It seems an eternity since London had a microbrewery dedicated to supplying local pubs and restaurants with locally made, fresh, crafted beers. While craft breweries sprang up in nearby towns and cities, the industry seemed to bypass the Forest City. That is, until early 2013, when two biologists and an engineer formed a brewing company and opened a brew house with 10-hectolitre capacity, called Forked River Brewing Company. Founders Dave Reed, Andrew Peters and Steve Nazarian are award-winning home brewers and craft beer lovers whose dream of bringing locally made, fresh, all-natural crafted beer to the London market has become a reality. They now service the London hospitality industry with draft and cask beer. They have a retail and tasting room at the brewery where the public can purchase a fresh growler of draft beer. They also have bottled half-litre sales.
When I visited Forked River Brewing, I was greeted by Reed and Nazarian, who were more than happy to show me around, talk beer and brewing, and offer a tasting of the product. They both seem proud of their new brewing company and so they should be. It’s quite a daunting task for little guys to enter Labatt’s home market — but it becomes obvious at first sip that Forked River is not targeting the same consumer. The first thing that you taste in a FRB brew is “freshness” because none of the FRB craft beers are filtered, leaving all the wonderful natural flavours that the amalgam of fermented grain, hops, yeast and pure water deliver to the palate — flavours which are largely filtered out of corporate beers.
It’s hard to believe, but there are generations of Canadian beer drinkers who have never tasted fresh beer. They limit themselves to bottled or canned corporate brands which may have sat on the shelf for who knows how long. Real, unpasteurized beer must be consumed fresh (as soon as it’s done conditioning) and has a limited shelf life because it is a living food product. Flavour does degrade with filtering, pasteurizing and shelf time. Forked River seems to be aware of this and makes just enough beer to meet demand. Also, limiting the output to draft beer, cask beer and fresh growler sales ensures the beer is consumed while fresh, in its best condition and at peak flavour.
Their business plan seems pretty solid — to service the local London market with quality natural crafted beers. Nothing really over the top yet, just good drinking flavourful brews with broad appeal that should please both craft beer acolytes and first-time sipper alike. There are two flagship beers — Capital Blonde Ale (an unfiltered, well-rounded American style blond ale), and Riptide Rye Pale Ale (a very tasty, unfiltered spicy pale ale made with rye malt). The company will also brew a constantly rotating array of one-off special brews — the first one is “Ridunkelous,” a quenching Bavarian styled Dunkel Weiss which approximates the taste of Schneider Tap 5 without being too heavy (no small feat for new brewers). Rumour has it there is another special release brew bubbling away in the fermenter, which will be announced shortly.
From what I’ve seen and tasted from Forked River I have to say: London, we’ve got ourselves a real craft brewer in town. Watch for FRB beers on tap at your favourite pub or visit the brewery for a fresh growler.
Forked River Brewing Company
45 Pacific Court, Unit 16, London
Late Summer Tasting Notes
Summer has been good to local artisanal beer drinkers, lots of new brews on tap. Here are some notable summer offerings which grabbed me by the taste buds and slaked a big summer thirst.
Maisel’s Original Weisse is a Bavarian Hefeweiss which has recently acquired Ontario agents. I had a few of these on tap and I have rarely tasted better Hefeweiss. This is arguably among the top three Bavarian Weissbiers and it delivers the hallmark hefeweizen fruity bubble-gum/banana esters and clove-like phenols in spades. Unfiltered, dry, biscuity, fruity, spicy, spritzy with natural carbonation and absolutely glorious on a warm summer bistro patio. It will certainly impress Schneider, Ayinger or Weihenstephaner Weiss fans. I hope this eventually becomes available in bottles at the LCBO.
The second notable summer delight was Beau’s Opa’s Gose (lcbo 343921). Gose is an ancient beer style and a specialty ale indigenous to the Goslar and Leipzig region of Lower Saxony. It is distinguished as a tart wheat ale made with cheese bacteria and ale yeast, but is also salty due to the dissolved mineral salts in local aquifers. It contains mostly malted wheat and minimal hopping with a good dose of coriander for balance — this gives a unique citrusy salty-tart, spicy dry discernment. The style was unique, and very popular, but seemed doomed to extinction with only one brewer making authentic Leipziger Gose when the Berlin wall fell. But this arcane style has been revived by North American crafters who have put their own unique spin on it. Amsterdam has made a Gose called “Maverick and Gose” which is pretty
good but Beau’s Opa’s Gose really impressed me. A hazy unfiltered orangey-gold with a lofty three-inch white cap. Opa’s Gose is a tart beer with mild citrusy notes and a unique salty character. The saltiness is diffused and complemented by the judicious use of coriander. Tart, biscuity, lightly salty with a spicy dry finish — this brew is a natural to pair with watermelon, summer sausage, German potato salad or ripe pungent cheeses.
Lastly, we had a summer release of a locally made Belgian Strong Golden Ale called The Wayward Son (lcbo 337345) by Radical Road Brewing Co. Don’t let the artsy packaging fool you. This ale is a world class Belgian styled strong golden ale. Aged in pinot noir barrels and utilizing a combination of barley, wheat, oats and Belgian candi sugar this is a big hazy gold ale that produces notes of dark cherry, honey, bitter orange peel, apricot, spice and has a light hint of oak in the finish. For me the outstanding feature of this one-off brew was its outstanding balance and deeply rounded drinkability — lightly dry, bright and non-cloying. It’s touted as being “a complex offering with a wayward spirit.” I tasted a little complexity, but the real attraction here is the wonderfully unique mouth feel and character that the mixture of select grains gives this brew. The brewers state that “rebelliousness has led you here.” Perhaps, but it is the consistently solid artisanal offerings of this brewer which keeps me coming back. I paired a chilled bottle of this great ale with a spicy Chicken Diable sandwich, with very satisfying results.
THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com/