Though that is both concise and true, I figured I’d go into a bit more detail. Enquiring minds want to know (maybe).
So as you can probably tell, WB and I absolutely love beer. So when we heard about Beer Fest, which promised a wide sampling of craft brews and beer-friendly snacks to boot, we were totally, 100% game.
For $15 you get a souvenir glass and three beer tickets, with which you can buy beer or food. Additional beer tickets were $1, so this seemed a pretty good deal. Most beer samples turned out to be more than one ticket, but still a great and not unaffordable way to try several different beers in one evening. We were excited to try a bunch of different Canadian beers, because while Molson and Labatt may dominate the market, we’re certain they’re not the best Canada has to offer.
Lake of Bays: Real IPAs and Red Ales
We both started at Lake of Bays Brewing Company, a Muskoka-based brewery. We tried their Rousse Red Ale (above, front), brewed in the Quebecois style, and their IPA (above, back). I won’t say anything bad about Alexander Keith’s because it seems blasphemous, and it is a really nice refreshing beer – but it is not really an India Pale Ale. In fact, a lot of what Canadian breweries call an ale are far too fizzy in my opinion. If I want fizz I’ll have a lager and even those are a bit over-carbonated in North America.
Anyway, ending my rant, the Lake of Bays IPA was an IPA, but not too extremely bitter, but still hoppy.
As a point of comparison for the Rousse, take Rickard’s Red (or perhaps Keith’s Red, if you wish). Again, a light, refreshing beer (though what’s with all the carbonation?), but the LoB Rousse might not be to your taste if you’re comparing to Rickard’s. It’s more viscous really, deeper, and significantly more bitter – though less so than the IPA. WB said “It had that red taste” if that clears anything up for you.
Honestly, we picked this booth first because there wasn’t a line and we hadn’t tried it, but it ended up being our favourite of the night.
Great Lakes Brewery: A Light Lager for Food
Then it was time for food. We split the tacos (pulled pork for WB, fried fish for me) and the quinoa patty sliders, which could have used some sort of exciting sauce, but otherwise we were very pleasantly surprised by the quality and taste of the snacks. We enjoyed them with an unpictured Great Lakes Brewery (Toronto’s original craft brewery, apparently) Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager which was thirst-quenching and great with food.
There were also chocolate beer cupcakes with pretzels. They looked delicious.
Silversmith & Railway City: Coffee and Honey (and a disagreement)
Then things got a little crazy. It started to rain, but we insisted on standing on the umbrella-less patio, huddling under a tree with strangers, discussing beer. WB and I went off in opposite directions: WB skeddadled to Niagara-on-the-Lake to try out the brand-spanking new Silversmith Brewery and their dark-as-night Black Lager (above, back), and I went on a flight with bumblebees to nearby St. Thomas’s Railway City Brewery and their Honey Elixir (above, front).
The Black Lager was very rich yet smooth, with coffee and chocolate flavours, almost smoky in taste. I thought it went down easy, and would pick this over Guinness most days, while WB thought he could enjoy one Black Lager and then switch to Guinness. I found this article which supports my point of view, which is naturally the correct one.
Railway City’s Honey Elixir is a limited edition ale, so it was great to get an opportunity to try it. It’s really a beautiful colour and can’t really be compared to what North Americans would think of as a honey beer, such as Sleeman’s Honey Brown (because, for one thing, Sleeman’s is a mass-produced lager, not a craft ale). It’s still got the hoppiness of ale, but with the distinct taste of honey. The bees are also from London! Overall, I would say this was yummy, and worth trying, but probably not something that would enter my usual rotation.
Spearhead & Nickelbrook: A contemplation on fruit beers
We gave up on trying to outlast the rain and went inside to explore the upstairs portion of the Beer Fest. We found the old Toronto standbys Steam Whistle and Mill Street, as well as Delirium Tremens, which isn’t Canadian at all. So we tried the few we hadn’t tried, which lead us into a plethora of fruit and wheat beers.
I saved us a table and instructed WB to go get me the Spearhead (another Toronto brewery that makes all-natural, small batch craft beer) Hawaiian Style Pale Ale (above),interested to find out what “Hawaiian Style” meant. He returned with a smirk: “I hope you like this!” he said. Turns out, Hawaiian style just means they add pineapple and, as you may know, I hate pineapple. It’s about the only food in the world I hate.
I wouldn’t say, though, that I hated this beer. It was light but hoppy and definitely had a citrusy taste that couldn’t help but remind me of urine, because that’s what pineapple tastes like, and no I have not tasted urine but as if you can’t imagine what it would taste like (hint: it would taste like pineapple). The professionals would call it an “aroma of ammonia” perhaps. So anway, I didn’t really like it and neither did WB, but if citrusy beer is your thing it’s gotten a lot of accolades so I’m going to chalk this one up to just personal taste.
Following the fruity trend we were apparently on, WB tried the (unpictured) Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner. They are a Burlington microbrewery that do a lot of seasonal, kitschy-type beers. This one was really green apple-y. It tasted sort of like someone had just mixed pilsner with apple cider. Perhaps that’s what they do. I actually kind of liked it as an alternative to a cider on a hot day, but as WB pointed out it would be better with ice. And as he also pointed out, he would probably just get a cider if he wanted this sort of thing, which I couldn’t help but agree with.
It launched us into a discussion about so many craft and micro breweries are attempting to break into this fruit and flavoured beer niche market they seem to think exists – but does it? Who wants a fruity beer? People who don’t really like beer will find it too beer-y, and for people who do like beer it would, at best, be an occasional fun thing to try, but hardly something that sees heavy rotation in their everyday beer purchases. Who drinks fruity beer? Maybe lots of people do and we’re just outcasts of the beer world. Who knows.
Muskoka and a return to Great Lakes: Weiss Beer
We ended the night with a bunch of weiss beer. First, the unpictured Summer Weiss Beer from Muskoka Brewery, based in Bracebridge. Then we returned to Great Lakes Brewery for another couple samples of the Golden Horseshoe because it was only one beer ticket. Alas, they were all out, but they gave us two hearty portions of their wheat beer (above) for one ticket each even though it was a two ticket beer. So that won us over.
To be honest, by the end of the night we had forgotten to pay much attention but I will say that I enjoyed all the wheat beers, and as I am not usually a big weissbier fan, this is saying something. They seem more filtered than something you might find in Germany or Belgium, which is good according to our tastes. Like fruit beer, though, weissbier is usually something we’d just try for fun.
The Final Verdict
Overall, we had a really good time and thought it was a very well put together event. Like we said, London has a plethora of festivals, but this one has been our favourite. We hope it catches on and gathers more sponsorship and participants in future years, as we’d love to try more Ontario craft breweries. We were really impressed, and think it has great potential to grow. We are looking forward to next year!
So, I hope you enjoyed that long rant, and that you enjoy reading about beer as much as I apparently enjoy writing about it (and drinking it).
If not, well you’re boring.
(I kid…do I?)