Last Weekend's Beer, Today

Eno Sarris, September 12, 2016

One little moment this weekend in Toronto gave me a peak into the future of craft beer in that city. 

The present was a bit underwhelming, though not completely devoid of promise. I enjoyed Bellwoods, probably the class of the town. Downtown brewpub Bar Hop had a couple decent beers and a very long tap list and an enthusiastic clientele. Boneshaker was a nice citrusy, malty, West Coast 1.0 type of IPA. 

But the local small brewery recently bought by Big Beer -- Mill Street -- had only one beer I might have again in their super citrus and pink grapefruit West Coast IPA. Left Field, a brewery with baseball themed beers, had me primed, but I came away without tasting a standout. Granville and a few others were downright unfinishable. 

There I was, though, in line for a choice between Goose Island IPA or Alexander Keith's IPA at one of the better beer bars inside the Rogers Centre, and I had an interaction that told me that things are headed in the right direction.

I wasn't complaining about the beer, I promise, I was actually talking about how great the beer at Bellwoods had been. A young lady on the fun side of 30 turned around and exclaimed "Did you have the Jelly King!!" 

It was a small thing, but I found it interesting. She was hip looking, for one, so that was a good sign. Jelly King is a dry-hopped sour, too, so it wasn't just a decent IPA from a local spot she was flushed about. The best part was that, despite the fact that a conglomerate owns all of the beer stores in Ontario, here was a young person who had looked past those choke-holded beer fridges and into a local microbrewery -- and then was excited it enough to turn to a couple of shmucks behind her and emote about the beer she had there. 

I bet we're about to see some good beers trickle over the border from Toronto. 

Collective Arts Rhyme & Reason IPA
Steamwhistle Pilsner
Nickel Brook Naughty Neighbor Session IPA
Left Field Maris* Pale Ale
Amsterdam Boneshaker IPA 

One of the saddest things that happened on the trip happened on the last day. A very nice friend had given me four beers from Collective Arts, and three of them were in my bag when I left for the airport on Saturday... late. I had to donate those beers to the cause that was getting me on my plane. I did have the Rhme & Reason, though, and the can was beautiful enough to dedicate the header image to the brewery. The beer? It was floral and malty, but sessionable, which is a good combo. The art was fun, too -- and each of their bottles has its own label, commissioned from a local artist. 

The Steamwhistle was a boring pilsner. The Nickle Brook was a citrus session that didn't leave a strong impression.

The Left Field was -- of course -- made with Maris Otter malt, which made me smile. The beer claims that Roger Maris, its namesake, didn't play "flashy or boastful" and that the beer hoped to do the same. It could have had a bit more flash to it. Had a few sips of the Amber and felt that it did the same thing. It's nice to be professional and make clean, well-constructed beers, but, well, I guess I like some flash. 

The Boneshaker had that flash -- 90 minutes of Centennial, Summit and Chinook, and Amarillo -- but in the end it reminded me of the best beers I had two years ago rather than the best beers I'm having now or the best beers I've never had. That's fine. I'll drink a West Coast IPA and enjoy it, but that piney, citrusy, malty approach doesn't leave me breathless these days. 

Bellwoods Sour Petite Saison
Bellwoods Jelly King Dry Hopped Sour
Bellwoods Roman Candle IPA 
Bench Brewing Ball's Falls Session IPA
Sawdust City Coriolis Effect Berliner Weisse
Redline Brewhouse Clutch IPA
Brickworks Cider House Batch: 1904 
Granville English Bay Pale Ale

The Petite Saison was fine, especially for a first beer. It was clean, but with some of that Belgian yeast that makes a saison more fun than a lager, even when it's super clean. But if you label a beer a Sour Saison, even if you add in "Petite," I'm going to expect the beer to be sour. And if it's not super sour, I guess I'd expect a funky Saison. Maybe I haven't had a ton of Sour Petite Saisons, but I wanted it to take more chances than it did. 

The Jelly King, on the other hand, was worth writing home about. Any citra-hopped Sour is going to have my attention, but this one was fun in its own way. It had some grassy, lemony notes, and was reasonably thick in mouthfeel before giving way to the citra stone fruit and ending with a tart finish that made you reach for more. If there was something holding this back from a perfect score for me, it was that the sour finish was a little mild for my liking, and more sourness could have balanced the hops a bit more. Still a really nice beer. 

The Roman Candle finished my taster session, but it did so with few fireworks. If Boneshaker was West Coast 1.0, then the Candle was West Coast 2.0. There was a decent amount of fruit on the nose, but it didn't come through strongly in the taste, which was very resiny and piney, to the point of stickiness. I liked this beer, but may not have even ordered a full pint if didn't have to rush and get back to work. 

After work, we went to Bar Hop and had a few nice beers. I thought the Ball's Falls was one of the best of the evening, if not the weekend. Just a really nice restrained fruit session, it reminded me of Easy Jack while having some of its own character. 

The Sawdust City Weisse was probably too restrained for my taste. I tend towards liking the more sour beers, but after having a few German Weisses recently, I'm convinced that the style can be as sour as it likes. And this one was just a little tart, which left me a bit bored. 

The Clutch! Here was Toronto's best effort at an NEIPA. It had that haze that so often comes with a sizzling, grassy mouthfeel. This beer threw in some lemon zest notes, and enough melon or cantaloupe to round out the flavor nicely. I'd take this as the second- or third-best beer I had in Toronto, along with the Jelly King and the Ball's Falls. 

Then I went to the game. The cider was sticky and meh, the pale ale was nigh unfinishable. Up against the Goose Island IPA that I wouldn't check into, I couldn't decide which was the worst beer. Not the greatest finish to a really fun visit. 



Avery Raspberry Sour

This beer was great. I'd never had a sour from Avery, and considering they make the second-strongest beers in America, on average, I figured this one would be boozy and enamel-stripping. It was neither. 7% ABV and nice and soft, this dark raspberry sour was a touch of fruit away from being perfect. All sorts of wood in there. Not much jam, but that's not a requirement for every sour. The best part might have been that the thing cost me something like $12 for a bomber, which is one of the best prices I've paid for a sour that actually spent a long time in a wood barrel. 

Did you find an affordable gem this weekend?