Ontario Craft Beer Week: Mill St. Brewery

Okay, yes.  I know I just got back from NYC and I know that I have several beers to review and talk about and just plain GUSH about but…well…the very day I got back Ontario Craft Beer Week began and I just went to my first event for it and…well…my NYC thoughts can wait for now.

Why?  Because I talked to the Brewmaster and one of the Brewers from Mill St. Brewery, who, in the short nine years they’ve been around, have become one  of the most well-known breweries here in Toronto. And in all honesty, I’ve never had the chance to talk to a Brewmaster for any period of time longer than two minutes, so this was a thrill for me.   So to my international readers, I apologize for alienating you.

The event was a “Meet the brewer for a tutored tasting” type of deal at The Rebel House just north of Rosedale station here in Toronto.  A brewer comes in with samples of some of their beers and talks about them a bit.  I arrived ten minutes early and it took me exactly ten minutes to realize that I was sipping a pre-drink beer next to the Brewmaster of Mill St. Brewery, Joel Manning.   I felt a bit embarrassed that I was drinking something from another brewery.

Let me say this about Joel Manning: he is an incredibly smart man who knows his beer and will stop at nothing to get just the right recipe.  And for someone who is Brewmaster, he is remarkably not shaking with stress/coffee consumption and chain-smoking nor is he impatient and curt as most top people in businesses are.  He’s very laid back and enjoys what he does.

Before getting in to the beers they brought that night, Joel gave me a little bit of the history of the brewery and talked about just how committed they are to get the best ingredients.  At this point I brought up their seasonal on-tap-only beer, the Vanilla Porter.  which frankly, made my winter. Well, turns out I opened a can of worms for Joel, who went on for five minutes about all the different type of vanillas he tried and how each region was slightly different.  “I didn’t want it to be a beer that tasted like JUST porter and vanilla,” he said. “That’s boring.  We wanted all the subtle flavours to find their way in and I think we did it with this type of Vanilla.”  Finally Joel went with vanilla from Mexico, which he feels brings out the best in the beer. No complaints here.  And it was interesting to hear about the attention to detail.

Then we went on to the beers they brought: Original Organic Lager and Tankhouse Ale. Both award winners and both high-selling.

The Organic Lager is their highest selling beer so far.  Ontario’s first CERTIFIED organic lager, this German Pilsner is about 4.2%ABV and goes down smooth with a slight biscuity taste and a floral aroma to it. However, while it is a refreshing brew, I’m a person who is normally fond of the heavier, more bitter beers, so due to personal taste I’m afraid this just wasn’t up my alley and seemed too watered down.

Now the Tankhouse Ale is a pale ale that I am intimately familiar with.  I’ve taken this to parties with me several times and it’s a great year-round drink.  The spicy taste notes as well as the hints of citrus brought on by the use of Cascade hops just freakin’ DANCE on the tongue.  At 5.2%ABV, this is what I consider a comfortable drink.

But tasting the beers and getting an idea of the flavour notes wasn’t the end of it.  It was at this point Mill St. Brewer Bridgid Young (knowledgeable in the art of brewing and almost as laid back as her boss) stepped in and pulled some of the grains used in both the Organic and Tankhouse as well as (gasp!) a bag of Cascade Hops.  Together they let me sample the grains, which was a HELL of an education in just what they do to the texture of the beer as well as the taste notes.  And I learned how to properly take in the scent of hops: grab a small amount, grind it with your palms, open up and inhale.  And…wow.  It was my first experience handling fresh hops and I was taken aback by the texture and colour of them as well as the smell.  Speaking of the smell, it’s no wonder that I love brews with Cascade hops!  The citrus tones are much more defined and…well, it was quite an experience.

After this great education both Joel and Brigid gave me their cards, invited me to the brewpub, got me a pint of Tankhouse Ale and went off in to the crowd with sample cups to talk about themselves to others, leaving a slightly amazed, slightly in awe woman feeling really grateful for the most educational talk with folks from a brewery she’s had in a good long while.

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