A few weeks ago at the Toronto’s Festival of Beer I led the Extreme Beer Trail, so I had the tough job of sampling a bunch of the beers on offer and choosing the most creative, experimental beers to share with festival-goers. A few years back, brewers were throwing just about anything into a beer—from liquefied Gummi Bears to cotton candy; they’d up the alcohol to unheard of levels like 16 percent—often throwing it into a bourbon barrel for extreme flavour. These days, that experimental ethos is still thriving among craft breweries but now I’m happy to see many of them dialling down on alcohol, challenging themselves to brew clean, easy-drinking, lighter-flavoured beers (which can be a lot tougher to do than banging out a 14-percent hop bomb) and reaching way, way back in brewing history to bring eccentric, nearly extinct styles back to life.
The beers we tasted showcased both of these trends—check out the pictures from the day and the list of beers we tasted. Bonus: One of my favourites from the day (and the entire festival) is on tap in Ontario now.
Catch the highlights of the trail by clicking on the pictures below (photos by Andrew Williamson):
Here are the extreme beers featured on the trail & the breweries behind them:
1. Kolsch-style ale with Rose Petal Syrup, Descendants Beer & Beverage Co, ON 4.7%
Made with local ingredients, brewmaster Robin Molloy was inspired by a vineyard he and his wife, Carin Lee Brooks, visited in France where the vitner processed their grapes and made their wines based on the lunar cycles. This batch was brewed on the summer solstice and flavoured with rose petal syrup from Wild Foods Toronto, made out of the five-petal wild rose that grows across Canada. Robin plans to schedule his brews around the lunar cycle—look for a Winter Solstice beer later this year. After opening earlier this year, they’re renovating their permanent location in Wellesley and are currently brewing out of Railway City in St. Thomas, Ontario.
2. Gosebuster, Liberty Village Brewing Company, ON 5.6%
Reviving an old style with a new world twist, Liberty Village created a Grapefruit Gose brewed with 60% wheat, pilsner and acidulated (or soured) malts. The brewers were hoping to borrow some Kolsch yeast from a local brewer but couldn’t find one willing to donate any—and with a big batch of brew lined up, their only choice was to fly in the yeast from White Labs in San Diego, at a cost of $2000! Ouch. They toasted and ground coriander at home for this batch and dosed the beer with lactic acid to bring out a slightly brighter tartness than the acid malt alone would have lent. The result is an acidity that is punchy but not puckering. The sea salt plays a background role, coming in at the finish—grapefruit dominates the flavour for a refreshing, zingy ale. One of the favourites during the trail, you can find out where it’s currently on draft by checking their website or Twitter. Cans will be available at Wisebar and Tallboys.
3. Canadian Cherrywood Cask, Innis & Gunn, Scotland, 8.3 %
Made specifically for Canadian drinkers, this beer was aged in Quebec cherrywood then put through the “oakerator”, a tank filled with oak chips (in this case bourbon-macerated oak chips), where nearly finished beer is run through at the end to add notes of bourbon, wood, and vanilla before being sweetened with maple syrup: super malty, sweet and silky smooth, it’s a beautiful, food-friendly ale.
4. Barrel Aged Netherworld, Flying Monkeys Brewery, ON 6%
This espresso-hued ale was aged for six months in Kentucky bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill distillers giving the dark IPA tons of oaky bourbon flavour to contrast with its citrusy Cascade hop punch. There’s definitely a lot going on in this one—my tongue was confused.
5. Flight by Spearhead Brewing Company, ON
- India White Ale: an IPA-wit-weiss combo: uses hefe yeast and wheat, with orange peel, mango juice and orange juice added. I love this one.
- Moroccan Brown: dates, figs and raisins are ground into a paste with a meat grinder then put into the beer, a Bohemian Honey malt adds a layer of sweetness and biscuity complexity. Available at the LCBO.
- Jamaican Fire: inspired by a Jamaican colleague who was working at the brewery, jerk spice is added to coffee, mango, cane sugar and Scotch Bonnet peppers to make a stout-like beer with a seriously sneaky heat. This was the fan-favourite of the tour. Unfortuantely Spearhead only makes it for occasional special events like tap takeovers… would love to see it on tap a little more (hint, hint).