The top 5 new craft beers in Toronto from 2014
Owing to the increasing number of brewers in the city, every year vetting the ever-growing output of craft beer made in Toronto to find the very best becomes a more and more difficult task. Thankfully, my constitution and my inability to deal with emotions make me uniquely suited to the task of consistently consuming large quantities of alcohol in my quest to find the beers that rise above the others.
Here are the fruits of my trauma-suppressing labours -- the top local beers of the last year.
Bellwoods Brewery's Motley Cru
The name given to the beer that Bellwoods opts to release on their birthday in April each year, the ingredients and process of this second installment had nothing to do with the first Motley Cru--and little to do with any other beer either. A blend of IPAs, Motley Cru was barrel-aged with funkifying Brett Lambicus yeast for 14 months before it was dry-hopped and then bottle-conditioned with fresh champagne yeast for another two months. The taste was simultaneously woody and fruity with vanilla, juicy peach, and even smoke and cherries. This a beer that you crack, smell, and sip, and then put your fist through some drywall in rage because you didn't buy more.
Great Lakes Brewery's THRUST! An IPA
People sometimes complain about Ontario's craft brewers and a perceived propensity toward "overly-hopped" beers. THRUST! An IPA is the beer that proves there is no such thing. This beer was hops on hops on hops and its execution proved how amazing that can be in the hands of an adept brewer. The Gold winning entry for the American IPA category at the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards has citrus, mango, and stone fruit in the aroma and the flavour is big, juicy fruits balanced with resinous pine. The finish is perfectly bitter. If you can drink this and still talk shit about hoppy beer, you probably don't deserve to drink beer.
Amsterdam Brewery's Reserve Saison
Released around thanksgiving, this blend of several saisons from Amsterdam's cellars might be one of the best arguments yet that this province's beer can be as complex and interesting as its wines.Barrel-aged on lees, the dead yeast cells left over from wine fermentation, Reserve Saison is an absurdly delicious beer with aromas of fruit and funk that's equal parts tart, sweet, and smooth--but with an added richness and aromatic complexity that's rare in most barrel-aged sours. If you're looking to convert a wine lover to beer, this would do it, but let the winos sip their chardonnay and keep this one for yourself.
Indie Alehouse's 99 Luftballoons
This beer has been made prior to 2014, but this year's batch (there's one keg left, on tap now at Indie) was aged in chardonnay barrels about 6 months longer than previous batches, and for my tastes, the added depth makes it somehow so much better than previous iterations that it's practically a different beer. With notes that sound almost disparaging, this thin, low carbonation, tart beer manages a remarkable refreshingness while still being full of vaguely puckering flavours like oak and sour apple. Don't let the pre-2013 reviews on ratebeer and beeradvocate scare you off, this is a killer beer.
Bellwood's Brewery's Skeleton Key
If you told me you wanted to include anything related to rum in my beer, I'd probably run from you just as fast as I ran from the principal after the last time I drank rum and vomited on the gym floor at a high school dance. Fortunately, the folks at Bellwoods know how to make rum work and this beer, released in October, ended up mind-meltingly delicious. An imperial stout that was aged in rum barrels for an entire year with ginger, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, and juniper berries, Skeleton Key is about as rich, warming, and deep a stout as you're ever likely to find-- even though the sum'bitch weighs in at a plank-walking 13% alcohol.
Left Field Brewery's Sunlight Park Saison - A near-perfect summer sipper made with grapefruit and named after the city's first baseball stadium.
Great Lakes Brewery's Limp Puppet - When the province started trending toward low-alcohol "session" beers, Toronto's residing hop king said, "Sure I can do that, too" and absolutely murdered the concept of hoppy beer you can drink all day.
Nickel Brook's Uber - In case you've been living under a rock, take note: Nickel Brook's brewer Ryan Morrow is seriously upping the Burlington brewery's beer game these days. Exhibit A: this near-perfect Berliner Weisse.
Sawdust City and Bar Hop's Blood of Cthulu - An imperial stout brewed in a collaboration between Gravenhurst's Sawdust City Brewery and staff from Toronto's Bar Hop, Blood of Cthulu features raspberries, cranberries and tart cherries and tasting notes that include the phrase "black as the blood of a malevolent demi-god." That's probably all you need to know.
Photo from Bellwoods Brewery
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