Cask Days, 2016

img_20161021_150856Libby and I attended the opening (afternoon) session of Cask Days 12th annual edition yeserday at Evergreen Brick Works. The wet day didn’t dampen the lively spirit and enjoyment of the crowd.

If anything, the cool damp meshes with the craft beer ethos – it makes the serving temperature of the beer perfect and the atmosphere reminds one of rainy English weekends.

The Victorian setting of the Brick Works, an old shed where red brick was manufactured in Toronto’s early days, just adds to it all.

Friday afternoons are also the quieter time, when the crowd is substantial but no line-ups for beer are necessary at the “hot” counters.

The organization was smooth as glass and entry was a breeze, we arrived an hour after opening so there was no line-up but those who queued at opening said the wait was easy. Clearly the years of experience running the event have enabled attention to the smallest details.

The selection too is so large that there is something for every taste on the beer spectrum, even different lagers were represented, and a sizeable cider bar as well (didn’t get to it unfortunately). The cask head descriptions were accurate and legible. For those unfamiliar with the “handles” of offerings (IPA, helles, weisse, etc.) advice was always near to hand from other folk at the bar.

I took suggestions myself from two people and benefited from it, one was a Deschutes (Oregon) IPA. It was redolent of the West Coast hop yards but not scorchingly bitter, full-bodied, limpid in this case (which I prefer), very good.

My favourite of the afternoon was the first, MacLeod 1918 Pale Ale, a historical recreation from a California boutique which specializes (I later learned) in English-style brews. The quality of a well-hopped English beer was obvious and two others tasting with me agreed on its fine merits.

img_20161021_151010(Business opportunity for an Ontario micro: focus on English-style beers in the sense of using, i) English malt and hops, ii) lots of them). I tended to linger at the California and Oregon desks but sampled great beer from Ontario, Nova Scotia, and B.C. For New York, I think I only got to Barrier, from the NYC area. It’s an obvious choice for me as I find almost anything they do superlative.

This year I went into flavoured beers more than normally with great results. A sarsaparilla stout, I believe from Ontario, was ace, I think that’s a great flavour for stout or porter, peppermint too.

I remain convinced coffee with beer is a mésalliance, and there were numerous of those, but many other options are available, everything from IPA with apricot to maple-and-bacon beer. Pumpkin is an old favourite of mine, I saw Great Lakes’ version which is always reliable, but was lured by a “pumpkin smash” sour style recommended by Jordan. It was very interesting, perhaps a little more sour than I like. I meant to blend some with a Russian Stout but didn’t get to it.

I had two or three Imperial Stouts but only finished one, from California or Oregon, a strong and clean-flavoured version with more bitterness than many have.

bworks3-e1337885124617There was a dry-hopped pilsener finished with a German hop that was really good, from Barrier.

It’s at the point now where there are so many fine offerings, you just need to scan what’s available and go for it rather than prepping for “stars” as in the past. And I noticed too how Ontario’s offerings are on a par in quality and variety with the famous U.S. beer states. I’m sure American attendees were wowed by our offerings.

I didn’t have a single beer that was off or wonky this year, all were in great condition and many poured fairly clear which I like as stated above.

It’s “the” event of the Ontario, even Canadian, beer calendar and is on a par with Camra’s festivals in England or the best anywhere – perhaps better due to the variety and quality of the food offered and the unique mix of North American beers. I didn’t sample food, having had lunch an hour before, but the fried chicken looked appetizing and a large tray displayed when I walked in was gone in under an hour.

In a perfect world I would go back but there is office work to do this weekend so nose to the grindstone.

The Morana family continue to distinguish themselves by their many contributions to Ontario’s diverse, growing, high-quality beer culture.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the site of DTAH, the design firm behind this innovative urban renewal project. All copyright therein or thereto belongs to its lawful owner or authorized users. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.