Last week, I did something that I haven't done in more than a decade: perhaps, two.
I bought a beer book.
Two great beer bloggers and authors have combined forces to put together a comprehensive guide to Ontario craft breweries and brew pubs, aptly named The Ontario Craft Beer Guide. Authors Robin LeBlanc (The Thirsty Wench) and Jordan St. John (St. John's Wort) have listed every brewery and as many brew pubs and craft-beer watering holes that they could find in Ontario, which is a daunting task, considering that a new brewery seems to pop up every week in our province. This duo kept track until late 2015.
The book comes in a nice hand-held format and lists everything in alphabetical order, with ratings for most of the breweries' signature selections. I started ticking off the brews that I've tried, and I've learned that I have a lot of beer to discover.
I also learned that for the beers that I have tried, my rating for the beer is very close to those of LeBlanc's and St. John's, which is assuring. As a result of this finding, I have modified my rating scale, somewhat, based on some of the criteria that is used in their book. I'm not copying it, as my ratings were very close. I just enhanced my descriptions for these ratings.
And now, to put my review skills to good use...
I would like to say that I owe Mill Street Brewery an apology. This Toronto craft brewer became my favourite more than five years ago, when I first tried their flagship brew, Tankhouse. When the brewery expanded and set up a brew pub in Ottawa, I was there on the very day that they opened their doors (I followed them, anxiously, while the old mill underwent renovations for them). I was a regular of the Ottawa pub, showing up at least once a week for the first three years.
Mill Street Brew Pub was my second home. Almost every server, bartender, and manager knew me, by name. I frequently hung out with the head brewer. I was invited to brew launches and brewmaster dinners. I earned my Master of Beer Appreciation (a now-defunct loyalty program) three times. I had a pint glass with my name engraved on it, which was served to me on my visits.
I celebrated birthdays and other special occasions at the pub. I organized tweetups and other social gatherings on many occasions.
Heck, one of the photos that I shot of the Ottawa brew pub hangs prominently on the wall in their Pearson International Airport pub, in Toronto.
I don't know what made me visit the pub less frequently. I started seeing other bars, trying other beer. When the core of the management staff left, I didn't come as often. I didn't have as many people to chat with. When the head brewer, Adam Rader, left unexpectedly, I became worried about what would happen to the brews that he came up with. The replacement brewer was fine, but I found that I was losing enthusiasm for the new releases.
And then, almost a year ago, I stopped going altogether.
And then, Labatt bought Mill Street.
I was worried about what would happen to the brews that I loved so much: Tankhouse, Cobblestone, Vanilla Porter, and so many others.
I'm glad Mill Street had its big break, is now able to produce and distribute nation-wide. I just wish it was without the help of one of the mass brewers that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot mash paddle.
Last week, when I visited my local LCBO, I saw a new can with a familiar logo and I thought, why have I forsaken Mill Street?
Forsaken no more: I picked up a couple of cans and anxiously awaited a good time to open them. And here's the review:
West Coast Style IPA (6.6% ABV)Appearance: unfiltered, deep apricot, which reminded me of orange juice. The head was a creamy off-white and settled to a thick cap and remained all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Mill Street Brewery
Nose: ripe orange citrus and fresh hops.
Palate: the hops come up quickly to greet you but are immediately backed up with creamy citrus flavours that seem almost sweet. The bitterness carries through to the finish but does not dominate the taste buds.
Overall impression: this is a beautifully balanced IPA—typical of other west-coast styles that I've tried. It's a gentle but well-defined ale; anyone can enjoy this beer and should try it.
West Coast Style IPA is a warm welcome to me for all the Mill Street offerings that I've missed over the past year. It has reminded me that this brewery is a leader in Ontario and a commanding force in Canada.
Do you forgive me, Mill Street?
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5