focusing their attention on the more Belgian side of things. Monkish takes classic styles and puts modern twists on them, but in the last sixth months they’ve made a incredibly strong statement with a lineup of farmhouse ales fermented with brettanomyces; Selah, Hem & Haw, and most recently Arrivant. These releases are among my favorite new beers of 2014 and put Monkish on a path bound for acclaim. On the cask-conditioned side of things, I named Monkish ‘best in show’ at Firkfest earlier this year when they showed off their Shaolin Kick – a belgian dubbel brewed with schicuan peppercorn and conditioned with thai basil and sriracha. Its a combination that may seem odd, but brewer and owner Henry Ngyan has dialed this one in perfectly after months of experimentation. To really sum up the effect of this brewery I’ll end with this – when I booked my flight back to Toronto for Cask Days my brother offered only three words of excitement: “bring more Monkish”.
11) Ballast Point Brewing Co. – Another San Diego staple, Ballast Point is one of those breweries that needs very little introduction. All you really need is one word: Sculpin. This IPA is about as good as it gets, and us on the west coast take for granted how readily available this beer is, often preferring the habanero or grapefruit variations. While Ballast Point won’t be sending their flagship up to Toronto, they have something even more special in mind; something a bit more imperial, and something that will have fest-goers screaming ‘Victory!’.
12) Lagunitas Brewing Company – Another craft legend that needs no hype from this blogger. I remember years ago in Toronto making trips down to Premier Gourmet in Buffalo to snag bottles of Maximus and Hop Stoopid. With the recent opening of their Chicago brewery and tasting room, Ontario beer fans are a thousand miles closer to the source of some of the best beers in the United States, and with that kind of proximity, why not plan a weekend trip to the Windy City. And with craft brands taking up more and more shelf space at the LCBO it can’t be long before Lagunitas finds some distribution on the Canadian side of the great lakes.
13) Noble Aleworks – Noble Aleworks has had one hell of a year. Since winning the LA IPA Fest last fall with their Tongue Tickles Double IPA, they have launched a series of single hop IPAs that have taken Southern California by storm. The ‘Hop Shower’ series would be impressive by any brewery’s standards, but these are just icing on an already delicious brewery cupcake. Noble is also home to one of the best coffee milk stouts I’ve ever tasted, the curiously named Naughty Sauce, as well as an ever growing selection of hot pepper beers. At this year’s Firkfest in March, during a casual conversation craft beer celebrity Stan Hieronymous called Noble’s English 101 the best beer of the festival, a compliment that would make any craft brewer’s entire year.
14) Coronado Brewing – When moving to the United States I was surprised to learn that so many of the breweries I loved were barely larger than a brewpub. Our list for Cask Days features a number of them and Coronado is one of the oldest. Starting in 1996, Coronado was one of the breweries that put San Diego on the craft beer map – slowly growing until 2012 when they were forced to open a new 30-barrel brewhouse and production facility to meet with demand. Coronado is one of the sleeper breweries on the west coast – they have been a presence for so long its easy to take them for granted, but I would advise you against that.
15) Ladyface Ale Companie – Tucked in the hills north of Malibu, Ladyface Ales has quietly been building a name for themselves as one of the best brewpubs on the west coast. With a heavy focus on french and belgian style ales, it might surprise you to find that their hop forward beers are equally high in quality. Ladyface is one of the few spots in the Los Angeles area that taps a cask every week, and they are not shy to throw in a 10% quad or an 8% imperial red in a firkin either. Their co-owner Cyrena Nouzille was recently elected to the Brewer’s Association’s Board Of Directors on top of co-founding the LA Brewers Guild – so the craft beer street cred it definitely there. Without a doubt, Ladyface Ales is one of the best kept secrets in Southern California.
16) Sierra Nevada – There’s an argument to be made that none of this would exist without the rise of Sierra Nevada Brewing. Since launching in 1980, they have been blazing a trail that has led directly to many of the other breweries that are part of our California feature. Even today Sierra Nevada’s commitment to quality and community is an example for the rest of the community. Sierra Nevada is sharing with us a few of their core brands, but I’m particularly excited to be bringing the Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale; a showcase of wet-hops from the North West. This is a treat regardless of where you live, but sharing it with Toronto will be a blast.
Tickets are available here!