With the simple header of ‘230 casks 2 days 124 breweries’ the Cask Days event leapt out at me like an angry cat borne of my greatest fantasies. Currently in its 9th this year’s incarnation was once again hosted at the ever lovely Evergreen Brickworks. The venue nestled in the Don Valley was perfect, with the industrial-feel of steel girders contrasting with the feel and design of a country-barn, filled with the awesome sight of hundreds of large steel casks.
Cask Days encompasses not only beer; but food, art, music and a time for people to get themselves a solid beer-ducation through enthusiastic and informative one-on-ones with brewers, and tutoring from one of the world’s leading beer writers, Stephen Beaumont (a major part of the Brewer’s Breakfast). Some of the most fiendish concoctions were on offer from the minds of the many ingenious and creative minds from the burgeoning craft beer scene. Featured were 36 craft-brews from the UK, along with beers and ales of all styles from around Canada. There was also a smattering of cider and gluten free tipples to please all aficionados.
What is Cask Ale? Well, the majority of beer that we enjoy in pubs and bars around the world is transported to said venues when it has already reached completion (fully-fermented, CO2 added and any ‘finishing touches’), cask-conditioned ales, however, are not fully fermented when they reach their destination, and this extra fermentation occurs within the cask with a very small amount of time to spare before they are poured. This results in a bright and lively flavor for the end-user – you and I – the lucky beer drinkers.
I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the third of three sessions (across 19 and 20 October, Saturday and Sunday), running from noon till five. The event was meticulously organized by the folks behind BarVolo, a core player in the Toronto craft-brew scene. Payments for all food and drinks were made by way of wooden tokens, purchased at various points around the venue.
Upon entering , I snatched up the complimentary Cask Days mason jar and program and was greeted by the sound of a buzzing crowd along with smooth 90s and early 00s hip hop, lovingly mixed up throughout the afternoon by a keen team of DJs including; Toronto based-artist (and DJ) Shingo Shimuzu, Skratch Bastid, Nasty Nav, just to name a few. The music, far from being a counter-point, provided a relaxed and nostalgic vibe, the musical program having been put together in great fashion from the folks at Amsterdam Brewery.
Intermingled between the beats and casks were some 4000 people across the two days, wistfully slurping down all the drinks on offer. I knew I was in for a good time when some of the names floating around included ‘Fangboner’ (Great Lakes – India Brett Ale) and ‘Barnstormer Breaking Bad Methamphetabeer’ (Brown Ale). Some of the beer-tasters present looked a little world-weary but still hauntingly gleeful, probably a result of an all-weekend pass I would imagine.
With so many beers on offer, it would be fruitless for me to list every single one or, for that matter, even all of the ones I sampled (I spent a fair few tokens alright). Though I will put it out there that Ontario’s own Muskoka Brewery has put out a champion brew, in the form of the 6.2% ABV ‘Masala Chaipa’, an American IPA (India Pale Ale). With massive hints of citrus and the underlying subtle notes of a hearty chai tea, this truly is magic in a glass. Other top picks for me were; Ilkley’s (UK) 6.0% ABV– ‘Mary Jane’ (IPA), Le Trou Du Diable’s (Quebec) 5.1% ABV ‘Petite Buteuse’ (Belgian Table Beer) and I surprised myself with a cider by the name of Français (Les Vergers De La Colline) which was extremely sour, but amazingly refreshing.
To soak up all of these delightful beverages were many great food offerings from esteemed Toronto establishments. My two choices were the from the popular Queen street boozer and eatery, Parts and Labour, who presented a Chicago-style beef brisket sandwich, served on a soft wholemeal roll, topped with homemade horseradish sauce and hot peppers, before being lovingly dunked in the beef juice and served, no fuss. I also taste-ventured into up-and-comer Bar Isabel’s delicious Chorizo Verde (chorizo stuffed with green chillies), with chickpeas, lemon, chilli and spinach.
On top of all this stimulation, there was also a large amount of quality art and prints on display; Toronto- based artists Kellen Hatanaka (designer of the Cask Days #9 official poster), Jim Mezei, Adrian Forrow and Markus Uran provided the art that adorned the backs of all the kegs in the event. Check out some of their stuff, as part of the Weekly Crop Project.
Cask Days elevated the message of the ever-growing movement, which should read ‘Stop drinking shitty beer’. Crudities aside, there was a great lack of beer-snootiness here, and the event made craft-beer highly accessible for the newbies and the snobs alike, and presented it all in a nicely wrapped package. I highly encourage all of you current or would-be beer geeks to head along to this next year if you haven’t had a chance. Cheers to that.
Article and Images by Graeme Hay