Windsor hosts its first craft beer festival this weekend, highlighting the growing appreciation for micro brews among Windsor-Essex residents.
“The shift is starting to happen,” said Adriano Ciotoli of Windsor Eats, which is putting on the festival. “We thought it was the perfect opportunity.”
“Craft beer” is beer produced in small batches, typically by small, independent breweries (sometimes called micro- or nano-breweries) using traditional brewing methods and fresh ingredients.
Windsor’s two-day festival will host 10 Ontario craft brewers — including Windsor’s own Walkerville Brewery and Motor Craft Ales — and one Quebec micro-brewery, too.
Ciotoli said the idea of a craft beer festival had been brewing for a few years, but because there weren’t any local small-scale producers, they decided to wait until Windsor’s own micro breweries took off.
Motor Burger restaurant will feature some of its microbrews at this weekend’s Craft Beer Festival. (DAN JANISSE / The Windsor Star)
Numbers from the LCBO show consumers are increasingly tapping into the craft beer market.
In the past six years, Ontario craft beer sales at the LCBO and Beer Store have jumped a whopping 575 per cent, or roughly $40 million in sales. In fact, craft beer leads the sales in the LCBO’s beer categories, ahead of large-scale producers.
“Beer is perceived differently,” said Chris Ryan, operations manager at Walkerville Brewery. “It’s being brewed to be enjoyed, not mass consumed.”
Micro-breweries produce small batches of beer with a short shelf life and sometimes very seasonal ingredients.
That’s half the fun of it, said Donavan McFadden, the founding brewer of Motor Craft Ales, the beer-producing spinoff of Windsor’s Motorburger.
Producing in small batches means beer drinkers have to savour the beer when it’s available, but they also get to try new beers all through the year as new batches are produced, he said.
It’s hardly surprising that micro-brewing speaks to many people’s locavore-eat-what’s-in-season sensitivity.
There are hundreds of different kinds of beer types out there, Ryan said, from stouts and English ales to wheat beer and hefferveisens. Tastes can range from citrusy and bitter India pale ales to malty and sweet, like in lager beers.
You can even detect hints of tastes like resin, pine or stone fruit, depending on the beer variety, McFadden said.
Micro-brewers are in a good position to play around with those tastes and come up with original combinations precisely because they aren’t producing massive quantities of any one thing, so their production process doesn’t have to be retooled to make a different batch, he said.
Motor Craft Ales produces just a few kegs at a time, so when customers visit Motorburger for a pint, chances are they’ll rarely see the same beer on tap twice in a row. Deja Blue, their blueberry lavender micro-brew, created a buzz when it first launched in Windsor last summer.
People tend to “drink with their eyes” and discount certain beers based on how they look, Ryan said. But much like wine, the trick is to taste and then decide.
Who knows? You might typically drink light-coloured beers, but you might find a dark ale you really enjoy.
At this weekend’s festival, Motor Craft Ales and Walkerville Brewery will both be showcasing their own black lagers (Motor Craft’s is humorously called Dragula while Walkerville christened its own Schwarzbier) alongside other light specialties like German-style ales and lagers.
Other micro-breweries coming to town include: Bayside Brewing from Erieau; Beau’s and Broadhead breweries from Ottawa; Highlander from South River; Lake of Bays Brewing from Baysville; Mill St. Brewery from Toronto; St. Ambroise from Montreal, and Wellington Brewery from Guelph.
The festival runs Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19 along Argyle Road in Walkerville.
Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the gate. Each ticket comes with five tokens (each good for a four-ounce beer sample) and a sampling glass. Tokens can also be redeemed for food and it’s also possible to purchase extra tokens on-site at $1.25 each.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit windsoreats.com/beerfest/
How do you pair beer and food?
A lot of craft beer fans are also foodies. The Windsor Craft Beer Festival will feature locally made food with an Oktoberfest twist courtesy of the culinary students at St. Clair College.
Organizer Adriano Ciotoli said it’s a great way to showcase some of the city’s cooking talent that is coming up through the ranks and also let festivalgoers explore the art of pairing beer and food.
The menu on offer this weekend includes braised beef poutine and bacon cheeseburger panzerotti so festival-goers can enjoy their brews with something tasty on the side.
Chris Ryan of Walkerville Brewery said he knows of customers who go to dinner parties brandishing not just the usual bottle of wine but also a 64-ounce “growler” of Walkerville-crafted beer.
Pairing beer and food is similar to how it’s done with wine, and if you have no idea where to start, then brewers and store staff are happy to answer your questions, Ryan said.
At Walkerville Brewery, customers can taste-test beers, ask questions and discuss their dinner menu with the staff to help make the right choice. At the LCBO, specially trained staff in the store can also help you determine which micro-brew is a good fit with your menu.
For example, a German-style pale ale would work well with white fish or spicier foods. A lager would typically go along with roast meats or red sauces and the same goes for darker ales, which tend to come out more in autumn and winter. Serving strong cheese? Choose a stronger-tasting beer.
There are some nifty tools on the Internet to help you out, too. Check out UK-based Tring Brewery’s handy PDF chart of beer and food pairings at http://www.tringbrewery.co.uk/Beer_and_Food.pdf or Beer Advocate magazine’s interactive food and beer pairing tool at beeradvocate.com/beer/style_pairings.
How is beer made?
Chris Ryan, of Walkerville Brewery, and Donavan McFadden, of Motor Craft Ales, share some of their beer brewing wisdom for the beer neophytes among us.
Beer is the product of primarily four ingredients –- barley, water, hops and yeast –- and a series of complex biochemical reactions.
McFadden said to think of it like steeping tea. It’s a relatively simple process, but it’s not easy, which is why home brewing is not a task for the faint of heart.
In a nutshell, beer is made by germinating barley and crushing it to extract the fermentable sugars. Then water is mixed in and the resulting sticky sugary liquid is boiled. Then the hops are added in and the mixture is chilled before adding the yeast. Then the beer ferments before being bottled or kegged.
The whole process takes about 15 days from start to finish, or longer, depending on what type of beer you’re making. Some beers, like lagers, typically age for a month.
Interestingly, Motor Craft Ales uses Windsor water to brew its beers. The mineral balance in the water is very good, McFadden said, and so it lends itself well to beer-making.
In contrast to most large-scale beer producers who have to churn out a lot of product quickly and for a lower price, craft beer is not pasteurized and does not use preservatives. And typically, you won’t find what are known as adjuncts, like corn syrup, which some large-scale brewers use to modify the taste and speed up the production process.