Thursday, 23 July 2015

Burlington Beer Fest, Part 1

 Burlington Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, left, and Nickel
Brook Brewery owner John Romano, right, watch on as Burlington
Chamber of Commerce prez Keith Hoey taps the first keg to open the
Second Annual Summer Burlington Beer Festival on July 17. The
event drew literally hundreds of craft beer lovers to Spencer Smith
Park with dozens of brews available to handle the thirst from the heat
Wasn't that a party? When the Second Annual Summer Burlington Beer Festival was held at the city's beautiful Spencer Smith Park from July 17 to 19, it did have some of the exact same elements of their inaugural run last year.

Well, when I say elements, I mean actual elements. As in rain. However, this year, we got off a lot easier. Whereas last summer, it rained through the entire Saturday - the cash cow day for brewers at any Beer Fest - this year, we got this crazy monsoon-level rain burst for about 30 minutes on Sunday.

Oh, it didn't stop any of us... well, for more than a half hour, anyway. Actually, come to think of it, it didn't stop me at all. Seeking shelter in one of the tents at the park's west end, I waited it out for maybe 10 minutes before finally saying, "Oh screw the rain" and walking through the torrential downpour across to the Cameron's Brewing tent 30 feet in front of me and filling up on their delicious award-winning White Oat Savant Brown Ale.
Hey, I'm sure Beer Festival was fun, too, but hey, did
YOURS get a special visit from the Dark Knight
himself? Yeah, didn't think so.  Batman did find a
moment to stop fighting crime to hang around with
the servers at Barrie's Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery
My rationale (and I use that word loosely since it actually contains the word rational and that is not my forte) behind braving the storm? Well, my glass was empty, the cloud-burst was a welcome relief from the heat and 30 feet in front of me was Cameron's brown ale that won bronze at the US Open Beer Championships earlier in the month. Given all these critical factors, should Mother Nature play any role in my decision-making process? I say no. Beer beats water - even water pouring from the heavens.

But I'll deal with Sunday, Muddy Sunday in tomorrow's blog as once again, I find myself beginning at the end. I was there all three days so let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Friday was actually the nicest day in one regard. Because it was mostly a night-time run (4 to 11 pm), the weather was much more bearable. Saturday and Sunday brought the heat big-time. Even with the breeze off Lake Ontario, it was like Africa-hot down at the park. That said, any Canadian who complains about the heat should get a 10-minute and game misconduct penalty, given what we will be facing in a short few months.

But I was barely there when I crossed paths with Festival co-organizer Wayne Brown.
Hands up if your Beer Festival got a visit from the Bat-Mobile. Quick
show of hands. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? Harmless taunting
aside, isn't this the sickest ride ever?? It made a Saturday appearance.
Can you make out the licence plate? DRKNIGHT - how sweet is that?
Now Wayne and his co-organizer Scott Robinson, not to mention countless helpers and volunteers, have been busting their humps to pull this together, ever since their hugely-successful Winter Beer Festival. And their indefatigable efforts paid off HUGE! Countless meetings, months of planning and promotion (throughout Burlington and beyond), long hours-no showers and well, more blood, sweat and tears than we have seen since the actual band Blood, Sweat and Tears ruled the charts in the 1970s.

That said, the always-genial Wayne went out of his way to introduce me to some of the city's chief big-wigs throughout the event. Among them were:
And speaking of Dynamic Duos, how about Wayne Brown and
Scott Robinson who once again pulled off the greatest Summer
Beer Festival in all of Southern Ontario? Okay, so I'm bias...
Burlington Chamber of Commerce president Keith Hoey, perhaps the only Burlington booster more vocal than Wayne, Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, who I remember well as a religion columnist for the Toronto Sun quite some time ago, Burlington MP Mike Wallace, who I inadvertently referred to as my MPP, accidentally demoting him from federal playing field to the provincial turf (I actually covered Mike as a municipal reporter and remember well when he made the jump to Ottawa) and many many more VIPs.

And while they were all really great to meet, no one was moreso than Wayne's wife, Christine. I had a chance to chat with her and she enthusiastically told me about a Craft Beer and Food Pairing six-week program coming to Oakville's Liaison College in a few months. Using a master chef, who I also met (with his bushy beard, he bore a strong resemblance to many of the craft brewers on hand), the program will pair three different styles of beer with three different types of food. I plan on attending this course because, frankly, every style of beer I've ever enjoyed has been paired with only two food groups - the cheeseburger and pizza.
This lovely young lady at the Samuel Adams
booth holds up my beer of choice from the
Boston brewery, their Rebel IPA. Mmmm...
Perhaps it's time to expand my horizons. Who knows? Some day, some nice lady out there might actually be impressed with my new beer-and-food-pairing knowledge. If not, I'll keep handing her craft beers until I'm at least a little bit handsome. But this new program sounds outstanding and I'll include a link to the college at the end. The program can be easily searched from there. But you had to be there to see Christine's eye light up when she talked about the program. The love of good craft beer runs deep in the Brown family. Just a great lady happily providing what sounds to be a wonderful program.

But every year, I find new discoveries at the Burlington Beer Festival. Last summer, it was Turtle Island Brewing out of Ottawa, helmed by beer goddess Trish Watson and her bomb-blast Ixcacao Triple Chocolate Stout, Maclean's Ales out of tiny Hanover, Ontario and their outstanding Pale Ale (they have an India Pale Ale on the market now that I am searching out) and Side Launch Brewing out of Collingwood with their delicious dunkel Dark Lager.

At the Winter version of the Burlington Beer Festival, it was Bayside Brewing out of blink-and-you'll-miss-it Erieau, Ontario, who nicely surprised me with their smooth Brown Ale. not to mention Trish once again who melded her Ixcacao with melted butter for the ultimate Winter treat.
Sebastian Lesch and John Peat of Toronto's Longslice
Brewing hold up their show-stopping Hopsta La Vista,
which despite an inordinate amount of hops, won the
gold at the 2015 Ontario Brewing Awards for British
IPA. How did they even get it into that category???

Well, I found this year's Newcomer of the Year very quickly on Friday night when I walked up to the Longslice Brewing booth, manned by partners Jimmy and John Peat and Sebastian Lesch. "What do you guys bring?" I asked innnocently. Turns out just one - their Hopsta La Vista IPA. It's their only beer thus far. "What?", I noted in wide-eyed wonderment, "You started your brewery with an IPA? No blonde ale, no brown ale? You jumped into the market armed with an IPA?"

Okay, before I go any further, allow me to explain why this is such a bold and perhaps dangerous move. With their inherent hoppiness, IPAs are a real roll of the dice because not all beer drinkers can handle it. Less than 10% of craft beer drinkers, probably - though count me among that 10%. But with my first sip, I understood their strategy. All hops on the nose, the taste went in a different direction altogether. "Wow," I marvelled, "that has a strong malt backbone to it!!" What the trio has created is the best British-West Coast malt-and-hop hybrid IPA I have ever tasted in my life. A few other breweries have tried - for instance, Junction Craft Brewing's Conductor IPA - but this is the best by far. I mean, these guys killed it, then resurrected it and then destroyed it again, using Thor's hammer! Blew me away! I cannot wait for September when (fingers crossed) this 6.5%, 69 IBU (international bitterness units) bad boy made by these bad boys will be in the LCBO.
Hey, it ain't a Beer Fest unless my home-boys from Nickel
Brook Brewing are there, wowing the thirsty throngs!!

Okay, that's enough for this time around but like I said, I'll be back tomorrow with Round #2 which includes everything else. Which Sawdust City Brewing beer did Rob from Nickel Brook steer me toward? How did that Coaster War between Longslice and Cool Brewery get started? And what are their connection? Who did Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's head honcho Steve and I meet from Whitby's Brock Street Brewing while out having a smoke? Why was "Where's Kylie?" the most asked question of Saturday? What hilarious, foolhardy but ultimately brave act did the server from the Shiny Apple Cider commit during Sunday's monsoon? What happened when we hooked up with my man Brian Will, the territory manager from North American Craft who actually puts all those tasty Double Trouble Brewing beers in my Beer Store? Who was the uber-cool marching bagpipe band who strolled through the grounds on Sunday? What happened with my golf bag? And why am I asking all these teaser questions one day before I write the story? Well, that's simply so I'll remember what to write. Trick of the trade. Oh yeah and Christine's food-and-beer pairing course, here's the link to the college right: HERE! But guys and dolls, until tomorrow, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until then, I remain, as always...