Last week, I received a special delivery from the fine folks at the Ontario Craft Brewers to promote the appearance of many of their members at Toronto's Festival of Beer, which kicks off tomorrow at Fort York. The package contained an assortment of eight beers (well, actually, six different beers, with doubles of two of them), as well as a copy of Bill Perrie's book Craft Brewers Of Ontario (which I already received and reviewed last summer, so it's been passed on to a friend) and various promotional materials.
Now, even though I received hundreds - if not thousands - of free CDs and records during my years of music reviewing and DJing, this free beer thing is still a cool novelty to me. But I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the contents of the package. Not that I didn't appreciate receiving it - I mean, hey, it's FREE BEER! But as someone who is quite familiar with the products of pretty much every brewery in the OCB, I felt that the full spectrum of what our province's craft brewers have to offer wasn't as well represented as it could've been, especially if the same package was sent out to less beer-saavy media. As noted above, two of the beers were there twice, and of the six distinct beers in the pack, four were pale lagers, one was a cream ale, and one was a porter. Meanwhile, one of the promotional pamphlets bragged about the diversity of the beers being brewed in Ontario, and listed the various styles available such as fruit beers, dark ales, pale ales, and so forth. So why didn't they include examples of some of those in the packages?
Anyway, I guess I should write a bit about the beers that were actually in there, eh? Well, to start with, there was a bottle of Great Lakes Golden Horseshoe Lager and two bottles of Cool Beer. I drank these one after the other, and I honestly couldn't tell the difference between them. Each of them is a pale yellow lager with a vaguely sweet aroma, mild and clean flavour, and little to no aftertaste. Both are well made for the mainstream lager style, but they're just not my kinda thing. However, based on the number of neighbourhood drinking holes that I've seen with one or the other on tap, I can only assume they're doing pretty well at cracking at least a few bits of the market, so more power to 'em.
Next up where a pair of lagers from Neustadt Springs Brewery - Bruce County Premium Lager and Neustadt Lager. I wrote these up for my Beer of the Week column on Taste T.O. this week, so I'll just give you an excerpt from what I wrote there:
(Bruce County) has a nice golden colour which is a bit darker than you might expect from a 4.5% lager, with a good sized white head that doesn’t stick around. The aroma is predominantly malty with a sweet and toasty character, and the body is a bit thin, but suitable for the style. The flavour is mild but well balanced, with bready malt and herbal hops in their proper places, and the hops getting a bit bolder as it warms. Yeah, it’s a relatively simple and easy-drinking lager, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the beer is well crafted and holds a fair bit more character than a typical macrobrew.
The same can be said for the brewery’s flagship Neustadt Lager. In some ways, it’s quite similar to the Bruce County, but with a bit more colour, more aroma and more flavour. Also like the Bruce County, it’s not an envelope-pusher, but it doesn’t have to be. I like so-called “extreme beers” as much as the next guy, but well made and enjoyable golden lagers like these have their place as well, especially during the dog days of summer.
From there, I moved on to Cameron's Cream Ale. Right up front, I have to say that I'm generally not all that hot on cream ales. The style seems like a bit of a cop out to me - an ale for people who don't really like ales. That being said, Cameron's version is an enjoyable quaff, with a slight fruitiness to the nose, the expected creamy body, and a balanced, refreshing flavour. Still, I much prefer their Auburn Ale.
Finally, there were two bottles of Mill Street Coffee Porter, neither of which I was able to drink because my wife stole them to take to a friend's BBQ on the weekend. But I've had this one often enough to know that it was easily the best beer of the bunch. They've toned down the coffee from the early batches, but it's still an excellent porter with tasty roasted coffee notes, and easily one of Ontario's best beers.
As mentioned, these five breweries and around a dozen other OCB members will have booths at Toronto's Festival of Beer running August 9th-12th at Fort York. For all of it's flaws, the fest is still a good opportunity to get a taste of Ontario's craft brewing scene, as well as a bunch of the good (and some not-so-good) quality imports available in the province. Just stay away from the Labatt and Molson tents and you should be fine.