Winter Craft Beers Coming to the LCBO

Here's a list of Winter Beers being brought into the LCBO, starting, (they say), November 24th. It looks like a stunning list, perfect for rich holiday fare. Let's hope we have the beers in our hands well before holiday party season kicks off.

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How to hold a beer tasting at home

Recently I've gotten a lot of questions lately about how to set up a beer tasting for friends. Luckily, I was interviewed on the subject by Lisa Hoekstra along with my colleagues, Roger Mittag and Tracy Phillippi, for Quench MagazineJust read the story below, and you'll be ready to host a tasting. 

Not into DIY? I often lead tastings for special occasions and corporate events. I put a pretty package together listing all of my guided tasting services, like team-building, beer dinners and food pairing workshops. And thanks to  BizBash for including my services in their 6 Ideas for Fall Entertaining in Toronto.

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Luxy's Top 11 LCBO Beers for Fall

It was a tough job (really!). Eventually, palate fatigue, a slight alcohol buzz, and so many similar flavours can make it hard to separate the good from the very good.

Still, I gave it my best shot. Here are my picks of 11 beers to grab off the LCBO shelves, and a couple that you might want to leave in the store.

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Drinks Pairing DIY: Best Wines for Beer Lovers

I love wine, but I don't know much about it. So maybe that's why whenever I taste one, my mind goes to beer—which beer has similar flavours? Have I ever tasted a beer with this much acidity, cherry or leather? 

Usually when beer and wine are in the same conversation, it's all about rivalry: which beverage is best? But that's just silly—if you love great beer and food, why wouldn't you adore wine too? So, I love to bring them together, finding similar flavours, balances and mouthfeels—and noticing their vast differences. 

It's kind of like beer and food pairing, but more fun. 

You should try it! This week I'm hosting a small tasting for 10 ticket holders to The Beer Experience, but you don't have to win to try it at home, here are my suggestions. Pair one or two up and let me know what you think! 

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Three Ciders For Labour Day Weekend!

Labour Day Weekend is almost upon us and the forecast says it’ll be a hot one. So embrace these last few days of summer by cooling off with some crisp, bubbly (and always gluten-free) ciders.  Skip Somersby and Strongbow, commercial brands, which are made using apple concentrate and sugar. Instead, opt for an artisanal or craft cider that uses only two ingredients: the juice of pressed apples and yeast.

Two years ago, Ontario had just two craft cideries. Today we have 18! Great news for cider lovers because we’re finally moving beyond sickly sweet over-carbonated wine-cooler style swill, to ciders with more balance, complexity, tart flavours, and even farmhouse funk.

Here are my top three ciders to pick up from your local LCBO for this weekend:

If you like off-dry, sparkling wine, try

Brickworks 1904

Brickworks Ciderhouse, 5%, Toronto, ON

473 ml can for $3.10

Currently producing its cider in Downsview, the GTA’s first craft cidery, Brickworks, launched cans of its 1904 into the LCBO two weeks ago. Made with a blend of Ontario Macintosh and Ida Reds, and fermented with white wine yeast, the cider is clean and crisp. The straw-hued cider starts with a touch of butterscotch sweetness and leads to a lemon-like, refreshing acidity made sharper by the highly sparkling champagne mouthfeel.

If you like Green Apple Jolly Ranchers, you’ll love

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Angry Orchard Hard Cider

Boston Beer Company, 5%, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

6 x 355 ml bottle for $13.95 (On sale until Sept. 14)

Since launching its cider brand last year, Boston Beer Company’s Angry Orchard has become a giant—capturing 40 percent of cider sales in America. WHAT?! How? Well Boston Beer has been tinkering with a flagship cider brand since 1997, and with last year’s launch of Angry Orchard, it seems to have the right mix of flavour and branding to strike gold.  The cidery says the apples are a mix of culinary apples from the South Tyrol mountain region of Italy, and cider apples from Normandy and Brittany in France.

The result is all Green Apple Jolly Rancher candy on the nose, a lush, juicy palate and a kicky acidity to keep it from being cloying. It’s an easy drink-all-day’er that will satisfy those who like things sweet and juicy.

NOTE: After posting this online, I've discovered that Angry Orchard is made with apple concentrate and malic acid to up the tangy flavour. So proceed with caution and be aware that it's not a full-juice cider.

If you like sour beers or saisons with a farmhouse kick, get

Spirit Tree Draught Cider

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, 6%, Caledon, Ontario

4 x 330 ml bottle for $13.20

Spirit Tree Estate opened in 2008 and its founder, Thomas Wilson, wanted to do a true English scrumpy, (high alcohol, unfiltered and very funky), but knew Ontario’s palate wasn’t ready for it yet. Still, the Draught and Pear Ciders nod in the scrumpy direction. To achieve this, Wilson blends a portion of wild-fermented cider into his main batch, which uses an English Cider yeast strain containing a hint of Brettanomyces, (a wild yeast strain with earthy, funky notes). Then he leaves the flavours develop over four to six months of cellaring. The result is some of the most complex ciders in the province. The Draught Cider has big apple flavour—a blend of Cortland, Golden Delicious, Gala, Chisel Jersey and Golden Russet— with notes of nutmeg, hay and hints of woody pine, and a delightfully tart, earthy finish.

Bonus Track: Listen to Crystal talk about the cider boom with Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning 

TFOB's Extreme Beer Trail

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 slideshow 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).

2014 Beer Trends: A look back at my predictions

With August upon us and more than half of 2014 done, I thought it would be time to dig up my predictions for this year in beer. In January, I appeared in Global Toronto's The Morning Show to preview some new beers and talk about what I thought the trends would be, from sour to session beers. You can re-watch the clip below and let me know if my predictions ring true!