The boys from Lakes of Muskoka brewery explain their Hefe-Weissbierto an interested customer

Beer Festival goes Down Cool, Smooth

The weather - a hot dry day with plenty of sunshine and not a raincloud in sight - could not have been more ideal yesterday for the 11th annual Toronto's Festival of Beer held throughout the weekend at Fort York down by the foot of Bathurst St. Thousands of revelers and beer geeks gathered there for a day of music, food, and sampling, sampling, sampling.

With over 200 labels on offer (including the newly released Mike-arita a malt (as opposed to the more traditional vodka) -based cooler that surprisingly even managed to replicate the salted-rim flavour of its namesake, though my assistant thought it more like a whiskey-sour) there was something for every taste, regardless of if you were a Blue drinker or a fan of the more exotic Belgian imports. For me though, it was the Canadian craft brews that far and away stole the show.

One has to be careful when pouring 15% ABV beer!

One of the more exciting brews that I got to taste yesterday was the Church-Key 'Purple Lustrife Honey' Mead out of Cambellford. Made with honey from the purple lustrife flower currently running rampant over native Ontario wildflowers, this mead showed a beautiful yellow-gold colour with a floral nose full of honey, thistle, chocolate and grass. Having a touch of sweetness on the palate (about as sweet as a Strongbow type cider) it went down smoothly with flavours of honey, chocolate, caramel, flowers and a touch of currant. While I'm unsure about my appreciation for the use of invasive species in a drink, I can't complain about the drink itself. Fantastic.

The problem with having a beer festival during the height of summer is that some beer really isn't made for sipping on a patio. The Trafalgar 'Critical Mass' made just next door in Oakville is one of those. A dark and brooding stonker of a beer at 15% ABV, it had a dark amber colour and a full flavoured body. The nose was complex and heavy, with notes of corriander, cinnamon, jasmine, toffee, vanilla, and citrus zest, while the thick and luscious palate showed characters of chocolate, vanilla, corriander, nuts, jasmine, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Even with only a 6oz pour, I wasn't able to finish my sample in that heat - but come a cold January night, I know what I'll be looking for.

All that beer... Could you resist?

Not everybody is looking for heavy beer, or exotic meads. Sometimes one just wants a nice refreshing palate-clensing lager to drink. Most people tend to reach for the major labels to quench that thirst, but there are some craft breweries that are attending to the more plebian tastes as well - they're not just for connesieurs and snobs. Trailhead Lager, produced by the Wellington brewery out in Guelph is a great step up from the Carlings, Kokanees, and Candians that seem to be ubiquitous around the city. Pale gold in colour, the nose was fresh and hoppy, with a smooth rounded body to match. Lovely with a hot chicken curry or just on its own on the patio.

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