Five Standouts from the Ottawa Craft Beer Festival

Last weekend was the Ottawa Craft Beer Festival, a gathering of over 30 craft breweries, some not so craft breweries and special guests from the world of food, wine and whiskey. Hosted at the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park, the Ottawa Craft Beer Festival had a much different atmosphere than its predecessor, National Capital Craft Beer Festival, but still provided a weekend of memorable moments, great beers and apparently blurry cellphone pictures. After a year hiatus, here’s the 2015 edition of ‘Five Standouts’ from the Ottawa Craft Beer Festival!

Guard the Galaxy!

From time to time I develop an infatuation for particular cultivars of hops, and if this past weekend is any indication, galaxy might just be the next one. Two of my favourite beers from the Ottawa Craft Beer Festival both used this hop to perfection.

Ransack the Universe

The first came from Collective Arts. Billed as a Hemisphere IPA, ‘Ransack the Universe‘ showcased the typical grassy, citrus and tropical fruit flavours of Galaxy, an Australian hop, against the versatile American hop; Mosaic. They worked together to produce a beer that, first of all, smelled incredible, but then went on to deliver a wonderfully fruity, resinous and somewhat floral taste experience, with zesty and even minty highlights balanced with a nice malt profile. It’s not surprising that Collective Arts Brewing’s was able to create such a vibrant and multi-dimensional beer, given their track record. And had it not been at a beer festival, where so many other products were waiting to be tried, I would have been happy sticking with it all afternoon.

Thankfully there were other treats out there. Muskoka‘s White IPA, the second edition to their Moonlight Kettle Series, was another beer that blended Australian galaxy with American hop varietals to create another uniquely flavourful beer. A White India Pale Ale basically a cross between a hop-forward American IPA and a light and refreshing Belgian-style wheat ale or Witbier (White Beer). Having plenty of tropical fruit, citrus and pine resin, which would have worked well in almost any Pale Ale, what took this beer to the next level, for me, was how the hop flavours so worked well with the spicy phenolics produced by Belgian yeast strains.

Those Guys from Gravenhurst

I’ve come to expect nothing but good things from Sawdust City, and last weekend was no exception to the rule. In fact, the only disappointing thing about Sawdust’s setup was how little time I was able to spend there. As such I missed out on the much hyped 1606, a wine barrel-aged Stout with raspberry which sold out in no time flat, as well as some of the classics like the Princess Wears Girl Pants.

I was able to sample their Butter Tart beer, which was very much as advertised. I understood it to be their Ol’ Woody Altbier with maple and butter tart flavouring. It was butter rum forward, which played nicely against a solid malt backbone, joined by some fruity esters typical of the base style. A unique and enjoyable brew, yes, but not my top pick from their offerings from the weekend.

Coriolis Effect is a Berliner Weisse, a style of small, sour, German wheat beer, that I really thought would be the next big summer beer craze. There’s always next year – and for good reason. A well balanced Berliner Weisse delivers a light and effervescent character with just the right measure of lactic tartness. Coriolis Effect, was right on the money – a perfect burst of refreshment in the sauna that was Aberdeen Pavilion. Easily among the best Berliner Weisses I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying, it was no wonder that the keg blew so quickly.

Looking Good in Orange

One of the highlights of my craft beer loving weekend was having the opportunity to pull some beers for Broadhead on Saturday night. I had a great time interacting with craft beer fans, and soon to be craft beer fans alike – and of course the Broadhead’s good people, making for a great atmosphere on the whole.

Broadhead Brett

I’ve always enjoyed a good pint of Broadhead beer, but I rarely venture away from my staples; Longshot White and Dark Horse Stout. It was a learning experience for me, in some ways, as my familiar favourites took a bit of a backseat to the likes of, the summer hit Bodacious Blueberry Blonde Ale and the perhaps more ‘gateway’ Backbone Standard. Both of those beers I’ve had before, and enjoyed, but there was one more brew flying off the shelf that I had never come across before. It was their ‘Rye and Ginger’.

“No, it’s not whiskey and ginger ale on draft”, we had to explain to a number of confused folks looking to try something new and exciting. It was actually a Rye Pale Ale with post boil additions of ginger, lemon and lime – better than any CC&G I’ve ever come across. It really was great. Complex malt, balanced out by a good amount of sweetness, ginger sharpness and just enough acidity. It was a sweaty, sticky, musky room by Saturday evening, and this beer made it all the more bearable. And while it might not been as technically on point as some of the other beers on offer at the event, it was certainly right up there on taste. Though not for everyone, it earned praise across all demographics of beer drinkers there – and that’s saying something.



Craft Beer?

So This Is Craft?

One final thing that stood out to me was how liberally the term ‘craft’ was being used in association with this event. I’m not one to get too nitpicky about what constitutes craft beer. I don’t believe craft is a label that should be exclusively affixed to beers produced by small, independent breweries, as is often the case. Rather, I’m a proponent that any good beer that has been brewed with quality ingredients and care should fall into this category. There needs to be a passion. That’s why it seemed somewhat insincere to be greeted at the the festival entrance by ‘Molson Canadian Cider’ and ‘Shock Top Belgian White‘.

You may have come across Toronto Beer Writer Ben Johnson’s article demonstrating how big beer companies are actively trying to fool consumers into thinking that some of their products are actually ‘craft’. His article examines Labatt’s master plan to position Shock Top to consumers in the “Reward Myself’ need state” – whatever that means. Shock Top rolled into this festival without probably having blinked an eye at the cost of attending, equipped with a promotions budget, orange bandannas and all, that all but a small subset of the independent breweries in attendance could come close to, and tried to do just that.  It’s just not in good spirit.

It was a fun festival, and as far as I’m concerned, I can easily just avoid the “fluff”. Just don’t call a festival ‘craft’ (synonymous with small, independent brewers) and then help those who are trying to fight against it.