Four Standouts from the National Capital Craft Beer Festival

Spinning the Wheel of Cask at Beyond the Pale's NCCBW tent.

Spinning the Wheel of Cask at Beyond the Pale’s National Capital Craft Beer Festival tent.

If you checked out my other National Capital Craft Beer Festival post from earlier this week, you will have no doubt noticed my enthusiasm towards the festival. There was so much there to try and the quality of the participating brewers made it really difficult to take everything in – let alone pick favourites. While I can’t claim to have tasted everything, there were several tents that had me routinely coming back for more; and I got very well acquainted with their menus. So here are my four standout breweries and my favourite beers from the weekend.

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.

An obvious favourite of the hometown crowd, Beau’s came ready to play last weekend. Headlined by their flagship Lug Tread Lagered Ale and supported by a cast of seasonals, both new and dug out of the archives, you would have almost had to have spent the entire festival at their tent to have sampled each one.

I started things off with ‘The Spruce Moose‘, a really nice and hoppy APA brewed with pine tips – as a result things started well. I followed it up with the bourbon barrel aged ‘Mr. Hyde‘; a cask Roggenbier, where the tastes of wood, bourbon and rye grain were very much present. It was actually a real contender for my overall favourite, along with ‘Two Weeks Notice‘ a German Porter style beer, brewed as a lager – not as an ale.

I would have included ‘Opa’s Gose‘ in the list also, but I had already had quite a few of those earlier-on in the summer. So what does that leave as my favourite…

Beau’s barrel aged ‘Dark Helmüt‘ really hit the spot for me. It is a Schwarzbier aged in a bourbon barrel, that I assume is a product of Beau’s ‘Greener Futures Project’. I can’t comment on how it compares to the original version, as I really can’t remember, but I do know that this version was quite delicious. It had a very nice aroma of smoke, wood, hops and fruit. Immediately upon tasting, you get the chocolatey roasted barley flavours flirting with the barrel characteristics; smoke, bourbon, wood. There is a slight fruitiness, which I love in Schwarzbiers, that comes out along with caramel. The bitterness seemed appropriate, cut by the presence of an alcohol flavour. After a day predominantly focused on IPAs, Belgian Ales and Wheat Beers, it was a very nice change of pace. If nothing else, this is another reason why I’m very much looking forward to this year’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek, Hill.

Beyond The Pale Brewing Company

This Hintonburg-based brewery, I’m embarrassed to say, is one that I haven’t spent too much time exploring, as of yet. Not nearly enough, apparently, as they to me proved last weekend.

When I first went over to check them out, it had a lot to do with the chat that I had with Brad Remus about his collab brew: ‘Smoked Pol’ Grätzer – based on the smoked wheat beer style also known as ‘Grodziskie’. As a fellow home brewer, I was excited to give his creation a shot. It was an excellent beer that reminded me a bit of Brauerei Spezial’s Rauchweizen, from Bamberg, Germany. It was so good, in fact, that I made it my ‘de jure’ last beer of the festival.

I didn’t relent, however. After sampling a couple other beers off of the main menu it became apparent that the popularity of their tent was going to affect my ‘waiting-in-line to beer-sampling ratio’ for the worse. As such, I decided to go and spin the ‘Wheel of Cask’ (a cool idea) a few times. Essentially, by spinning the wheel, you were able to skip the longer line, but at the same time were forfeiting your right to choose beer type and portion size. As it so happens, I spun the wheel three times and each time I landed on ‘Bru‘, another collaboration beer, this time with Square Timber Brewing Co.‘s Marc Bru. This cask APA was really very good. Not only was I very much un-disappointed to have gotten it three times in a row, but it also made me very excited to see what else he has to offer.

Other notables for me included ‘Tamed Angry Orchid‘, ‘Hop On Your Face‘, ‘The Darkness‘ and ‘Party Animal‘ (one of the most popular ones from the people I spoke with – that and ‘Pink Fuzz‘ a Grapfruit Wheat Beer). That said, my pick of the lot is…

I chose to go with ‘Make’r Dark Aged Oatmeal Stout‘. I was really impressed with their barrel aged brews; whether wine or bourbon barrel. The distinct Maker’s Mark bourbon flavour was very prominent, and after an initial sting, it was cut nicely by the sweetness of the oatmeal and the dark chocolate, coffee and caramel flavours from the grain. The flavours seemed to wrestle with one another in my mouth; which somehow worked to its favour. Not quite full-bodied, especially not from an imperial stout standpoint, but I think the characteristics that came from the bourbon barrel may have made up for that somewhat. It was a beer that challenged my senses and was anything but ordinary. While maybe not the most technically outstanding of their beers, it had a character about it that left me satisfied, but at the same time wanting more.

There is much more exploring to be done…


Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery

The Flying Monkeys boys brought ‘Red on Red‘ with them. It was the first thing I checked when I got to the festival and I was so excited to see it on their board. If you read my ‘Exploring Southern Ontario Craft Beer‘ blog post, you know that this pick was all but made long before the National Capital Craft Beer Festival even began.

I had tasted this beer in Vancouver at the Alibi Room, during Vancouver Craft Beer Week. It is an Imperial Red Ale (Imperial Double Red) brewed in collaboration with Central City Brewing. The first one that I had sampled was brewed in Surrey, BC. This was the batch that had been fermenting in Barrie during my visit to the brewery, two weeks earlier. It hit the spot in much the same way that in did when I was in BC; if not a little bit better.

A dark, almost blood-red pour, with a offwhite head. Immediately you can smell the hops, pine, caramel and some citrus. The hops attack your mouth on first taste, supported by sweet butterscotch and fruit. The mouthfeel is creamy, and it leaves a very pleasant aftertaste – if you like hops.

I am very much looking forward to August 24, when this beer should be hitting LCBO shelves across the province.

Special mention: I also really enjoyed the ‘Netherworld with Falconer’s Flight Hops‘ on cask. A lot of great flavour and, for me, an improvement on the original.

Sawdust City Brewing Co.

TRY THEIR BEER! If you haven’t done so already, please do. Sawdust City was a brewery that I was not at all familiar with at the start of last week, and now they’re right near, if not, at the top of my list of Ontario favourites. These guys were always fun to talk to when I dropped by for another taste – and I did so frequently. You can tell that they put A LOT of care into their beers, but are having fun with them. It really comes out in the taste.

I started off on Friday night asking for ‘The Princess & Girlpants Meets the O.D.B‘ (what a name), but was told that the keg had been left behind. I would have to wait until the next day, so their ‘Lone Pine IPA‘ was suggested instead (also enjoyed while writing this blog post). I couldn’t get over flavour. The hop-bitterness and that unmistakable taste of pine clung to the sides of my tongue and remained there for some time – almost as a challenge to all the other beers. I then tasted the ‘Red Rocket Stout‘, a very spicy change of direction. Creamy coffee with a real kick in the pants (from what I later learned was cayenne pepper). Day two, we were treated to their ‘Dawson’s Kriek‘ cask, thrown on the truck with the Princess Girlpants (easier to refer to it that way) almost as an apology for having left that other keg behind. Apology very much accepted. While any or all of the above could have been my favourite, I decided to go with…

Maybe scarcity drives demand? Maybe it’s the name? Nah. ‘The Princess & Girlpants Meets the O.D.B‘ brought it. A Belgian Strong Ale, that masks the alcohol brilliantly; it was thoroughly enjoyed by almost everyone that I was with. For me, it was worth every second of the wait. It smells a little bit of sour wine, citrus and spice, with some of the malt coming through. Initially it hits like a brut champagne, with the sweetness of malt and the faint taste fruit and berry balanced out by moderate hop flavours. There is a bit of a woodiness present throughout; but it remains subtle. Overall, Sawdust City blew me away. I look forward to seeing more of them around town and in the LCBO.