Halo Brewery Sarsaparilla Foreign Stout

This Toronto brewery seems, to craft fans in the know, a fixture of the Toronto craft scene, but is in business barely five years, co-founded by former homebrewers Callum Hay and Eric Portelance.

The brewery has tended to specialize in flavoured beers, often using mixed fermentation and barrel aging. Sours are part of the scene as well. This palette generally does not appeal to us (the genres, I mean), although we sample it regularly to keep up on trends and style barometers.

Lately we noticed a fairly atypical beer in Halo range’s, a 6% abv Event Horizon sarsaparilla stout, subtitled foreign export. The brewery page on the beer, impressively detailed, shows a fairly trad approach was followed. A complex grain bill comes down to pale English malt, a few unmalted grains, one roasted, and carafa and other roasted malts.

As the page also explains, the recipe has evolved over time. I never tasted earlier versions, and find this current one superlative. The body is rich – look at the gravities – and accented with the aforesaid sarsaparilla.

Indian sarsaparilla is used, a type that imparts a flavour sufficiently associated to the true (smilax) sarsaparilla yet avoiding safrole, the agent in smilax varieties and sassafras grass that has been associated with cancer in animal testing.

So the Indian sort obviates any such issue in that regard. To me the taste, well-explained in the brewery page (e.g. “wintergreen”), is akin to that of root beer with an earthy note. The hop used is Amarillo, a New World type that in our view leans toward the U.K. in its flavour characteristics – a good thing in this context.

While generally I do not like flavouring in porter, I give slack, quite happily, for Indian sarsaparilla as employed by Halo. In other porters or stouts I like occasionally a kiss of ginger, orange flavouring (dried peel, coriander, etc.), mint or spearmint and… not too much else.

Licorice I almost never like. The taste ends usually as discordant, just not grateful to the palate. But now my perhaps widening horizon for flavoured porter makes room for sarsaparilla in the way, again, Halo does it.

This means make a porter that is traditional (U.K.-styled) to begin with, which Callum Hay did here. Then, see where you can go from there. He has carved a successful path with the current version of Event Horizon, certainly.

Below you see me enjoying one today on a space-heated, open-to-the-elements patio downtown in Toronto, at King Taps.

This results from the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown in Ontario that has shut bars and restaurants except for patios designed to admit open air. The exemption is problematic – nearly bootless – in a Canadian January, even with (expensive) propane heating as King Taps uses.

Still, sitting with a beer there today was quite acceptable. I commend the owner’s spirit to try to keep open in such difficult circumstances.

This will be academic from next Monday when the regime changes to permit indoor dining at 50% capacity. It can’t come soon enough. The province has – the people – reached their tether with total restaurant (and other business) lockdowns.

Whatever one’s views on the cost-benefit analysis, we can’t keep opening and closing vulnerable businesses in yo-yo fashion. This won’t fly (I believe, or predict) any longer, not with the bulk of the people.

We must move on, as unfortunately we don’t have all the choices – never did. And as many have observed, but was evident to me from the start of this pandemic, we are not all in this together. Politicians, during their tenure, and most bureaucrats in practical terms during their career, have guaranteed paychecks.

To keep imposing severe burdens on private business, big or small, palliated only to a degree and for a time by public benefit schemes, cannot continue for much longer as it will be impossible to afford.

Those chary to venture out to a restaurant have the choice to stay home until the time they feel secure enough to patronize hospitality on-premises.


1 thought on “Halo Brewery Sarsaparilla Foreign Stout”

  1. A few notes on adjustments made to text this morning. Reading the brewing details again (per website), the “chocolate” mentioned seems clearly two forms of chocolate malt, vs. actual cocoa used, so this is now reflected.

    The new Ontario regime that will permit 50% indoor restaurant capacity starts this Monday, not Tuesday, so again correction made.

    Finally, I extended somewhat my “political” observations.


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