Those of us born in the 80s and onwards don’t drink the same kind of beer our parents drank. As the Brewers Association industry group puts it, “It’s no longer enough for brewers simply to make good beer,” which is no surprise seeing as there are more than 3,000 craft breweries in the US alone. Toronto has seen a huge boom in craft breweries, too, which has given way to the ever-so popular Toronto Beer Week.
I was lucky enough to attend the annual kick-off party last Thursday. Dubbed the Premium Beer Experience, it returned this year with a new logo and once again took place at Berkeley Church with a dozen or so craft breweries.
The only downer of the night was associated with the choice of venue, where you have to use their in-house catering which I have always found to be overpriced and seriously lacking in substance. With each item ringing in at $5 a pop you would’ve been wiser to fill up on liquid calories then head off afterwards for a slice of pizza or hangover food of choice.
So, “Big deal!” you say, since there is no shortage of beer festivals in Toronto, right? From the gargantuan Toronto’s Festival of Beer to the up and coming Oktoberfest celebrations, the thing that sets the Premium Beer Experience apart from other hoppening events in the city is this: Each brewery brought either a one-off brew made uniquely for the event or a brand new brew that isn’t available for retail yet.
Beer samples were available via beer tokens ringing in at a $1, with a $1 to 1 exchange rate; half pours generously offered for 1 token or 2 tokens for a full pour. The price point for samples coupled with a smaller offering of brewers made it very easy to try one of everything!
Eight social savvy festival-goers were also offered a VIP tasting experience via a Twitter contest in the “Treehouse” with Crystal Luxmore, a certified cicerone and Prudhomme sommelier by trade who led the group through a side-by-side pairing of beer and wine.
If I learned anything from that tasting it’s that one should always start with wine and end with beer. I found the beers had a much better finish (read: slight sweetness). When I reversed things, the wines tasted really tart and my expression can be summed up by the “babies first taste of lemon” YouTube video. My favourite pairing was definitely Wellington Brewery’s Russian Imperial Stout and Sandbanks Estate Winery’s Baco Noir. Suffice it to say, I finished both beer and wine in that round of tastings and it didn’t hurt that I love both of those on their own.
Stouts seemed to dominate the list of offerings at many of the breweries, though I’m not complaining because they’re always brimming with flavour. My favourite of the night was definitely Beer Academy’s Vanilla Coconut Chocolate Imperial Stout – simply delicious! Sawdust City and Spearhead served up their collaboration beer, the Double Dubbel, a creamy ale made with coffee and Trappist ale yeast that was easily my favourite as it was chock-full of flavour. Many tweets were going around about Sawdust City’s CLR (Coconut Lime Refresher) – how could two things that sound so right taste so wrong? Don’t hate me, but I may have just created a brewhaha with that comment!
While ciders are most definitely making a comeback, they were seriously lacking with only Thornbury Cider and Spirit Tree representing. The crowd favourite seemed to be Spirit Tree’s pear cider, though I highly recommend their Appelager.
If you attended the Premium Beer Experience, let us know how you enjoyed it in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.