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Oakes Weekly - June 19th, 2003
St. Lawrence Beer Festival Report
June 19, 2003
Written by Oakes
<P>The St. Lawrence Beer Festival and Barbeque Cook-Off is a relatively new Father’s Day tradition in Toronto. I can’t honestly recollect my excuse not attending last year (but the year before at least I was at the Mondial!). But for whatever reason, this is the first year I’d ever attended this event.
<P>I first had to stop in the market for some smoked paprika, sausages and a bit of cheese. The festival is held across the street from the main market, in an open area between the “south market” and an apartment building. The street was blocked off for a series of barbeque trucks. I was quite surprised, actually, that the barbequers were all travelling barbeque outfits, most from the South. I honestly had expected something a little more local, but in a town where apartment-dwellers are banned from having barbeques on their decks, it’s not surprising they had to import barbequers from places where they love and respect the grill.
<P>I didn’t partake much of the barbeque, save for a pulled pork sandwich when I passed by the fest the next day, but I did partake of the beer. The first stop was Magnotta, as they have a new wheat beer, Wunder Weisse, on the go. It was quite sweet I thought, but well-structured, let down mostly by a lightness of body.
<P>The other new product for me was the black currant mead from Trafalgar. I’d heard a few weeks ago that Trafalgar was putting together some form of braggot. At the time, it was explained to me that it would also be fruited, and that they had brewed it to 18% and had to cut it to 9% in order to avoid being taxed as a liqueur. Interestingly, if I had the 18%, I bet I’d enjoy it as such, because it seems quite sweet and rich with artificial fruit flavouring. That level of flavouring needs a dry counter on the palate, and I figure another 9% of alcohol might just do the trick. But alas, all I had was the 9%, very sweet stuff. So not only was it not a braggot, but not much of a mead either. It comes off as a vaguely sophisticated, high-test alcopop to me. So much for my enthusiasm about a local brewer making braggot.
<P>I paid visit to many of my favourite breweries, and spent most of the fest chatting with brewers and other members of the local scene, as we hadn’t all been gathered in the same place for quite a while. Michael Hancock of Denison’s was pouring his Weissbier, and this was my second crack at Batch #2. It is definitely less-attenuated than the first batch, and benefits from that. He currently brews at Mill Street, and will take another batch or two to adjust to the equipment and get the beer back to dominant status, but it’s really good right now. I’m expecting to have some for Chicago.
<P>Speakings of Mill Street, they took a bit of a gamble locating their brewery in an out-of-the-way enclave of southeast Toronto, the Distillery District. The District nowadays is turning heads, and has been an excellent launch platform for Mill Street’s products. My second taste of the Tankhouse Pale confirmed my suspicions that this beer is bloody good stuff. Expect to see some of that in Chicago, too. I also had occasion to speak with Paul Dickey, who brews at the Pepperwood Bistro in Burlington and was the man who formulated the Mill Street Coffee Porter. Now, I think this beer has no balance, but while I was explaining to him the different ways in which the beer sucked, someone else came along to give him praise for making such an excellent beer. That’s why we drink them, and that’s why having a place like Ratebeer where you get dozens or hundreds of opinions is the best place to learn about a given beer.
<P>I stopped briefly at Church Key. I was disappointed to learn that they are still only selling bottles at the brewery – when my stash of Schlenkerla runs out I’ll be requiring some Holy Smoke. I learned that they are in the same county as Empire, the cheesemaker who really impressed me with their 8-year-old cheddar a few weeks back. Apparently there is a chocolate maker out that way as well, plus it’s not far from Peterborough and a rare unvisited Ontario brewpub, the Olde Stone. I think a trip in that direction will be in order sometime this fall.
<P>Scotch Irish was there as well, pouring just their two big guys – Corporal Punishment and Sgt. Major’s IPA. You’ll see both of those in Chicago, too. Owner Perry Mason (aka pondoshuffles) is doing what few have had the stones to do – make a market out of true beer lovers. It’s a small market, but we are loyal and I’m glad somebody understands that beer geeks have needs, too.
<P>Rumours were going around that Black Oak is going to be bringing back its seasonals – I’m definitely in favour of this. I enjoy their saison and it’s a rare summer seasonal that appeals to drinkers of real beer. More people should make saison as a summer seasonal.
<P>All told, a decent evening. The fest is well-run and intimate. All the good brewers (well, except King) were there, with only a couple of iffy ones. A good time had by all.
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