01 November 2018

The high end

In Tuesday's post I covered one of the few Toronto beer bars I'd heard of before I began the research for this trip: C'est What? Another was Bar Volo, which closed in its original location in 2016 but has now returned as Birreria Volo with a new premises. Well, I say premises; it's barely that, looking more like a roofed-over alley with a long straight bar and rickety furniture scattered inside. Yes, it's craft as craft can be but there was a friendly neighbourhood vibe about it when we dropped in late one afternoon.

From the selection I picked Vim & Vigor, a pilsner from Ottawa's Tooth & Nail brewery and the only one of theirs I encountered on the trip. It's a gently floral take on the style, eschewing the hard grassy edges. A rich malt aroma introduces it while the flavour is all hay and meadows, wildflowers swaying in the breeze. There's just enough of a sharp pinch in the finish to end it satisfactorily. I wouldn't normally laud a pilsner that's as soft as this but it's unarguably delicious.

My next one was Ci-Tron, a dry-hopped and barrel-aged Berliner weisse by Small Pony Barrel Works. This had a spritzy lemon-zest foretaste, like a squeeze of Jif Lemon, but not a whole lot else afterwards. The sourness is simplistic and inoffensive, resulting in a net effect of something like lemonade: tasty, refreshing, but not really built to be savoured.

The final round here gave me a brut IPA called Groupthink from Toronto's own Halo Brewery. It's a big 'un at 7.5% ABV, and uses a promising combination of Galaxy, Citra and Azacca hops. Promising, until the substance got sucked out of them by that brut-alising enzyme, I suspect. There's a plain and dry lemon cookie foretaste and then a straw-like middle, reminiscent of a saison, and no finish or aftertaste to speak of, really. At the same time there's a certain sweet sickliness too; the sort of vanilla tang one might expect in a New England IPA. However you look at it, I did not enjoy what this beer was offering and frankly felt a little cheated.

An actual saison is next to it: Series 3 by Redline Brewhouse. This is a barrel-aged and Brettanomyces-fermented saison with added apricots: 6.6% ABV and all murky orange. I was expecting lots of succulent stonefruit here, but really the barrel seems to be in charge of the flavour. Funk and pepper forms the aroma, with just a little apricot sweetness. The taste is fantastically spicy, full of pink peppercorns, incense and juicy pomegranate. These are all smoothly integrated into a cohesive overall taste, building in intesity as they go, with a sour pinch near the end followed by a long barnyard finish. Really beautiful stuff. I don't think I've ever had as many wins from a single style as I've had with barrel-aged saisons.

On every must-visit pub list for Toronto is Bellwoods. The production brewery is on a busy commercial street, with a roomy taproom out front, extending to an even roomier front terrace. Service was attentive and the beer list looked interesting. Time to get stuck in.

White Picket Fence was where I started, batch 7 of the foeder-fermented saison. It's a very pale yellow colour with a very funky aroma, all