This past weekend was the first edition of WinterBrewed, an outdoor craft beer festival held along Ottawa's Spark Street Mall. There's nothing that screams 'I'm Canadian' more than suiting up in your best parka and snow boots to go to an outdoor winter festival to drink cold beer.
I arrived early on Saturday and bought a handful of drink tokens which was a smart strategy as I managed to avoid the big lineups that plagued the afternoon crowds. The sample lines at the ice bar and tents were almost nonexistent as the festival opened but breweries had problems with freezing draught lines. It wasn't uncommon to see heating pads under casks, hot paws on taps or hair dryers thawing out slushy lines.
Once things warmed up I focused my sampling on the visiting Toronto breweries and special offerings from the locals. There was a lot to try and some of the best beer treats sold out on the first day, but that tends to happen when 6,500 thirsty snow suited people descend on a beer festival.
With the wind chill creeping into double digits it was hard to keep both me and my beer from freezing, less than ideal conditions to be taking serious tasting notes. Nonetheless I had a fun time and tried some really amazing beers that I'd like to try again ..indoors.
Beyond the Pale Brewing Company's Make'r Dark
This casked version of The Darkness spent a month and a half in a bourbon barrel. It was smooth, bourbon-y with notes of chocolate and coffee. I can only imagine what this would taste like served at room temperature!
Availability in Ottawa: ???? (please come back!)
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company's Dubbel Koyt
An oatmeal gruit based on a 500 year old Dutch recipe. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this one but it has become one of my favourite gruits! There were notes of oatmeal, herbs, spices and even some sour notes - very interesting and very tasty.
Brasserie McAuslan's St-Ambroise Érable
This maple beer was made in connection with Chef Martin Picard (Au Pied de Cochon, Cabane à Sucre) so I semi-expected it would be an over-the-top indulgence and once again he didn't let me down. Big aromas of maple syrup and big maple syrup flavours; I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the best maple beer I've tasted.
Spearhead Brewing Company's Belgian Stout
I'm a big fan of Spearhead so I was really looking forward to trying this one. Lots of roasted, spicy notes with some nice cocoa flavour and a hint of sweetness.
Availability in Ottawa: On tap (Union Local 613).
Broadhead Brewing Company / Emil Neic's Over the Top Fruitcaked Ale
The winning beer from Broadhead/OBK's home brew contest and it's pretty impressive. Lots of rich, sweet dried fruit flavours and some alcohol warmth - exactly like fruit cake only tastier.
Availability in Ottawa: The brewery.