Tag Archive: Trafalgar Brewery


So I figured that since I’m behind on several updates, I’ll just smoosh them all into one big post and get it out of the way so I can get ready for the next season (and perhaps even become more timely with my writing!).

The big thing for me this summer was festivals and travelling. I went to the Cutting Edge Music Festival at the start of August and when not enjoying some hard, hard music, I did my fair share of drinking as well.

My friend Kat (who bartends at one of my favorites, Rasputin Vodka Bar) and I packed a couple 24′s worth of booze. There was no liquor but I brought Corona (my go-to camping beer) and she brought half-a-dozen types of coolers.

I can’t stand the damn things due to what I feel is an excessive amount of sugar and Kat doesn’t generally drink beer but over the next couple of days we dipped into each other’s stashes and I have to admit that Bacardi’s Blueberry Guava Breezer was actually quite refreshing, dare I say even buyable if one were prone to that sort of thing.

bud busIn terms of where one could drink there was a licensed area set to the side of the two main stages which was a Budweiser Bus. I generally hate segregated beer gardens with a passion and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $7 for a plastic cup of Bud when the camping area was licensed as well.

Unfortunately, drinking there required leaving the pit, making your way through security without getting anything confiscated, climbing up a monster hill and trying to find your way through Tent City. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a 10 minute walk, made exceedingly challenging for many folk dealing with the variety of substances playing havoc with their bodies. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard stories of people dropping where they stood but I can’t believe that fucking hill didn’t claim more victims. Still, I made the trek over twenty times and I’d do it again if it meant not drinking a Bud.

CEMF was my first music festival and I’m definitely looking forward to attending more although I think I’d prefer ones in other countries that don’t have such draconian licensing restrictions.

The next big thing I went to was Toronto’s Festival of Beer. I’d never been and I figured I should probably go to see what the fuss was about. I was a bit put out by the steep entrance fee ($45!) and getting in to the event was a challenge of labyrinthian proportions but I still enjoyed myself.

I know that Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites was largely unimpressed with the festival, Troy Burtch at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer also had some quibbles and Save Your Fork… There’s Pie‘s Sheryl Kirby gave a number of good reasons why it sucked when stacked up to the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and while I agree with pretty much everything they said I think I’m coming from a different place in my take on the event.

dug those barrels!

They’re right when they take issue with the smaller number of craft brewers in attendance, the roaming packs of drunken louts (and requisite “beer Nazi” security force) and all the cringe-worthy accoutrement of the Molson-Coors/Anheuser-Busch Inbev crowd.

Beerfest was all of that but it was also fun! Tecate’s human foosball was a glorious mess of tangled limbs and drunken saves and almost good enough for me to forgive them for the piss they call beer. Sure the hats you received for winning looked dumb but my group largely negated that by stealing ours. The Steamwhistle photobooth was also nice carnival-style throwback but other than those two promotional tie-ins, I mostly stuck with drinking as much beer as possible.

My friends were already trashed by the time I got there but I managed to catch up pretty quickly with a stop at the Trafalgar Brewery booth and I had another go at their Critical Mass and Korruptor strong beers. Both tasted much better than I remember from that three-pack I bought back in the spring (or maybe I was just happy to finally have a beer in my hand).

In quick succession, I hit the Wellington, Radeberger & DAMM and McClelland Premium Imports booths. The first two didn’t do that much for me but the last one featured both the Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, Fruli and Affligem’s Dubbel, Tripel and Blonde. Unfortunately, they were out of Delirium Tremens by Sunday; this saddened me because I’ve always loved it and since it was banned by the LCBO awhile ago, it’s been very difficult to source it out beyond a few bars.

One of my friends had a massive hankering for wings and that was just fine with me because it allowed us to sit in the southwest corner of the festival where Great Lakes Brewery’s CASKapalooza! held court. I’d heard good things but I had no idea they’d have so many great brews just waiting for me to sample!

We ended up spending over an hour here; quite a feat when you consider that most booths didn’t merit more than a couple of minutes at best. During our time there, I tried the Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Kaptain Kolsch, Iron Eagle Pilsner, Simon Says Stout and Superior I.P.A.

All were pretty good with the Snaggle Tooth and Kaptain definitely meriting a place on the shelf. My disappointment at not being able to try more of them has been tempered by the hindsight that I was pretty trashed by this point and wouldn’t have made it through much more.

Still, there was more of the grounds to traverse and I forced my comrades to take me back to the Bier Markt’s Oktoberfest Experience. There, we dined on sausages, sauerkraut and a most excellent weissbier which I believe was imported. The only finer example I’ve had would be the rather untraditional Edelweiss’ Snowfresh or Denison’s.

After this point, my memories of what we did next begin to jumble together like a night of partying… I remember watching some booth girls playing a drinking game that involved some kind of soccer chant and being extremely disappointed by the Eastern European lager I got when it was my turn.

We ended up in the center of the grounds and although I think I tried some great beers I don’t recall what they were called or even what they tasted like. I remember a couple of friends climbing up into a tree and getting reprimanded by security and one of our cups getting confiscated by the beer Nazis after we doubled up while one of our friends went to the washroom. We ended up dancing in front of the bandshell to some no-name band playing a cover of Home for a Rest, a song that is somehow synonymous with being smashed and Canadian. (On a sidenote: there are so many concert videos of that song being played by the band on YouTube… they must be very tired of playing it but if the festival is any indication of public opinion, no one seems to very tired of hearing it.)

In retrospect we were pretty much like everyone else by that point; very drunk and very, very happy. This may not be the best way to try out new beers but it can be a terrific condition in which to enjoy yourself. I may be getting older but I still take some pleasure in this sort of thing from time to time. The day I stop doing so may very well coincide with the day I start taking my writing more seriously but it hasn’t come yet. I saw plenty of assholes but I also met some incredibly-fun people and drank some damn good beer; those are the memories that stick.

When not going out, I’ve had the opportunity to buy a few beers here and there but not too many of them stick out in my mind.

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Boris Organic (not pictured here, I misplaced the can, but I’m sure you can picture it) is a middle-of-the-road lager with that slightly-malty, clean, inoffensive taste that features in so many beers of its kind. There’s not a whole lot of carbonation and you’re left with not much of an aftertaste because it’s so damn watery. It reminded me a bit of Mill St. Organic except not as good.

Both Nektar and Ochakovo Premium were both equally bland and I’d stay away from both of them. I don’t like the Eastern European lagers the LCBO brings over here and neither of these changed my mind.

Estrella Damm, on the other hand, is a lot better but that’s faint praise considering the company it was keeping. It poured with a nice thick head that left a lovely amount of lacing on the glass which was unusual given that I wouldn’t call this a full-bodied beer.

Still, it was quite lovely; dry, crisp and refreshing. The nose was definitely light and there was a decent mouthfeel but I would’ve preferred more carbonation. It’s definitely less grassier than some pilsners with some malt and just a touch of bitterness. Bonus points for no evident skunkiness or overt sweetness. There was very little aftertaste but the dryness definitely became more pronounced which I didn’t mind.

Everyone I know who doesn’t generally enjoy beer and has tried Damm has enjoyed it; this is definitely one of those beers you can satisfy most people without sinking to the level of your garden-variety macro-brews. I’ve had a couple cans with everything ranging from a tuna-melt sandwich to pasta and found it worked quite well as a “carb-soaker”. My only real caveat with this beer is that is has to be served ice-cold; it loses points for not aging well in the glass. Overall, it’s a decent beer to get drunk with but there are cheaper tallboys that don’t sacrifice too much in taste.

(Top photo by Matt Eckensweiler.)

Massive LCBO spring ’09 release beer review

(This is the first part of a three-part series. Part two can be found here.)

It’s been a long time coming. So many new beers have come out in the past few months that between finding time to drink them and finding people to drink them with (which is harder than it sounds), I’ve had precious little time to actually write about them!

Still, most of ‘em are still available and some of ‘em are even worth checking out if you haven’t already done so.

img_0220My current favorite is the Great Lakes Green Tea Ale (650 mL, 4.2 % ABV, $4.95) . I first had a bottle with my friend Alex and we both found it quite refreshing.  I hadn’t much enjoyed the brewery’s other products but this one is definitely the best of the bunch.

It pours with minimal head but has a nice, golden, cloudy hue. The lack of carbonation initially surprised me but I grew accustomed to it as I drank more.  The nose was fruity with a bit of caramel which continued on with my first sip. The aftertaste where was I began to detect a bit of that green tea but I didn’t get much ginseng until the end.

By the end of the bottle, the tea flavour was a bit more pronounced which gave the beer a bit of an astringent feel but I still enjoyed it overall. Definitely one to try, especially if you want to pair it with some spicy food. It’s generally available everywhere but check the LCBO website first before you head out to pick it up. This beer is easily shared or you can drink it on your own.

If this is any indication of the leaps in quality that the Great Lakes Brewery is making, I think I’ll be looking forward to this year’s Orange Peel Ale. Recommended.

img_0219Alex and I also tried the Rogue Brutal Bitter (650 mL, 5% ABV, $6.95… ouch) . Pouring a golden orange colour with one helluva thick, foamy head, it had overtones of caramel maltiness and a bit of citrus and hops in the nose. The taste also started off sweet but finished pretty bitter (although not as nearly much as the name might imply). It did had really good length.

I’ve never been a fan of Rogue’s beers; I know they’re popular but they just never did it for me. This one was alright but I wouldn’t drink more than one and I’d probably split the bottle. Also I found it to be just a bit too expensive considering I didn’t love it. The Brutal Bitter is discontinued but you can find it with a bit of effort.

img_0223The third beer that we tried was another offering from Rogue called Kell’s Irish Style Lager (650 mL, 4.8 % ABV, $6.35).

Despite the confusing name (what’s an Irish lager anyway?) it tasted lot like an American lager. It poured a clear golden colour with a average head that shrank quite quickly. The aroma suggested malt with a bit of hops and an herbal, grassy quality that wasn’t entirely unpleasing.  The taste was surprisingly bitter and didn’t give me nearly enough of the malts that I could smell but there was a yeasty presence that didn’t sit with me all that well.

At least it was crisp enough to leave me wanting another swallow but overall, I was left wanting something else. Kind of like most basic American-style lagers except more expensive. Like their Brutal Bitter, Kell’s is also discontinued but your best best is the Summerhill location if you really want to seek it out.

img_0221Having exhausted our lighter options, Alex and I went with a doppelbock for our next beer; Doppel Hirsch Doppelbock (500 mL, 7.2% ABV, $3.95).

I’ve never liked any of the doppelbocks I’ve ever tried. They’re far too sweet for me and a hefty alcohol percentage doesn’t really interest me either.

Pouring dark with a light tan head, it gave off a sweet, raisin smell which mingled with this weird maltiness I couldn’t quite place until I tasted it and amongst the wheat and dried fruits was this malty, metallic flavour that ruined the finish for me.

The Doppel Hirsch is discontinued but you can get one at the St. Clair and Keele location or Queen’s Quay.img_0222

After the Doppelbock, we needed something a bit lighter so we went with Cameron’s Dark 266 (341 mL, 4.5% ABV, 6x$11.95).

Unfortunately, it was a bit too unsubstantial for us. I was a bit confused until I did some research and came to the conclusion that was more of a dunkel (or dark lager) than brown ale. This reminded me a lot of Upper Canada’s Dark. It’s rather boring but I like it chilled in a frosty glass.

Pouring with a dark, cola colour there was a minimal head. The aroma was all malt with some molasses and cocoa and the taste was equally straightforward, ending with a bit of hops.

The Dark 266 is not discontinued but finding it can be a bit of a trick. Your best bet is the Summerhill location but Bay and Dundas has a few kicking around too.

img_0217Alex and I followed up this completely-average beer with something extraordinary: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (500 mL, 5% ABV, $3.25). Not technically a spring release, this stout was (very wisely) given a general release by the LCBO and you can now find it everywhere.

It pours a dark, dark brown with a dark beige head that holds up well. Aroma has a nice blend of malt, coffee and, of course, chocolate. The taste is more of the same, just more intense with a bit of barley peeking through and a little bitterness to finish.

This beer was easy to finish and I’ve bought it several times since. It’s perfect for sharing but just as easy to drink on it’s own; I could very well have several of these over the course of a night but I’m just that kind of guy. Recommended.

img_0224Alex and I finished up with a trio of beers from Trafalgar. Released as a boxed set and not-so menacingly titled Triple Threat – Very Strong Beer (200 mL, 15% ABV average, 3x$10.95) they are that indeed.

The Black Bullet is apparently a Belgian triple and while my memory of what exactly constitutes a triple is hazy (so many nights at Beer Bistro…) all I got when I tasted this was a lot of sweetness with a strong aftertaste of alcohol. Since we were drinking these after eating, I suppose you could treat it like a icewine but it has none of the finesse one might expect from a benchmark example of the latter.

img_0226The Korrupter didn’t taste much different, even though it’s supposed to be a barley wine. With Alex, his partner and I sharing a bottle, it was just enough to be acceptable without going overboard but I don’t doubt that was because we weren’t having more than about 75mL each. I’m not a fan of this type of beer in general but Mill St. did it better with their winter release.

Critical Mass has some fruit flavour in there but the sweetness and booze dominate. I can’t imagine drinking an entire bottle of this.  Where are the hops? Shouldn’t there be some bitterness in there??

img_0225Ostensibly brewed for shock value and rushed into production to meet licensing restrictions, this pack is yet another example of Trafalgar pushing a concept at the expense of taking the time to develop a truly great beer. Not surprisingly, this product is discontinued but you can find it at Summerhill. I say go with some icewine instead.

Overall, I would stick with the Green Tea Ale and the Double Chocolate Stout. The majority of these are not worth going back for seconds and when it comes down to it, that’s the big question that I think ultimately determines a beer’s worth.

I’ll have the second half of my beer review up next week.

Trafalagar Brewery is well-known for three things: garish packaging, prodigious output and beer that often has a short shelf life.

Having never been out to see them (they’re in Oakville, I don’t have a car and I hate the GO train) I have no idea if their beers taste better on-site but when picking them up at the LCBO, you’re definitely better off if you don’t let them sit there too long.

oakWith that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I opened up my bottle of their Oak-Aged Rye (5% ABV, 650 mL). I’ve always enjoyed Innis & Gunn ( I like the boozy, warming quality… that suggestion of whiskey that lingers on your tongue) but I couldn’t imagine a brewery with the track record of Trafalgar besting that of Belhaven.

Still, I’d thrown a DVD of Milk on and there were wasabi peas to munch on so, with almost no expectations, I was prepared to spend a fairly pleasant evening.

It poured with almost no head which wasn’t a great start but the aroma was a bit better, if still rather faint, with malty notes of rye and caramel.  Flavour-wise, it’s quite sweet with a bit of spice and some wood but it’s definitely too thin and watery for my liking. As expected, bitterness features predominantly and there’s very little carbonation. Thankfully, it wasn’t too stale but I still prefer Innis & Gunn’s version.

I wasn’t that impressed and I wouldn’t buy it again but this is the best beer I’ve ever tried from them and if this is any indication of where they’re going, I look forward to seeing a product from them in the near future that I’d actually buy more than once.

cedarNext, I cracked open their Cedar Cream Ale (5% ABV, 341 mL). Similiarly to the first beer, it poured with practically no head at all; I would’ve really had to toss it in there to achieve anything. Grainy malt and a bit of toffee feature predomainantly in the aroma but no hint of the cedar. Malt also is the main element in the flavour with just a hint of cedar; swallow and you might miss it.It’s also got a very light mouthfeel and with almost no carbonation, it thankfully leaves just quickly as it came with a short, rather bitter finish.

Although both of these beers are better efforts than previous outings by Trafalgar, they both fall short of the efforts released by better breweries.

At least I had the peas.

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