Keith was working Canada Day, so I was very happy to finally connect with the guys from Great Lakes Brewery to work the Brewer’s Backyard for them. It was held in one of the galleries of the Brickworks, a space I really enjoy.
The theme for this Backyard event was the Group of Seven, and they had seven vendors in total: 4 breweries (GLB, Nickelbrook, Left Field and Oast House), one cider provider (Spirit Tree) and two food vendors (Kanga Meatpies and Sugar Pie Honey Bunch). I did get to introduce myself to Mandie at Left Field to thank her for her help with my survey, but I didn’t really get a chance to see any of the other breweries or try any of their wares.
I was pouring Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA, Chill Winston Grisette and the newly re-branded Canuck Pale Ale. When the Audrey Hopburn ran out, we switched to Red Leaf Lager. Out of the four, I’d have to say the Red Leaf appealed the most to my taste buds which will take sweet malt over bitter hops any day. I’m definitely in the minority on a hot humid day, judging by how many chose the Audrey Hopburn and Canuck.
I’d have to say the turnout was underwhelming. The city had pretty much emptied on Friday, and it showed here. The heat, humidity and lack of ice were drawbacks as the beer on tap foamed and took forever to pour.
But it was fun. I got to talk to people who love beer, learned a bit, and laughed a lot. It was a family event, and just watching kids run around the gallery and play in the puddles made me smile. A good day well spent, as me dad would have said.
Cask Days 2013 is the first beer event I’ve gone to in about 8 years. The last one was at the Toronto Beer Festival when it was still at Old Fort York. I’d gone one year and had a great time with some friends tasting beer and enjoying the sunshine. The next year it should have been called Frat Boy Fest. I spent most of my time dodging drunken 20-somethings with 6-packs reconfigured as hats and avoiding the increasing puddles of sick as the afternoon went on.
I didn’t go again. To quote Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, I am too old for that shit.
Fast forward to now. I’d heard good things about Cask Days, and decided to try the casks on Saturday and volunteer on Sunday. I asked my beer-drinking friends if they wanted to join me for Session 1, but they all had plans. I’ll be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable at the thought of going on my own (yes, I’m a introvert with hermit-like tendencies), but I forced myself to go. I can only learn so much by sitting at home reading blogs on the internet. I printed out my tickets and a list of all the casks, highlighting those that sounded interesting.
I signed up for the First Access and Tasting session with Stephen Beaumont so I could get some guidance around the British casks that were on hand. It was worth every penny. I would have likely not tried any of these lovelies:
I didn’t take any notes at the Cask Days, a mistake I won’t make again. Middle-age memory is fickle. I enjoyed them all, but I do remember thinking that I enjoyed the Wells & Young Courage the most. Which is more than I thought I’d remember. You see, two of the cast members from my TV guilty pleasure, Lost Girl, were in the session as well. I found it hard to concentrate on the beer when I was busy trying not to act like a dorky fangirl in front of Kris Holden-Reid and Paul Amos.
I set out on my own after the session. I was quite happy to be on my own, as it allowed me to go where I wanted and be more open to random conversations. I talked to a Viking for a while, and ran into the Thirsty Wench who then introduced me to Nate Ferguson from the Brewmaster program at Niagara College. They introduced me to sour beers, and encouraged me to try the Storm Imperial Flanders, for which I will always be grateful. So delicious.
I found that asking people, “what’s the best beer you’ve tried so far?” was a perfect conversation starter. I soon abandoned my highlighted list, and tried many of the recommendations. I tasted a lot of novelty beers; Liberty Village’s Gummi Beer, Grand River’s Beetifide Bohemian and Hockley’s Jaffa Cake all had interesting flavours at first sip but palled by the third or fourth. I met Cheezweezl and her husband by chance, and they directed me to the coffee goodness of Amsterdam’s Full City Double Tempest and its neighbour, Amsterdam’s El Jaguar, a chocolate chili stout that was so good I tweeted that I would marry it if I weren’t already married.
I ran into Andy, a former colleague, who has the same love of beer and punk rock as I do. Of course we would run into each other there. We compared notes and wondered what we would have to do to get the DJ to play more Clash.
The next day I volunteered and was working the Manitoba and Alberta casks. The day was still cold, but the rain held off, and the brief bursts of sunshine made the day wonderful. I had a chance to meet Ralph Morana of BarVolo and learn a bit about the proper care of a cask, and had a great time pouring the beer and talking to people.
I finished the weekend very impressed by the work and dedication of the Cask Days organizational team and the volunteers – it takes a lot of work to make these many pieces fall together effortlessly.