The Don Valley Brick Works was once at the center of Toronto’s industrial boom. Bricks formed at the quarry were used to build Casa Loma, Osgoode Hall, and many other Toronto landmarks of the era. Unfortunately, over time, alternative building materials replaced bricks, and the Brick Works fell on hard times. The city’s industry and development had moved on, leaving the space vacant and dilapidated. In 1997, Evergreen — a Canadian non-profit organization focused on restoring nature in urban spaces — moved in, and has transformed the grounds. The historic Toronto institution got a facelift and is now home to a buzzing cultural center focused on the environment. The pockmarked and graffiti-covered walls of the original structure have been preserved, giving the venue a gritty street vibe while also sticking true to the grounds’ long history.
This past weekend, the Brick Works played host to the ninth annual Cask Days Festival, a two day event designed with beer connoisseurs in mind. For the price of $25, one is invited to come and sample from the festival’s selection of 200 plus specialty cask beers, tour the massive urban-inspired building, and be entertained by DJs and breakdancing.
According to the festival’s organizers, the family behind Toronto’s Barvolo, cask beers differ from your everyday run-of-the-mill draughts in several key area. Before the advents of refrigeration and co2 pressurization, beer had to be fermented and preserved in casks. Cask beers are typically ales, bitter, and stout beverages which are low in carbonation and — as opposed to the draught beers we all know and love — are poured without external gas. Once the beer makes it through the brewing process to the cask itself, it continues to ferment until it is served. A vent is opened in the top of the cask to release any internal pressure and special additives called “finings” are added to make the yeast in the beer sinks to the bottom. Cask beers are famous for their more complex, artisanal flavours which run the gamut from dark, creamy stouts to softer, fruitier beers and hoppy pale ales.
On entering the 27,000 square foot pavilion, visitors to the festival are handed an informational booklet and a mason jar — invaluable tools for the trial that is about to begin. The air is full of the sweet smells of roasting meat and the dulcet tones of artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Rush. There is a constant stream of music coming from the DJ booth standing in the middle of the roiling crowd.
It is hard to know where to start when you walk into a room chock full of beer casks with names like, “Quantock Wills Neck,” “Central City Red Racer Berry Colada,” and “Deepcove Loud Mouth.” The selection of beers is broken up across multiple tables by region. The United Kingdom made a strong showing, but Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, Alberta, and British Columbia were all represented. Here are some of our favorites, and some we just couldn’t go without mentioning:
Whistler Imperial Espresso Black Tusk Ale (Dark Mild) — British Columbia
Coffee and alcohol — a match made in heaven. This dark brew stays true to its mysterious name and will not disappoint anyone looking for a compromise between a darker, fuller beer and your morning shot of espresso.
Grand River Brewing Beetifide Bohemian Beet Beer — Ontario
This is vegetable beer, plain and simple. It is defined by the earthy sweetness of the dark red root plant from which it originates. This disturbingly pink libation would probably be best matched with the rest of a holiday meal, or whenever you get a hankering for beets.
Brasserie Artisanale La Souche Parkeville American Pale Ale — Quebec
A great fall beer! This Quebecois concoction has a nice balance of malt and hoppiness that makes for a delicious, albeit bitter, experience. It has a depth and complexity of flavour that makes it perfect for a relaxing conversation with friends.
Storm Brewing Co. Black Forest Cake Stout –— British Columbia
Another west coast beer worthy of your consideration. This is a dark, smooth beverage with hints of chocolate and sweet cherry. While quite tasty and definitely worth a try, this brew is a dessert and should probably remain an indulgence.