Friday, June 17, 2011

Sometimes, I love the heck out of my job: Ontario craft beer edition

The crew and I left work early today so we could do a couple remote broadcasts in Eastern Ontario.  Today's stops: Kemptville Ribfest and Thousand Islands Wine and Food fest.  Which, to me, meant two basic things: award-winning ribs and local craft beers.  Excellent food was eaten.  Several coasters were collected (a weird obsession I developed at last year's Wine and Food fest), and much beer was tested (or revisited.  Often). 

And so, because this blog is, at least partially, about beer, I figured I'd run down some of my favorites from the event.  Sadly, I wasn't able to taste every offering from every brewer: samples were purchased with tickets, and I just didn't have enough to sample every flavor.  Instead, I went with my personal tastes, and chose based on what seemed like would fit those tastes. So, that said, let's start with my favorite of the night, and work down.

Best beer of the event goes to a new brewer, Gananoque Brewing Co., with their Train Wreck Strong Ale.  The rep from the brewer called this the Charlie Sheen of beers, and while I don't expect it to start dating hookers and go on a whirlwind tour of trashtalk, it is a little more than you bargained for.  Train Wreck is a dark and hoppy ale with a bitter kick you don't quite expect.

The exhibitors offered their samples alongside free samples of a chili made from the beer.  The two complimented one another perfectly.  While you don't need the beefy chili to enjoy the ale, I do sincerely hope they start packaging the beer with the recipe.  It made the presentation that much better, and really set them apart from the other brewers. 

Coming in a close second, Mill St. Brewery, with their Tankhouse Ale. Already gaining popularity, there were more Mill St. cups left lying around than any other brewer's.  And this is their first year at the festival.  That has to say something.  The Tankhouse is brewed from five different malts, pours a deep copper, and blends the yeast and hops into aromatic magic. 

Mill St. also offered samples for a single ticket, which practically ensured repeat visits.  And yes, I went back.

I won't pretend I know enough of the terminology to sound like an experienced brewer: I don't.  So, I can't tell you about notes or nose... or really much beyond color and how it tasted to me.  It'll come with time.  In the meantime, I'm certainly planning a return trip to Ontario... I understand the ICBO keeps the Tankhouse in stock. 

At number three, Creemore Springs.  I was introduced to Creemore last summer and became an instant fan of their delightful Kellerbier.  A German-style, unfiltered beer, Kellerbier is hoppy and flavorful, with a citrus aroma.  I was surprised to find that this beer is canned, rather than bottled, which I suspect to be more about presentation than any practical usage.  When your only exposure to canned beer is your uncle's Whatever-was-cheap, it's hard to let go of those instant prejudices.  But this cloudy, golden beer is well worth getting rid of those preconceived notions. 

If my constantly faulty memory serves correctly, I've also tried Creemore Springs' Pilsner and urBock (I believe they had a bottle or two left, for those who were daring).  Like many local brewers, Creemore doesn't make a bad beer.  But if you've never tried a traditional unfiltered beer, the Creemore Kellerbier makes a darned fine introduction.

I'm still new enough to all of this that I'm not really ever sure what to expect of a brewer's flagship offering.  I guess I'm having trouble getting used to the fact that craft brewers don't seem to have an interest in competing with the watered-down stuff you find at the convenience store.  People who want that, want it.  People who have tried a decent craft beer, I've found, will rarely go back to the corporate brewers.  And that brings us to our number four, Beau's Lug Tread Lagered Ale. 

The first time I saw the Lug Tread, images instantly came to mind of the standard canned fare that kept me away from American corporate beer for my entire life.  I should explain that, as a rather pretentious college student, I had no desire to drink the same watered-down stuff fed to the proles.  I was convinced that dark ales and stouts were of more literary stock.  Were more worthy.  Because of this, pale and golden ales held no interest for me.  And then I saw it's beautiful hue, sunshine gold, with just a whisp of white foam.  I saw the sweat on the plastic cup, and licked my lips, wondering why I'd never tried such a wonderful-looking brew. 

Put simply, Lug Tread is not your standard 6-pack fare.  The Lagered Ale, the flagship beer of Beau's, is crafted to quench thirst, but to do it in a way more memorable and pleasing than the stuff in the refrigerated section at 7-11.  The logo of Beau's is a tractor -- an acknowledgement that this is a beer for the hard worker.  The guy coming in out of the sun.  It's best served cold, as an acknowledgement of the refreshing flavors worked into the brew, and all-in-all, it's a darned good beer.  The reason -- the only reason -- it didn't end up higher on my personal list is that, for me, it's a beer I have to be in the mood for.  Though it's crafted as an everyday beer -- and probably is exactly that for many -- it's simply not the sort of thing I'd take out of the fridge at any given time.  Maybe it's because I still favor the heavier, darker ales, and the Lug Tread is so light.  But whatever the reason is, I also know that, when I do have that urge to pull the stopper on the long bottle, and to poor it into a chilled glass, I will enjoy the Lug Tread with all the gusto of a life-long fan.

Yes, by the way: I did notice that I spent more words on each beer, the lower it was on my list.  I suppose that with beer, like people (and food), my first tendency is to simply enjoy it.  And if I enjoy it less than another, then I suppose it is that, and not my original enjoyment, which must be justified.

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