Monday, 16 January 2012

Sunday Afternoon Beers at the Brewery Market

Yesterday I attended my first Brewery Market event at Wychwood Barns (at St. Clair and Christie in Toronto's central-west-end) and I will provide my thoughts here on the space, the event, the atmosphere, the music, the food, and - of course - the beer!

The Brewery Market takes place at The Stop Community Food Centre (in their Green Barn) as a semi-regular Sunday afternoon event, offers only Ontario craft brewery beers (one or two breweries per event), allows tastings of new and/or one-off specially-brewed beers just for the event, and raises funds for the "The Stop’s many healthy food initiatives, which include community kitchens and gardens programs, community advocacy, urban agriculture projects, sustainable food systems education and peri-natal care programs."

The space itself is an excellent one - if admittedly better for summer weather than yesterday's pleasantly wind-free, but still minus 10 winter chill.  The indoor area is quite small with only two tables and a few benches.  Though sufficient for The Stop's food offerings and the beer serving bar, it got a bit tight since more people were crammed into the smaller indoor space than the larger outdoor one.  Outside, a fire served to keep attendees warm, while both indoors and out provided an excellent atmosphere, reminiscent of a visit to a sugar shack - with excellent beer - and felt like an excellent afternoon outing for the family.  Many kids, of all ages, were present too (including my 12-week-old) who enjoyed the atmosphere and food while their parents had a much needed drink alongside a pleasant weekend excursion.

The food/non-alcoholic drink on offer consisted of vegetarian chili, chili dogs, hot chocolate and marshmallows for the fire (or your hot chocolate).  The dogs themselves were excellent high quality all-beef and the chili was quite good, while both could be supplemented by a home-made chipotle sauce that fired things up a bit.  While the food was good, I had two slight complaints: the portions were rather small for the price and, since my breastfeeding wife cannot eat beans which make the baby too gassy, there should have been a cheaper rate for the dog-sans chili which cost us the full price.  All-in-all, though, these critiques are minor and this makes for an excellent afternoon snack.

Two solo musicians (guitarist/singers) entertained the indoor crowd, though with only acoustic guitars and unamplified vocals, they could really only be well heard before the crowd built throughout the afternoon.  The artists, Adale Dahli and Amy Nostbakken both brought excellent voices, songs, and spirit (in the singer-songwriter vein) that added to the event while advertising the Big Smoke Music Festival of which they are a part, and which seems like another great one to attend (does it have craft beer, though?).

Beer-wise, everything was good, if strong and I won't be offering elaborate reviews (both since they were all one-offs and since I was too busy socializing to take detailed notes).

Cheshire Valley Brewing offered an English Barleywine (at 9% ABV) and a Strong Scottish Pale Ale (at 8.5% ABV).  In brief, the Barleywine was a very good representative of the style that was remarkably balanced and was, to me, the better of their two offerings, though the Scottish Pale was nice too - smoky, and sweetly malty, though it was the lightest beer on offer at the event and the alcohol was most discernible which to me detracted slightly from the 'strengths' of this otherwise fine beer.

Great Lakes Brewery brought a wider variety of beers: Apocalypse Later (a black imperial IPA at 10.2% and 98 IBU), Dude Where's My Czar? (a vanilla-bean-infused Russian Imperial Stout with 11% ABV and 100 IBU), A Waste of Men (a 12% Old Ale), and an American-style Barleywine with a whopping 140 IBU.  The barleywine, for me, boasted far too much imbalance and indiscernible hoppy bitterness for my tastes, though the Apocalypse Later had a more nuanced bitterness with strong notes of grapefruit in the nose and tongue.  The Waste of Men old ale was quite good and reflective of the style, if way beyond in ABV, and the Dude Where's My Czar was clearly the winner of the day: a favourite of all 6 in my party and the first beer to sell out at the event on the whole.  It was very well balanced - extremely malty, and extremely hoppy, yet neither excessively egregious, both matched by the strengths of the other.  Smoky cereal and faint vanilla notes smoothed out the grassy hops and the alcohol was virtually undetectable.  An excellent beer - brew it again!

That's all for now, but keep in mind that the next Brewery Market event will be held on March 18 with details to come.  Hope to see you then, for it promises to be a wonderful way to spend a Sunday once again!

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