Toronto’s Festival of Beer

I think I’ve got Toronto’s Festival of Beer sussed, and I can best illustrate my theory by juxtaposing the event, taking place this weekend, with the inaugural edition of the Buffalo Brewers Festival I attended on July 19, to wit:

The Buffalo Brewers Festival is an event people attend to sample new and exciting beers. Some will get drunk.

Toronto’s Festival of Beer is an event people attend to get drunk. Some will sample new and exciting beers.

That said, there are new and exciting beers available for the tasting at the TFOB, notably the following:

  • Barn Door Brewing – Avoid the diacetyl-ish Long Weekend Lager, but try the Summer Storm Lager and tasty but oddly out-of-season Spring Bock.
  • Liberty Village Brewing – A not-salty-enough Gose. (I know, “not-salty-enough” is an odd criticism of a beer, but it makes sense in this case. Trust me.)
  • Kilannan Brewing – Imagine! A new brewery launching with a kölsch and an altbier. And not an IPA in sight.
  • Brimstone Brewing – Hail Mary Ale.
  • Sidelaunch Brewing – Now firing on all cylinders, it would appear. Try ‘em all.


  • Bud Light Platinum! (Just kidding, but it does come with a full “Brand Experience”!)

Launching The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 – Dates! Places! Beers!

Cover(Update: The tour is over, but I’m still on the road. Hope to catch up with all of you soon, somewhere…)

The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 will finally be hitting stores next month! (In the UK, it’s The Pocket Beer Book 2014, and seems to be already in some stores and on Amazon.) To celebrate and promote this fact, I’m going to be hitting the road with tastings, dinners and signings at various locations across Canada and the United States. Here’s the list and I hope to see you somewhere along the way!

September 5, Victoria, British Columbia: I’ll be joining fellow beer scribe Joe Wiebe for a signing and chat at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub from 6:00 pm onward. As a bonus, Spinnakers will be pouring ten beers from around BC, as selected by Joe, author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries.

September 7, Victoria, British Columbia: I’ll be selling whatever books I have left over from the Spinnakers event at the Great Canadian Beer Festival. It’s a sold-out event, but if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, come over and say hello.

September 9, Seattle, Washington: I’m going to be hosting a special tasting and book signing at the Burgundian, the latest gem from the makers of Brouwer’s Café and Bottleworks.

September 19, Toronto, Ontario: It will be my great pleasure to introduce the Ontario premier of Beer Hunter: the story of Michael Jackson at the Rhino. After the screening, I’ll be signing copies of both The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 and The World Atlas of Beer.

October 6, Fort Worth, Texas: I’ll lead a tasting of beer and cheese and chocolate at the Flying Saucer, with a signed copy of the Pocket Beer Guide 2014 included in your purchase price!

October 7, Dallas, Texas: We’re going to blow the roof off the Meddlesome Moth with an amazing beer dinner! I’m collaborating with Executive Chef David McMillan and am pretty excited about the global menu we’re developing. I’ll be signing books both before and after the dinner, so even if you can’t make the meal, come out for a pint and pick up a copy.

October 8, Garland, Texas:  This one is another beer and chocolate and cheese event, at the Flying Saucer on the Lake. Again, your admission price will also get you a copy of Pocket Beer Guide 2014.

October 9, Little Rock, Arkansas: I’m working with the chef from the Capitol Hotel to create another amazing beer dinner, this one held at the local Flying Saucer

October 10, Denver, Colorado: Join me and three of my beer book writing friends for “Books & Beer: Meet and Drink with the Authors of 4 Great New Books About Beer” at the Falling Rock. From 4:00 to 6:00 pm, I’ll be signing and drinking with Jay Brooks, author of California Breweries North, Joshua Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course, and John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook. You should come down and buy all four!

October 10 – 12, Denver, Colorado: I’ll be at another sold-out beer event, the Great American Beer Festival, signing books at various times in the festival book store. Check the website for times, and remember, not only does The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 actually fit in your pocket, it can also help guide your tasting on the festival floor!

October 19 – 20, Toronto, Ontario: I’ll be at Cask Days, North America’s largest cask ale festival, selling and signing books and hosting two special tastings with details TBC. Check the website for details as they become available.

Would the Aspen Food & Wine Classic Feature Yellow Tail in a Food & Wine Pairing?

I’ve never attended the celebrated foodie festival, but judging from a quick run-through of the wine seminar schedule – Showstopping Champagne, Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Bordeaux’s Extraordinary 2009 Vintage – I’m guessing the popular party wine might not be a featured pour.

So why are organizers of the Aspen Food & Wine Classic featuring Stella Artois, then?

When I received the press release, which you can read in its entirety here, I was stunned. Here is a well-respected, nationally recognized gastronomic festival featuring what is, by almost any standards, a profoundly ordinary lager in a showcase seminar, specifically “Stella Artois Presents: The Beauty of Pairing Belgian Beer and Food.”

If it were merely the sponsor beer being poured at the Welcome Reception and Publisher’s Party, which it is, I’d be able to give the event a pass. Sponsorships are a big deal for such festivals and I’m sure Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer and owner of the Stella brand, are paying for the privilege of being associated with Aspen Food & Wine. But to take it into the seminar level, featuring it in such credibility-defying partnerships as “Chocolate Panna Cotta, featuring endive foam, orange coulis and blue cheese” and an unnamed lamb dish is to undermine greatly the event’s claim as “the crème-de-la-crème of culinary festivals.”

Aspen Food & Wine, you disappoint me. Twenty or even ten years ago, it might have been okay to engage in such foolishness, but beer and food pairing has come a long way since then and people aren’t about to be fooled by such obvious pandering to a big money brand. In your actions you have done a great disservice to the multitude of Belgian beers that actually do pair well with complex dishes, not to mention the many domestic breweries who craft their own wonderfully food-friendly beers. (And by coincidence are featuring them this weekend at Savor in New York City.)

Most of all, however, you show your ignorance as to the state of craft beer around the world today. Maybe in the future you should just stick to food and wine.

Hence My Lengthy Absence…

Wow, has it really been a month since my last post here? Apparently so, but in my defense, with good reason. You see, I’ve been drinking…

Okay, more seriously, I’ve been travelling in support of the North American release of The World Atlas of Beer, which I’m pleased to say has been very well-received by both the beer and general interest presses. Tim and I spent just over two weeks travelling from New York to Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, all over Texas, Denver and finally Chicago promoting the book. And yes, it did involve a fair bit of drinking.

My favourite event? Oddly enough, that came at the tail end of the trip, after Tim had buggered off to Quebec City, leaving me to handle Chicago promotions on my own. My first stop was Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill, where I hosted a beer and whisky and cheese pairing during which everyone seemed to have a great time, the pairings clicked rather uniformly and rather amazingly no one got terribly drunk. Good hardy drinkers, those north Chicagoans.

Beer finds along the way were numerous and far too many to relate all in detail, but I can say for certain that I won’t soon forget lunch at Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham – for reasons both burger and beer – and Natty Greene’s from neighbouring Raleigh likewise made an impression with their Minuteman American Rye.

Down in Texas, I had my first extensive sampling of the beers of Jester King and walked away quite impressed, particularly with the brewery’s low alcohol offerings. (Paging Lew Bryson! Lew “Session Beer” Bryson! Please come to the bar.) One day later, new arrival Karbach Brewing caught my attention with a few beers, in particular a commendably restrained Rodeo Clown Double IPA and a wonderfully toasty Karbachtoberfest.

Up in Denver, there were beers aplenty, but one that stuck out as particularly memorable was the Odell Porter aged in barrels formerly used to mature a fernet-style amaro made by the local distiller, Leopold Bros. Herbaceous, piney, mint and of course roasty, it was a love-it or hate-it beer for certain, but I fell resolutely in the former camp.

Then, in Chicago, there was that beer-whisky/whiskey-cheese thing at Rockwells. Let me tell you, if you ever get the chance to sample together  Knob Creek Bourbon, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and the French cheese known as Brillat Savarin, aka “sin,” take it! You will not be sorry.

THIS is What Beer Can Do!

Most beer aficionados are more concerned with what’s in their glasses than they are with impact its production, promotion or sale can make, and rightly so. But this recent summary of the economic impact of the Oregon Brewers Festival nonetheless deserves note.

According to a release that landed in my inbox earlier this week, the Oregon Brewers Festival, which this past summer celebrated its 25th anniversary edition, made a contribution to the Portland economy of roughly $30 million!

That impact was primarily felt by the tourism industry, of course, with accommodations ($9.31 million) and food and drink ($7.96 million) accounting for the majority of OBF visitor expenditures, according to the release. But other benefits were also felt, like $8.9 million in indirect economic impact and the creation of over 350 jobs. (The release isn’t specific about the full- or part-time nature of the jobs.)

By whatever measure, that’s an impressive amount of clout for a three day beer festival, and makes one wonder what an equivalent study of the upcoming Great American Beer Festival might be. Given that the GABF would seem to be more a travel destination than the OBF – although that’s just me speculating – I’d say it would be quite extraordinary.

Beer in Canada

I’ve been a bit busy running around, flying about and writing for money of late, so I’ve missed out on posting about some upcoming events and news items pertaining to beer in Canada. Here, then, is a quick round-up of interest to Canucks and those planning to visit my home and native land in the near future:

1) The big news of the summer is that Westvleteren is coming to town! Now, Westvleteren 12 might be the most over-hyped beer in history, but the monastery brewery is nonetheless exceptional at what they do, so this opportunity is nothing to sneeze at. Alberta-based Horizon Beers is the agency bringing it in, in the form of 6 bottle, 2 glass six-packs. The last I heard, allocations are going to Ontario and points west – sorry Maritimes & Quebec – and it should be arriving sometime in the very near future. Keep your eyes peeled!

2) For Torontonians, on the eve of Toronto’s Festival of Beer, comes word (via Canadian Beer News) that a new beer festival is headed your way. The Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival will take place August 11 and 12 in the area fronting Steam Whistle Brewing. Check here for details.

3) I won’t be around for the Roundhouse fest because I’ll be busy at the Halifax Seaport Beer Festival that weekend, hosting a beer dinner at Brussels Restaurant on Thursday and hanging at the fest Friday and Saturday. If you’re in or nearby to Nova Scotia, come on over and say hi!

4) The weekend following the Seaport fest, I’ll be in Ottawa for the National Capital Craft Beer Festival, speaking both Friday and Saturday. My buddy Jordan St. John will be there, too, so get yourself down to Marion Dewar Plaza on August 17 and 18 and harass him, will ya?

5) Finally, I’ve been sampling a bunch of Canadian beers of late, both established brands and new arrivals. Here are some thoughts in brief –

  • Waterloo Authentic Amber, from Brick Brewing, sold singly or as part of their sampler pack, shows caramelly malt and some vanilla notes from the oak chips used in its lagering. Not bad, but a bit too sweet and cloying for my tastes.
  • Brasseurs Sans Gluten’s Blonde Ale is a gluten-free winner, spicy and citrusy with a bone dry finish. A triumph for Celiac and gluten-sensitive beer drinkers.
  • Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company’s latest collaboration, Venskab, made with Anders Kissmeyer, is a fascinating creature, with bog myrtle, yuzu fruit and ice wine-soaked wood chips all figuring in its recipe. The result is a sweet-ish and somewhat winey tripel, reminiscent of a citrusy dry vermouth, with bitterness creeping around on the outskirts. We’ll be serving this at my beer dinner in Halifax.
  • Lastly, Moosehead sent me over some of their Cracked Canoe, a 3.5% alcohol light lager with a thin sweetness, not quite grainy, but far from caramel or toffee maltiness. All in all, a very light tasting lager with a sweetish edge to it.


Thoughts on the Mondial, 2012

It’s on now, the Mondial, that is. At Place Bonaventure in downtown Montréal. Here’s why you should be thinking about attending:

1) It’s true what they say that the Mondial is not a cheap place to drink, especially if you’re intent on sampling some of the more unusual beers. But there’s no admission and if you want to bring your own sampling glass, you’re free to do so. Plus…

2) The Mondial is an original. Can you name another beer festival, hell, another place in North America where you can try beer from four Argentinian breweries, a dozen Brazilian ones, nine Italian brewers and a couple from Switzerland? Neither can I!

3) Yes, the concrete hall at Bonaventure has not the charms of the Gare Windsor, where the Mondial took place until two years ago, but at least it handles the crowds better.

4) Schneider Mein Eisbock Barrique. Antares Barley Wine. Bodebrown Imperial Stout. Brasseurs Sans Gluten (seriously!). Benelux Cigogne. Hopfenstark Boson de Higgs. And so much more…

5) What? You’ve never had kangaroo with your beer?

6) And where else but in Montréal are there so many attractive post-fest alternatives? (Okay, several other places, granted, but in two languages?)

They judge at the Mondial, as well. Check out the winners of this year’s Concours MBière Greg Noonan here, and get more fest info over here. The tasting continues to Sunday.

Looking Back at the Brewer’s Plate

You might recall a while ago – long before my curmudgeonly rant of last week – I posted about an event called the Brewer’s Plate. If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen the tweets, as well. And you may have wondered what it was all about.

ImageWell, much like the upcoming, and sold out!, Savor event in Washington, DC, the annual, Toronto-based Brewer’s Plate is a beer and food partnering event, featuring local breweries and some of the top chefs in town. This was my third Plate, and I think the best thus far.

Note the “thus far,” part of that line above. Because as good as the Brewer’s Plate has become, it’s still not where I think it can be in terms of quality and effectiveness. Here’s why.

The Venue: No room for improvement here! Roy Thompson Hall is an ideal setting for events like the Brewer’s Plate – and the upcoming Spirit of Toronto – and should be held on to with an iron grip.

The Beer: The local angle is good, but limiting. There is now great beer available in Toronto from across Canada and around the world, in styles local brewers have not yet even attempted, much less mastered, and the inclusion of some out-of-province brands would surely benefit the scope of the Plate.

The Food: Here’s where I think the most work needs to be done. Not that any of the food I tasted was sub-par or even ordinary – all the dishes I sampled were at least good, sometimes very good and occasionally great – but more effort needs to go into matching beer and food, in my opinion. At too many of the stands was I told that “any of these beers” will pair well with the food, regardless of how disparate they may have been in style and taste, and too often I heard the tired old refrain that Dish X was cooked with Beer Y – usually in some innocuous way, such as using it to colour a sauce or braise a meat – and thus is also paired with Beer Y. That may have flown in the mid-1990s, but certainly we’re now sophisticated enough that we can and should expect more of a food and beer partnership.

The Organization and Service: Again, I thought everything was superbly managed, after the slight confusion at the door when the event first opened, and the service was first-rate.

So there you have it, Brewer’s Plate. Work on the food, perhaps add a bit more beer and I think you have the potential to lay claim to one of this country’s best beer events.

In Which the Stars Align and Mr. McL and I Go Head to Head…

In Which the Stars Allign and Mr. McL and I Go Head to Head…I mentioned earlier an upcoming Toronto event called The Brewer’s Plate. It is an excellent occasion and one I have enjoyed greatly in the past, even when I was wishing the assembled chefs had paid a little more attention to the beers with which their foods were being partnered.

Well, I hear now that not only will this year’s edition be held in the most comfortable confines of Roy Thompson Hall — where, by the by, I shall be again in May with the* Spirit of Toronto — but also that my frequent food and beer pairing foil, Mr. Alan McLeod, shall also be present. Yes, the Good Beer Blog curmudgeon and frequent beer and food sceptic, oft-referred to in these pages as Mr. McL, will be in attendance. At a food and beer pairing event. Will wonders never cease.

I have yet to determine with certainty whether I will be in Toronto or Dallas on April 18, but it’s looking much more like the former than the latter at this point. And if I am in Toronto, rest assured I shall also be at The Brewer’s Plate. And I shall dog Mr. McL’s every step, or alternately stay one step ahead of him, until I hear from his locavore lips an admission that at least one food and beer pairing was to his taste.

* Unfortunately cancelled.

Great Toronto Beer Event Fast Approaching

This is an event I try to announce well in advance every year — although I missed the “well in advance” part last year — simply because it’s a first-class, extremely worthy show that not only highlights beer and food pairing, but does so for charity.

It is the Brewer’s Plate.

This year, the Plate is boasting a new benefiting charity, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, which is an award winning organization offering food growing and environmental education programs to inner-city schools and park sites, reaching over 3,000 children each year. The press release for the event boasts that “their school gardens are about kids and their grownups, plants and their people – from all over the world!”

But as much as I always feel warm and fuzzy when I support charitable efforts, the meat and potatoes of this event are the brewers and chefs, and this year the Brewer’s Plate would seem to have a good class on hand. Chefs for this year’s event include: Brad Long, Aaron Joseph Bear Robe, Karen Vas,  Lori Kirk, and my favourite from two years ago, Brook Kavanaugh from La Palette. Brewers include Beau’s, Black Oak, Granite, Steam Whistle, Grand River, Muskoka, Spearhead and numerous others.

The best news, however, is that the Brewer’s Plate has a new home in Roy Thompson Hall, a space I have experienced several times for the Spirit of Toronto. (And will again for that event on May 12!) It’s a great move for the Plate and should alleviate much of the crowding and over-heating that has occurred in years past.

This is not a cheap event, but in my estimation it is one well worth the cost. Visit the website for details and to purchase tickets.

Heading West, Then Waaaaay West

A week from tomorrow morning, an Air Canada plane will touch down at SFO, bringing me to three days of San Francisco Beer Week, or as it’s better known, SF Beer Week. If you are going to be anywhere near the Bay Area from this Friday, February 10, until Sunday, February 19, you should be checking the schedule regularly.

One event that stood out for me almost immediately is the inaugural East Bay Brew Fest, a charity event featuring brewers from the other side of the Bay. I’ll be there. Will you?

And on Sunday it’s off to Wellington, New Zealand, which is not only the country’s capital city, but also the Craft Beer Capital!

Back in the Saddle

The last six or so days have seen zero posting here and precious little on World of Beer’s Facebook page. Here’s why:

–          Over the weekend, I was speaking (in support of the MS Society of Canada) at the Beau’s Oktoberfest, which was a great, if rather cold and wet, time. I posted a couple of times to FB from my phone, but was without my computer, so nothing here;

–          Then, on my return, it was time to play host to my World Atlas of Beer co-author, Tim Webb. That went on for a couple of days;

–          In between, I had a request from my editor at to quickly pull together a round-up of diverse and geographically scattered U.S. Oktoberfest celebrations, which is now online over here;

–          After a late night with Tim, there was more work in the morning, lunch with Mr. Webb and then more work well into the evening;

–          What I recall of Wednesday was busy, and punctuated with an all-too-brief visit from my sister, but such was my sleepless haze that it’s all a bit vague.

Which brings us to today, and these bits of interesting beer news:

–          The mid-sized British brewer Wells & Young’s has purchased the Younger’s and McEwan’s brands from Heineken, which will significantly strengthen their overall sales, but in my opinion, unless the beers themselves are rather significantly changed, do nothing to further the company’s brewing credibility;

–          Kirin of Japan has made an offer for the remainder of South American brewer, Schincariol, which is to say the minority part they don’t already own. This will, of course, cement their ownership of Brazil’s number two brewer, but also firmly place all three of Brazil’s top brewing countries under the yolk of large multinationals, including Anheuser-Busch Inbev and Heineken, which respectively own number one and three brewers, the latter through their Mexican arm, FEMSA;

–          And in what I can only figure is a singularly odd move, Diageo is moving production of Red Stripe for the U.S. market to Pennsylvania, where it will be brewed under contract by City Brewing. Ah, to dream of the tropical beaches of Latrobe!