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Louis Cifer Brew Works (House Beer Review Edition)

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I didn’t mean to do a review on Louis Cifer Brew Works, but my small notes turned into something a bit more solid and, well, here we are.

So a bit about the place. Louis Cifer (yes, yes, fans of Angel Heart, it’s a play on De Niro’s devil character. Lou-Cifer) is a brewpub in the Danforth area put together by Erin Gamelin, the owner of the well-known Stouts Irish Pub. It features 26 taps pouring a selection of guest beers along with a proposed ever increasing selection of Louis Cifer’s house beers, brewed by Brewmaster Christine Nagy, a recent grad from Niagara College Teaching Brewery with experience interning at Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, Alberta and working with the folks at Silversmith Brewing in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario. There are additional plans to have a barrel room in the basement. Aside from that, food promised to be pub fare, with the overall concept of the place being geared mainly towards people who are unfamiliar with the world of craft beer.

Unavoidable to notice, however, were the reviews that were coming out shortly after it’s soft launch earlier this week. Not just in local news sources, but hearing personally from people about it. In regards to the beer, the things I heard ranged from the simple “not up to snuff” to the, frankly, dramatic. Even more worrying was finding out that the brewpub…didn’t actually have the “brew” part down. The in-house brewing facility has not been installed yet, with the house beers brewed at Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, Ontario.

So today I found myself finished with errands in the Danforth area and caught in the rain. I noticed the place and, remembering the things I heard from it already, decided to check it out and reach my own opinions. It should be noted that I didn’t order any food, so I can’t comment on any of that.

Before I head on to reviewing the house beers, a couple of points:

  • The lack of brewing facility is due to two factors. Firstly, they’re having a bit of trouble retrofitting their current gear for use and the second is that the red tape to get everything okayed took longer than expected. I have been told that now it’s just a matter of installing it and getting the certification. ETA for a fully workable and ready-to-brew facility is 1-2 months.
  • And this is a big one for me. It was recently reported that the house beers were being brewed at Railway City in St. Thomas. I discovered that the beers are actually being brewed in multiple breweries, each with different brewing facilities. I suspect that one of the problems people have with the house beers is because of this, as different facilities and making the translation work would be a pain in the ass.
  • One of my annoyances is the lack of originality with the names of the beers considering the devil theme. So far there are only two with names, the Louis Cifer IPA and the Dirty Blonde. The rest are just given the names of their styles. “lager”, “Bock” and so on. Apparently they have plans on actually naming their beers later on.

On to the beers:

Lager:  Unfiltered. Nice creamy note with a whole whack of biscuit and a really nice dry finish. Incredibly solid and enjoyable. This one has proved to be the beer that staff suggest when someone asks for a Molson or Stella.

Louis Cifer IPA:  I kind of get the feeling that this doesn’t know whether it’s an English or American style IPA. The malt is pretty over the top and kind of ruins the bitter finish, which I felt started too late. I definitely feel like it needs more balance. Additionally, they have plans to dry hop this beer for future versions.

Bock:  Not carbonated and a whole whack of molasses but finishes with a nice twist of bitterness. Needs to warm up to be fully appreciated. Frankly, this one has a lot of great potential. This is part of their ongoing experiments, which is limited to two kegs. Get it carbonated a little more and age that sucker in bourbon barrels and it’ll be very worthwhile.

Stout:  Also part of the experiment series and limited to two kegs. More bitter than the IPA. Too much coffee notes and the flavours just start and end with bitter, which is not great. Lower the coffee notes, bring up the cocoa notes and (a thing they were going to do anyways) make it a nitro stout to add a bit of creaminess, and it could very well be a nice winter warmer.

Dirty Blonde Blonde-Brown Ale Hybrid:  This baffles me because despite the light colour of the beer, if I close my eyes I swear I’m drinking a pretty thin tasting English brown that has a touch too much carbonation. With that confusion out of the way, there’s a good bit of balance there and provides a bit of an interesting mix. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t mind trying a one-off nitro version of this just to see how it is.

Conclusion:

Surprise surprise, it’s too early to tell. I feel in regards of the house beers they tripped on the starting shot. There are a couple of problems I have with the beers that are easy to fix and, to be honest, I feel that the brewmaster should have nipped those in the bud months ago. That said, there’s definitely a lack of harmony in how these are and I feel a big portion of that is due to making beer in multiple brewing facilities with different setups. I get a lot of “lost in translation” in these beers more than anything and can’t help but think it may have been less of a headache and less a chance of inconsistency for Brewmaster Nagy if they just…waited until their own brewing facility was installed and good to go. They could have easily glided with their impressive guest tap selection and a mea culpa, I feel.

When there’s more harmony and they have their facility up and running, I’ll be coming back. I want to see how the Bock is after a few more batches and I hope that stout gets worked out.

As a beer geek there’s an acceptable amount of guest taps with an experimental streak to Brewmaster Nagy that, at the moment, is at least worth keeping an eye on. But the vibe I’ve been getting is that this a place for people to take their first steps with beer. In the area it’s placed at, with more and more families moving in, it’s a spacious area with inoffensive food and beer that could perhaps ignite a spark of adventure in those curious enough to go with the staff’s suggestions.

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Toronto Festival of Beer

A lot of times when I don’t like something, I tend to say “it’s not for me”. Although I do slip in to it now and then, I believe that as a writer I should inform, rather than set a standard. “What might be right for you might not be right for some”, as the song goes. We’re all individuals with individual tastes and I like to embrace that.

So with that in mind, the Toronto Festival of Beer is not for me.

I was invited to stop by for a “Home brewing 101” panel, put on by Toronto home brewing group Brauhaus and part of Niagara College’s Brewmaster Series, a series of tented events within the festival to educate people about beer.

The panel was wonderful. Led by Doug Appledoorn, co-founder of Brauhaus, my learned fellow panelists (Erin Broadfoot and Pietro Caira) and I talked about our good and bad experiences with home brewing, answered questions, and handed out samples of our own brews. I supplied my Manor House Intrigue Chamomile Brown Ale, which I made back in February with the help of the Brauhaus mentorship program. The whole thing went really well and we got a good amount of applause from the packed tent. Hopefully Brauhaus will get some members out of that!

The rest of the festival was…not too great. If it wasn’t for the marvelous company of my longtime friend Cheryl, I probably would have left soon after the panel. A few one-off beers stuck out, but everything else was stuff that was available at the LCBO. It wasn’t that unique and, well, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.

But I do believe it has its place. It’s a chance for smaller breweries to win over the affections of the coveted Bro Market, the group of people for whom beer shots, competitive vomiting and dancing to dubstep is a way of life. And don’t get me wrong, it is a popular market. In an effort to get drunk these folks buy 24 packs like there’s some kind of shortage and they need to stock up. I recognize why a business would want that. It should be noted, however, that the smaller breweries are still competing with the bigger ones. Budweiser, Coors and Smirnoff Ice tents were present and huge, with their own dance floors and booth babes handing out stickers and various other bits of swag.

And while I don’t know how successful the festival is at converting the Bro Market to craft beer, I can’t deny it has an effect. “I normally drink Molson Canadian,” an attendee told us. “But then I go to a festival like this and drink a Molson and anything here after that tastes so much better.” And really folks…that’s all I hope for. I don’t really care if a person likes Bud Light Lime Mojito or beer that, to me, tastes like water. As long as they know that there’s something else out there.

My biggest problem with the festival was the way it was run. I really got the impression that the festival encouraged drunkenness, which didn’t appeal to me. Tokens were $20 minimum, which gets you 20 tokens. 5oz samples were around 1-2 tokens each, which doesn’t sound like much, but take a group of people who are used to 4% abv beer and put them in a festival of 6-9% abv beers, well…you see how it can get out of hand. Oh sure, you could use those tokens for food, but I didn’t get the impression that people were doing that. Visions of festival-goers nearly falling down getting more beer poured in to their glasses were pretty frequent and the security guards, god bless them, were kept very busy breaking up fights and carrying people to water stations.

And guys, maybe double up on security to lead people to the bus stop? There were waaaaay too many drunk people roaming in to oncoming traffic. Unacceptable.

So that’s my thoughts on Toronto Festival of Beer. It’s not for me. Aside from a few things that I can’t forgive, I can acknowledge it as a festival that works for some people. I’m just not one of them. Unless I’m invited to another panel, I don’t think I’ll be going again in the future.

But really though, thank you to Brauhaus, Niagara College and my kick-ass friend Cheryl for being the bright stars in this event.

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Ring Ring Goes The Bell

Most students are back to school by now and I thought that since it was September it was a good time to try First Draft Campus Ale. That and the Campus Lager have recently been made available at my LCBO from the good people at Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery. And I have to say, it is a pretty refreshing Canadian Pale Ale, with nice caramel and grain notes. Nothing fancy, especially when you compare it to some of the brilliant one-offs produced by the students, but a step above a lot of the big labels out there. May go well after a *cough* slight, moderate celebration after finishing a test. And homework. And the day.

Have fun learning, students. Remember to take a break now and then.

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